Five Ways Your Church Can Fulfill Your Purpose in Life

churchI love it when I feel like I’m living life like I am supposed to. I know I can deceive myself and that’s the problem with self-directed lifestyle. We naturally lean into what we want to do. We think that our will must be God’s will. In the words of the popular 70s song, “how can it be wrong when it feels so right.” But when I am doing what God has commanded, I know I’m doing His will.

When you serve in your local church, fulfilling both your purpose and God’s purpose, you are living a double purpose. So, from the early church (Acts 2:41-47) we can discover 5 purposes of our life lived through the church.

EVANGELISM

“…they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)

According to the book of Acts, the Jerusalem church grew by 3,000 the first week, 5,000 the next week, a multitude the following week, and multitudes the 4th week. Even conservatively, this means that the group of 120 in the Upper Room numbered 18,120 in one month. That is a growth rate of 15,100% in one month.

This passage emphasizes the value of corporate evangelism – in mass. It was at the conclusion of a sermon that 3,000 were saved. Yet, we also find that people came to Christ daily. Reaching the unsaved is a command to the Christians as individuals and the church as a community. You and your church can partner together to reach people for Jesus.

 

DISCIPLESHIP

“and they continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

As the church grew bigger, it grew deeper. People were taught doctrine. They were presented with eternal Biblical truths.

We live in an information age. More Bible study tools are available on your cell phone than most pastors and seminary professors had in previous generations. Yet, many believers today are Biblically illiterate.

A recent Gallup Poll revealed that while Americans revere the Bible, they don’t read it. Fewer than ½ can name all four gospels. 60% can’t name 5 of the 10 Commandments. 82% believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse. 12% believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.

It takes personal commitment to grow in your Christian life. It takes humility, hunger, a desire to be more like Jesus and less like the world. It takes someone who is dissatisfied with life they way you’re living. I still say, “Jesus deserves better Christianity that I’m giving Him today.”

SERVICE

“…and all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44-45

These new Christians took what they had and leveraged it to help others. Several sold all they had so they could distribute it to those who needed it.

How this plays in today’s world may be difficult. But it begins with the realization that what I have (money, possessions, time, experiences, talent, abilities) were given to me. I need to be grateful and use what was given to me to help others. Service is not just helping in the nursery or giving to missions. Service is the act of using what I have for others.

 

Five minutes after you die you will realize that most of the things you spent your time, energy, passions, and money in was a waste of time. They were fun while they lasted, but they didn’t last that long. But what you did for Jesus and used what you had for His kingdom and His church, will go on forever. It’s been said, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”

FELLOWSHIP

“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” (Acts 2:46)

Every day these Christians interacted with each other. Every society fights Christians getting together but these believers made it a priority.

We live in a different world. Life is busy. Please consider meeting with other Christians to encourage them and receive encouragement. Maybe you can’t do it every day. But find a group to share fellowship. You cannot have a balanced Christian life if you are not faithfully investing in the lives of other Christians.

WORSHIP

“Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47)

I wonder why praise and worship came last in the long list of what Luke’s records about the early church. Could it be that when the church was reaching out in evangelism, reaching deep in discipleship, reaching a hand in service, and a heart in fellowship that they could then, and only then, truly praise God?

Most of us accept the value of praise and worship of God. He deserves it. We are commanded to do it. But you can talk about how your life pleases God and you can share a Facebook post about how much you love Jesus, but until your life is involved in your local church, you will never truly live your life in praise of God.

These 5 areas were not private actions. They were part of the ministry of a local church. When you became a Christian, you were not saved just to believe but also to belong. You were not just brought into God’s family, you were expected to be part of a local church family.

What value do you receive from your church? How has your church helped you fulfill God’s purpose in your life?

You can also read my similar articles: Live Life on Purpose, 3 Considerations When Fulfilling Your Purpose, Finding Fulfillment.

 

 

4 Reasons to Spend Time with your Bible

 

 

Bible studyI have found that my time spent with my Bible is my best investment. I need to balance with other areas of my life. But my Bible study time is invaluable. It’s not just that I’m a preacher. The Bible promises prosperity and success if you will invest time in your Bible.

The promise given to Joshua can apply to us. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

So what is it about the Bible that makes it so great. The writer of Hebrews gives four reasons why you should spend time with your Bible.

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

1- The Bible is A Living Word (v. 12a) 

“For the word of God is living…”

The Bible is unlike any other book you have in your home or in the library. The Library of Congress lays claims to being the largest library in the world, with more than 130 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 58 million manuscripts. Yet among all these volumes the only ones that can lay claims to being alive and powerful are copies of the Bible. This places the Bible in a unique category all to itself.

