03/05/18 - Luke 2

March 5, 2018 – Luke 2

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

The presence of Jesus brings us peace in the MIDST of circumstances.

Most of us consider peace as the absence of unpleasant circumstances.  Just think of parents who hunger for peace from the houseful of screaming kids.  Or the manager that is looking for some peace from all the day’s problems.  Or maybe the patient who can’t find peace with the news of returning cancer.

But Jesus doesn’t separate peace from circumstances.  In fact, peace is finding rest in the MIDST of the circumstances. 

That’s why the angels can announce peace to shepherds who are surrounded by noise & burdens, living in a country ruled by Roman paganism, and in short order facing the death of their baby boys.  Peace is not the absence of problems for these people, it’s more the courage to move through the problems knowing God is still there.

That’s why Peter can sing songs in a Roman jail, and stand before the Sanhedrin with boldness to proclaim the salvation of Jesus against threats of stoning.

That’s why Paul can go through flogging, stoning, persecution & pain, and still be ready to pick himself off the ground and travel to the next city to preach the Gospel.

That’s why great hymn writers can bless us with amazing songs over the ages, pronouncing hope and grace after facing terrible pain or grief.  It’s why missionaries lay down their lives in foreign countries, some facing prison, some even martyred, only to see their family or friends pick up the cause of their mission. 

And it’s why you can continue to have hope in your circumstances – no matter how enduring or painful they are, because Jesus’ peace is not killed or eliminated by unpleasant circumstances.  In fact, it is stronger than our circumstances.  Jesus brings peace that outlasts our circumstances.  And He saw fit to let it rest on you and me!

We are a blessed generation, because we live in that generation of favor.  His favor is not about bank accounts or material blessing.  His favor is about peace.  We have His Peace to overcome our circumstances.  And that peace is what allows you to shout “Glory to God in the Highest”, no matter what struggles you face.

Watch for it!  You will see the ‘Peace which Passes All Understanding’ show up in the midst of circumstances.  You will hear it in the sounds of worship that come from people who have endured great difficulty.  You will discover true peace – not in the sheltered life, but in the overcoming life. 

And when you do, remember to Give God the Glory!  You’ve found His Peace!

03/02/18- Luke 1

March 2, 2018 – Luke 1 

You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Luke 1:76-77

To understand salvation, we must first understand sin and forgiveness.

Looking for a little excitement on a Friday night?  Walk into a mall and pick out a person who doesn’t intimidate you, and say to them: “I forgive you.”  Then walk away!  They will be thinking about it for DAYS!  Why?  Because their spirit will be unsettled until they understand what it was they did that needed forgiveness.  It’s the ultimate “To Be Continued” that never finds resolution.  (Okay, don’t really do that – it would really be rude and could mar them for life! J)

Some things are so interconnected that you just can’t have one without the other.  Forgiveness and Sin are two such things.  Where there is no sin, there is no need for forgiveness.  And there is no understanding of salvation if we don’t understand sin.  We must see our sin to need a savior. Likewise, seeing our sin creates an internal need for forgiveness, and a desire to be saved from the consequences.

John the Baptist had a huge task.  His job was to preach about sin so that people would be burdened with the desire for forgiveness.  Then, when they were ready to accept God’s help, John would baptize them with the baptism of repentance – asking God to forgive the person for the sin and heal their heart.  Later, Jesus would leverage that act as not only one of forgiveness, but one of accepting salvation from Jesus, and receiving the Holy Spirit to help us live free of sin.  All of that started from one basic teaching: we have sinned!  Recognizing sin starts the whole process!

These days, people try everything they can to avoid hearing that message.  And honestly, most churches have been careful about labeling people as sinners.  We prefer to call sin other things, like mistakes, errors, misunderstandings, lapses of memory, failures, hang-ups or even diseases.  But what we really need to hear is that those are all sin in need of forgiveness.  Without understanding sin, we don’t pursue forgiveness.  And without forgiveness, there is no salvation.

