This year I will celebrate my 55th Christmas on this earth. Over the years, I must have received over a thousand Christmas presents. I decided this week that I would try remember as many of them as I could. While I cannot recall every celebration, I have in my mind’s eye a collage of Christmas experiences. I can remember the different houses that we celebrated in. I remember the different cities where we attended the annual parade. I especially remember the different people with whom we celebrated.
Oddly enough, I cannot seem remember the specific presents. I remember that there were always presents under the tree. Even during our most difficult financial times, my mother always found a way to buy us Christmas presents. The phrase, “just what I always wanted” was uttered on many occasions. But still very few presents appear on my Christmas collage. There was the Miami Dolphin jersey in 1972, number 42, the number worn by Paul Warfield. My dad told me that he had spoken to Don Shula and they were reserving that number for me when I made the team. (I’m still holding out hope.) Another present appearing on my collage is a very colorful stick horse I got when I was 4 years old. Even at that young age, it was a pretty boring toy so I’m not sure how it made it onto my collage, but it’s there, right between a picture of the family in the living room and one of my brothers and I playing football on Christmas Day.
As I pan out across my mental collage, I see people getting older, new people being added and others dropping off. Different family friends celebrated with us from time to time. Then in 1984, something amazing happened. A beautiful girl begins to dominate the space on my collage. Her dimples seem to light up the images around her. Before long, the living room scenes begin to be filled with Cora’s family members. Panning out a little further I see two little kids with mischief in their eyes, trying to out-do one another. I see them playing together with new toys. I can almost watch Clint and Beth grow up on my collage. There is one snapshot of them throwing snowballs at each other and another one of in front of a Christmas tree. It looks like the tree at church. It must be, because beside them is Tom Balser serving at the ladies’ tea and next to him is a shot of the congregation lighting candles and singing “Silent Night” (in a mental collage you can have audio if you want.)
Finally, as I reach the edges, of my collage, grandchildren begin to appear. The excitement on their faces is reminiscent of the expressions of my brothers and me nearly 50 years ago: hopes and expectations of what is yet to come.
Of the thousand Christmas presents I received in my lifetime, only two of them made it onto my Christmas collage. I wonder what ever happened to that stick horse and Dolphins jersey.
1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
And his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.
- Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Last week, when the Chicago Cubs made the final out that moved them to the World Series, 42,000 fans cheered in unison. I suspect for those in attendance, the adrenaline rush in Wrigley Field was an experience like no other. Imagine the experience for God if everyone on the planet were to cheer in unison.
Even with all of its faults and distractions, our annual Thanksgiving Day celebration may come closest to that experience than any other. Sure we have traditions that wrestle with each other to become the main event. Sure, much of the celebration has little to do with God and His blessings. Nevertheless, it is one day more than any other where multitudes pause to give thanks. And while there is such great momentum, lets you and I make sure we join in the chorus and truly shout for joy.
Serve the Lord with gladness. Often times when we want to show our appreciation to somebody, we ask the question, “what can I do for you?” Doing or serving is a powerful way to demonstrate our thanksgiving. A few years ago after I had surgery, I was weak and unable to do certain things around the house. A 1-acre lawn. I thanked him, and he replied that he was showing his appreciation for things I had done.
Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me." If we witness on behalf of the Lord, feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, we are serving the Lord. There are ongoing opportunities to serve the Lord by serving in the church. We are always in need of help in the area of lawn care and church upkeep. Stephanie our Children’s Director is always in need of teachers, teachers’ helpers and other volunteers. We have several involved in our prayer chain and prayer card ministry.
Come before Him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. God took every bone, every joint, and He welded them together with sinews and muscles, and covered them with skin and gave us eyes that see, brains that think, and fingers that can pick things up. God made us, inside and out. He made you the way He wanted you to be. And He made me the way He wanted me to be.
That is a mystery. I don’t understand why, but somehow in God’s providence He decided that He wanted a medium sized man, not too good looking, not outstanding in anything, but just a faithful father and husband who would keep plodding along. So He made me. Someplace along the way He had you in mind, and He made you.
And He is still making us. He’s not satisfied with the unfinished product. He’s not satisfied with your temper. He’s not satisfied with the weak areas of your life where you are giving in to temptation. So He’s still making us. He’s still working on our lives. God is your maker, and you are created in His image. Give Him thanks for who you are.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. In ancient Israel, the temple symbolized the presence of God. So whenever the people came to the temple and entered the courtyards they knew that they had come into the presence of God.