God’s Word gives new life to sinners. “….for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23). If you want to see sinners converted, get them to read and listen to God’s Word.

God’s Word gives new life to His saints. “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Ps. 19:7). Every Christian should enjoy the Bible as a source of strength, encouragement, and direction.

2- The Bible is a Powerful Word (v 12b)

“For the word of God is living and powerful.”

The word translated “powerful” (energes) is the word from which we get energy and energetic. The word literally means “at work.” Charles Swindoll comments, “News articles may inform us. Novels may inspire us. Poetry may enrapture us. But only the living, active Word of God can transform us.” 

The movie, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ depicts the historical account of a rebellion against the notorious Captain Bligh. The movie ended with as nine mutineers, along with Tahatian men and women, found their way to Pitcairn Island. Ten years later, drink and fighting had left only one man alive—John Adams, along with eleven women and 23. This is where the movie and book ends. But the rest of the story is even more remarkable. Adams came across the “Bounty’s” Bible in the bottom of an old chest. He began to read it, and the power of God’s Word reached into the heart and changed his life forever. The peace and love that Adams found in the Bible entirely replaced the old life of quarreling, brawling, and liquor. He began to teach the children from the Bible until every person on the island had experienced the same amazing change that he had found. Just before World War 2, with a population of about 200, nearly every person on Pitcairn Island is a Christian.

3- The Bible is a Penetrating Word (v 12c) 

“… sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow…” 

Like a sharp sword which can lay open the human body with one slashing blow, so the sword of the Scripture can open our inner life and expose it to ourselves and to others.

God’s Word can reach into the innermost recesses of our being! No heart is too tough and no soul is too dark. God’s Word can pierce anyone as a certain Mr. Thorpe in the 18th century Bristol found out. Thorpe was a part of a band of men who called themselves, the ‘Hell Fire Club.’ Their reason for existence was to mock and ridicule the work of evangelist, George Whitefield. On one occasion, the ‘Hell-Fire Club’ gathered at a pub for such mockery. Mr. Thorpe offered his imitation of Whitefield, whom he and his friends called, ‘Mr Squintum’ because of Whitefield eyes. He delivered his sermon with accuracy, perfectly imitating his tone and facial expressions as he quoted Scripture and exposition. Suddenly amidst the laughter he had to sit down for he was pierced through and was converted on the spot.

4- The Bible is a Discerning Word (vv. 12d )

“…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

God sees everything and we can’t escape. We want God to see us when we are hurting and when we are going through difficult times. The word “discerner” (kritikos) is the word from which we get critic. As the word of God penetrates into the innermost recesses of man’s being it does so as his critic or judge to tell us when we are wrong.

God sees everything and there is no hiding. Only the Word of God is capable of exposing the thoughts and attitudes of a single human heart. There really is no use in hiding. Why is it when we fear that something is not quite right physically we tend to put off going to the doctor because we fear we will hear bad news. The same is true spiritually. When God reveals our heart, confess it, and go on. Don’t try to hide.

I discovered with five practical action steps:

  1. Treasure God’s Word above all worldly counsel!
  2. Read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word.
  3. Apply, trust, and obey God’s Word.
  4. Live with your heart exposed to God’s Word.
  5. Drink in all of the biblical preaching and teaching you can absorb.

You can read my other articles about the Bible: 4 Steps to Personal Application of the Bible,  How to study your Bible, 5 Reasons the Bible is True.

20/20 Vision – Church Goals

2020-Vision1On Sunday, January 1, 2017, I shared with our church my goals for our church. I looked forward to 3 years and imagined what our church would be like. I think putting our goals and dreams into tangible wording helps us think in concrete terms.

I often use the acronym SMART goals to help me set goals in my life.

  • Specific:A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.
  • Measurable:Establish concrete steps to reach your goal.
  • Attainable: Not too big, not too small.
  • Relevant: Not too many, but a variety of areas.
  • Time-bound: Set a date. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency.

Let me share with you my 20/20 Vision for Faith Baptist Church…

It’s the first Sunday in January 2020. It’s 10:30am and we’ve started our second packed service of the day. We had 75 in the Saturday service. The new parking lot with modern lighting is comfortably full and attendants greet people as they enter. The new LED sign out front lets passers by know what is happening at Faith Baptist. People arrive early to get a good seat, but they aren’t sitting down. They’re greeting guests, welcoming visitors, laughing with friends, and enjoying coffee and smoothies at the new Connection Cafe in the expanded church lobby. Parents are chasing their children down the hall to the new classrooms and children’s activity game area. A full band/orchestra is warming up, playing familiar hymns with a contemporary twist. Today it’s Amazing Grace on the saxophone. This weekend over 500 will worship at Faith Baptist Church in 2 Sunday services. But even more will watch and interact on the live-stream in the gym and at home.

