Christian, Topical blogs

TEAMWORK

“After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, ‘What were you discussing out on the road?’ But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33,34 NLT) Even the disciples had a problem with significance. Significance is that desire that says, “I am important, I am valuable, I have worth.” It wasn’t enough for the disciples to be part of a hand-picked intimate group of the Messiah’s. They reverted to comparing themselves to prove who was the best to satisfy their desire to be valuable.

It is part of our sinful nature to search for significance apart from God. The disciples forgot they were very important to their master who cared deeply for them. What the teacher thought of them was more important than what they thought of each other. Pride got in the way. If each of them had focused on what Jesus had called them to do and that they were part of his inner circle, I believe they would not have argued over who was greatest.

What makes a believer worthy is being part of the body of Christ. We have been given a very important task of furthering his Kingdom. Just like the disciples, I think I forget the importance of my task. I have been ingrained by society what jobs/roles are significant. Even our Christian culture gets off track at times placing importance on the wrong things. I felt pressure as a young mom to raise perfect Christian children who always obeyed. I worried about what other Christians thought of my child raising skills. Part of my significance came from being a good mom.

Unfortunately, my children didn’t obey very well starting in high school . My children, my husband and myself were subject of gossip frequently in our Christian circle. I was mortified. I didn’t think very highly of myself as a result. I look back and I know that part of my issue was worrying too much about their outward behavior because that was how they were judged. I forgot that my children were part of the great commission. I forgot to see them as my mission field, not a way to find my worth.

I must remember the task God has given me as a believer is crucial to him. Believers have been granted the greatest job on earth by their creator. No matter what roles I may hold in my life, his commission is monumental. Do I value the task that God has given me? Do I look at those around me as part of his harvest field? Honestly, I struggle to grasp this truth to the depths of my soul. But God is working on me! I’m so thankful to him.

I know when I focus on that truth, I begin to see others through his eyes. I try to see my grandsons as my ministry. It is easier because my parenting abilities won’t be judge by their behavior, but I also know that shaping their heart for God is more important than what others think. At least I hope I have learned that!

I also look at fellow believers as part of God’s team, my teammates. It doesn’t matter to me what they look like, what color their skin is, what denomination they belong to, or how much stuff they have. We are working toward the same goal. I am excited to be part of Christ’s team. I have an important job to do. Therefore, I am significant, I have been given the great commission by the master of the universe! So, have you. You are valuable. Don’t forget it. Let’s work together toward furthering His Kingdom.

 

 

Topical blogs

Desires

I was tired of struggling with the same sinful thoughts and behavior. One particular struggle kept rearing up its ugly head. Once God helped me see I was a glory-stealer, I realized how much I was committing that sin. I know we can’t have perfect motives, but I wanted to know what was at the root of this particular sin. Pride of course is at the root of all sin, but are there different desires that motivate certain sins?

When I asked God to help me understand, he prompted me to study the fall. I looked at the first three chapters of Genesis. I studied what God had provided Adam and Eve, Satan’s temptation and the result of the fall. When I evaluated it all, it seemed to me that God created us with four main desires. God meant for his creation to fulfill all of them.

What are they? A desire for significance, security, pleasure and worship. God created man in his image. He gave us dominion over the earth. Man was significant, set apart from the rest of creation. God created the beautiful Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to live in security. The Garden of Eden had everything they needed for living; food, freedom from harm, harmony with the animals. The Garden of Eden was full of things that delighted them physically; beauty to behold, tasty food to tickle their taste buds, cool clean water to quench their thirst and pleasant weather to delight in. Adam and Eve were privileged to enjoy God’s physical company and experience his love, kindness, grace and mercy, etc. All of these benefits from God should have brought forth praise and thanksgiving to him.

God’s design was perfect for gratifying these desires of man. However, the fall corrupted how we satisfy these desires. Satan deceived Adam and Eve into questioning God’s character and their significance. Was it enough to be created in his image or did they need to be like him, knowing good and evil? Eve noticed that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked very juicy and quite tasty. She forgot about all the other fruit, just as good, at her disposal. She felt for the first time unsatisfied with what God provided for her and Adam. So, both she and Adam disobeyed God and ate of the fruit.