Today we know that God is everywhere. He is with you as you drive on the highway and He is with you at work. He is with you as you care for your children and He is with you on the golf course. He is with you every moment of your life. Through Jesus Christ, we have access to His throne, 24/7. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, He can have access to our hearts and minds any time He chooses. Yet still it is appropriate for us at times to exit our everyday activities and enter a time and place dedicated to honoring Him. It is still appropriate to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.
Over the years, we have developed a custom of coming together on the eve of Thanksgiving Day to have a special worship service. We encourage one another with songs of praise and personal testimonies. Join us on Wednesday, November 23 at 6:30 PM. Our usual Wednesday night meal will be canceled on this evening.
As we enter the fall of the year, we begin to experience the change of seasons. Our northern residents will see these changes sooner and more distinctly. Nevertheless, even here in Florida, we experience seasonal changes, albeit mild ones. I for one, welcome those changes. I enjoy the shorter days and cooler breezes we occasionally experience in October and November. I look forward to the few nights in December and January that I get to throw a couple logs in the fireplace. And then I’m excited when the spring arrives again. I guess I just like a change of scenery. I get bored with the same old thing.
Even though I like a change of scenery on occasion, there are some things that I don’t like to change. I don’t like it when a bill that I am accustomed to paying $110.00 a month for changes to $123.99. I don’t like it when the pickles that have been on aisle 13 for the last 7 years have been moved to aisle 4. In essence I don’t like change in the things or people that I have come to rely upon. Most of us don’t. Isn’t it great to know that we serve a God who never changes? He is the same yesterday today and forever.
As we have read through The Story, some have gotten the impressions that God is different today than he was in ancient times. “Boy,” they say, “God sure was different in the Old Testament.” He slaughtered nations. He had adulterers put to death. He was such an angry God then but in the New Testament we read that God is Love that he so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. It’s as if we are reading about two different Gods.
God didn’t change, that’s the Jesus factor. The fact is, God was the same then as He is today. What He hated then, He hates today. What angered Him then, angers Him today. The difference is Jesus. The crucifixion is a pivotal point in human history. You and I live after that point so those of us who trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness are able to receive grace - not because God has changed and become a softy, but because His justice has been satisfied. When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, the fullness of God’s wrath was poured out on Him.
That may be one of the overriding themes of The Story. God didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to send His Son to die at Calvary. It was the plan from the beginning.
It was pronounced to a garden snake;
It was promised to a barren couple;
It was previewed to desert wanderers;
It was prophesied to a wayward nation
It was fleshed out in a humble carpenter; and
It was finalized on a Roman cross.
The plan never changed, because God doesn’t change. Yesterday, today and forever, God loves us. Because our sin required punishment, and the only one who could possibly stand the wrath of God, is God Himself, He came down in the person of Jesus Christ and allowed the fullness of His own wrath to be poured out on Him. That’s the Jesus Factor!
I appreciate the change of seasons. Isn’t it great to serve a God who consistently provides them for us?
Why is church attendance so important? I grew up in a home where my parents had two opposing points of view. To my mother, it was absolutely essential that her children be in church every Sunday unless they were sick, and she knew when we were faking. On occasion, she would allow us to get away with faking on a school day, but never on a Sunday. My father, on the other hand, saw little value in religious activity. I can count on one hand the times I remember him inside a church and that included his funeral. However, to appease my Mom, and not have to listen to her, he enforced her policy on my brothers and me. I’m glad he did.
In the days of the Apostles, regular church attendance was not a question. The Jewish believers were already accustomed to weekly observance of the Sabbath and the Gentile converts were so eager to learn about God’s grace, that that they couldn’t get enough. In the early chapters of Acts, the church having record attendance on a weekly basis, but by the end of that first generation of Christians, a change in attitude cropped up among some. This new attitude was brought about by false teaching and resulted in the eagerness to learn being replaced by a sense of entitlement. The Hebrews writer was prompted to address this new trend.
9 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Worship is a privilege – This idea of privilege seems a little foreign to the 21st century American. On your way to church on any given Sunday, you probably pass several other places where you could stop and “attend worship.” If you don’t like the time of your church service, you can opt for a service as early as 8:00 AM and as late as 6:30 PM. You could even choose Saturday night service if that appeals to you.
Seeing worship as a privilege can be a stretch for many of us. However true worship does not happen somewhere because the place has the label “church” on it. Two elements must be present. True worship happens when you are among God’s people and seated around His throne. The privilege to enter the most holy place was made possible by the blood of Jesus and is granted to the body of believers called the church. The best way to experience true worship is with the body of believers that you have become a part of, your local church.