5,4,3,2,1… the worship service opens up with enthusiastic, passionate singing to contemporary and age-old hymns. Everybody joins in. It’s not the style, but the fervor that makes the music the best in town. Music, testimonies, announcements, and videos have been quality produced to enhance the worship experience. The pastor presents a Bible-based, relevant principled message and many respond for prayer with 5 getting baptized. There will be over 50 baptized this year, and over 100 make their public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

It’s not just the worship service that has grown. During Sunday School, Sunday evening, and throughout the week, 500 youth and adults meet in 30 different small groups to learn, serve or just live life together. There have been over 500 who have personally been discipled to help others grow in their spiritual life. AWANA has over 100 every week and the teens have two nights to make room for 200 youth at The Remedy.

Faith Baptist is a congregation that is reaching out. A major thrust into the community has impacted the hispanic, senior citizens, mentally-impaired, college and deaf residents of Lenawee county. Members of Faith Baptist are involved in every major Christian ministry and most service clubs in Lenawee county. The missions family has grown to 100 missionaries. Missions giving is $175,000 annually, and the church budget is $500,000 annually. Faith Baptist has a major outreach event in every community in Lenawee county every year.

Faith Baptist is passionate, fun, exciting, growing, and full of friends who follow and lead others to follow Christ. Faith Baptist is a place where every week just keeps getting better because in the future Jesus deserves better Christianity than we gave Him in the past.

What do you think of our 20/20 Vision? Anything you would change?

ONE thing you can do to have your BEST YEAR EVER

happy-new-year-2017-images-hdThe beginning of a new year always fills me with hope. Anything can happen this year. As I saw 2016 leave, Judy I realized we had two new members of our family. Aubrey and Esther were born. We could never have predicted such a great blessing.

I often make some resolutions or goals for the new year. I have some for this year that I will share in a later post. But most of the goals I have don’t come to pass. I have good intentions, but I just don’t fill the space throughout the year that I have created on the first day.

We often focus on the goal and forget the means to the goal. A goal might be to lose 20 pounds. But rather than focus on the end goal, we should focus on what we should do to accomplish it, like eat less, exercise more, and give up calorie-rich drinks.

So is there one thing we can do at the beginning of this year to guarantee a great year? Many would say that deserves a negative answer. Nothing can guarantee success, can it? I believe there is one thing you can do right now, and the better you keep it the better your year will be. Put Jesus first in your life.

That sounds so simple, but believe me, it is not. Everything in my life screams for first place. And many of those things are good things, like my family, my ministry, my health, and my wife. But there is a promise in the Bible that I think is one of the greatest promises Jesus ever gave.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus is concerned with the priorities of our life. Most of us have a lot going on. But Jesus commands that our first priority be His kingdom and His righteousness. How does this work itself out in our everyday life.

Our Focus. Matthew 6 defines three key issues in life: Shelter, Clothing & Food. These things are important. We spend at least half of our waking hours with involvement in these things. Probably more concern invested in these than in anything else. Therefore we are prone to focus on them. Those who personally know God and understand His Him should not live with the same anxiety as lost people.

Our Choices. Jesus indicates that there are two priority options or directions on which we can focus our life. We can go after and be occupied with things as our goal. Or we can seek first the kingdom and righteousness as our goal. Generally, we give ourselves first priority in our life. As a result, we go after the material things that loom large in life. We give small attention to the spiritual things of life. We expect that somehow spiritual things will take care of themselves.

Our Goals. Like the lost world we can go after “these other things.” We can choose to place the priority for our energies and efforts into providing for ourselves. If we make these things the goals for our life, they will move it in the direction of the material and earthly. Or we can go after God’s kingdom and righteousness. “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11).] Seek first God instead of things, the spiritual as opposed to the material, the eternal instead of the earthly.

Our Priorities. This does not teach that having or pursing things is wrong. It is not wrong to go after other things. Jesus says “Seek first,” not let it be the one and only thing you seek or go after. God expects us to work and live, while centering our life on Him and His kingdom as we work and live. What Jesus is teaching us here is to clearly establish priorities in your life. Let you first priority be following Christ.

Our Denials. Apparently there are two ways of getting things. You can make them the object of life and struggling for them like the world does. Or you can have them added unto you. Our caring protective good God will always add what we need to our life. The passage calls us to seek first the kingdom and leave the secondary matters to His providential care. If God’s priorities become our priorities, He will take care of our needs. It is a conditional promise. First we seek the kingdom, and then everything else will fall into place.

