Serving others in a self-serve world

Have you heard the joke about Walmart? It goes like this: Due to poor holiday sales, Walmart has decided to close 500 of their super-centers in the U.S. Because of these closings, up to 10 cashiers may lose their jobs.

Those like me that prefer having a human being as a cashier certainly can get a chuckle from that one.  When I’m shopping there (or anywhere that has self-checkouts, to be fair), I marvel, and sometimes grumble, that only two lanes are staffed while the do-it-yourself area teems with people.

Our culture has certainly become convenience driven.  Not only can we check out our groceries without help, when’s the last time you actually stepped inside a bank or have even written a check, for that matter.  Our paychecks are directly deposited and our bills are paid with electronic fund transfers.  Also for my ease, with credit/debit card in hand, I can purchase almost any item I want on line.  Just the other day I ordered flowers for my wife, found and purchased a book I was wanting to read and bought a steamer to help me remove wallpaper, all from the comfort of my office at home.  Self-serve is simply an accepted way to do things these days.

Please understand me, I have no problem using these modern conveniences.  They save me time and hassles.  The greater concern I have for me and others is this: with all the self-serve options available to us, am I/are we losing the sense of what it means to serve others? To be sure, this isn’t really a new problem for humankind.  Though they didn’t have the world available through their electronic devices, even the disciples who followed Jesus when He walked the earth struggled with this ‘serve me first’ mentality.

In Mark’s gospel, Chapter 10:35-40 we find two of them, James and John, selfishly asking Jesus for special treatment in the age to come.  They wanted to sit at either side of the Lord when He took His seat in heaven.  Truly a brazen request.  My first thought was this: Did they think this was a ‘first come, first served situation? I liken it to those hearty souls who camp-out over night to get in line to purchase the best seats for a big concert.

In His wisdom, Jesus deals with James and John diplomatically.  He tells them that what they ask is not for Him to give and that they really don’t understand what it is they are asking for in the first place.

The other ten disciples are less kind when they get wind of the request that was made by their peers. The bible says they were indignant that such a bold thing could be asked.  I wonder if part of their anger was that they didn’t think to ask first?

Whatever the case, Jesus uses the situation to do some wonderfully clear teaching on what it means to be a servant. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44 NIV) In essence, Jesus’ message to the disciples is this: You need to take your accepted notions of what you think you deserve or have earned and turn them upside down.  Serving is to be the goal and purpose of life, not being served.

To make sure His point was being understood, the Lord added, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Here, Jesus ups the ante, if you will.  He reminds them of who He truly is, the Son of God.  Yet His heavenly position is not used to demand their praise and worship, rather it is a springboard to fulfill the Father’s purpose.  Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to be a servant.  In truth, He is the ultimate servant, for He willingly suffered and died at the hands of men so that the Father’s salvation plan would be made known.

The call of servant-hood for every follower of Jesus Christ ought to daily move our hearts with compassion when considered in the light of what the Son of God has done for us all.  He, who deserves all our honor, praise and worship simply because of who He is, opted to set that all aside so that He could model what a servant’s heart looks like and who it is we are to serve.  Jesus served out of love and obedience to His Father.  Our one true purpose in this life is to follow His example.

How we do that will look different for each of us, but their will be a common thread running through it all: Serve others above serving ourselves.  To do so we must break free of our self-serve mentality.  Of course your time and schedule are important.  But are they so vital as to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you? Take Jesus’ instruction to heart in practical ways.  Stop and look around you.  If you do, I guarantee you will see places and people where you can be a servant.  I’m not saying you will see it in the checkout line that is seven deep, but then again, maybe you will!

Too cold for just fig leaves!

 

Part of a normal winter here in upstate New York has a couple of weeks of truly cold weather to accompany the prodigious amounts of snow that falls.  This winter is no exception.  Today’s high temperature is forecast to be 5 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit my friends!).  What has the weather people in an even greater dizzy is the wind-chill factor.  That they tell us this will bring the ‘feels like’ temp to -30.  I was just outside walking our dog Violet and I can assure you, it is cold outside.

Having lived in this area all my life, I have learned the importance of dressing in layers for protection against this kind of cold, keeping as much skin as possible covered to prevent frostbite.  This morning was no different: two pairs of pants, 2 shirts, wool socks, hoodie, hat, insulated jacket, lined boots and insulated gloves.  Both Violet (I suppose her fur keeps her warm) and I survived and even enjoyed our morning walk today.

Staying warm in these conditions got me to thinking about this week’s bible study as we will be looking at Genesis Chapter 3.  Reading this we see the awful result of Adam and Eve’s falling to the temptation of the serpent.  They believed his lie and subsequently got banished from Paradise.

It’s not only that God cast them out, bad as that was, but that they knew they screwed up. Verse 7 of Chapter 3 explains it this way: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (NIV)

There is way more to glean from this chapter that I have space for today, so let’s focus in on the inadequate coverings Adam and Eve made for themselves.  If I understand this correctly, their realizing they were naked tells us they were ashamed of what they had done.  Because of this, they no longer saw their bodies as just being the way God made them, but rather something objectionable and forbidden, thus making it necessary to cover up what then became inappropriate parts.

Sadly, the world hasn’t learned much since then.  We (I include myself), tend to want to hide our imperfections.  We feel very exposed if they become known.  Same thing with our mistakes: hide them as best we can or try as Adam did to pass the blame on to someone else.