Worship is a cleansing – It is essential for spiritual growth to regularly attend church, for the worship, for the involvement and for the study. I saw this statement recently, "the service you miss is the service you need." Each service is intentionally tailored and designed. You can praise and worship God and you can learn things that you didn't know before. You will be challenged and hopefully motivated. Church is where you will be inspired to go higher than you've gone, to live a life that is godlier and greater than you've been living, to sync your life up with Jesus and His purpose and plan for your life. You will come to understand why you're here on this earth: to serve, to give and to love.
Worship is an encouragement - the Bible says, we should keep on encouraging each other. We all need encouragement. Life is hard. Life is difficult. We all run into various kinds of challenges; health problems, financial issues, and conflict within our families. We have an opportunity to encourage one another and that is part of what church is about. Sunday service is where fellowship begins. Being in classes, groups and serving is where you get to know people on a deeper level, but it starts on Sunday; the launching point to fellowship and community is in church services. Every Sunday that you come, there are going to be people who are looking for you, wondering if you're there. People will miss you. And the longer and more consistently you come, the more you will be missed. Because the more that you are in church, the more you are involved, the more people miss you and notice that you're not around.
It is a marvelous thing to be a part of a local church it is like having a much larger family. Don't settle for attending church occasionally. You will suffer, and so will your church.
Throughout the Bible we can find different images on the subject of friendship. The theme is woven into the fabric of the Word from Genesis to Revelation. Some images jump off the pages at us to grab our attentions and to challenge us in our own friendships.
The first image that comes to mind is God as a Friend that is, God’s demonstration of friendship toward us. When Jesus was preparing to His disciples for the upcoming events that would lead to His death, He said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 Jesus’ intent was not to establish some new axiom but to call their minds to a principle which they would already understand and agree with. True friendship can be determined by sacrifice and the highest sacrifice one can offer is his own life. Jesus would soon be offering His on the cross of Calvary. God as a friend could be the theme of the entire Bible. Our Creator desired to have a different relationship with us than He did with the rest of creation, a relationship of love, fellowship, friendship. He would experience death on a cross to demonstrate the supreme level friendship He is offering.
The second image that comes to mind is that of being a Friend of God or our demonstration of friendship toward God. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend - James 2:23. The specific instance that James is referring to is the occasion where Abraham took his son Isaac up Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Though God never intended to permit Abraham to kill his son. Abraham was willing to because he believed that God would raise Him from the dead. So being a friend of God is being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for Him while at the same time trusting in His promises.
The third image that comes to mind is Friends with One Another - a demonstration of our mutual friendship. In the late chapters of 1 Samuel, we read about this mutual friendship. 181 tells us “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” In 18:4 Jonathan gave David his clothes and military garb. Jonathan recognized that David would one day be king of Israel. Rather than being envious or jealous, Jonathan submitted to In 19:1-3 King Saul told his followers to kill David. Jonathan rebuked his father recalling David’s faithfulness to him in killing Goliath. Finally in chapter 20 we read of a plan concocted by Jonathan to reveal his father’s plans toward David. Jonathan was going to practice his archery. If he told his servant that the arrows he shot were to the side of the target, David was safe. If Jonathan told his servant that the arrows were beyond the target, David was to leave and not return. Jonathan told the servant that the arrows were beyond the target, meaning that David should flee. After releasing his servant, Jonathan found David and the two men cried together.
Considering each of these Biblical images, the common elements of friendship are sacrifice and loyalty. Sacrifice is the willingness to give up that which is precious to us in order to promote the benefit of someone else. Loyalty is that continued commitment, in spite of changing circumstances. Jesus Christ, therefore, has proven to be the ultimate friend Who laid down His life for us, and promised to be with us until the very end. In fact one of the last images of Him in the Bible is that of a rider who is called Faithful and True.
These images should challenge us to be the best possible friends that we can be.
V How do you measure up as a friend?
V What are you willing to sacrifice for others?
V How far can your loyalty be stretched?
The Apostle Peter was writing to Christians in the first century who found themselves at odds with the ruling authorities. To be exact, they were hated.
V James was executed in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin.
V A few years later Paul is executed in Rome by Nero.
V Peter was executed, being crucified upside down.
The historian Tacitus reports that when a huge fire destroyed at least a quarter of Rome, the emperor Nero pinned it on the Christians in order o divert attention away from himself. Having the masses turn their rage on the Christians, was not difficult as this new religion was already being viewed with suspicion. The resulting persecution was brutal:
“Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired…”
- Annals XV.44
In light of all this hatred towards Christians, the Apostle Peter’s instructs his readers to live in such a way that God could use their good deeds as a testimony to to their enemies. It worked. In fact, it has always worked. History testifies that the church experiences more growth during times of persecution than in times of peace.
