Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joy to the World!

It is finally Christmas!  I’ll bet the children in your life are bustling with excitement as they wait to see what kind of presents lie beneath the Christmas tree.  Perhaps you are preparing to either travel or receive visitors?  This really is a beautiful time of year.  This is a time where the beauty of decorations, of relationships, gift-giving music, and joy all meet- and appropriately so, for this is the time when we remember the coming of God’s great gift to humanity- His son, Jesus.

I love singing at Christmas time.  There is just something so sweet and pure about hearing my wife and kids picking parts and joining in on a carol or Christmas hymn and the whole family sings together.  Out of all the tunes we love the best, there is one popular song that is commonly sung at Christmas time, that you may be surprised to know actually has nothing to do with Christmas.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy

These verses are not actually speaking of the first appearance of the Son of God on earth, but rather, the second.  It speaks of the return of Jesus at the end of time as the King of all mankind.  The first time Jesus came, He did so as a servant to show His love for mankind, and to provide a means for mankind to be brought near to God though we are lost in sin.  The second time He will appear, not as a suffering servant, but as a glorious, conquering king!  In the second verse we are instructed to sing songs of worship to the mighty King, and as we do, all of creation itself will join in glad adoration of Creator God!  This is the natural response we have to seeing the great power and grace of God.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love

The words of these verses announce the great news that when Jesus returns, He will defeat Satan and his allies, He will set things aright, and He will even break the curse of sin and destruction that is on the earth.  Jesus will one day rule upon the earth, and all that has gone wrong with corrupt governments, sickness, pain, disease, destruction, abuse, chaos, murder, hunger, and more will be brought to an end and the world will experience the reality of the presence of God, and He will wipe every tear away from our eyes, and there will be no more curse!

This Christmas, as you have an opportunity to share good times with your family, friends, and church, I pray you will remember not only the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, but that same Jesus, who will one day return with the power and splendor of a glorious King!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

God is Not Dead...

I’ll be honest…there is a Christmas hymn that I remember hearing when I was younger, that I never really cared for.  I’m sure that it had nothing to do with the words of the song, it was probably something about the music itself that just wasn’t interesting to me.  The song to which I am referring is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, and the lyrics to the song were written by none other than famed American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 2008, a musical group called Casting Crowns did a cover of that song in a contemporary style.  I LOVED IT!  What a powerful sound from the band, mixed with the pure and gentle voices of a children’s choir.  For some reason, hearing the song in a different setting allowed me to take notice of the words a little more closely.  The third verse is especially poignant as it says, “…and in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”  How odd to hear such sad words in a classic Christmas song.  Why would the author  write such a line?

According to Robert Morgan in his book, “Then Sings My Soul”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these lyrics during the civil war, having lost his wife to a tragic accident, and having nursed his war-injured son back to health from a near fatal gun shot wound.  As his inner turmoil finally began to take form in poetry, Longfellow wrote out the song that expressed not only his grief and fear over a war-torn nation, but also all of the personal trial and difficulty he and his family had endured.  This third verse is a candid confession of the reality of Longfellow’s frustration at the lack of peace and reassurance in his life, and his fears for the safety and preservation of this great nation.  But the next verse is the brilliant reply that God seems to have given him in the sound of a church bell.

Longfellow writes, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”  This is the great promise of the ages- God is not dead, nor does He sleep!  When life’s difficulties seem too powerful to overcome, when the security of the nation’s people and economy seem to hang by a thread, when we suffer sickness and loss, God has not stepped off of His throne.  He is not wandering about the universe with His eye on something else.  God’s ways, though unknown to us, are still in play, and He will do that which works to His glory and our good.

Perhaps you are among the many who are looking at Christmas with eyes that are still wet with tears, with a heart that is reeling with confusion or loss, or with the weight of the world with its many fears bearing down upon you.  Can I just encourage you with the words of this song?  God is not dead, nor does He sleep.  He sees you and He knows you better than you know yourself.  He is not out of control, rather He sits as a compassionate king over all that He has made.  He is good and His loving kindness endures to all generations.  Take time this season to remember all that God has done for you.  Give Him thanks and rest in His care for you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Blessing to the Nations

Matthew 12:18-21
Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.