Reading on in Chapter 3, we discover that Adam and Eve knew that their new coverings were not much of a cover-up.  The second half of verse 8 tells what they did when they heard God walking toward them: and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (NIV).  Not only did they attempt to cover their nakedness, they also tried to hide from God.  It amazes me that they (and many of us) think that we can somehow hide our activities from an all-knowing and ever-present God.

Thankfully, our God has a heart that loves us enough to cover our weaknesses.  It the case of Adam and Eve, the bible says that, The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 NIV) God saw that what they had made for themselves was woefully inadequate for protection.  Wearing garments fashioned by God is certainly preferable to running around with just a few figs leaves on!

Taken a step further, we can see God’s creative work in the protective covering he supplies us through His Son Jesus Christ.  Christianity 101 teaches us that it is only by believing that Jesus Christ took our place and died for our sins on the cross that gives us access to spend eternity with God.  In essence, it is the Lord’s shed blood that covers us.  Only in this way can we be made acceptable to the glorious God of heaven.  The Apostle Paul, quoting from Psalm 32 says it this way: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. (Romans 4:7-8 NIV) We receive this incredible blessing of forgiveness because God knows we can’t do it for ourselves.

Just as Adam and Eve’s self-made garments proved no real help, neither would flipflops, shorts and a tee shirt be any good against the bitter cold we are experiencing here where I live.  And truthfully, even my best layering technique would ultimately fail me if I had to stay outside to long when it is this cold.

The bottom line is this: We are to take care of our outer-selves being mindful of weather conditions and dressing appropriately.  It’s nobody’s fault but mine if I go outside in these conditions without gloves to shovel the driveway.  The ensuing frost-bitten fingers would be my fault.

Just as we learn how to do the practical with regard to dressing for cold weather, so we must know and believe that the most important covering always and forever is the one the Jesus Christ offers.  We cannot cover up or hide from God and the blessing is He doesn’t want us to! Come to Him, just as you are, and allow His love to cover you like no wool garment ever can.  His love is an all-season love and it is a perfect fit, just for you!

Learning from Jesus (and others!)

 

I love the way Jesus taught.  To the pride-filled and arrogant who felt threatened by Him the Lord did not pull any punches.  He let them know exactly how He felt about their self-seeking ways.  Jesus would spell out the truth to them even though that would only stir up more hatred against Him, He would not compromise the message merely to stroke their egos.

Jesus also didn’t hesitate to address the lack of understanding His disciples often displayed.  I can relate to the Twelve in this regard.  Like me, Jesus had to help them in their confusion many times.  I greatly appreciate that the Lord would always do this in love, yet making sure His point was made.

When teaching larger crowds, Jesus often spoke in parables.  By doing this, the Lord used things familiar to His audience that would help them to better understand what He was teaching about.  In this way, Jesus brought the very kingdom of God to folks in everyday terms they could best relate to.

I could go on, but you get the idea: Jesus, though never changing the truth of what He taught, spoke in ways that intentionally targeted His audience.  From my personal experience, I have learned much because of the easy-to-relate to teaching style the Lord employed.  I strive to bring this same approach when I am blessed with opportunities to share the Good News.

As awesome as Jesus is, to say He is the only one who teaches within the Scriptures would not be accurate.  The follies, struggles and successes of the characters mentioned in the Good Book all provide us much to learn from.  The list is far to extensive to get into here, suffice it to say almost anywhere you look in the Bible, you can find a person experiencing feelings or going through something similar to what we all have felt or gone through at one time or another.

With this myriad resource material available to us, we might be tempted to say, ‘this ought to be enough, no need to look any further.’ Yet if we stop here, we miss another important lesson; this time from a demon!  The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 5 verses 6-7 are a case in point:

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? (NIV)

A brief background of what is going on here: After miraculously calming the rough seas they were on; Jesus and His disciples had just come ashore in the region of the Gerasenes.  The ‘he’ mentioned in verse 6 is a man described as having an evil spirit. He lived alone in the tombs above where they had landed their boat.  This man was reportedly violent and extremely strong as the bible says that no chains could hold him.

Looking again at the two verses above from Mark, I see at least four things I (we) can learn from this disturbed soul’s actions.  First, he saw Jesus from a distance and recognized who He was.  Maybe he had witnessed the miracle of the sea suddenly becoming calm from his vantage point, or perhaps the demon within him knew intuitively who Jesus was.  Either way, he acted in a way I would like to think I would if I saw the Lord; that is to run to Him.  He didn’t stroll or amble, he beat feet to come before Jesus.

The next teaching moment comes when this man reaches Jesus: he falls on his knees in an act of homage.  Though more powerful than any human, this supernatural being is fully aware of the greatest power there is and reacts accordingly.  The demon’s act of respect is a strong reminder for all of us that no matter where we ‘make it’ to in life, we must always pay the respect due or Creator, without whom we would never achieve anything eternally worthwhile.

Thirdly, this evil entity proclaims aloud who he knows Jesus to be: Son of the Most High God.  For those reading this verse closely, you’ll see that he makes this proclamation at the top of his voice.  I’m not saying we all have to go around shouting to the world who we know Jesus to be, but I will suggest that as we do share this awesome news, we do it with some excitement in our voice.  This is no hum-hum announcement appearing on your news feed, rather it is the telling that the Son of God is indeed alive and still saving souls.  Shouldn’t that raise our decibel levels some?

