Sunday, December 30, 2007
As we come to the close of 2007 and think about the coming of 2008, inevitably we begin to think about New Year's Resolutions. These are popular with so many, because they challenge us to be even better than we were the year before. But the question that is always there is: What will my resolutions be? You can always go with the popular ones like diet, exercise, go to church more, spend more time with family, etc..
Here is a twist on the whole New Year's Resolution; become more of who God created you to be. And to do this, we can think about Proverbs 6:16-19, which says, "There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers." There are seven things that we are prone to do: be prideful, lie, hurt others, be deceitful, get ourselves into trouble, be a false witness against another, and stir up dissension.
As you look over this list, you might not be one who breaks them all, but to some degree or another, they exist in our lives. What if we sought to do better in these 7 areas in 2008? Not only would our life be better, but all those around us would be better off as well. So which are the areas where you struggle the most? Pride? Being deceitful? Making decisions that get you into trouble? What can you do to improve in that area? I challenge myself and you to pick at least one, and let's do better in 2008. May God bless us in our endeavor.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
One of the aspects of Christmas is that of opening gifts. It might be a little odd that we get to open gifts on somebody else’s birthday (Jesus'), but this receiving of gifts is really an offshoot of the whole spirit of giving. As we give, we also receive, and thus we get to open gifts! What is it that you are wanting this Christmas? If you are like me, you get to a certain age where you really don’t need anything anymore. But what would you want if you knew the cost didn’t matter? Some might say a new car, while others might say better health. Hey, if there is no limitation, what about a jet or a trip to space? But there is a perfect gift that we can receive, and the perfect gift that can be given.
The perfect gift is more than something material. And while health for ourselves and our family would be nice, and world peace would be great, those still aren’t what would make the perfect gift….There is a Christmas card, that we received this year, that says it well, “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; if our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; if our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; if our greatest need had been pleasure, god would have sent us an entertainer; but our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a savior.”
Our greatest need is to have our sins forgiven, and for that we need a savior. This is what Christmas is all about; God coming into this world, in the form of a baby, to live among us, and show us how to live and to love. But even more, this baby, Jesus Christ, would grow up and become our savior, so that we could be forgiven and saved from our sins. Jesus said this as well in John 8:24, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
Everybody is going to die physically, but what Jesus is talking about is dying spiritually. When we do not have Jesus as our Savior, we will go through a spiritual death. What is a spiritual death? Spiritual death is having our spirit eternally separated from God. Romans 6:23 says, “For the penalty of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”THIS IS A FREE GIFT TO US. IT IS THE PERFECT GIFT FOR US. GOD SAYS, “HERE IT IS; THIS IS FOR YOU!” Will you receive it?
But along with understanding what the perfect gift is for us to receive, we need to also know what is the perfect gift to give. It is the gift of helping people understand the Christmas story. EXAMPLE- Barna is a group that takes poll of different religious questions. Just recently they did a sample poll of over 1000 people. One of the questions they asked was whether or not people believed in the virgin birth (that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit). In response, 66% of upscale adults, 53 % of those who don’t go to church, and 60% of those who are liberal on political and social issues said that they believed in the virgin birth. However, only 15% of those who are atheist or agnostic said they believed. NOW, even though there is a majority in many of the categories, there are still a lot of people who don’t believe.
Because there are many who don’t believe, it will take someone like you and me to help them know, understand, and believe. They need to understand that the most perfect gift that they can receive is forgiveness from their sins from Jesus, their savior. There is no greater gift than eternal life. But they won’t have it until they receive it.
Let us give thanks to God for the perfect gift He gives to us, and let us remember this gift on Christmas Day as we talk about Christmas with our families. Share the true meaning of Christmas!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
FEAR. It is a word that catches our attention. In fact, when someone is afraid of something, it is usually termed a phobia. The list of phobias is quite long; from agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or crowds), to necrophobia (fear of death or dead things), to xenophobia (fear of strangers or foreigners). According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. In most cases, the phobia involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm.
So a phobia is a fear that has become irrational. We have imagined that this person, or situation, or object can cause us harm or endangerment. And yet, fear itself is not irrational. For example, fear can keep us from just walking up to a snake that could indeed cause us harm; fear could keep us from acting out in a way that is harmful; fear could keep us from getting involved in a relationship that could be hurtful.
Often times, if we choose to face our fear, we find that we are no longer afraid. But even more, we have a place to go to calm our fears, and that place is God. If you were to study the Bible at all, you would see that there is a God who is personal, loving, and present. This God wants us to know that we don't have to fear. As Isaiah 35:4 says to those with fearful hearts: "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Also, Isaiah 41:10, " So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
What causes you to fear? It is important to note whether or not these fears are rational, or irrational. But either way, if you give them to the Lord, the Lord will help you to overcome them, and help you to turn them into opportunities for growth and blessing.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
During the Christmas season, it seems that people are all the more willing to help others. People want to give a little extra money to someone who is hungry, or buy gifts for a family that is struggling. But shouldn’t this attitude of giving be one that exists throughout the year? Shouldn’t people have this ongoing desire to help?