Indulging my longings apart from God and his creation always leads me to sin. That is what my sinful nature does, it looks for ways to relieve these desires through my own means which is motivated by my pride. I will do it my way. Predictably, I am unsuccessful at quenching these yearnings.

The gospel is God’s remedy for my and yours predicament. The gospel not only mends my relationship with God, but it grants me power over my sinful nature. I am a new person who can seek to fulfill these desires once again in the way God intended. I am significant in who I am in Christ. I have eternal security in Christ. I can find pleasure in my personal relationship with Christ and his creation. I don’t have to indulge my fleshly desires. Out of gratitude for all of God’s gifts to me, I desire to worship him with a pure heart.

Now, when I catch myself sinning, I can look to identify which desire I was trying to fulfill through my own means. Was I searching for significance? Was my security threatened? Did I let my body of sin take over? Who or what was I worshipping instead of God? Once I figure it out, then I can combat it by focusing on how the gospel fulfills that desire.

Are you struggling with a certain sinful pattern? Identify what desire you are trying to fulfill apart from God, then rehearse to yourself how the gospel can satisfy it for good.

 

 

Topical blogs

Away in a Manger

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:6,7 NLT) This familiar scene captured by nativity sets is one of my favorite parts of Christmas decorations. Every Christmas, I place a cherished nativity scene by my front door. I unwrap each piece with a smile remembering when my children eagerly helped me put it on display. There are camels, sheep, cows, Magi, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and of course, baby Jesus. He was always the favorite figurine and the last one to be placed in the stable. After baby Jesus was in his spot, we talked about the true meaning of Christmas.

I never really stopped to think about the significance of Jesus being born as a human baby. Why did God send his son to be born as a baby? Why not send him as he will come the second time. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout…” (I Thessalonians 4:16 NLT) Wouldn’t that have been more convincing?

The people of Nazareth certainly had a hard time believing in him. “They asked, ‘Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles? Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.” (Mark 6: 2b-3 NLT) Jesus was too ordinary for them. They knew he was the firstborn son of their neighbor.

If Jesus had come from heaven with a commanding shout, all the earth would have known of his arrival, instead of just some lowly shepherds. He would have come with power and majesty. When he performed his miracles, people would have had an easier time believing he came from his Father in heaven. Even the religious leaders might have taken him more seriously.

And that is one reason, God sent him as a little helpless baby. If the religious leaders had believed in him, they would not have sent him to the cross. Jesus had to go to the cross. Even though God’s plan might have seemed backward, he knew exactly what he was doing. Jesus could only come in victory after he defeated sin and death for us.

The other less obvious reason which proved to be a stumbling block to some, Jesus was just like them. Jesus is just like me. And that is the point. How could he empathize with my every weakness, if he had not been born as a babe? “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT) Jesus gets me. Jesus went through every phase of life that I go through (with the exception of old age). Jesus experienced all the same temptations that I encounter. He understands how cruel life can be, how disappointing relationships can be, how my body of sin is tempted, and how I long to be loved and valued.

This Christmas seeing baby Jesus lying in a manger brings me new encouragement and hope. The nativity will remind me of my High Priest who understands all my frailties. He knowingly intercedes for me with the Father because he gets me.

I pray that you will have a truly blessed Christmas dwelling on the best gift the Father could ever give us. A baby boy born of a virgin away in a manger so long ago.

Topical blogs

Christmas Carols

Christmas Carols also got their origin from copying pagans singing about their holidays. But it is one tradition for which I am very thankful. The carols we sing today were mostly written during the Victorian era when celebrating Christmas was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Christmas Carols proclaim the birth of Christ and what that means for us. I have a new appreciation this year for those traditional songs we sing every year. They ring out the truth about Christmas. In the past, I have sung them, but I didn’t really soak in their lyrics. Songs like, “Oh come, All Ye Faithful”, “Away in a Manger”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.

I love the lyrics to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. Charles Wesley a great evangelist wrote the lyrics to this song. It was first published in 1739. Wesley understood the gospel and all of its implications. Here is some of the truth he placed in this carol. God and sinners are reconciled. Christ is the everlasting Lord. Christ is veiled in flesh, but yet a part of the Godhead. He was pleased to dwell with men. He was born to give us second birth. He will bruise Satan’s head and erase what Adam did to the human race. This song doesn’t just recount the birth of Christ, but adds in what Christ did in coming.

