What It’s All About

Image

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:1-20, NLT

Seeing Jesus … at Walmart

I hesitate to be overly critical of the spiritual insights or encounters that others have.  I realize that God has spoken through a burning bush and a donkey, so who am I to limit His options? Yet when I read about the engaged couple in Anderson, South Carolina who found an image of Jesus on their Walmart receipt, well, pardon me for having an ounce or two of skepticism.

It’s not that Jesus can’t be found at Walmart.  He’s there in every believer who works there, shops there, or just goes there to hang out on a Friday night.  It’s just that I’m not sure what Jesus’ supposed image on a Walmart receipt communicates.  Was He trying to say He’s blessing their marriage? Was He telling them they got a great deal? Or perhaps that they spent too much? Was He trying to say something about materialism in South Carolina? Or was Jesus giving them a way to pay for their wedding by selling the receipt on eBay?  Who knows?

So here we are with an image that could have some resemblance to Jesus, Santa, or Charles Manson for that matter.  We see something we want to see and make it mean what we want it to mean.  And that’s just the point! Jesus spoke so clearly about who He was and why He came.  He said things like, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  And “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…” (John 11:25).  That is crystal clear.  He doesn’t leave us guessing.

If the Walmart receipt can be used to draw that soon-to-be-married couple into a deeper relationship with Jesus, then I’m glad for it.  But instead of looking at Walmart receipts, pieces of toast, or sweat stains on baseball caps, perhaps we would do better to open God’s Word and ask Jesus to speak to us clearly.

Voodoo, Witchcraft, and Spells All at the Click of Your Mouse

Doing a Google search for information on faithfulness to God, I encountered an unexpected website – http://www.magic-love-spells.com/faithfulnessspell.html.  Now, I’m not expecting you to rush to the site and try it out.  It was just an eye-opening experience, but I guess it shouldn’t be.  The internet is a cornucopia of ideas, thoughts, and often lunacy.

If you are tempted after seeing the site to contact them about a love potion, spell or incantation of your own, let me give you a few bits of advice.  (1) God does not approve of witchcraft.  (2) Consulting with a marriage counselor may be a better choice.  (3) Anyone promoting love spells is far more interesting in your bank account than your love life. (4) Finally, consider applying the truths of 1 Corinthians 13 instead of an incantation – I think the results will be much better!

Lessons from Fluffy

I’m still looking for more details, but a news story on yourclevelandnews.com reports that a man was so seriously injured in a fight with a house cat that he was airflighted to Houston.  I re-read the article to insure that I hadn’t read it wrong.  Could it have been a mountain lion or perhaps a tiger that escaped from the Cleveland zoo?  No – just a house cat.

I am aware that cats aren’t always the friendliest critters in the world.  Fluffy may lay on your lap purring as your stroke behind her ears or she may just as easily scratch you for the fun of it.  Cats are strange that way.  But without belittling what was obviously a serious injury, how does a housecat do that much damage?  I guess sometimes it is the little things that end up causing the most pain.

Perhaps you’ve learned that lesson on your own.  It could have been that little white lie you told a while back.  It seemed so easy at the time, almost innocent, only to turn on you and leave you wounded.  Or maybe it was that glance at the paper next to you during a test.  You saw the answers well enough to pass the test you failed to study for, but the “0” you received from the teacher showed you didn’t get away with it.

God is not only concerned about the big things in your life.  He is also intensely interested in the small things.  In truth, showing integrity in the little things will almost always insure that you are faithful in the big things.

Now, back to finding out more about that cat…

On the Death of Usama bin Laden

I see the celebrations on television over the death of UBL. Although this man (who declared war on America and whose actions led to the death of thousands who were simply going about their daily lives) deserved to die, I am having a hard time joining in the festivities. It is not that I am less patriotic than others. It is not that I am principally opposed to the death penalty for heinous crimes. It is not I don’t support the tireless work of our military. In a very real sense, justice has been done. Still…there is a disquiet in my spirit about rejoicing right now.

As I reflected on my own feelings which seems so out of sync with the mood of America, the word of God spoken through the prophet Ezekiel came to mind: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign LORD. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23)

Make no mistake, I am glad that UBL is out of the picture. In truth, I hope that increasing numbers of these diabolical terrorists are captured or killed. I stand with our military. I stand with our President. I believe they did the right thing in this action, but I have little joy over hell receiving one more soul. Perhaps in the hours and days to come my heart and mind may change on this.  We’ll see…

Driveway Tax

Churches in Mission, Kansas are now subject to a recently enacted Transportation Utility Fee. It is calculated by the number of times a driveway is used. The money collected (which would depend on attendance, I suppose) is to be used for public works projects like street repairs. Residents with driveways pay a flat fee, and larger businesses could pay tens of thousands annually. Opponents call it a tax on churches. Backers call it a user fee.