Our Daily Life.  We must not expect God’s specific blessings where He is not first in our life. If the first priority in your daily life is not God’s kingdom and righteousness it may explain some unproductive living and giving. This concentration on doing God’s will is the positive answer to worry. Anxiety is resolved by a lifestyle of seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first each day. Don’t expect Him to spiritually or eternally bless you, if you are not going to put Him first. It means that decisions in life must be weighed. What am I putting first? Your daily life and decisions must give priority to God’s kingdom and righteousness. We must give God sovereignty over our daily lives. This is where the real issue lies. Will we walk or live by faith in Christ (6:30) or will we walk by the sight and wisdom of natural man. Do you want to follow Jesus as Lord or do you only want comfort, protection, and fire-insurance?

Two simple rules should govern life. Set your eyes on the things that advance God’s kingdom and contribute to the establishment of His righteousness and go after them. Allow the heavenly Father to keep His promises concerning the rest of life. Seek first the kingdom, and everything else will fall into place. That is His promise.

The Peace of Christmas

 

Christmas PeaceThe Peace Symbol, Fingers in a V-shape, even the symbol of a dove and olive branch. All these symbols were not born out of peace, but in the midst of conflict. Peace is defined as freedom from disturbance, quiet and tranquility. But it is often in situations that are exactly the opposite that we most recognize our need for peace. We see peace most clear not in the absence of suffering and conflict but in the middle of it.

That’s how Jesus was born. He came when the world was in darkness. Jesus is not just a symbol of peace. He is peace – the Prince of Peace.

What kind of peace does Jesus bring?

1 – Peace with God.

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

There is a bumper sticker that says, “No God, No Peace. Know God, know Peace.” Isn’t that true? Our first place to seek peace is with God. That is the reason Jesus came to earth. Because of sin we are at war with God. From the time sin entered our world in the Garden of Eden, humanity has been at odds with God. Our sin and His holiness are not compatible. They are not at peace but in conflict.

But through Jesus, peace has been made. Through Jesus we can be justified by grace through faith. When a person believes in Jesus and accepts His salvation and forgiveness, peace results with God. The barrier of sin has been removed. This eternal peace with God is a great gift available to all who trust Jesus as Savior.

Is everything okay between you and God? Have you trusted His Son, Jesus Christ, as your own personal Lord and Savior?

2 – Peace of God.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Life can be anything but peaceful. But peace is an attitude that every Christian can experience. God knows the unrest we feel within ourselves. He knows the broken world around us and the anxiety that longs to overcome us. But He has promised that when we have Jesus, we have peace.

Paul tells us that the ‘peace of God’ is beyond anything we can understand. The peace of God is stronger than our world and circumstances and fills us when everything is going wrong. God’s peace is stronger than anything you face.

To have the ‘peace of God’, you must quit fighting God. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). God has given us His peace, but often we fight Him. I’ve met people who are so accustomed to turmoil that they don’t know how to live in peace. If the day seems to be peaceful, they have to bring up some kind of drama to create an environment of chaos. Quit fighting God’s peace.

To have the ‘peace of God’ you must surrender to God. “Now be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.” (2 Chronicles 30:8). The Jews were in a continual rebellion against God. Each generation and each person must decide to yield to God. Surrender is not an easy word to accept. But if you want to enter into peace, you must surrender to God. The sanctuary was a peaceful place in the Temple. If you want to enter into peace, you must surrender. In the passage above I find it interesting that part of the chaos people were experiencing was due to the wrath of God. Some of our problems will be immediately eliminated if we will simply yield to God.

To have the ‘peace of God’ you must serve God. Not only does 2 Chronicles 30:8 teach us that we must surrender to God, but we must serve God if we want His peace. I can’t tell you the inner tranquility that comes when I serve God. He has blessed each of us with talents, abilities, and experiences. They are given to us to glorify Him. But most people serve themselves. They use these gifts to make money or make themselves happy. But when you use what God has given you to make Him known and serve Him by serving others, it will give you more peace and joy than you can imagine.

A story is told that during World War 1, as German, British, and French solders were in the trenches along the western front on Christmas day, someone heard Silent Night being sung. The words were in a different language, but the tune was the same. Soon, the soldiers laid down their weapons, sang the Christmas carol, played soccer and shared care packages. British Army Captain Edward Hulse called it “the most extraordinary Christmas in the trenches you could possibly imagine” in a letter to his mother. It was called ‘The Christmas Truce.”

Unwrap Christmas Gifts

Christmas giftsMerry Christmas!

Some of you have already opened many of your Christmas gifts. But I want you to imagine unwrapping some special gifts today. The Christmas gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace as we celebrate the gift of Jesus Himself.

The Gift of Hope.