Lastly for this time, our demoniac asks Jesus a question that ought to be on every believer’s lips each day: “What do you want with me, Jesus?” I realize that the man in question asked this selfishly, but why can’t we use this same query in our times of prayer? It is a fitting conclusion to all we have seen so far: Recognize who Jesus is, run to Him, fall down in reverence before Him proclaiming to all who He is.  This puts us in the perfect posture to then ask of the Lord of Lords what His will is for us today, be it in the moment or season of life.  For me, I know I am best able to hear from Him when I am most fully aware of who I am in relation to Him.  That is, created to Creator.  I need and want Him and my desire is to live this out each day.  Confused about what God’s will is for you? Ask: What do you want of me today Jesus?

I conclude today with a shout-out to all the teachers recorded in the bible (including the demon-possessed). Thanks for sharing your life and experiences with me, the lessons have been helpful thus far and I look forward to learning so much more in the days to come!

If it’s Good Enough for Dirty Harry . . .

 

Those who know me know that I do not go to the movies very often. Taking one trip every two or three years is my average.  That’s not to say I don’t watch movies, it’s just that I tend to watch the ones I really like over and over (and over!) again at home.  Anyone who has sat through my recitations of various scenes from Jaws (Quint’s speech about the USS Indianapolis), Caddy Shack (Bill Murray’s Cinderella Boy) or just about any part of Godfather II is well aware of my quirky viewing tendencies.

There is another to add to this list, and it (hopefully) will give some direction to this blog: Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan in the movie Magnum Force: “A good man has got to know his limitationshas been a long-time fave of mine. Though this dialogue from early in the movie was used by “Dirty Harry” as an insult toward his lieutenant, I believe we can find something useful in it by taking this iconic line out of the movie context and applying it to our own lives as we run it through the biblical filter.

2000 years before Clint, the apostle Paul wrote about the wisdom a person can gain when they take honest stock of their experiences:

I know what it is to have plenty, and I know what it is to be in need.  I have found the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:12 NIV

 Paul knew his human limitations.  He knew that the plenty he had experienced was a blessing from God, as well as having the faith to believe that no temporary hardship meant an absence of God’s presence.  The Apostle understood that current circumstances did not define him.  They are merely the reality of our human existence.

Being honest, I don’t often have this clarity of vision.  My pride wants to leap up and declare that seasons of abundance are a direct result of my own hard work.  Like many, I suppose, I find it easy to take credit when things are going well.  I tend to consider the rewards of my efforts as being limitless, thus clouding my perception of my own limitations.

Likewise, I am usually far from content when I find myself in need.  When in this place, I tend to focus on the particular need to the exclusion of almost everything else.  There is little to no consideration of my own limitations here, only a deep desire to have my need met.  If I allow this thought process to have full reign, two things normally pop into my head.  First, I will decide that the situation is hopeless and will never end (insert whiny voice here). No need to concern myself with limitations, because my world is collapsing, taking me with it.  The other non-helpful thought is to take extreme measures to rectify the situation on my own.  Just as in my pity-party, this approach discards any possibility of my own limitations, leaving me blind to any other courses of action.

Thankfully, I have discovered a far better way to proceed: Learning to follow Paul’s example.  He wrote of the secret of being content in every situation.  What’s great is that the secret really isn’t a secret.  Paul’s message for us is to get and stay focused on Jesus first and always.  This gives us the chance to grow beyond the surface level existence of our fleeting experiences.  As we do, the contentment that the great Apostle found can be ours as well.

As usual, I find the application of this truth simple, but not easy.  The difficulty arises from having to admit my limitations.  I proclaim (and sometimes even am able) to live my life totally dependent upon the Lord Jesus.  Though I am sincere in my desire to do this, in my heart of hearts I know my pride still often gets I the way.

Which brings me back to the not so secret ‘secret’ Paul wrote about.  As I read that verse again, he says he has found the secret of being content in any and every situation.  There it is! He found it! How? I assume by learning from the differences of how he managed things on his own through his various challenges and comparing that to how things went when he sought the Lord’s guidance.

Now that I have a better understanding of how this works, I’m still lacking in ways to make it apply to my day to day life.  That is, until I read my devotional this morning (January 17th).  For 2019, I’m reading Jesus Calling, written by Sarah Young. (I recommend it highly!).  On this day she is writing about the very thing I have been pondering in this blog: knowing the secret of having God’s contentment each day.  Young says that by staying in continual contact with Jesus throughout the day, you can live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them.  The secret to godly contentment is to stay in constant communication with the Almighty! With my eyes and heart focused on Him, I am immediately and always able to live above the circumstances I am in.

There you have it; a new quote I will carry with me and repeat often!  Nothing against all those movie lines I’ve committed to memory, but meditating on the fact that it is possible to live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them is going to have a greater impact on me than anything Dirty Harry ever said.

How are the New Year Resolutions Going?

Did you make some New Year Resolutions as 2018 turned into 2019? As I write this on January 7th, 2019, I hope you are still going strong if you did.  Unfortunately, statistics on long-term completion of these types of plans aren’t cause for much hope.  My own experience with ‘New Me’ in the New Year resolutions have helped compile the negative numbers.  Diets, exercise regimens and pronouncements to get and stay in touch with family members have all faded, usually before January becomes February.  I can readily relate to any of you who have experienced these same types of short-comings.

