What It’s All About

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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

A Dying Preacher

An old preacher was dying. He sent a message for his doctor and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit, one on each side of his bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said anything. Both the doctor and lawyer were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled; the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons about greed, covetousness and avaricious behavior that made them squirm in their seats.

Finally, the doctor said, “Preacher, why did you ask us to come?” The old preacher mustered up his strength, then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves; and that’s how I want to go.”

Nearing the end of our lives gives us perspective. We are able to see what is truly important and what only appears to be important. We won’t be trying to make a point in our final moments; instead we will want to know we’ve made a difference. We will want to know our lives mattered.

We build our legacy day-by-day in the big and small things that make up our lives. Our legacy is formed in our relationships. If you eulogy were written today, would you be pleased with what it said? If not, begin today to change your legacy. You only get this one life; make it matter!

You be Jesus!

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.”

Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is a lovely sentiment, but it can be a challenge to put into practice. Very often, we want our needs and wants to be met first. If I take the time, effort, and resources to meet your needs, I might not have enough for what I need or want. What a dilemma you’ve given us, Jesus!

In the end, it all boils down to who is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, then we will want to lovingly obey His call. If we are Lord, then we can do what we please. The Apostle Paul makes it clear how we are to treat one another. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Is Heaven Overrated?

In the Los Angeles Times, Joel Stein wrote, “Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”

Heaven is not overrated.  If anything, it is underrated, misunderstood, and unappreciated.  The notion that the inhabitants of heaven will spend endless days floating on clouds and playing harps is not biblical – not in the slightest!  And to prefer a stay at the Ritz to the majesty of heaven is woefully short-sighted and shows a complete ignorance of God’s revealed truth.

Take some time to read Revelation 21 and 22.  You will find God pulling back the curtain to allow the Apostle John to get a glimpse of the glories that await all followers of Jesus Christ.  It is a place that is beautiful beyond compare.  A sea of crystal, streets of transparent gold, and a new Jerusalem that is half the size of the moon – that’s beyond our ability to fully integrate into our thinking!

There is no way that with finite minds we can grasp the fullness of what an eternity with God in heaven will be like.  The greatest poet cannot capture its grandeur.  The greatest artist cannot paint its beauty.  Paul was right – “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Eternity is not clouds and harp music.  It is not endless rounds of under-par golf or endless days of catching fish.  As we open the pages of Scripture and allow God to show us what awaits His children, none of us will walk away thinking heaven is overrated; in fact, it may ignite within us a burning desire to want to spend our forever in that place!

Ready to Go to Heaven?

I remember hearing the story of a preacher conducting revival services in a large country church.  As he began to wind down his message, he asked the congregation, “How many of you want to go to heaven?”  Every hand in the place went up … except for one boy sitting on the front row of the balcony.

Thinking he may not have understood, the preacher asked again, “Now, how many of you want to go to heaven?”  Once again, every hand went up save for the boy in the balcony.  “Son,” he asked, “don’t you want to go to heaven like the rest of the people here?”

The boy replied, “Well, yes sir, but I thought you were gettin’ up a load to go right now.”

Many people claim to want to go to heaven, but few would are ready to go today.  Why is that? For some people it is because of the people they would leave behind.  For others it is because of things left undone.  And, of course, there are many who aren’t sure that heaven will be their final home.

Truthfully, none of us knows exactly when we will breathe our last.  This means we should cherish every relationship and make the most of them.  It means we should do all that we are able to do the very best of our ability while we’re here.  And it means that we should prepare ourselves for eternity.

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.

It’s a Dangerous Life

It is amazing that I am still alive! I’m serious. I just read a list of the most dangerous do-it-yourself jobs.  They include climbing a ladder, mowing the lawn, using power tools, working with paint and other chemicals, and using a chain saw. How did I make it to June?

All joking aside, life is dangerous. The evening news is filled with car wrecks, plane crashes, and random criminal acts. No one leaves the house in the morning planning to break a limb, get shot in the thigh, or even hit your thumb with a hammer – oh, maybe we should had hammers to the list above.

There are no guarantees that you and I will make it through the day without something bad happening. We live in a fallen world filled with fallen people. Accidents are all too frequent. So what do we do? Hide in the basement? Pull the covers up over our heads? Refuse to walk out the front door? That’s no way to live!

We find some guidance in Psalm 56:3-4.  “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” 

Ancient Truths for Today

The book of Zechariah gets lost in biblical obscurity, but it shouldn’t. It has a powerful message that note only spoke to people returning from exile in Babylon 2,500 years ago but also speaks to our generation. There is much we can gain from the fourteen chapters of this little book, but I’d like to share three with you.

(1) Learn the lessons of the past. Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Both Zechariah and I agree. Why not learn from the failures of previous generations? We should, but we seem to be bound and determined to make those same mistakes ourselves, pay the same price, and wonder why it didn’t work. Wise up! Learn from the past.

(2) God is waiting for you to return to Him. We don’t have a God who is itching to slap us down at the least provocation. He hates our sin, but He loves us. He calls us to come back, and when we do we find He is there. Just as the repentant prodigal son found a loving reception from His Father, we too find our God is waiting to lovingly receive us.

(3) God is not satisfied with half-hearted, empty religion, nor should we be. A.W. Tozer wrote, “The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long in vain.” Just showing up in a church on Sunday mornings does not impress God. He sees the heart. He knows our motives. He is not lacking anything so He doesn’t need us, but He desires us heart, soul, and body.

Mosquitoes with Flashlights

Thomas LaMance told this story:  When my grandson, Billy, and I entered our vacation cabin, we kept the lights off until we were inside to keep from attracting pesky insects. Still, a few fireflies followed us in. Noticing them before I did, Billy whispered, “It’s no use, Grandpa. The mosquitoes are coming after us with flashlights.”

Sometimes it seems like the little pests and big difficulties of life are coming after you with flashlights.  One problem seems to roll right into the next.  It’s tempting to think that God has forgotten all about you – but that’s not true at all.  The prophet Habakkuk helps us to understand this.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Wisdom of A.W. Tozer

Here is a quote from “The Pursuit of God.”  It’s worth reading…

Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and `things’ were allowed to enter. Within the human heart `things’ have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.

This is not a mere metaphor, but an accurate analysis of our real spiritual trouble. There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets `things’ with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns `my’ and `mine’ look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of the old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Our Lord referred to this tyranny of things when He said to His disciples, `If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.’ (Matt. 16:24-25).