Maybe it is time for us to put on our big boy pants and not be so afraid of the “s” word!  If we’re truly going to help people, let’s just call it sin.  And if we are going to be fully forgiven, we must call our actions sin too.  God didn’t send Jesus to condemn us of our sin, but to forgive us and pay the penalty for our sin.  So let’s gratefully accept His incredible offer, and make the connection --- we have sinned, we have fallen short, but God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  We have all received salvation & grace from our sin, through the blood of salvation!

Jesus walked up to people many times and told them they were forgiven.  The Pharisees couldn’t stand it, but the people loved it, because they knew that forgiveness was attached to sin, and they were sinners.  Jesus has the same thing to offer us too.  He might even walk into a mall and pick you out, and say to you “I forgive you.”  Then walk away.  But instead of thinking about it for days, maybe it would cause you to seek resolution. 

Wash away that sin with forgiveness – they are fully interconnected.  And then you will understand salvation.

03/01/18 - Mark 16

March 1, 2018 – Mark 16

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16

Belief that takes action is the way to salvation.

Many preachers and motivational speakers have used the story of “The Great Blondin”, a French tightrope walker that traversed the Niagara Falls many times in 1859 – forward, backwards, with a wheelbarrow, even with a man on his back.  A story is often told of him asking the crowd: “Do you believe I can carry a man in this wheelbarrow across the Falls?” The crowd would fully agree.  Then he would ask: “So then which of you will get into the wheelbarrow?”

Belief means nothing if it is not followed up with action.  That’s at least part of the reason Jesus instituted confession and baptism as part of the salvation experience.  It’s not that your public expression or dunking in water saves you – it’s the belief that is demonstrated in action.  Believing ABOUT Jesus doesn’t save us, it’s believing IN Jesus.

Mark’s language about belief is very strong – we’re either IN or OUT based on our belief.  But that belief is not silent … it takes the form of action.  It requires us to actually live like we believe.  It calls us to get in the wheelbarrow and let Jesus drive.  That step of belief is far greater than just a private prayer, it calls for public commitment. 

And hear Mark clearly – he’s not trying to create a theological argument here, he’s just simplifying it down to the nuts & bolts, just like his whole gospel.  Yes or No, In or Out, Saved or Unsaved.  Simple – did you believe and did you take action on it.  The greatest assurance of our salvation is always found in living out our faith. 

I agree with many of our ancestors – confession of sin and baptism were never meant to be theological battlegrounds.  Let’s just accept them as a gift God gave us to act out our newfound belief and receive this indescribable grace we’ve been given.  And let’s not take over God’s position as judge.  Instead, we can keep it simple. 

If you believe and are baptized (take action), you will be saved. 

What a simple and incredibly easy solution to our eternal problem!  J

03/01/18 - Mark 15

March 1, 2018 – Mark 15

Let this Christ come down from the cross, that we may see and believe. Mark 15:32

Proof is not found in demanding signs, but in recognizing truth --- seeing Jesus as Truth eliminates the need for signs.

The proof is in the pudding.  It was an old line my grandparents used to say, but didn’t make much sense.  So I did a little research.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” is a very old phrase, dating back to at least 1605.  It meant that tasting the result will decide if it was good or not.  In other words, you can say all you want about how good it looks and how great the recipe is, but everyone will be decided at the point they eat it.  Somewhere along the line we shortened the phrase: The Proof is in the Pudding.

Most people operate with a “proof in the pudding” mentality.  Today’s phrase is: Show me the money!  In Jesus’ day it was: Show me a sign!  People want to judge things by the results.  A CEO is considered great only if the company grew.  A President is determined to be great if the nation was protected and gainfully employed.  Parents are proved successful by their children’s behavior.  A movie is good only if I liked how it affected me.  Bottom Line: It’s our mentality to judge a book by its cover.  (Isn’t that the saying?  J)

Jesus faced those attitudes all through His ministry, even up to the cross.  Everyone wanted proof, no matter how many people he had healed, or how many thousands were fed.  Last week’s results weren’t enough, they wanted more.  But Jesus chose not to prove Himself by signs.  He proved Himself by Truth.  If every words spoken ended up true, that would be proof enough.  The miracles & signs were just icing on the cake.