As I mulled over my dismal record of changing negative behaviors in my life, I recalled something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.  If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you may have recognized I use the New International Version in my studies.  This is my go-to translation, but that doesn’t keep me from reading others (something I highly recommend to all my Bible reading friends).

By doing this, I found what I needed to read this time in The Message, an easy to read, paraphrased version of the Bible.  The verses I read from the letter to the Romans are rendered like this in it: I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (The Message; Romans 7:18-19)

This description fits me to a T! I feel a need to change something in me, whatever it is, as a new year looms.  I then start, usually with great enthusiasm and not a little hoopla, that This Time I am going to do this! I have neither learned from, or have simply forgotten my past mistakes, making success with this year’s resolutions a certainty.

As noted above, my decision to make a change for the better turns out to be flimsy.  Whatever storm of upset or disappointment comes my way knocks all the wind out of my gung-ho start.  Before long, it’s only a month (or weeks) into the new year and the old ways don’t seem so bad anymore as I slip comfortably back into them.

I know I am not alone in failing to keep New Year Resolutions.  I’m confident that as you read this, you can relate to my struggles.  It leaves the question: What to do with this information?  The first two ideas that came to me are negative ones that I don’t advise anyone to take, like maybe I just won’t try to change anything will be my new plan.  At least that way I only have to deal with the consequences of what my poor choices bring me as opposed to acknowledging another failure on top of going back to the original activity.

Second, and worse still, my warped mind has fantasized about making resolutions that will be easy to keep.  For example, this year I will gain weight.  That’s easy for me, and I have a long track record of success.  Pass the cookies and ice cream please!  Or perhaps I will resolve to continue to avoid exercise; another area of strength, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Thankfully, God’s Word is having a greater influence on my decision-making process these days than my ‘poor me, I just can’t do it’ whining is.  The verses we are considering today are truly helpful.  First, they identify our struggle; we want to do better, but we are largely unable to create these changes on our own.  They go on to explain why this is:  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

With the understanding that something is broken inside of me that is causing my struggle(s), I’m then left with two distinct courses of action: Do nothing or do something about it.

I don’t recommend the first option.  Having tried it, nothing positive comes from it.  Lamenting that I can’t change (and adding, ‘No matter how hard I try,’ for sympathy), is really just giving up.  With this mind-set, I can rationalize to my heart’s content and wallow in self-pity until December comes again and enough guilt kicks in telling me to try, try again.  It is the perfect storm of a cycle I cannot break on my own.

Which leads to the highly recommended other option: making the change (yes singular, change) necessary to break the pattern.  It’s a simple solution, but necessarily an easy one; especially if pride prevents us from admitting our helplessness.

The answer is this: Have some humble pie; it has no calories and it will open the door of your heart and mind to receiving the perfect help that is always available.  I speak of course of our Loving God, who wants us to enjoy our relationship with Him to the fullest.  It starts by realizing He has to be the priority in this.  When you do that, many other things that have been out of alignment in your life will begin to straighten out.

As always, Jesus says it best.  In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains to a crowd of people that God the Father knows of all their concerns and is more than able to meet all their needs.  The Lord sums this all up by saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV)

God will indeed give you the desires of your heart, so long as your priorities are in proper order: God first, everything else after that! This is how many before us have learned to overcome the difficulties in their lives.  Trusting Jesus for salvation, as awesome as that is, only starts the life God has for us.  When we can humble ourselves to let Him have control over all the aspects of our lives, the need for a New Year Resolution becomes obsolete.  May we all experience this wonderful change that only God can orchestrate. Then we won’t have to swear off destructive, non-healthy behaviors, but instead ask only for more of Him in our life.  That is truly being done with the old to be filled with the new!

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

 

Have a Forever Happy New Year!

Happy New Year.  I’ve said it to plenty of people again this year with my heart in the right place, but when I stop to consider what I am really saying, it falls far short of I truly hope for them.

Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary (does anyone other than me still use a hard- covered dictionary?) defines happy as: favored by luck or fortune.  Knowing and believing what I do about the two possible destinations that await each of us when we die, this wishing for a happy new year to those I meet rings shallow.

Please understand that I have nothing against someone experiencing some good luck in 2019.  If you golf, may a fortuitous bounce give you a hole-in-one.  If collecting coins is your hobby, may that rare find find you.  Or maybe by chance you’ll step on a $100-dollar bill on your next walk outside.  Whatever it is in things like this, I do indeed wish that you are favored by luck or fortune.

The pastor/teacher in me yearns for all of us to experience a far deeper and everlasting peace that none of these fleeting examples listed above can offer.  If you are reading these words and you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, I rejoice with you!  My 2019 greeting to you is that you take the time to come to know Him even better in the days ahead.  As you do, may you be filled to overflowing with the peace and contentment only He can provide.  Please don’t keep this blessing to yourself! It is meant to be shared with the world in which you exist.  I pray that you daily manifest the love God has poured out on you to others.  In 2019, may you be a true example of what a follower of Christ is to be.

Friend, if you are reading this and don’t know the salvation that Jesus died to offer you, my 2019 greeting to you is please consider it! At the top I mentioned there are only two destinations for us humans when our physical life ends.  It is an eternal reality: One is to live in bliss for absolutely ever in the very presence of God, the other is to live on forever with the knowledge that what you heard about, but never acted upon, was true.