The church may be on the cuffs of another season of persecution Acts of Terrorism by those who hate Christians are growing with seemingly no consequences to those behind the acts. No sooner is our flag raised before we are compelled to lower it for yet another attack. Even within our own country, Christian beliefs are mocked by both the entertainment community and many in political office, and the religious liberties of Christians are declining while those for other faiths seem to be on the rise
What if this anti-Christian attitude is being permitted in order to provide opportunity for God to bring revival to His church? What if this is what it takes to shake things up? What then should our response be? Peter has some instructions for us.
Live as servants of God – Peter warns his readers not to use their freedom as a cover up for evil. Man’s laws will always have loopholes to be exploited. In a land where everybody demands their “rights,” it is no longer acceptable point out anything that is “wrong.” Society no longer looks favorably upon moral standards. Holiness is despised. “Live and let live” has replaced, “In God we trust” as the prevailing motto. In a society where the moral bar has been lowered, it can be tempting for the Christian to join in. We need to remind ourselves that we are called to live as servants of God.
Show proper respect to everyone – As our culture continues to drift away from God’s standards, there will be more and more people whose lifestyles do not measure up to our beliefs. Some of them will even interpret God’s Word in such a way to condone such lifestyles. If God is going to use our good deeds and behavior to impact others, it will likely not be from our bashing them on social media, or wearing tee-shirts that insult them, but from a position of respect for them as fellow image bearers of our Creator.
Love the brotherhood of believers – Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for each other. Living by higher standards may not always be recognized. Being treated with respect may go un-noticed. But the church’s love for one another will get attention. After all, if not love, what does the church have that the world wants? The church in the first century had a strong bond with one another. They worshipped together, prayed together and even ate together. They shared life together. And while they were hated by the world, they had something that the world did not – and that something drew people to their Savior Jesus Christ.
The Story of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15. Maybe you’re familiar with it. A young man came of age, and decided that he was tired of living in his father’s house and by his father’s rules. So he went to his father and demanded to receive his inheritance early. As the younger of two brothers, his inheritance would have been 1/3 of the total of his father’s estate. Since his father was still alive, much of that value would have been tied up in property, equipment and livestock. Liquefying the assets in those days would have been no small task. In addition to the hassle this demand put his father through to come up with the cash, it was one of the greatest insults a son could give his father. In that culture, the inheritance was not presumed to be part of the estate until the father was deceased. In essence it was as though he was saying, “you’re as good as dead to me, just give me my inheritance now.”
In spite of the hurt, the father honored his son’s request and handed him the money. As soon as the boy could get out of there, he packed his bags and headed off to see the world. After blowing his money on expensive parties and wild women, it was only a matter of time until he found himself hungry and homeless. Just to survive he took a minimum wage job feeding pigs and wishing he had it as well as they did. He came to realize how much better he had it when he had lived with his father and by his father’s rules. He came to his senses, swallowed his pride, and mustered up the courage to return to his father’s home. Though he had no inheritance waiting for him there, he realized that even his father’s employees were better off than he was.
When he returned home with his head down and his tail between his legs, he was surprised to find his father waiting for him with open arms. In fact, his Dad threw a party and invited all the neighbors. Instead of being treated like the spoiled brat that he was, he was treated like a royalty. Instead of returning as a hired hand, he returned as a son.
Though this was a wonderful reception for him, it infuriated his older brother. While the younger boy was out playing, the older brother was home working; while the younger boy was out spending his father’s money, the older one was on the farm, laboring to restore his father’s wealth; while the younger boy was out disrespecting his father’s name, the older boy stayed at home being industrious and bringing honor to his father. It’s not difficult to imagine how upset he was when he returned from a 14-hour day in the fields to discover this loser of a brother was home and a party was being thrown in his honor.
When the older brother expressed his displeasure in his father’s treatment of his good for nothing brother, his father replied “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
The younger brother is who I was.
Sure I can identify with the younger brother. Like him, I have made bad choices. I’ve squandered resources and burnt bridges. On many occasions I have found myself in need of forgiveness and been pleasantly surprised to have had that need met. We all have. This story speaks highlights the forgiveness we all receive from our heavenly Father when we return to live under His roof. The younger brother is who I was, but . . .
. . . the older brother is who I’ve become.
I’m sad to say that I can also identify with the older brother. In spite of my many forgiven transgressions, I am still quick to notice when someone else gets equal reward without putting forth equal effort. I became a Christian when I was a boy, and while I have done some things that have disappointed God, I’ve not wandered as far away as so many others have. I’ve been a faithful servant of God for many years, plodding along seeking to honor him with my life. And like the older brother, I find myself looking down with arrogance on the other prodigals in this world. The older brother is who I’ve become, but . . .
. . . the father is who I want to be.