Let’s face it, Resurrection was the ULTIMATE SIGN, and people still don’t believe even based on that.  We still want God to prove Himself by giving us a better job, or providing improved living conditions, or financing our dreams.  The pudding of centuries may be all around us, but we’re not eating out of that bowl.  We want proof that makes us happy, not just believe.

But --- if instead of looking at the pudding, we started looking at the proof --- we might discover that Jesus IS the Proof.  He doesn’t need to produce one more sign … His Word was completely true.  His predictions all happened.  He Rose from the Dead!  He is perfect Truth, and that makes Him proof enough.  Stop looking for more pudding, and focus on the proof.

And furthermore, those of us trying to ‘prove ourselves’ might do better by simply living out the Truth instead of trying to tell everyone.  Truth needs no additional backing – it’s successful on its own.  So don’t concoct a batch of pudding to prove yourself.  Let your obedience and your lifestyle of Truth be proof enough.  In the long run, your pudding will taste great!

So maybe we can change the old saying a little.  Instead of the proof being in the pudding – maybe we should start saying: The Proof is in the Person. J

02/27/18 - Mark 13

Feb 27, 2018 – Mark 13

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Mark 13:13

Don't take personal the actions of others - rise above it and follow Jesus.

If you were to be dropped into America and turn on the TV, it would not take long to gain a perspective on how Christians are viewed.  Shows like L.A. Pastors and G.C.B. would give you an immediate impression.  News covering leadership failures and moral protestors would affect your doubts, and the lack of respect for Jesus’ Name would be prevalent.  Given a little time, you would come to the conclusion that Christians were the central problem, and needed to be removed in order to live free of sin & guilt.

That perception would not be much different than what the First Century Christians faced.  Dying in the arena or on the stake, they knew people hated them and wanted them out of society.  It’s a good thing Jesus warned them that all men would hate them because of what He stood for.  Otherwise, their trust in God may have faltered in the face of persecution.

Jesus was very clear about the challenge of being a Christian.  He was more concerned about losing our faith in the face of persecution than in health, wealth or relationship issues.  So Jesus reminded them often – you will have to carry your cross… you will be hated by men… you will be persecuted … it is a narrow gate and narrow path to follow.  To encourage us, Jesus gave us two keys to overcoming persecution:

1)      Don’t take it Personal (hate you because of me) – Persecuting Christians is about Jesus, not about you.  In spite of feeling under attack, remember their battle is with God, not with you.  Taking it personal would make us angry or bitter, but seeing their fight with Jesus makes us more patient and sad for their souls. 

2)      Focus on the Next Life (firm … will be saved) – Because Eternity is now Open, our perspective is about living there, not being comfortable here.  Don’t discount the power of pursuing Eternity.  Our lives are COMPLETELY different because we believe in Heaven and trust Jesus with eternity.  We would persecute people too, if we thought this life was all there is.

Persecution has nothing to do with fairness, rightness or defensiveness.  Just ask Jesus!  It wasn’t fair that He was given all of our sins.  It wasn’t right that He went to the cross in our place.  It wasn’t logical that Jesus didn’t defend God or Himself when challenged to come down.  Yet by persevering, He overcame, and was raised from the dead to lead our way to Eternity.  Our persecution is far less severe than what Jesus endured, but our reward will be the same.

Choose today not to take these persecutions personal, and use them as triggers to look toward eternity.  We don’t need to defend God, nor do we need to avoid the struggle.  God will save us, just rise above it and follow Jesus.

02/26/18 - Mark 12

Feb 26, 2018 – Mark 12

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' Mark 12:30

He's not looking for a portion of our love... He wants all of it.

This age-old instruction from God captures the essence of every command and instruction out of His mouth.  Even loving our neighbor comes out of loving God first.  So the teachers are probably not surprised that Jesus would quote this as the number one objective of life --- even if some had anticipated he might respond with one of the 10 Commandments. 

