Merry Christmas to You!

Forget the troubles of the year. Forget that people feared the end of the world last Friday. Forget the fiscal cliff, the Sandy Hook and other tragedies. Lay down you present concerns and follow my words for a moment.

It is easy to celebrate Christmas without celebration. It happens that we participate in Christmas festivities, presents, eggnog, parties, meals, vacations, ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas and all and still not celebrate.

There are many reasons this might happen, but the core aspect of celebrating with celebration is we have lost our focus. Here comes the cliché, so excuse me for a moment.

  • Jesus is the reason for the season.

The whole idea behind the holiday that contains Christ’s name is remembering Christ’s birth. Many do so with decorations, presents, programs, church attendance and special services, visiting soup kitchens, spending time with family, sharing gifts, and a lot more ways. In all of this, we can still get lost in Christmas without the hint of actual celebration.

How do we come back to celebrating Christmas. Look to Jesus!

Is it that simple? I believe it is. It is for me. I am not decrying the things that occur at Christmas. I am not putting down commercialism, or Santa Claus, or holiday parties, or Rudolph and Frosty, but I am trying to direct our focus to the real thing, Jesus.

For God so loved the world that he (sent) his one and only Son, that whoever will believe in him shall have eternal life” John 3:16.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about? God’s love, Jesus’ human life, our salvation.

May you have a Merry Christmas filled with the peace of God and the grace and joy of knowing his Son, Jesus Christ.

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Boy Am I Blessed!

It is not hard to become a Christian. You hear the Gospel of Jesus and when you believe the Gospel, you have faith in Christ (Romans 10:14-17). Then when you have met the conditions (faith; Romans 10:9-10; repentance; Acts 2:38; confession: Romans 10:9-10, & baptism; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), then you are saved, God has saved you because you have identified with Christ through his death (that’s what immersion is for, cf., Romans 6:1-6). That’s the easy part, knowing what to do, but, it can be more difficult for some people to come to the point of belief, or repentance. It can be difficult to let go of what we already know and keep ourselves living in the that way which the Bible describes as sinful and worldly and idolatry.

Once I am saved, when I have become a Christian, well things are new. The Bible even calls it a new life (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:16). I am not who I was. I have a brand new life, I start over. If I simply keep living the way I had before, then I am not different just a little older. But with salvation in Christ, with the Holy Spirit in my life, with God’s Word the Bible leading me, then I am being transformed, renewed (Rom. 12:2) into the likeness of Christ.

At least one time, when there was a huge crowd of people, Jesus taught them. In Matthew 5, he was on a mountain in Galilee and began to teach the crowds. He began with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-16).

Each “Beatitude” begins with “Blessed are…” meaning, “joyful are those who….”

This is what it is like to live in Christ, to be a Christian, to have life.

  • It is a joyful thing to realize you are poor in your spirit and you need God. It is joyful because God’s kingdom is in us; Mt. 5:3
  • It is a joyful thing to mourn that you are a sinner, because God’s salvation will bring you comfort; Mt. 5:4
  • It is a joyful thing to be meek. Gentle in character but firm in conviction; you will “inherit the earth,” fill it with joy; Mt. 5:5
  • It is a joyful thing to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because you will have; Mt. 5:6
  • It is a joyful thing to be merciful, you’ll get mercy back and from God; Mt. 5:7
  • It is a joyful thing to have a pure heart, you are going to get to see God because of it; Mt. 5:8
  • It is joyful when you are a peacemaker, that’s what the children of God do; Mt. 5:9
  • It is a joyful thing when people persecute you because of your righteousness, it means you are in the kingdom and people who hate God hate Christ in you and will try to insult and stop you; Mt. 5:10-13

This is spiritual of course. It plays out here in the material world with the sense that God’s kingdom is expressed in and through your life.

This is the character of those who are saved. Not one or another of the Beatitudes, but all of them together. It’s like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It’s not one or two things, it’s all of them at once that make up the produce of your life.

Why am I blessed? I am blessed because I have salvation, I have God in my life and Christ is leading me by the means of his Spirit. I have heaven and a great reward, now and in the future (John 10:10, “life abundant”).

Boy am I blessed!

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What’s This Fruit About?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:19-23

The fruit of Spirit is about what takes place in a person’s life as God does his thing in you.

Paul notes the contrast between the ways of the world. The world is sinful. The ways of the world destroy souls, relationships, hope, even life. But the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, etc (see passage above or pic on the left) is the way of life (eternal life).

It’s about God enabling you to be separate from the world’s terrible way. Think of ancient Israel. God intended for Israel to be different. God told them when they entered the promised land to remain separate from the idolatrous people who lived there.

They were to run them out; they were destroy their sacred places, including the idols; they were his people representing God’s holy way. The 10 commandments and their explanation in Deuteronomy (starting about chapter 5) show their relationship with God and how his character is holy and those of  idolatrous people are unholy and do not accomplish the righteousness that God is and of those who are in a relationship with him.