The main character in this story is the father. He loves his sons equally even though their loyalty towards him is vastly different. When the boy returned, the father’s focus was not on the money that was squandered nor was it on the relationship that was devalued. The Father’s focus and attention was on the boy’s decision to return home.
He recognized his son while he was still a long way off, as though every single day he had been watching out over the horizon, waiting for his return. Finally, when he saw the distant silhouette of his youngest boy returning home, he gathered the pleats of his rope, leaped over the railings of his front porch and charged full speed across an open field to meet him. Holding nothing back and ignoring the smell of failure he threw his arms around the boy and smothered him with affection. The father is who I want to be.
On September 11, 2001, our world changed forever. The homeland came under attack by an outside terrorist group and 2996 people lost their lives. This enemy was not an easily identified nation that we could retaliate against. They were but a deceptive group that spread out, moved around and hid in many different lands including our own. They had little fear of death and a reckless desire to destroy the US and anything that was labeled Christian. They were much craftier than our enemies before them, hijacking our own airplanes and flying them into our own buildings. While we had dealt with terrorist attacks in the past, never had we experienced anything near the magnitude of the attacks of 9/11.
Within a few weeks of the attacks, our president established the United States Department of Homeland Security whose primary responsibilities are to protect the territory of the United States from, and respond to terrorist attacks. For the last 15 years our nation has spent an average of $60 billion each year in an attempt to keep our homeland safe. While the cost seems extremely high, we have no choice. We must pay the price to guard ourselves against an enemy who seeks to destroy us.
While Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram are some of the deadliest groups known to modern man, they are not the fiercest enemy we have ever faced. A greater enemy is described in the Bible as being craftier than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. In terms of deceptiveness, he is described as the father of lies. As for recklessness, his fate is sealed, he has nothing to lose and he would love nothing more than to take us down with him. For years, he has been waging war on the family. We must guard ourselves against an enemy who seeks to destroy us.
On May 8, I will begin a new sermon series entitled Homeland Security A Family’s Defense Against The Enemy. What better time to begin a series on the family than the day we set aside to honor our mothers?
Each year, as the spring approaches, I try to remember to cut back my crepe myrtles, those beautiful tree-like bushes with colorful flowers. I cut them back because that’s what I’ve seen other people do, and because in the past, when I have cut them back to a sturdier point on the plant, I’ve found that the branches don’t sag so much and the bush is more full of blooms. I have also learned that when I fail to cut back my crepe myrtles in the spring, the old dead branches dry up and take away from the beauty of the living ones.
The Christian life could be compared to crepe myrtles. The new branches full of colorful flowers are the acts of faith and righteousness in our lives. Worship, Christian service and fellowship decorate our lives with vibrant color and we become a blessing to those around us. The dead and dried up branches are those things that we do for ourselves and for the moment. The Bible calls them deeds of the flesh. They may be either good and wholesome or they may be self-destructive. What makes them dried up and dead is that they serve only a short term purpose and do nothing to advance God’s agenda.
This year, I had some decay on one of my larger bushes so I had to break out the chain saw and cut it back even further than I wanted to. Two to three weeks ago new shoots were coming out on the other plants but this one looked destined to become firewood. There was no sign of life, until yesterday morning. On Easter Sunday, dozens of reddish green sprouts began to emerge from this hard little stump. I can’t wait to see the colorful flowers during the summer.
As Christians, we need to on occasion, step back and examine our lives. Do you feel weighted down by your activity in Christian service and worship? Are the things you are doing for God’s agenda hidden beneath the clutter of dead leaves and twigs? Perhaps it’s time to get out the pruning snips and remove some dried up branches. Pruning snips may seem to be a bit harsh, but they’ve got to be better than a chain saw.
Springtime has arrived. For some of you it’s felt like spring since you arrived in Florida. For many of who live here full time, there is hopeful anticipation of resuming out door activities, planting flowers and visiting the swimming pool. Spring is the season that ushers in new life where colors change from dry and barren to vibrant and alive.
I think it’s fitting that our annual Easter celebration falls at the beginning of Spring. What better time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the time of the year that reminders of new life are everywhere around us.
Whenever I consider Jesus’ resurrection, I am impressed by the amount of evidence that God provided for the occasion.
- The empty tomb: After Jesus walked out of the grave where He was buried, He left behind the empty grave clothes to prove that He had been there. But He didn’t leave behind a body. The best way to squash the claims of a resurrection would be to produce a body. Both the Romans and the Jews had every reason to scour the area and find His body, but it couldn’t be done. Jesus is alive.