We often think of hope in the future, God’s gift of hope includes hope past, present and future. What is the longest you’ve waited for something? The people of Israel knew about waiting. Their entire history was marked by waiting. For thousands of years they waited for a Savior. Finally, Jesus’ birth was foretold to Mary that she would have a Son. How would you have handled this unexpected news? Thankfully, Mary responded in faith and held fast to the hope of the promise of Jesus, God with us. You can have hope in every circumstance because of Jesus.

The Gift of Love.

Did you know that Christmas is the most popular time of the year to get engaged? It’s true – even more than Valentine’s Day. Christmas is the season of love. Love is a great Christmas gift from God to accept, experience, and share. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s why God gave His Son to pay the ultimate sacrifice for each of us. That’s why we can accept His love and be made right with Him in forgiveness and for an eternal relationship that goes beyond our time on earth.

The Gift of Joy.

Joy is more than a feeling. Even if you don’t feel joy this season, you can have joy. The shepherds were not in a joyous spirit that first Christmas. But as angels appeared to them they were in fear. Then their fear turned into joy when they realized that Christ was born. The Bible tells us that when the wise men followed the star, and came to the house where Jesus was, they were overjoyed. You can have joy as you realize that Jesus has come for you.

The Gift of Peace.

Peace is defined as ‘freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” But often our lives are the opposite of peace. But the angels pronounced “Peace on Earth.” Because of Jesus we can have peace with God, an inner peace, and peace with others. The gift of peace arrives in the form a a person, Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Jesus is the Hope bringing, Love come down, The JOY giver, The Peace Maker. Jesus is the bringing of eternal life and relationship with God. He is the giver of life to the full. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is everything. He is the gift who entered our dark world and brought light to us all. If you will receive Him today, just like He is, He will receive you, just like you are. Turn to Him and receive the greatest Christmas gift of all.

The Joy of Christmas

IMG_4887What brings me joy at Christmas are my grandchildren. They are so much fun!

If there is a single word that describes what Christmas is all about, it’s the little word “joy.” Several of our favorite carols mention it: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” “Shepherds, why this jubilee, why your joyous strains prolong?” “Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice,” “Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with th’ angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’”

Where does Christmas joy come from? If you are looking for Christmas joy this year, I suggest that you can find all you need in Luke 2:8-11.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-11)

From this familiar story, I suggest 4 things that will bring you joy…

1. God Keeps His Promises.

Notice the simple phrase—”born this day in the city of David.” The city of David is not Jerusalem—it’s Bethlehem, which is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. Seven hundred earlier the Lord had spoken through the prophet Micah (5:2) and declared that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

So when we read “city of David” we should remember that Jesus was born in fulfillment of a prophecy made 700 years earlier. It should also remind us that always keeps His promises. He has promised eternal life to all who believe and receive Jesus Christ as Savior (John 1:12). He promised that all things work together for God for those who love Him and are called by Him (Romans 8:28). No matter how bad it gets, it’s going to be okay.

2. Jesus Really Understands You.

The angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David.” Focus on the three words—”born this day.” They speak to the fact that what happened in Bethlehem was nothing less than the birth of a baby named Jesus Christ.

Even though we often speak of the virgin birth of Christ, it’s important to remember that the real miracle took place nine months earlier when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary with the result that although she was a virgin, she became pregnant. That was an enormous miracle which has never been repeated in the history of the world. However, from that point on Mary’s pregnancy followed the normal course of all human pregnancies leading to the momentous night in Bethlehem when she gave birth to the Lord Jesus in a stable.

So I hope you realize that when Jesus was born He knew what it was like to be human. He knows what it’s like to be hungry, thirsty, tired, and tempted. He knows what it is like to be you. He even knows the full force of tempation, though He never gave in. You can have joy in every circumstance because Jesus understands you.

3. Jesus is Savior, Christ, Lord.

Now we come to the climax of this verse: “A Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Each word is vitally important.

Savior is actually an Old Testament word that means “One who delivers his people.” We desperately need a Savior, don’t we? When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to Joseph, he said, “Give him the name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

He came to be Lord or ruler of the universe. Today he is the Lord of heaven. One day He will return and set up His kingdom on the earth. Between now and then we Christians are called to make him Lord of our lives on a daily basis. That means surrendering your will to him and letting him lead the way.

He is the Christ—the one sent from God. Christ means ‘anointed One.’ Jesus is God in human form.

This is the heart of Christmas. God loved us enough to send his only begotten Son. Think of it this way: He didn’t send a committee. He didn’t write a book. He didn’t send a substitute. No, when God got ready to save the world, He sent the best that He had—His one and only Son. And in sending Jesus, he was really sending Himself. This is the stupendous truth of Christmas—Immanuel—God with us. That should give you joy.