Maybe that doesn’t sound too bad to you on the surface, but consider this: We’re talking about eternity here.  That’s a long time to ponder the hugest mistake you could ever make.  It breaks my heart to even consider the utter loneliness of that existence and the total inability to change your circumstance once set in it.  This is an isolation from all other life but even worse, it means you are forever separated from God; hopelessly lost forever.

I realize that is some heavy stuff to be thinking about on the first day of the new year, but so be it.  I believe you are worth talking to about this! And as strongly as I feel for you, God has an infinitely greater desire to be in relationship with you.

The Bible makes many direct references about God’s heart towards those who have not yet come to believe in Him.  One that says it clearly to me is this: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The promise mentioned here is that there will be and end of the world as we know it.  It doesn’t say when, just that it will happen.  God’s heart for you is revealed in the second part of this verse: He is patient, not wanting anyone to miss out and He even tells us what we need to do; repent (meaning to be truly sorry for our mistakes and failures).

His offer of eternal security remains in place until the Lord comes back again, another promise from the Scriptures.  I’m not claiming to have any inside-trader information of when that might be, only that it will.  Please, please, please don’t be left out when that happens.  Why not start this New Year with a brand-new you!  Not one that is sculpted at the gym or through dieting, but one that is eternally transformed by your Creator God.

Will this then be a ‘happy new year?’ Not it the sense of good luck or fortune, but it will have at its base an unshakable certainty that God’s love will care for you always.  I pray you consider God’s invitation and take Him up on his desire for you: to be happy, fulfilled, content, peace-filled, forgiving, etc. forever!

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

 

How was your holiday?

 

I’ve noticed an interesting change in the most frequently asked question in the days following Christmas.  As a kid growing up, my parents asked the question that I subsequently asked all my buddies: ‘Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?’ From my parents, I suppose the query was meant to justify the stretching of the family budget to make sure that the deep-pocketed guy in the red suit always came through for the ‘good’ kids.

My friends and I couldn’t wait to ask each other the same question.  For me, I wanted to know if they made out as well as I did, or perhaps my motive was a little less pure. Maybe I wanted to have the opportunity to gloat some if they didn’t.  Regardless of my true intention, the question: Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas was asked seeking a quantifiable answer.

As adults, the question changes to, “How was your Christmas,” or for the more politically correct, “How was your Holiday?” It seems to be the most common of greetings in the week between Christmas and the New Year.  We ask friends, neighbors, bank tellers, just about everyone meet.  In some ways, I suppose we’re still looking for that quantifiable something.  Perhaps we ask as a means to justify and commiserate about the frenzied shopping most have recently completed.  Whatever the reason, asking how things went on or about the 25th of December is a long way from what I believe the celebration is meant to be all about.

“How was your holiday,” in my opinion, takes more than the word Christ out of the question, it implies that He isn’t even in the mix.  The true meaning of Christmas ought to exclude any idea of attempting to justifying our actions by the putting of a hard number on them.  I realize that much has been said, more eloquently than I am able of producing, regarding the commercialization of Christmas.  I won’t attempt to add any more to it except to say that God choosing to break into human history through the miraculous birth of His Son is slightly more important than any great deal you might have found at the mall.

I will take the opportunity to rephrase the question in question from ‘How was your holiday’ to: Who was Jesus to you on December 25th?  I’d love to hear from you.

Blessings to all and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

That’s a Big God in a Small Baby!

 

The Bible teaches that God created everything.  I don’t want to get into the particulars of how He did it just now, I just know that He did.  As I said, everything!  That’s big beyond any concept of large I can muster.  I am too limited by space, time and lack of brain-power to get my mind around this in any reasonable way.  I accept on faith that there was a time when there was nothing until God put creation on the board.

So He’s a Big God with unlimited power and creativity.  The way He has designed things in nature, the working inter-dependence of all these moving parts is evidence enough for me that an immeasurable mind is behind all we can see.

Reading the Scriptures also reveals that God has an equally large heart.  He knew/knows we are a broken lot, like lost sheep without a shepherd.  Even on our best day, we fail at times to live lives that are worthy of the praise God deserves.  Still, His heart is for absolutely everyone to enter in to a personal, one on one relationship with Him.  We are invited, just as we are, to enter into the most one-sided relationship there ever could be: us with God!

The question then, with the unequaled vastness and power of God established, why come into the world as a tiny baby? My logical mind says He ought to have made a bigger splash upon entry.  Blessedly, my logical mind is not the impetus behind God’s salvation plan!

I believe the answer to this question lies in the very greatness of God I’ve mentioned: He knew He could have blown away people with a display of fireworks that got their attention.  He could have written across the sky “I HAVE ARRIVED.” And should He have entered history more like this, it seems even less likely that an infant child would be the preferred vessel to carry and then bear the message of salvation.

Ah, but there’s that heavenly, boundless wisdom again.  God knows how much we are drawn to the bright and shiny new thing.  Our curiosity and desire to be entertained draws us like a moth to a light.  The problem is, like that moth, it is the brightness that is the attraction, not the Maker of the light.  Furthermore, we tend to be quickly bored, making us look for the next bright thing.

I believe God chose to come to us as a baby to challenge us to grow out of that shallow life of bouncing off one light to look for the next.  Also, Scripture teaches us that God desires us to come to Him, that we may develop into the children He wants us to be.

How can this be? Recall that He is beyond measure in all things, allowing Him to be more than capable of meeting the desire of every heart that chooses to follow Him.  As we do, we can joyfully discover the depths of His love, evidenced first in His humbly coming to us a babe.