- The appearances: After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to many people. First He appeared to the women who were the closest to Him. Then He appeared to the disciples who had followed Him for three years. Since its conceivable that 20 people could conspire to make up such a story, He appeared to over 500 people at one time. For those who did not believe, the solution was a simple one: cross-examination. Surely if they were lying, all 500 witnesses would not say the same thing. Surely their contradictions would discredit them. Jesus is alive.
- The changed lives: After people witnessed the resurrected Christ, their lives were dramatically changed. The same man who denied Jesus three times in one night went on to preach the power sermon at Pentecost. The once timid disciples became bold proclaimers of the Gospel, even to the point of becoming martyrs. For that there is only one explanation: Jesus is alive.
Those who had the most to lose by Jesus’ resurrection were in the best position to disprove it, yet they could not. Jesus is alive.
Before Jesus went to the cross, He made the bold prediction that he would be arrested, tried and put to death, and on the third day He would rise again. He also promised that He was going to prepare a place and would one day return to earth to take all believers to heaven to live for eternity. That is the great hope of the Christian faith.
That hope would be shattered were Jesus still lying in the grave. The resurrection demonstrates two important characteristics of Jesus: 1) He has the power to deliver, power even over death; and 2) He can be taken at His word. The Apostle Paul wrote that if the resurrection were not a historical fact then we (believers) are to be pitied above all others.
The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection therefore, is critical to the Christian faith. God knew exactly what He was doing.
As I attempt to empathize with Jesus in the suffering that Jesus endured, the part that gets me most is not the feeling of being forsaken by the Father. While I have no doubt that it was the greatest suffering, it’s beyond my comprehension. Having stepped on a nail a few times in my life, I think I can relate to the physical pain that he endured. But what hurts me most is the way that Jesus was treated by those closest to Him.
The week began with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The drama quickly increased when he confronted the money changers and accused them of
turning God’s house into a den of thieves. As the week neared its end, Jesus would find Himself sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, being arrested by a mob, tortured by lynch man and eventually nailed to a
Roman cross and left to die. Yet on the night of Jesus’ arrest, he was abandoned by His disciples. Earlier in the evening, during His final meal on earth, He spoke directly to two of them.
After washing His disciples’ feet, He announced that one of them would betray Him. When they all questioned whether or not it was them, He identified Judas as the betrayer and said, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Shortly after Judas left the room, Peter vowed that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” In the midst of the most stressful week of His life, our Savior had to call out two of the men most close to Him, two of the men that He called to be his followers, and tell them how they would “let Him down.”
Couched between those two confrontations, Jesus made a statement to us all: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35
I don’t believe it’s by coincidence that Jesus gave this “new command” in the context of betrayal and denial. From time to time, Jesus’ followers are going to let Him down. Church members will fight with each other, husbands and wives will be unfaithful to one another, Christian employees will steal from their bosses and those representing the body of Christ will act in ways unbecoming of the body. As sure as Judas would betray Jesus, and Peter would deny Him, these other things will happen today. And when they do, we are to
remember Jesus’ command that we love one another. This is how the world will know that we belong to Him.
New Year’s resolutions, most of us have made them. Most of us have broken them and a few of us have kept a few of them on occasion. They must have been things we knew we ought to have done or we wouldn’t have made them in the first place. Yet somehow, when they were broken, we managed to convince ourselves that they weren’t that important in the first place and that January 1st is no different than December 31st. Once we resigned ourselves to that reality, the commitments we made conveniently fell out of sight and out of mind.
As we approach another New Year, let me challenge you to revisit some of those long forgotten resolutions that fell conveniently by the wayside, and determine whether or not they are important enough to keep this year. If they are, then make a plan to keep them. Forget about the fact that you’re beginning a new year. Refuse to give up after the first or second failure. If they make you a better you, then start why not start again?. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness & put on the armor of light. - Rom. 13:11-12
Let’s face it, our time on earth is getting shorter by the day. I just turned 53 and I only expect to live to be 105 so half of my life is already gone. Furthermore I’ve been at Sebring Christian Church for 16 years so if I retire at 65, I have only 12 years remaining. I don’t have a lot of time left to waste.
The Psalmist wrote, "Show me, O Lord, my life’s end & the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life" - Ps 39:4. I don’t think God reminds us of this reality for the sake of discouraging us, but because He wants us to treasure our time because that is limited. I have spent far too many days and weeks reviewing the things I could have accomplished.
Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes once said, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die.” Sometimes I feel that way, but I realize that time moves on whether I am ready or not. And the Bible tells me not to count on tomorrow because tomorrow may not come. All I have is today.
Consider all the time wasted in sinning. Think of the time wasted in bars or in gambling casinos or in shallow affairs. Think of the time wasted in gossiping or spreading rumors. Or think about all the time wasted worrying about the consequences of the sins we have committed. Satan is a thief and a robber! He loves for us to waste our lives on sin and insignificance.