4. Salvation for All

The Christmas story contains one final truth —”For unto you is born this day in the city of David.” Pause for a moment and consider who was speaking and who was being addressed. When the shepherds heard these words from the angel, they must have been flabbergasted. We tend to overlook the fact that shepherds were near the bottom of the social order of ancient Israel. So when the angel says, “To you is born,” he’s really saying, “Christ came for lowly shepherds.”

When Christ came, his birth was first announced to the outcasts of society. They were the first ones to hear the good news of Christmas. There is a great lesson in this for all of us. Our Lord came for the forgotten people of the earth and most of the time they are the ones who receive him with the greatest joy. Rich people often have no time for Christ, but the poor welcome him as an honored guest. He came for you.

This is where Christmas becomes intensely personal. It’s not enough to say that you believe Christ came. Millions of people say that and are still lost in their sins. It’s not enough to say that Christ came for someone else.

You can never be saved until you say, “Christ came for me. He died for me. He rose from the dead for me.” Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

The Love of Christmas

IMG_4933I love getting and giving presents at Christmas. This year we got our oldest granddaughter a sewing machine. As she opened her present, the look on her face when she realized was she had was amazing. She loved it!

Gifts for Christmas go all the way back to the original Christmas story. The gifts brought by the wise men to Jesus were unique – gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold signified kingship. Frankincense, a fragrant gum resin ground into powder and burned as incense, symbolized priesthood. Myrrh, another aromatic resin from small, thorny trees, was very costly and used in perfumes, anointing oils, medicine, and embalming. It denoted Jesus’ future suffering and burial. Strange, unique gifts for this little baby, weren’t they?

But the greatest gift at Christmas was Jesus Himself. He was God’s unique gift to the world. If you notice 1 John 4:9-11, we discover three principles about this unique gift of love…

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

This unique gift shows how much God loves us (1 John 4:9)

When John says, “in this”, he refers to God sending His unique Son. The Father’s action proved His love for us. This Son, Jesus, was no ordinary son. He is the only begotten (unique, one-of-a-kind) Son of the Father. This unique Son of God brought eternal life to all who trust in Him.

Maybe this story will remind you of the great love of a Father….

An American businessman had an Indian friend who would dive deep in search of pearls. It seemed each pearl he brought up was better than the one before. One afternoon, the businessman heard a knock at his door. It was the diver asking him to come to his house. The aging diver brought out a small, heavy strongbox. ‘I have had this box for years,’ he said. He removed a carefully wrapped package and folded back its layers. Uncovering a brilliant pearl, he placed it in the businessman’s hands. It was beautiful; a truly perfect specimen. The diver explained that the pearl had once belonged to his son, who was the best pearl diver in India. He had always dreamed of finding such a pearl. When he did, it cost his life. ‘All these years I have kept this pearl, and now I want to give this pearl to you, because you are my best friend.’ The businessman objected, offering to at least buy the pearl. The old diver was stunned. ‘You don’t understand, my friend. My only son gave his life to get this pearl. I cannot sell it. But I want to give it to you because of my love for you.’ How like our Heavenly Father, who gave His Son out of His love for us.

This unique gift helps us understand true love. (1 John 4:10)

The source of true love is God. The act of giving His Son demonstrates true love.This act did not start with us. It was an act in which we had no part – a total transaction of divine love. The nature of true love is sacrificial – “He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (substitutionary sacrifice) for our sins”.

After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, one forest ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, carried her babies to the base of the tree and covered them under her wings. She could have flown to safety, but she remained. Because she was willing to die, those under her wings were able to live.

God wants His love for us to be shared with others (1 John 4:11)

When we love others, we participate in the same love by which God loves us. Christmas shows us how much God loves us. Christmas helps us understand true love. God wants His love for us to be shared with others.

I hope Christmas brings you close to those you love. I hope it gives you opportunity to give and receive love. But most of all, I hope you will realize how much you are loved by God.

 

The Hope of Christmas

ChristmasHope.lgI love all the Christmas specials that come on about this time of the year… A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Each of these Christmas shows have one thing in common. People, or grinches, lose hope. Then by the end of the movie, they get hope back. I suppose hope is one common theme of Christmas.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has lost his hope and wants to kill himself. I think many people are just like him. For many, financial problems, family dynamics, fractured relationships, personal problems, or some other disaster has brought them to a place of hopelessness.

But Christmas brings us hope. Jesus’ birth reminds us that God is a God of hope. Christmas is a good time for hope.

birth-of-jesusChristmas reminds us that…

God shows up (the incarnation)

In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul tells us that “in the fullness of time” Jesus was born. In other words, at just the right time, God sent His Son as the answer to our primary problem, sin. God’s timing is always right. We may not understand God’s timing in our life, but we can have hope that He is never too late or too early.