Local and state governments are as strapped for cash as our federal government. But should the budget be balanced by taking a portion of the free will, tax deductible donations of church members which could be used to impact the lives and eternities of others? Mmmmm…

Bible Study Tools

Obviously I believe that reading and studying God’s Word is crucial for our spiritual health.  Bill Lewis mentioned referenced this important truth yesterday in his testimony quoting a portion of Isaiah 55.  Here is the reference in full:  “For just as rain and snow fall from heaven, and do not return there without saturating the earth, and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I encourage you to pick up God’s Word and read it consistently.  Study it.  Meditate upon it.  Memorize it.  Let God’s truth change you from the inside out.  In an effort to help you discover more of God’s truth, I want to recommend to you a couple of websites that can aid you in your study.

The first is www.biblegateway.com.  It features a lot of translations including.  I like the fact that I have the Hebrew and Greek at my fingertips in addition to the New International Version, the King James Version, the New Living Translation, etc.  The site also has study tools that you can access.  I use this site nearly every day.

The second is brand new.  It is so new, in fact, that it is still in beta (test) stage.  The site is http://beta.mystudybible.com/.  Currently, it is limited to the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation and the King James (plus a couple of Chinese versions if you can read Mandarin).  The reason I want to recommend it is for the study tools at your fingertips.  You can literally put your cursor on a word in the verse and get definitions and more immediately – no going to another page or tab!  That is super convenient.  If you are interested in using this site, I recommend viewing the tutorial which you can see on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/BHPublishingGroup).

However you study God’s Word, make it part of your daily routine.  God’s has something to say to us.  Are we listening?

Your Obituary …

In 20 years of ministry, I have officiated at quite a few funerals.  Very often I would be asked by the family to go with them to the funeral home to help make arrangements.  I have listened to the family struggle to find the words to express their memories of their loved one so that the funeral director could put them into the obituary.  But in all my years I have never read an obituary like the one written by the family of 79 year-old wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Dolores Aguilar.  It appeared in the August 16 and 17, 2008 editions of the Vallejo Times-Herald.  Below is a section of that obituary:

“Dolores Aguilar, born in 1929 in New Mexico, left us on August 7, 2008.  She will be met in the afterlife by her husband, Raymond, her son, Paul Jr., and daughter Ruby.   She is survived by her daughters Marietta, Mitzi, Stella, Beatrice, Virginia and Ramona, and son Billy …

“Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life.  I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.  Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves we will remember her in our own way, which were mostly sad and troubling times throughout the years.  We may have some fond memories of her and perhaps we will think of those times too.  But I truly believe at the end of the day ALL of us will really only miss what we never had, a good and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.  I hope she is finally at peace with herself.

“As for the rest of us left behind, I hope this is the beginning of a time of healing and learning to be a family again.  There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart.  We cannot come together in the end to see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their goodbyes.  So I say it here for all of us, GOOD BYE, MOM.”

Each day you live, you are writing your obituary and the message that will be preached at your funeral.  In this new year, let us resolve to live in such a way that our family and community will grieve our passing, remember pleasant things about us, and lead God to say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Life Is Not Fair!

The college bowls have all picked their teams.  Now, we wait until the end of December to find out which team will come out on top.  But there is one thing you can count on – many football fans will be unhappy that their team didn’t get a better bowl or face better competition.  At the very least, they’ll have a complaint or two about bad calls by the referees.

I try to remind my kids all the time (and myself) that life is not fair.  I think I’ve lived long enough to have experienced that reality – and it goes far beyond college football games.

We are not the only generation to wrestle with life’s unfairness in the face of a God who is good.  Consider Asaph.  He was a man who lived a long time ago.  You may recognize his name as a writer of some of the Psalms.  I won’t reprint all of Psalm 73 here but I suggest you read it.

Asaph starts by recognizing the goodness of God in verse one, then it is as if he begins to consider the broken world around him.  The wicked prospered and seemed to live trouble-free lives.  They were callous and conceited and oppressed the poor but they still seemed to succeed, and God seemed to look the other way.  Where was the fairness in this?  Where was the justice?  They even mocked God, and nothing happened.

Verses 16 and 17 are the transition in the Psalm.  Read what Asaph writes:  “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”  When Asaph went into worship and encountered the presence of the Living God, his attitude was changed.  The wicked may or may not get their due in this life, but they will most assuredly get it in the next.

Hear the final words as Asaph puts it all in perspective:  “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.  But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” (verses 25-28)

In truth, all we need is the Lord.  We get distracted and dazzled by all this world has to offer, but compared to being in relationship with the God who created the universe everything else means very little.  We know that one day God will balance the scales.  We entrust that to Him.  As for us; we will cling to the Lord – both now and forever.  We will trust in His justice to balance the scales and His grace to cover the sins of all who believe in His Son.