At Christmas time, we remember the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God.  We celebrate the greatest gift known to mankind; God the creator gave himself to us.  This passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah tells us, from the perspective of history, what Jesus’ ministry would be to the people of the earth.  Observe these three elements of the passage:

First, Jesus was a servant.  Phillipians 2:5-11 describes Jesus as a willing servant who emptied Himself in order to be born into humanity and carry out His mission in life- that is to provide salvation to those who are in desperate need of forgiveness.  It is hard for us to comprehend how significant this is because we are on the low end of this exchange.  Author, C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity puts it this way, "The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”  What a colorful metaphor- that we should become a slug or a crab.  Jesus gave up much to come and be one of us, because of the love of God the Father!

Second, Jesus was filled with the third member of the Trinity- the Holy Spirit.  He was filled to carry out the specific task of bringing justice to the nations.  He showed us the justice of God against sin on the cross as He absorbed the wrath of God against wickedness.  God’s spirit was with Him and continues to be with us as a gift to teach us what pleases God, and give us the ability to please God.  

Third, Jesus brings us hope and a sense of God’s care for us in the following phrase, “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…”  God knows that we are imperfect and that we struggle to do the right thing.  To those whose hearts desire to do right before God, He extends a gracious hand to uplift and encourage.  To those who feel that they are running on fumes, God’s word says He will not quench you.  Rather, God extends His strength and passion through His Son, Jesus.  

Perhaps you are among those that find the holiday season difficult to get through because of stress, loneliness, bills, or other difficult circumstances.  Jesus, God’s gift to us, offers us the incredible gift of His love and power.  He does this to bless us, and so that we might glorify God who has given us this gift.  Be encouraged by the message of Christmas- God has not abandoned us to a low existence without Him.  He has given us His very presence to lift us up and give us an undeniable HOPE!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

One Quiet Moment...

At one point or another, it comes down to simply saying, “Yes, Lord.”  As we are entering the Christmas season, we are preparing ourselves, our families and our churches to recall the story of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Great humanity of the story, I believe, begins in the lives of Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph.

Mary, a young peasant girl living and working with her family, had no expectations any higher than the life she grew up with.  Joseph, an average citizen of his little town and a carpenter by trade,  sought only to marry the girl he loved and begin a normal family life.  Neither one of them could have known the amazing part they would play in the presentation of the Messiah to the world, until God Himself spoke to them in gracious but final tones.

Musician, Bob Kauflin wrote a song about this incredible moment in the lives of Mary and Joseph.  He says it this way in the lyrics to “One Quite Moment”:

One quiet moment, on a star-clustered night,
Two weary travelers knew an end was in sight;
So the soon-to-be mother, grasped her husband’s strong hand,
And paused to remember where the journey began.
Nine months of yearning filled with joy and with pain;
He almost had left her, but then chose to remain
Close by the woman he had not even kissed,
Who would bear him a son that would never be his.
And in one quiet moment, a woman and man
Accepted the part they would have in God’s plan;
To give up His glory, and be born as a man.
In one quiet moment.

The lyrics of this song begin as Mary and Joseph have completed a nine-month journey through pregnancy, public scorn, commitment and endurance of all the challenges they must have faced.  They are just about to see the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecies and expectations in the birth of the child that was supernaturally growing within Mary’s womb.  But this moment in history might never have happened had they not said, “Yes, Lord”.

Mary was told by an angel that she would bear a son, mysteriously given by God, and that her son would be the promised Messiah.  But even while she expressed bewilderment at how this thing might be, she trusted that God knew what He was doing, and that she would avail herself to him no matter what.  Instead of saying, “this could never be!”, she simply said, “May it be as the Lord has said.”

Joseph did everything right according to traditions.  He found a girl, asked her to marry him, made the proper arrangements with her family and announced the good news.  Now she came to him with the news that she was pregnant despite the fact that they had not yet been together as husband and wife.  Joseph was understandably upset, but as the word of the Lord came to him in a dream telling him not to abandon Mary, but to be her husband and the earthly father of God’s Son, he awoke to say, “Yes, Lord”.

Because of the willingness and obedience of Mary and Joseph, the promised Messiah was given to save a lost and dying world.  In one quiet moment their personal wills, plans, and goals came under submission to the will of God.  As a result, the world was saved.

At one point or another for you and I, it will come down to saying, “Yes, Lord”.  We will experience His forgiveness, His mercy, His call, His Life, when we submit our wills and plans to the will of God.  Who knows what blessings await when we follow in obedience to Him?  This Christmas season, as life lays out moments of decision for you, say “Yes” to God.