Do you remember the movie, Karate Kid. It’s the story of a boy who was bullied by some martial arts kids. So, he asked an older neighbor, Mr. Miagi, to teach him some karate lessons. But every day when he arrived at his house, Mr Miagi had him wax his car, or sand the deck floor, or paint the house. The boy was frustrated that he wasn’t learning karate. Then Mr. Miagi began to attack him and the boy instinctively used some of the moves he had been practicing to defend himself. He had unknowingly been learning karate moves.

I think God sometimes does that to us. He brings situations into our lives that we do not understand. They can be difficult and frustrating and we wonder why God doesn’t do something. But may not be until later in life that we understand God’s timing.

Wait on God. His timing is perfect.

Angels-announcing-Christs-birthChristmas reminds us that…

God speaks up (the angelic announcement)

In Luke 2:8-11, God had an angel announce the birth of Jesus to some shepherds. God communicated with man. This wasn’t the only communication that first Christmas. God communicated to Mary, Joseph, even Zachariah (Jesus’ uncle). We can have hope at Christmas because God wants to communicate to us.

Words are powerful. The right words at the right time can give us hope for the future.

Actress Marlo Thomas wanted to change her name so she wouldn’t be compared to her famous dad, Danny Thomas. But her dad sat her down and said, “”I raised you to be a thoroughbred. When thoroughbreds run they wear blinders to keep their eyes focused straight ahead with no distractions, no other horses. They hear the crowd but they don’t listen. They just run their own race. That’s what you have to do. Don’t listen to anyone comparing you to me or to anyone else. You just run your own race.” In her book, The Right Words at the Right Time, she says that those words helped her have a very successful acting career – “Run your own race, Baby”

But you might think that God doesn’t talk to people today. I won’t get into those who claim to hear the audible voice of God, but I think God does still communicate with us. He communicates through the Bible. He also calls people into speaking ministries, like pastors, teachers, and evangelists. He also speaks to our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Take the time to listen to God. The more you are quiet the more you can hear.

timthumbChristmas reminds us that…

God offers Himself up – the purpose of Jesus’ coming (death)

Why did Jesus come to earth? Why was He born in a manger?

Matthew 20:28 tells us that He came to “give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus came to pay for our sins. Jesus was born to die. He willingly gave His life so that you might have eternal life.

How can Jesus’ death pay for our sins?

Suppose your father were a judge. Then suppose you were caught speeding at 100 mph. For sake of illustration, let’s suppose the officer brought you before your father. I would think that you might be happy and sad. Happy because your dad loves you and might let you off. Sad because your dad is a good judge and he won’t let you get away with it.

So the judge, your dad, asks how you plead. You know you were wrong so you plead guilty. Then your father reads the sentence: “I fine you $500 for excessive speeding.” You didn’t get away with it. But then the dad does something unexpected. He comes down from the judges bench, pulls out his checkbook, and writes out a check for $500 and hands it to you. He has pronounced you guilty, given you the appropriate sentence, and now is willing to pay your penalty. Do you accept it?

That is what God has done for you. You are guilty. Your penalty is death, eternal death. So Jesus came and paid for your penalty. On the cross, He took the full judgment of sin for all mankind. Now it is offered to you. Do you accept it?

Because Jesus came to die for us we can have eternal hope. We will all die, but we must all decide where we will go after we die. Because of Jesus we can have eternal life in Heaven if we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is an amazing hope at Christmas.

You can read my other Christmas articles: How to Celebrate Christmas, Breaking Christmas Chains, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, Are you a Grinch?, Learning from the Shepherds at Christmas

 

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day – Principles of Gratitude

thanksgiving-snoopyThis is going out on Thanksgiving Day 2016. As I think about all that happens today – food, football, shopping – I hope you will take time to say ‘Thank You’ to God.

In an earlier post, The Attitude of Gratitude, I talked about the story of one leper who who came to thank Jesus for cleansing him. You can read this story in Luke 17:11-19. Ten were cleansed, but only one came to thank Jesus.

As I have read this story over and over again, I discover a few principles about the attitude of gratitude….

Gratitude is the proper response to God’s blessing 

This grateful leper recognized that he had received a tremendous gift. Leprosy had changed his life into a hopeless situation. It had affected his body, his relationships, and his soul. But Jesus brought hope back into his life. He was changed; he would never be the same again, and He had to say thanks.

The others were cleansed. But in the excitement of their new health, they forgot their former condition, their cries for help, and the miraculous response of Jesus. It is so easy for us to forget all the good things that happen to us. In the excitement of God’s blessings, we often forget where they came from. Or maybe we become accustomed to the blessings and the thrill has lessened. We neglect to thank God for common blessings.