I shared about the second commandment with some teens yesterday, do not have or worship idols (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10). Some of them are Christian, there is a Jewish kid, a Mormon, and a handful of agnostics and an atheist or two, and some that aren’t anything. We talked about the principle of idolatry since we don’t see people worshiping idols like Israel witnesses with the Egyptians and those they would encounter worshiping the Baals and Ashtoreth and Moloch and the like in ancient Israel when they entered the land of Canaan. What are the modern idols that we might worship in America today?

  • Money
  • Celebrity
  • Relationships
  • Objects (cars, electronic devices, etc)

They mentioned several other items. Even the teens that aren’t Christian. They understood the difference. But being godly, living the life of the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit may be another thing for people.

When a person who is an immersed believer in Jesus Christ, they have God’s Spirit in them (Acts 2:38). If the Spirit is not there, there is no salvation. The Spirit however, as he works with our spirit, enables us to be godly, to produce the fruit of godliness. Being in this-worldly world, and yet living without the power of worldly influence controlling our lives.

If we were to try to picture this, it might be like the pic just to the left. God reaching down out of heaven and holding us up against the powerful influence of the world. It is because he loves us and chooses to save us from the hellish penalty of sinfulness (John 3:16).

Another way to envision this is to realize the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) and the complete teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Read it and apply it and live it.

If the fruit of the Spirit is what your life is like than you are living the Sermon on the Mount.

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Making the Beatitudes my Own

Jesus sits on the side of a hill and talks to a crowd of people who are excited to hear what he will say. They were excited about Jesus’ teaching. When he spoke, he knew what he was talking about. He didn’t recite something he memorized listening to a teacher of the law. He was familiar with what he was talking about.

They wanted to hear him. Yet when he came to the conclusion of his teaching that day, he implied that his listeners needed to do something:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man . . . and everyone  who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man” (Matthew 7:24 & 26, cf., verses 24-27) ESV.

A person can’t just listen to Jesus and be entertained and feel good by what they hear. They have to do something about it. Sounds like James, “be doers of the word, not hearers only” James 1:22.

Blessed are you when you do what Jesus taught, right? Right!

Here’s how it begins. Your attitude and character, when it is aligned to God’s character grows and thrives, and Jesus gives the characteristics for his followers to possess in order to be blessed, and they will enjoy and receive the peace and joy and happiness that God wants to input into their/your life.

It’s not just what you do, it’s what is behind what you do. Adultery is sin, it destroys marriages and families. What’s behind adultery? Jesus deals with lust. Wanting someone of the opposite sex that is not your spouse. Desiring him or her in your heart is the same as adultery. Murder is the taking of a life, but hate is equal to murder and anger grows into hate and murder. Read the complete Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 & 7.

We possess these characteristics not because we have to, do’s and don’ts, but because that’s who we are as followers of Christ. Which means that I take and make the ways of Christ a law to me. Jesus didn’t come to give laws or to enforce law-keeping, but to fulfill what the law does which is to teach us about the characteristics of relating to God. In Christ, we are judged by our faith in Jesus.

Does your faith characterize the attitude and life of Christ? You may need to have a change of heart, change your way of thinking about life and relationships and God and Christ. And you will wonder how you know that you are following Jesus.

If you place your life under his control, when your thoughts match Jesus’ and when your deeds are characteristic of what Jesus did, you’re getting there. We will never arrive completely until we reach heaven.

So when you realize your failure toward God, that you are poor in your spirit, then you will be able to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. And you are blessed.

When you grieve or mourn for your sin against God, then God will bring you comfort because of your repentance. And you will be blessed.

When you submit to God and let him rule in your life, though you are humbly becoming weak, then God will be your strength. And you will be blessed.

Read the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-11 and see what Jesus is saying.

He’s saying match your attitude and your actions with his and you will make not only the Beatitudes but the whole Sermon on the Mount and all that Jesus and the Apostles taught as your own.

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No Reason to Sing

He stood up in front of the group and shared a very intimate and personal testimony.  He is a somewhat guarded man.  He doesn’t open his heart to very many people very easily.  But today there was a burning desire within him to open up to our church.

Here is what he shared.  He listens to Christian radio all the time (91.7, Spirit FM http://www.lifechangingradio.org/home.php).  But two months ago he turned the radio off because he didn’t feel there was any reason to sing anymore.  That’s hard. He is into music big time.  He plays piano and loves to organize music for the church to worship with.

The reason for this is that his wife in her early 40s has been diagnosed with cancer. . .  again.  5 years ago she suffered from breast cancer.  She had surgery and went a series of treatments which included chemo-therapy.  The doctors believed that she was cancer free.  She had exams every 3 to 6 months to watch for any possibility that the cancer has returned.

Than a couple of months ago, they found cancer in her liver.  After some run around with the doctors (doubt and unsure diagnosis) it was determined that it was the breast cancer that masticized to her liver and they found it in her lungs and lymph nodes as well.  And the cancer was already at stage four.

He shared his despair and that is what took away the desire to sing.

But a couple of weeks ago, his wife turned the radio on and a song came on (I’m sorry I don’t know the song or the artist at this moment) that pierced his heart and opened him to allowing God to reach and heal his hurt.

He has regained his joy and even if he loses his wife (who we praying for and supporting with love and hope) his joy has not been lost, but restored and now he can sing with all his heart and soul.

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