Many people would say they love God – but here’s where it gets sticky.  Jesus uses the word ALL in every aspect of love, showing that God is not impressed with partial love, but growing love.   All of us are guilty of showing love to God in partial ways.  Some worship him every week … except for those weeks they are busy with sports or personal enjoyments.  Some obey His commandments completely … as long as it doesn’t impact their standard of living.  Some are fully involved in serving the Lord’s Kingdom … but have forgotten they are not serving for the attention or accomplishment, but serving for God’s enjoyment.  We have this tendency to offer God partial love, and feel good about it as long as it compares better than others in our network.

The measure of “all” is not found in comparing to others around us.  There will always be some who express less love than us, and others who express more love.  The measure of “all” is between you and God.  Is what you’re offering to God “all” you have to give at this moment?  Are you serving or giving or worshipping out of complete love?  Love is not just about volume or quality, it’s also about motive.

If we just started every day looking to Love God with all we have, there’s a good chance it would change the rest of our day drastically.  Not only might it change our schedules and activities, it might help us recognize the moments built into every day when God is working and wants to involve us.  It might just open the door to conversations about God with friends and family at a distance from Him.  It might just restructure our behavior to react differently – giving grace instead of judgment, providing forgiveness instead of anger, seeking His Word instead of our opinions.  Loving God is not just a momentary checkmark on our day, it means being invaded by His love every moment of the day.

Let’s just be honest.  It takes more than one lifetime to learn to love God with “all”.  There’s so much to change and unlearn.  We’ll never completely arrive this side of heaven.  God knows that, but His standard doesn’t change.  He celebrates the growth of our love, not the gap of our love.  So how is that looking these days?  Is your gap of love shrinking?  Is the growth happening?

Use today as a starting point and re-examine your love level.  Is God First in your schedule?  Is worship a priority?  Are you growing in obedience to His commands?  Is anything hindering your time with Him every day?  Don’t try to feel better by ignoring or excusing it --- choose today to Grow Your Love of God.  After all --- He wants and deserves ALL of our love, so MORE of it would be a good place to start.

02/23/18 - Mark 11

Feb 23, 2018 – Mark 11

Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

Instead of praying about what you hope may happen, pray for what you believe will happen---praying should be selfless belief.

Any person of faith will eventually be asked to pray for things that seem useless.  Like praying for a dying patient to be healed.  Or praying for a lazy student’s grades to improve.  Or praying for peace on earth when tensions continue to rise.  You KNOW the prayer is possible, but you’re not sure you believe it will happen.  So in order to pray but not damage the person’s faith in God, you add the ultimate caviat to the prayer:  “If it is your will God, … ”.  (Of course, that is a cop-out, but it helps us feel better at the time.)

Jesus wasn’t worried about us ‘feeling better’ in prayer, He wanted to teach us to ‘feel powerful’ in prayer.  Power of prayer is not in praying what people want, while giving God the cop-out.  Power in prayer is about praying for what you believe, and trusting the belief to happen.  While that may seem subtle, there is great power in belief.  Belief is not about getting what we want, it’s about discerning what God wants. 

Some interpret this verse to support them praying for their desires – that if you pray and believe it will give you what you want.  But Jesus is talking about praying, not wishing.  You can wish for anything, but praying is not about us.  Praying is about God.  Praying is a conversation where God is the dominant voice and we are trying to listen & connect with Him.  Intercessory prayer is about getting so in tune with God that we capture His will and become a part of the conversation on an issue.

So in the case of a dying patient – ask God for his healing hand, but also pray for God to become present in the person’s life, and place His angels around the person.  Pray for God to give wisdom to the doctors, for the family to sense God’s presence in their pain, and for other promises from Scripture.

For the lazy student’s grades – ask God to intervene in their lives, removing every distraction and increasing their retention.  But also ask God to reward their level of hard work with appropriate grades (both for when they try hard, and when they goof off).

For peace on earth – ask God to bring peace to people’s hearts, and calm spirits to world leaders, so that hostility doesn’t erupt and people can be saved.  Pray for peace of people with God, that will bring more peace on earth to men.

Pray for what you believe will happen, instead of what makes the person feel good (or you feel good).  Certainly pray for miracles – God is a God of miracles!  But bring power to your prayers by praying out of belief.  That doesn’t mean praying for selfish results (although everyone is at least partially guilty of selfish prayers at times).  It really means praying for selfless beliefs.