But it is not just sin that makes demands on our time. Sometimes busyness does the same thing. Jesus went to the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus. He sat down to teach, and Mary was sitting at His feet just soaking in every word. Meanwhile, Martha was out in the kitchen preparing dinner. As the story goes Martha got upset because Mary was not in the kitchen, with her. So she complained to Jesus, and He answered, You are worried & upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better. - Luke 10:41-42.
We have to determine to choose what is better. We can get so caught up in the here and now that we fail to deal with the eternal, the things that will last forever.
So we have to ask ourselves. . .
· What is God’s will for me?
· What is God’s will for His church?
· What does God want for me this year?
I’m assuming that since you’re reading this article that you believe God should be a part of your life. So ask yourself, "Who or what is most important in my life?"
And I’m hoping that your answer will be, "My relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is most important to me." If so, then put that at the top of your list of priorities, & say, "This will affect my decisions, my scheduling, my relationship with others, and my whole outlook on life." Here are a few suggestions.
Make church attendance a priority.
When Sunday rolls around neither rain nor shine nor football kickoffs will interfere with my being in church, because He comes first in my life. I’ll worship the Lord & nothing will interfere with that."
Make God’s presence a reality in your everyday life.
Schedule some definite time each day to pray & to read His Word. Pray for yourself & for your family & for people around you. Pray for the church. Pray as if your talking to a God who is right beside you.
Learn to live for today.
The two greatest enemies of time are regrets for things we did in the past, and anxiety about what will happen to us in the future. Many of us are living either in the past or in the future, and we fail to see the opportunities of the day.
Someone said, "Life is what happens to you while you’re making plans to do something else." Another year has come & gone. A new year stretches before us. Help us Lord, to redeem the time.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. - Galatians 4:4-5
God is never late. And God is never early. He delivers in His time and His time is always right. What made that time so special?
It was a fulfillment of prophecy. Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of a period of 483 years from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah would be “cut off.” That reckoning of time would bring us to approximately 27/28 AD. Assuming that being “cut off” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion, His birth must have come some 30 years or so prior. The 1st century Jews were expecting Him. The scribes were quick to answer Herod that He was to be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2) and Simeon was assured that he would see the Lord’s salvation (Luke 2.)
The political landscape was ripe under Roman Rule. The term "Pax Romana," literally means "Roman peace," and it refers to the time period from 27 BC to 180 AD where there were peaceful conditions throughout the world that provided for the advancement of the gospel. The Mediterranean world was united in language allowing communication between different people groups and those carrying the gospel were beneficiaries of the Roman road system which made travel more feasible than any other time in history until the last 300 years.
The spiritual landscape was also ripe. The Jews were beginning to realize that they were unable to keep the Old Testament Law. Paul referred to it as a school master who led him to his need for Jesus Christ. The Greeks were also realizing that their religious activity was impotent and that their countless pagan gods were powerless to save.
In each of our lives the fullness of time comes where we recognize that we need a Savior., that there is more to life than our simple existence and we are compelled to place our trust in Jesus Christ. This year as we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I would like for us to turn our focus on the most wonderful time in history and be reminded once again of our need for Jesus. I will use Galatians 4:4-5 as a guide for my preaching.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. James 1:16-18
Whenever I reminisce of Thanksgivings gone by, my mind goes back to childhood days.
· I remember running around outside and playing games with the cool fall breeze in the air and then entering a home warmed by an oven that had been working overtime.
· I remember the aroma of pumpkin pies and roasted turkey and the gathering of family from miles around to assemble for this annual meal.
· I remember watching the Miami Dolphins beat the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day and listening to my Dad argue with the broadcaster.
· I remember late the night before Thanksgiving Day, my brothers and I laying 2x4s on Highway 27 to create some vibration for passing semis carrying citrus. We usually had oranges and grapefruits added to our Thanksgiving spread.
· I remember years that we had our Thanksgiving dinner in a large dining room with twelve people present and I remember years that we had the same meal in the carport and spread all over the yard because only twelve people could fit inside.
· I remember celebrations and I remember arguments.
· I remember gatherings with new family members and I remember gatherings marked by the absence of one who would be there no more.
The one thing that makes my memories so special to me is FAMILY. There is something very special about the family. From the very beginning of our nation, the family has played an important part of our society. Even across the world in different cultures there is a strong sense of loyalty towards family members. The family is definitely a gift from the Father of lights.
Could it be that God created us with needs that can only be met in the context of a family? Is it possible that He worked it out that way so we would long for an even greater relationship with our real family and our heavenly Father?
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.