When we approach the God of the Universe with our own measure of child-like wonder, He reveals the greater plan at work that He set in motion at the birth of Jesus we rightfully celebrate this season.

The greater plan, of course, is the saving of a lost world.  The plan is set and is at work, but much darkness still persists.  The world chases the next shiny thing or follows the person will the most bombastic rhetoric while the baby in the manger still calls.

Only a God beyond measure would downsize enough to come as a baby to show all mankind He is more than big enough to handle the job of salvation.  In this Christmas season, I invite you to allow the super-natural wonder of the birth of Jesus to amaze you, for the first time or the One-hundredth; and may the joy it is intended to bring be yours beyond measure, just like God is.

Merry Christmas from Pastor Chuck at Lakeside Christian Ministries!

Jesus is the Prince of Peace

(This is the 4th and final installment of a series I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  Using Isaiah 9:6, we have previously considered how Jesus fulfilled this awesome prophesy of being the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Everlasting Father.  This entry wraps things us as we see how Jesus was/is the Prince of Peace.  My heart-felt thanks to all who have taken this journey with me!)

Isaiah 9:6 tells us: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These awesome words, spoken some 600 hundred years before His birth, have come to life in Jesus Christ!  We have considered over the previous three entries how the Lord not only fulfilled this prophesy through His perfect life on earth, but that he continues to do so on the throne of heaven and through the work of the Holy Spirit here on earth today.

Today let’s consider Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

What a glorious and fitting title for Jesus: Prince of Peace. This as yet unborn Prince Isaiah predicted was to be a ruler in every way.  He would rule over military, religious and governmental spheres.  Jesus is this ruler now, and will be seen completely as such when He returns to earth at His Second Coming to proclaim God’s eternal victory over sin, establishing a kingdom that will last throughout eternity.

With Christmas only one week away, what time could possibly be better than now to see how we can come to know this peace Jesus brought/brings.  In fact, Jesus Himself is peace. It is not overstatement to say that this, along with salvation, are the greatest gifts the Lord came to give.

To get started, let us once again be clear about the true meaning of the word peace as it is used here in Isaiah 9 and in fact throughout much of both the Old and New Testaments.

The Strong’s Strongest Concordance defines this peace as: intact, whole; a peace that has a sense of security and safety.

I hope this gives you some clue as to the depth of the word peace as Isaiah used it.  Today, we tend to think of peace as having no hostilities or at the end of a war.  However, history has proved that a signed peace treaty does not necessarily mean there is true peace.  One need only consider the Treaty of Versailles signed at the conclusion of WWI to understand this as WWII came only twenty years later, officially ending a most non-peaceful period in history.

Thankfully, Jesus establishes a lasting and complete peace.  Consider the definition of the word peace again: intact, whole; a peace that brings a sense of security and safety.  Only our Lord, the Son of God, has the ability, strength and love to make His peace a lasting one.  His peace brings completeness to a person and a sense of wholeness.  There is joy and contentment in the peace Jesus gives to those who place faith in Him alone for salvation.

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the peace the world offers to the peace that Jesus gives.  The peace the world has to offer pales when compared to this heavenly peace.  First, worldly peace is something that is to be achieved, not received.  Worldly peace is based on resources and personal ability.  This type of peace relies totally on externals; what can I get or have that will bring me peace in my troubles.  It seems so difficult to get and then if finally grasped it becomes seemingly impossible to hold.  The world’s concept of peace is that of being something one hopes for but rarely finds.

Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, brings a peace that is opposite of this. The peace of God is dependent upon a relationship, not resources; a relationship with the Almighty.  This relationship is made possible by God’s desire to be at peace with us.  Unlike the world’s concept of peace being something to be earned, the Lord brings His peace as a gift that we need only receive through faith.  And perhaps most importantly, God’s peace can be realized in the midst of our trials and struggles.  We don’t have to be burden free before we can know His peace, in fact the troubles we face ought to reveal the power of God to bestow His peace.  In other words, we can experience God’s peace in the very height of our personal storm.

Jesus, because He is the Prince of Peace foretold by Isaiah, did a considerable amount of teaching on the subject of peace. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

This in one of my all-time favorite scriptures, as it reveals so much about our Lord and the world in which we live.  Jesus doesn’t mix any words here, ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ That’s a plainly stated truth, and one that we must accept as we live this side of eternity.  I’ve yet to encounter anyone, myself included, who has not had/does not have trouble in their life.  Notice Jesus words: “in this world you will have trouble.” Jesus knew the stuff that would happen in this sin-infested world.  Sickness, death and unexplainable tragedy befall each of us.  The question is not ‘where was God when this happened,’ but should be, ‘how do I find Him in the middle of what’s happening’ This is where faith must come in.  The rest of the Lord’s statement tells us to ‘take heart,’ because only He can overcome all the world throws at us.

How do we get this faith? By believing the truth that He has indeed overcome the world.  We joyfully celebrate His birth in this season.  To know His peace however, we must consider His birth in the greater context of why He came at all: His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.  This is the ultimate victory that has been achieved by Jesus Christ.  No longer is death the final verdict for people.  Instead, we can know that the Lord has secured our forever home in heaven by dying for our sins and then being raised from the dead. The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is the payment of the debt we could never repay.

This same Isaiah who boldly spoke of the coming Messiah was also clear as to why He would come to earth: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and be his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) By this awesome act, the peace of God can be known by all!