Fortunately, over the years, Christian artists have come up with new Christmas carols that I have come to love. Amy Grant’s “Emmanuel”, Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know”, Casting Crowns “While You Were Sleeping”. I am so thankful for the truth these songs recount also.

Of course, there are other Christmas songs that have become very nostalgic for me because they recall memories of decorating the tree with my children, baking cookies, opening presents on Christmas morning and more. Most of these songs have nothing to do with Christ’s birth. And to be honest, I preferred them over the carols because of their catchy tunes and the warm feelings they produced. I still enjoy them, I still listen to them and sing along.

But this Christmas, I’m trying to focus more on the songs that relay the truth. They help me to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas. When so much about this Holiday can be distracting and stressful. They have become a beacon of light for me. Carols are a way to rescue the Christmas that has been hijacked by the world.

I hope they will have new meaning for you too this Christmas as you prepare for the Holidays. May the truth of Christ’s birth bring peace to your heart this year.

Topical blogs

Christmas Hijacked

In my humble opinion, Christmas has been hijacked by the world. Christmas has become more about gift giving and decorations and Santa Claus and baking cookies and Christmas trees and Christmas movies, than about Christ’s birth. All the traditions that the world has added to Christmas appear so harmless. But are they?

I have been asking myself that question since I began my research on Christmas. I have complained for years that Christmas has been commercialized too much. It seems like “Christmas” has taken on a life of its own. I love watching the Christmas Hallmark movies, but I notice that they focus on the magic of Christmas. While, it’s fun to watch, it also makes me sad that Christmas magic has become such a competitor to the real miracle of Christ’s birth.

Christmas has become a secular holiday. What started out as a religious holiday has been taken over by the world. As Christians it makes our job much harder to remember the manger and its message. Gift giving has become bigger and bigger over the years. In an article from The Week magazine called, “A Brief History of the Christmas Present,” it says, “But when Christmas celebrations became legal in the 1680s, gift giving boomed. Rural Americans carved wooden toys and made pieces of needlework in the agricultural offseason to give to family members and neighbors. The Industrial Revolution saw those handmade items replaced with mass-manufactured trinkets and toys. By 1867, the holiday present industry was healthy enough for Macy’s in New York City to keep its doors open until midnight on Christmas Eve for the first time.” Now we have Black Friday which starts on Thursday!

Jesus has to compete with gift giving and Santa Claus. It is so easy for those things to capture our hearts, especially our children’s hearts at this time of the year. Children love getting presents! I love watching their faces light up as they open each one. I admit looking back that I over-bought at Christmas. I love giving gifts and I wanted my children to know how much I loved them. I equated gifts with love.

What child doesn’t love tales of magic? It seems so harmless. And for the most part I agree that fairytales aren’t bad. It sparks the imagination and gives joy. Fairytales are stories, not real people. I made that clear to my children. However, I encouraged my kids to believe in Santa Claus at Christmas. I knew plenty of Christians who did not. Did Santa Claus become more important to them than Jesus? I wonder?

I believe God is doing a work in my heart. I think he wants me to be more careful in how I approach Christmas. I need wisdom in knowing how to help my grandsons understand that Jesus is better than Santa. That all the presents they receive does not compare to the gift God gave us in his son. I need to help them remember that Jesus is the best reason to celebrate at any time of the year.

 

Scripture blogs, Topical blogs

Is Christmas Biblical?

Christmas biblical? For the first time this year I asked myself that question. I did a google search and I was shocked by what I found. Christmas traditions are rooted in pagan practices. Rulers and missionaries took people’s pagan festivals and changed them to Christian ones.

First, early Christians did not celebrate Christ’s birth. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 edition, adds, “Christmas…was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth…a feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. The first recorded celebration of Christ’s birth was in 336 A.D. during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine. Rather, the celebration of December 25th as a feast day can be traced back to the paganism of Babylon (Jeremiah 52:31), to elements of Egyptian worship, and to the idolatrous worship of Saturn in Roman times. “Far and wide in the realms of paganism was this birth day observed”, Rev. A. Hislop, “The Two Babylons”.