I had just finished my first summer as a full-time preacher. I had presented myself as a conservative when it came to my position on the inspiration of Scriptures. I believed and taught that a God who cannot lie and cannot make mistakes, supernaturally guided the Biblical writers to write down His message to ensure that it was without error. If the Bible said it then it’s as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. The nucleus of our small congregation was ultra conservative and so they were pleased to have found such a young man who held such an “old fashioned” view on the authority Scripture.
What I soon discovered, however, was that many of these folks assumed that since we saw eye to eye on the authority of Scriptures, we would naturally agree on every other value that they held near and dear. Some expected me to embrace the King James Version of the Bible as the only true English translation. They thought I should preach, teach and quote only the KJV and renounce all other versions. Another expectation was that I would discourage clapping and hand raising during worship. I would not comply with either of these expectations.
There was one thing though that I did reconsider, my position on the celebration of Halloween. While I had never taken a stand against it in the past, I had always found it inconsistent for God’s people to parade their children around town dressed up to look like demons, witches and other characters that were anything but God-like. I had also wondered from time to time how much wisdom could be found in making light of the world of darkness and glamorizing signs and symbols of the occult. The Christian slogan of ‘90s, WWJD had me trying to envision Jesus dressed up in orange and black, and going door to door collecting candy bars and lollypops. It was settled, or children would no longer go trick or treating.
As the evening came that year, the streets filled up with robots and princesses, Smurfs and Rugrats, even movie stars. Very little of what I saw resembled the dark side of the holiday. Had I overreacted? Had I allowed someone else’s convictions to pressure me into changing my own?
I concluded that a personal stand against Halloween is a valid position. But not the position I hold. Rather than sit it out, I asked, “why not use it for God’s glory?” Instead of turning off the lights, closing the shades and lowering the TV volume, and pretend to not be home, why not provide the children with a positive experience in the name of Jesus?
For the past 8-years, each Halloween, we have hosted Trunk or Treat. Church members and friends park their cars, decorate their trunks, and pass out candy. Hundreds of children from all over the county come through, dressed as pilots, firemen, ballerinas and even occasional ghosts. They play games, collect candy, eat hot dogs, drink soft drinks, bounce on inflatables, and enter drawings for prizes, all in the parking lot of a church.
How is this used for God’s glory?
· The children experience God’s people reaching out to them.
· The parents realize that Christians are not just a group of closed minded, bible thumping haters with nothing else to do but point out someone else’s sin.
· The church family fellowships with one another and engages in conversation with those who do not know Jesus.
· The church office collects addresses of local families, many of which do not have a church home.
If you would like to participate this year, there are many different ways. You can choose to decorate the trunk of your car and be on the front line with the children and their parents. You may also choose to help in another area such as cooking or serving hot dogs, monitoring inflatable toys, helping with the drawings, or donating candy, bikes, or other prizes.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. - Ecclesiastes 3:1
I don’t believe that Solomon is referring only to the four seasons of the annual calendar. His words refer also to every thing in life. He goes on to say, there is a time for everything and lists the following contrasts:
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace
and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Isn’t it great that when God created the universe and set the planets in motion that He created seasons? By His design, we have winter, spring, summer and fall. The differences between them are more noticeable in some places than they are in others, but we all experience the changing of seasons no matter where we live. Wouldn’t life be boring if every day was spring? Winters may be cold and bitter, but without them we would never have the need to warm up around a fire. Summers, especially in Florida can be hot and humid, yet hundreds of thousands of people come here daily to enjoy our beaches and attractions.
The reality is that for every negative situation in our lives, if we try, we can find a positive counterpart. The financial mistakes we made when we were younger brought pain and hardship, but the lessons we learned through them bring blessings today. The loss of a loved one brings heartache and sorrow, but the ability to identify with, and minister to someone experiencing that pain today, brings immeasurable joy.
Paul writes in Romans that “in all things, God works to the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When we’re committed to serving God and fulfilling His calling in our lives, then in all things He will work to our good. He will bring triumph even out of tragedies.
Our church family has bid farewell to two very active couples in our fellowship. Dwight and Becky Webster have sold their home and are moving back to Atlanta. Dwight taught Bible study, delivered communion mediations, and served Sebring Christian congregation as an elder. Becky worked diligently in the children’s ministry and played the piano when called upon. Blake and Bethany Rushing have relocated to Savannah, GA where Blake has accepted a position with the Savannah Church of Christ.
I choose to call on God’s promise to work for the good of those who love Him . . . in all things. While both these couples will be greatly missed at Sebring Christian Church I trust that God will use them mightily in the days and years to come wherever he fits them into His kingdom; and I am confident that God will raise up faithful servants here to fill the void that they will leave behind.