This is what we are ‘to take heart in.’ The peace and comfort of eternal security is meant to see us through our worst trials and pain.  When we have peace in Christ, we can have peace through our turmoil.  Will this peace lessen our pain or our hurts? Maybe not in the moment; but if you will allow more of God’s peace into your heart, the more He will minister to you in your particular trouble and thereby make more or His peace known to you.

Here are some more incredibly encouraging words about the peace of God spoken by the Prince of Peace Himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)

Like any gift, it must be received and opened to be truly appreciated.  During this Christmas season, part of the fun we have in exchanging gifts is simply in watching the other person open the gift we have given them.  It may be an over-simplification, but for a gift to be truly enjoyed, it must be opened.  Likewise, as we open our hearts to God, we can receive the blessing of the awesome gift of His peace.

Remember, Jesus does not give as the world gives.  He doesn’t, because the gift of peace He brings is not a thing to be grasped, it is the Lord Himself!  Pastor and author Ray Stedman explains this as he writes: when Christ Jesus makes peace — between individuals or between nations — that peace will be a satisfying, permanent, and genuine peace. It will be a real peace that will last and last. And it will be a totally satisfying experience. The problem with most of us is that we want to start by clearing up only the results of conflict. God never starts there; he starts with the person. He says peace is a Person, and in order for you to live at peace with someone else, you must be at peace with the Person of Christ. If you have his peace, then you can start solving the conflict around you. But you never can do it on any other basis. So the place to start, the origin of peace, is the settling of any problems between you and Jesus Christ. That is always the place to start.

I love the clarity this explanation brings to my mind.  I so often want to clear up the turmoil and any damage caused by it so that life can go back to an easy and even keel.  Doing this, even as it is well-intended, does not ultimately embrace or portray the peace of God.  But, as Stedman has so wonderfully written, we must have the peace of Christ first if we are to be peace-makers in our troubled circumstances.

Peace is often spoken of, especially at Christmas. It can be yours in Christ. Warning: this peace is not the same as complacency or warm, fuzzy feelings. Real, true and lasting peace comes only through faith in Christ.  The Prince of Peace, promised hundreds of years before His birth, has made the peace of God not only known, but available to all mankind.  Please don’t leave this most precious gift unopened.  Tear the paper and bow off it and relish not only in the gift itself, but cherish the One who gives it.  Remember, real peace is not earned, it is received.  The greatest giver of all time, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is offering it to you!

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  The four-part series focused on the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah.  This is the third installment which examines Jesus as Everlasting Father).

What’s in a name? Quite a bit actually, especially when we consider the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Savior some 600 years before He was born! They are recorded in Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NIV)

Before we dive in, allow me to share a question I have been wrestling with to get us started: What, if anything, is different this Christmas season from last year’s? Or any other Christmas season, for that matter?

Where is the focus? If it is to get the many things done and to go to the many places we go simply because it is Christmas time again, may I kindly suggest that the focus is misdirected.

Because December 25th is approaching ought not put us into a frenzy to get the house decorated or the perfect gift purchased.  Yet, like most, if I look back at this time last year, that pretty well describes the lives of many of us.  We celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus by running ourselves ragged with what we think has to be done to make this season successful, happy, memorable, etc.

If you find you are caught up in any or all of the busyness going on around you, please take some time to consider Jesus Christ.  Yes, this is the time of year we celebrate His birth, and rightly so! This is the Savior of the world, who came to the world because He so loved us.  Take this time to re-set your focus.  Place it solely on Jesus and watch if all the other ‘important’ stuff going on doesn’t fall into its rightful place.

As I said, we’ve been discussing some of the wonder of the birth of our Lord through the lens of the prophesy of His birth given us by the prophet Isaiah.  I find it truly amazing that God’s word spoke to people in their context over 2000 years ago, and it is still speaking clearly to those who would listen today!

Remember, the ancient Israelites Isaiah wrote to were living in a dark period.  They had weak leadership nationally and spiritually.  They were in this condition because they had turned their backs on God. Despite this, God in His mercy and love gave them the encouragement of the awesome promise of a Savior.  He still holds this promise out to all today.  His light can/will still shine brightly into any area of darkness.

So far in this series we’ve considered how Jesus fulfilled the names Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God by which Isaiah said He would be called.  All the wisdom and power of heaven was/is on display through the child born, this son given.  His counsel is true, his power unlimited; we should seek Him out continuously as we walk this earth.  He will guide us if we ask Him, his power will supply us if we allow it to.

To help us discover the light God wants to shine on all of our lives, let’s look at the third title Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah, Everlasting Father.  Let me help with any confusion this title might cause at first: How can Jesus, the Son, be an everlasting Father?  It’s an excellent question that comes with a straight-forward answer that the original language will help us to find.

In Hebrew, the phrase translated Everlasting Father is literally “the Father of Eternity.” This speaks of the purpose of his coming.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries explains it this way: He (Jesus) is before, above, and beyond time. He is the possessor of eternity. He is eternally like a father to his people. This is not a statement about the Trinity but about the character of our Lord. All that a good father is, Jesus is to his people.

Jesus is this type of father, forever.  My earthly dad, Ken, was a wonderful man who taught me life lessons by his words and deeds.  He played a large part in making me who I am today.  But, like all mortal fathers will, he has passed away.  He was a great dad, but not an everlasting one.  Only God possesses eternity.