Being thankful is a courteous and appropriate response to a kind deed or action. We teach our children to say ‘Thank You.’ Though it should be, gratitude is not an automatic response. Jesus never solicited a grateful response. He didn’t tell any of them to come back and thank Him. They all should have, but He did not require it. Gratitude is a voluntary response from a heart that recognizes God’s blessings and desires to place the attention where it should be – at the feet of Jesus.

Gratitude compels humble action 

This grateful leper recognized that He had received a great gift and his action reflected the magnitude of the gift. He did not simply receive a nice gift. Because he had been radically improved, he responded with radical gratitude at the feet of Jesus. Falling at someone’s feet is a picture of submission and worship. He soiled the very flesh that had just been made clean by falling before the Savior. The voice that cried for healing now rose with a loud cry in gratitude.

I don’t know what motivated the grateful leper to move and the others to stay away. But I know his movement reflected his recognition of the miracle. Our gratitude reflects our deep understanding of the work God has done in our hearts. Jesus taught in another instance that the more we are forgiven, the more we respond in love (Luke 7:47). We all need forgiveness, but most of us don’t recognize our sinfulness enough to be truly grateful. Too often we feel like we somehow deserve the blessings. The measure of our gratitude reveals the measure of our humility.

Most of us would never say we are not grateful for what God has done for us. But often we are like the Pharisee, who was simply grateful that he wasn’t like the publican (Luke 18:9-14). But it was the publican who, like this leper, bowed in humility and was made whole (justified). It is when we think we deserve God’s blessings that we become less grateful. As we remain humble, we will be motivated to express our gratitude more.

Gratitude is a rare attitude

Ten people were touched with God’s power, but only one returned to give Him thanks. Nine were content to receive a blessing, but only one cared enough to return to the source of the blessing. How could anyone not feel thankful after being healed like this? But only one returned to Jesus to say thanks.

If this story is any indication of human nature, only about 10% of us express our gratitude. To make it personal, we probably miss nine out of ten opportunities to be grateful. I’m sure the other nine were grateful, but they failed to express it. I believe Jesus is still saddened by how few of us actually express thanksgiving to Him.

In studying this story, I discovered a slight variation in the meaning of grateful and thanksgiving. We often use them interchangeably, but there is a difference. Grateful is an attitude. Thanksgiving is the action in response to a grateful attitude. This story teaches that we need both. One without the other isn’t complete. Being grateful without expressing thanks is just rude. Expressing thanks without being truly grateful is hypocritical.

Gratitude is an evidence of a deep work of God

Ten were cleansed but only one heard the words, “Your faith has made you whole.” Expressing gratitude lets us know we are on the right path to wholeness. Humble faith combined with heartfelt gratitude is a combination that will truly bring God’s best into our lives.

The other nine were no longer leprous, but they were still sick at heart. It was his display of humility, dependence, and appreciation for Jesus’ goodness that brought this grateful leper to the feet of Jesus. It was an act of worship. He did not just want God’s blessings and miracles, He wanted a personal relationship with Jesus. He wanted to be close to the One who was so kind to him.

When we really understand what God has done for us in saving our soul, it results in a desire to be close to Him and perform grateful acts of service. When gratitude is part of our life, it changes our attitudes, our relationships, and our actions.

Like leprosy, sin is a deadly problem only Jesus can fix. Like these men, to be cleansed from our sin begins with admitting our need and crying out to Jesus. As we realize the great miracle He has done for us, our proper response is gratitude. As Paul encourages us, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

So how can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude?

The supreme way to show gratitude for all you have been given is to humble yourself before God, admit your sinful condition, and beg for forgiveness. Jesus is the perfect Gentleman and will never force you to follow Him. He loves you so much and wants to have a relationship with you. Turn to Him today.

If you have surrendered all you are to Him, I hope you realize the tremendous blessings you have been given. Like the Johnson Oatman hymn reminds us, “Count your many blessings. Name them one by one.” Maybe if we spent more time being thankful for what we have, we will have more to be thankful for.

To practice the attitude of gratitude, try one of ten ideas:

  1. Practice thanking God for every circumstance.
  2. Be grateful for little things.
  3. Say ‘Thank You’ more.
  4. Consider what you possess rather than what you lack.
  5. Hang out more with grateful people.
  6. Every day tell someone why you appreciate them.
  7. Do not let pride stand in the way of thanking God and others.
  8. Begin your day by listing 5 things in which you are thankful.
  9. End your day by thanking God for 3 things that happened to you.
  10. Keep a Gratitude Journal.

You can read some other articles about gratitude: The Attitude of Gratitude, The REAL first Thanksgiving.