One thing that seems to happen at Christmas, is the opportunities to help are more pronounced. During the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, organizations like Salvation Army and Rescue Mission do extra mailings, and express a need for extra help. So people tend to be more aware of the need at the holiday time.
But the truth is, the need is always there. There are always people who are struggling; always people who are homeless; always people who can’t pay a bill or buy a meal. Our church is currently partnering with WomenShelter of Long Beach (an organization that helps those who are suffering from domestic violence). There is a great need during Christmas. But this need will continue all the more after Christmas. We are searching for ways to be able to partner and help on a long term basis.
Jesus told us in Matthew 25:35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” After saying this, the people were confused how they had done this. And then Jesus says to them in Matthew 25:40- “"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” We need to help others, because it is what God would have us to do. When we choose to not help, we give in to our selfish desires, and withdraw from the world in which God has placed us; we become disconnected from our surroundings.Let us take this attitude of giving, that is prevalent at Christmas, and keep it with us throughout the year. Tell me what you think (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sunday, December 09, 2007
The other day I was reading my Bible, and came across John 11:35, which says: "Jesus wept." This verse refers to Jesus finding out that Lazarus was dead, and with this news He weeps. What a great sign of the emotions of God. Remember, that Jesus is God in the flesh; the likeness of God to us. As John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only..."
As God's likeness, we see that God has emotions. This shouldn't surprise us, since we are made in the image of God. But it is wonderful to know that God has emotions, because it shows us that God is personal. God does care about what happens to us, His children. God is not just some impersonal force or deity.
What might this mean for you and me? It means that when we are feeling down, God wants to be there to help build us up. It means that when we are excited, God is jumping for excitement with us. When we are overwhelmed with grief, God is there crying as well. It means that we are never alone in what we feel!
I hope that you try to really process this. God has not left us on our own. God will never abandon us. In fact, as we make our way towards Christmas, we should remember that God took on flesh, in the form of a baby, Jesus Christ, to come and live with us, AND die for us. Christmas is really about God caring about what we feel, and who we are, and what we do.
SO, the next time you feel an emotion, remember that God is right there with you! Tell me what you think (email@example.com).
Thursday, December 06, 2007
From the reports that I've heard, this movie is a fun and adventurous tale. Starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and backed by New Line Cinema, the movie is well done and will be entertaining. But it is interesting that they are seeking to downplay the atheistic messages that come through in the book. Because it is seen as a children's movie (much in the vein of "The Chronicles of Narnia), children will no doubt be interested to read the books. This is not a good thing, since Pullman promotes such anti-God views.
Christianity Today says this in their review (for the full review see http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/). "Pullman has painted a picture of the church—represented by "The Magisterium" in his stories—that basically reflects only those ways in which the church has abused power. And he has used that selective reflection as an excuse to write off Christianity as a whole... Pullman points to bad people as a way of saying that the faith is wrong. For examples of religious folk, he illustrates people who abuse power. That's not God. And Christ would frown on the persecution carried out by The Magisterium."
I personally will not be taking my kids (8 and 11) to see the movie, nor will I let them read the books. Each person will decide if they want to see the movie (or read the books), and each parent will have to reflect on whether or not it will be beneficial to expose their children to this. If asked for my opinion, I will discourage people to see it. However, if you do go to see the movie, I hope that you do so with Jesus Christ in tow, so that you might allow your thoughts to interact with what the truth of Scripture says.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Books are wonderful to stimulate our thinking, and challenge us in life. I have been encouraged by a book titled “The Externally Focused Church,” by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. This book is about challenging churches to go beyond their four walls, and seek to confront and cooperate with their communities. It is about partnering with other organizations that are doing a good work, so that they can do an even better work. It is about taking our faith, and making it practical.
On page 216 of the book, the authors say this: “In this book we’ve described some of the ways God is moving the church beyond the four walls of the building and into the community. And we’ve described some of the results: people coming to faith, lives are being changed, and Christians are growing. But we really believe that the best years for the church are still ahead, and the best ideas have yet to be invented. The challenges and opportunities are too massive to rely on old, tired methodologies.”
Churches are just getting to the place where they realize they don't have to do everything by themselves; there are some things that will happen better if we work together and work as a team for the kingdom of God. This is especially true for smaller churches who don't have a great amount of money or resources. But it will also be very beneficial if big churches choose to partner with smaller churches. This becomes a mission for the bigger church, and allows smaller churches to be connected with ministry they couldn't do on their own.
As Rusaw and Swanson say: "To create a different future is going to take leaders with the vision to see, the passion to feel, and the courage to do. These leaders must keep pressing forward despite inevitable squalls, adjusting the rudder and the sail as they go." This journey is not meant to be one we walk alone. God calls us to be partners in the ministry to people around us. This should happen with churches partnering with other churches, and churches partnering with other organizations. If we do this, God will do great things! Tell me what you think.