Ray Pritchard again: Because he is like a father, he cares for his people. Because he owns eternity, he can give us eternal life. That’s important for those who live on this sin-cursed planet. No one lives forever. Sooner or later we will all find our own place in the graveyard. We are not immortal but transitory. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. A dead Christ will do us no good. Dying men need an undying Christ.  Praise God, our Lord Jesus is eternal!

This had to seem like a bit of a stretch to those who first heard Isaiah utter this prediction.  After all, he was proclaiming prophesy of a child not yet born in Isaiah 9:6.   However, the text clearly says that this newborn Messiah is in fact to be an Everlasting Father! Go ahead, get your mind wrapped around that!

Helping us to do this will be the mind-set we bring to it.  We talked last time about child-like wonder at the things of God; how God often challenges us to get past our logical thought process in order that we might see more clearly how He is at work around us.  Remember, this is God Almighty coming to the world as an infant.  God chose Bethlehem, not even big enough to make most maps back then, to be His birthplace.  Given these facts, in all their heavenly contrast, let’s see how Jesus was/is indeed an Everlasting Father.

To do this, we do have to consider the term Father in the context that the Prophet Isaiah used it.  In our day we have watered down the concept of father in many ways.  Be it the bumbling portrayal of a Homer Simpson, to the real-life dad who works 2 full-time jobs, supplying materially but not emotionally to his family, to the no-account who fathers children and then disappears from their lives; part of each of these, plus many others, tend to make up today what we consider the title ‘Father’ to mean.

Being a father in Isaiah’s day carried with it much more than the above.  To be a proper father then meant that you oversaw the entire process of family life.  As one commentator put it, the father was the head who provided nutrition, education and protection for his household, including all those who might work for him.  It was a title of respect that was earned through bringing compassionate care as well as proper discipline and correction.  The Father was involved in all aspects of life in order that those under his care could live and grow in a loving and nurturing environment.

It will also help our understanding if we realize there was a tremendous stigma attached to those who didn’t have a father back then.  Being fatherless as a child in Isaiah’s time was to be virtually an outcast in society.  You had no advocate or anyone to look out for your best interest. This information ought to help us see all the more clearly that Jesus fulfilled/fulfills the title of Everlasting Father.  God left clear instructions in the Old Testament that teaches about providing care and provision for those who were in need (For more on this, read Deuteronomy 24:17-21).

Throughout His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus displayed this type of loving, paternal heart as He met the needs of so many.  Here are just a few examples found in John’s gospel:

  • He turned water into wine at his mother’s request when they had run out at a wedding reception.
  • Jesus took the time to explain to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, the necessity of being born again through salvation. He took the time to show a Samaritan woman at the well that he was Messiah.  Jesus invested His time in others.
  • He spoke a word and healed the royal official’s son; healed a lame man at the pool called Bethesda, gave sight to a man born blind and to a beggar on the road, miraculously fed thousands of people from a few fish and a loaf of bread and, let’s not forget that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. All evidence of a Father’s heart beating in His chest.  In this case, the Everlasting Father who showed great love and compassion for people.

But Jesus went well beyond merely meeting needs.  His love for all people, especially those who were lost in their sins, was abundantly clear. There is a poignant example of this recorded in Luke 13.  As the Lord approaches Jerusalem, he receives a warning to not go there as King Herod is planning to have him killed.  Rather than avoid the problem by not going or giving in to anger about this threat, Jesus instead reveals His loving parental heart:

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

On another occasion, as the Pharisees looked down at Jesus for dining with ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ the Lord told the parable of the Prodigal son.  Of the many lessons that can be gleaned from that teaching, primary among them is the loving and patient heart of the Father who longed for the lost child to return:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

There are many more examples of the parental heart Jesus had for people.  As it is my hope that our previous examinations of the Scriptures revealed Jesus to be the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God Isaiah spoke of, so too my prayer is that this brief study sheds light on how Jesus clearly fulfilled the pronouncement that He would be the Everlasting Father as well.

As mind boggling as it can appear to be, our Lord Jesus, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, is God.  These three distinct persons, the Trinity, exist simultaneously together as God.  Jesus was well aware of the confusion this was bringing to his original audience, as well to people still today.

Because of this fact, Jesus made many other statements that were meant to bring clarity that He was indeed the prophesied Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6.  One can be seen as He spoke with Thomas:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

To bring this all into focus in our context this Christmas season, please remember that the Messiah promised in Isaiah Chapter 9 is indeed Emmanuel, God with us.  Today we have concentrated on the eternal Father that Jesus is.  That He is everlasting is more than a statement of time; or of His always having been there or that He will always be there.  Though wonderfully true, the point of application is that He is always with us now!  We can know that this promised Messiah, Emmanuel, is indeed with us each and every moment.

My hope and prayer for all of us in this particular season is that we can experience a deeper sense of God being with us.  This is God; who made us and loves us.  He’s not merely sitting somewhere above, watching and ready to pounce on our mistakes.  Rather, He is always and everywhere around us, as our Everlasting Father, offering us His peace.  The Messiah, Jesus Christ, stepped into this darkened world to bring forgiveness and salvation to all who would accept Him.

The miracle only began at His virgin birth because the miracle continues in the heart of each person who puts their faith in the Lord.  Once you have done this, the everlasting care of God is available to you.  He will guide and comfort you, He will direct your steps.  You need only allow Him to and He will do so as your Everlasting Father. Amen.