Scholars know that Jesus wasn’t born in December from the text telling of his birth. Shepherds would not be out in the fields in December near Bethlehem, it is too cold. Also calculating Elizabeth’s conception from when Zechariah would have been ministering in the temple and Mary’s conception 6 months later, would make Christ’s birth in the spring.

What else is rooted in paganism? Christmas trees for one. Many cultures considered the evergreen tree as a symbol of life. Northern Europeans put evergreen trees in their homes and the Romans put evergreen branches inside in the winter as reminder that spring was coming. According to an article in Christianity Today, “many early Christians were hostile to such practices. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor.” However, during the middle ages the use of the evergreen trees as part of Christmas was accepted. Christian missionaries were taking what was part of idol worship and claiming they could convert it to Christianity because of Christ’s supremacy over all.

What I am supposed to do with these new revelations? In my search, I certainly found those who believe we are sinning and displeasing God by participating in the Christmas celebration. They even quoted scripture to back up their claims.

Is there anything biblical about Christmas that can justify my participation in the season? For one, at Christmas we tend to be more generous to those in need. Proverbs 22:9 (NASB), “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” We know that God commends us for giving to the poor. If I look at Christmas as a time for giving, not just to my family, but to those around the world who are in desperate need, then I believe God would be pleased.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ? Even though it was unbelievers who commemorated the day of their birth, remembering the miraculous birth of our Savior is beneficial. God did not command that we make Christ’s birth a feast. But to worship Jesus by remembering the details around his birth is encouraging to our faith. Having a special service at church to remember God’s fulfillment of his prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth is appropriate.

Is it wrong to get involved in all the other things of Christmas, like decorations, presents, cookie baking, Christmas work parties, Santa Claus, etc.? Only the individual Christian can make that call. For me, I will trust that God is more interested in my heart attitude toward Christmas than what I do. I think I can enjoy time with family and friends making memories around Christmas traditions. I will know that Christmas is not something that God has ordained. But, I don’t think God necessarily hates Christmas either, if celebrated with the right attitude and understanding.

I will use this time as a reminder of all that God has done by sending his son as a baby. I will worship him by giving to those less fortunate than myself. I will be grateful and extend his grace and kindness to others during this crazy busy time of the year when patience is at an all-time low. And I will try not to get caught up in the frenzy. What will you do about Christmas?

Topical blogs

Free Slaves

“It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.” (I Peter 2:15,16) That is an oxymoron, free but slaves. What does Peter mean you are free, but God’s slaves? How can we be both?

What does scripture say we are free from? We are free from sin’s power over us. Paul instructs the Romans about our freedom from sin’s control in Romans 6:5-6, “Since we have been united with him in death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Paul goes on to say that we are slaves to righteousness in Romans 6:18, “Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” We are free to not sin and obligated to God to live righteously because of our union with Christ.

The problem comes when I forget that I am free from sin’s power and give into it once again. I forget what Christ has done for me. I forget I can say no and resist the temptation. Instead, I give into sin without even a hesitation. When I forget to be grateful, my motivation to live in a manner that glorifies God is missing.

I have observed those who have totally forgotten their freedom and have let sin master them. They live in shame and fear and defeat. They cannot seem to conquer their demons. They claim Christ, yet don’t experience his freedom.

I desire for them to understand their freedom and live according to it. I pray that God will open their eyes to the truth of their freedom, so they can be more than conquerors. I long for them to experience the joy of their salvation once again. I long for them to grow spiritually and learn to love and trust God.

All I can do is to remind them of the truth, like Paul did, and pray for them. It can be a very sad and discouraging journey to watch those you care about live in defeat. But there is always hope! Jesus, through the Holy Spirit is more than capable of working in their hearts.

I pray that Jesus will constantly remind me of my freedom, so I can pledge to enslave myself to righteous living. Being a slave of God is joyful, burdens are lifted, gratitude is overflowing. I love that I am a free slave.

Do you need to remember you are a free slave? Ask Jesus to remind you. Pray for those you see living in prison to their sins for Christ to set them free.