Monday, December 25, 2017

The True Meaning of Christmas

"Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him"-- and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds."
Max Lucado

Do you have time to hear Him this Christmas?

Christmas is known to be one of the busiest times of the year. We have to take time to fight traffic and crowds to buy a gift for each of our family members and maybe for the office party gift exchange. We go to various holiday parties, bake cookies, wrap presents, decorate our house, etc. Then we all have our favorite Christmas movies that we have to watch for it to be Christmas season. If we live in a place where it snows we have to spend time shoveling and icing the sidewalks so it's safe for our family. By the end of it all many of us end up exhausted. But did we ever take time to listen, to hear Him?

The cliche saying that we always see posted by Christian business owners and on 'religious' Christmas cards is, "Jesus is the reason for the season!" It's easy to say or write that but have we taken time to reflect on what it really means? Have we taken time to teach our family what it really means?

What does it mean to have Jesus as the reason for the season?

When we really take time to reflect on this we realize that reminding ourselves that we are celebrating Jesus' birthday still isn't really sufficient. What is it about Jesus' birthday that makes it significant enough to have such an elaborate celebration so many years later? My favorite scripture, that I feel really embodies the reason for celebrating Christmas, is Isaiah 9:6-7:

"For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
and the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
to order it and establish it with judgement and justice
from that time forward, even for ever.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this."
Isaiah 9:6-7

Christmas is more than presents, decorations, Christmas cookies, and a "spirit of giving". Christmas is also about more than just celebrating a baby who was born in a manger more than 2000 years ago. Christmas is about the beginning of a revolution, an overthrow of earthly kingdoms and order, and an establishment of a new kingdom, a monarchy where Christ is the King of kings.

Christmas is one of the most internationally recognized holidays. It is a time in which we can forget our national borders and we can simply wish a Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, or Melkam Genna to whoever we meet wherever we find ourselves during the Christmas season. At most, for the Christians in all countries, it may be celebrated a couple weeks later but it is still celebrated. This is because we are celebrating something beyond national borders, beyond earthly governments. We are celebrating a kingdom greater than any other kingdom ever to exist on this earth, and we are celebrating the fact that, because Jesus was born as a baby in a manger 2000 years ago, we are able to be citizens of that kingdom forevermore.

Take some time today to be silent before God and allow Him to remind you of what it means to be a citizen of His kingdom! 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Risk, Fear, and Faith

"Faith requires that we take risks, so faith requires courage in the face of fear
The greater the risk we take, the greater our fear will be, 
but when we master our fear, great faith is gained."
Neil Cole - Organic Leadership (Emphasis added)

When is the last time you took a risk? 

When is the last time you stepped out in faith?

One of the most repeated phrases in the Bible is, "the just shall live by faith" (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). When a phrase is repeated then it means it is important, when it is repeated four times, word for word, then I think we should pay attention. 

Clearly God wants us to "live by faith" but what does that mean. Often when we think of faith we associate it with big spectacular miracles like healing someone from cancer, or giving sight to the blind. Faith is important in these things but before we will ever be able to use faith in these large, supernatural events we need to learn to walk, to live, by faith in our daily lives. 

As the quote above implies, fear is the opposite of faith. Fear is faith's arch-nemesis, it's number one enemy. If we are giving into fear than it is impossible for us to operate in faith, but the opposite is also true. Once we learn to give in to faith, fear will no longer direct us. This doesn't mean that we won't feel fear but it won't control us. As Neil Cole says, "faith requires courage in the face of fear". 

So going back to the first question - When was the last time you took a risk? 

It is so easy to get stuck in our comfort zones. It is so easy to stay in the job that we have been doing for years, to live in the same place, to go to the same grocery store, drive the same car, and keep the same routine. Stepping out of that is hard; it can be scary, but remember that faith is on the other side of fear, the other side of risk. 

Has God been leading you to do something that you have put off due to fear?

For the past few years my wife and I had been led to move across the country. Off and on we would make the statement, "if God provides a job then we will move", but the job never came. Finally after prayer we decided that we just needed to make the decision to move. This was a scary decision that put us out of our comfort zone, away from our family and friends, and potentially without a job. God has definitely been faithful in the transition and continues to provide us with surprise after surprise as we work on this transition. 

Has God been leading you to make a step of faith? It is likely not as dramatic as moving across the country but there is probably something. Maybe he has been leading you to make a job or career change. Maybe He has been leading you to volunteer in a new area at your church, or start a ministry of some sort. Or maybe he has been leading you to believe for a much needed family vacation to invest time in your spouse and your children. 

Whatever it is I believe there is something. There is something that God has been leading you to do because God does not want you to be stagnant in your faith. God wants you to continue to grow, to continue to move forward, to continue to affect the world around you. 

It's time to take that step of faith!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Make America Great Again?

This post has been on my heart to write for a while. It's taken me a long time to figure out the right words to express what I have been feeling and I also have been hesitant due to the touchiness of this topic. I am not one to write about politics but I feel that this topic goes beyond politics in to the very heart of our morality as the American Church. Trump has campaigned that he will, "Make America Great Again!" But I have a few questions about that campaign:

What has made America great in the past?
Why should we be focused on America specifically?
Who decides what great is?

I probably should have written this post a long time ago, before he became president, but I guess it is "better late than never". So I will look into each of these three questions in this post:

What has made America great in the past?

First of all, a true look at America's past will show us that we were not always so great. We took over the Native American's land with a lot of blood shed, we brought the Africans from their home as slaves, and even as recently as the 40's we locked up Japanese in internment camps for no reason other than their race. 

That being said we have had some great things throughout our history. The biggest thing that has made America great is that our borders have been open to those who needed a new start. America has been a land of opportunity to those who were stuck in poverty, war, and places of famine. America has been a place where all cultures can come and be considered one people and have a chance for the values of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In other words, closing our borders to those who need us does not make us great. In fact, it takes away the very nature of our "greatness". 

Why should we be focused on America specifically?

This has been the most nagging question for me over that past few months. Whenever I heard or saw the slogan I wondered, "why America?" 

Trump has talked about bringing jobs from overseas but what is wrong with providing jobs to those in poverty in other countries? Why shouldn't we focus on advocating for companies to increase the pay and improve the working conditions for those in other countries working for them? 

Trump has talked about protecting our borders from terrorism but what about those who are dealing with daily terror in countries that are in constant war? Why should they be lower on our priority list? 

Aren't we all people? Aren't we all human? Why should we focus on ourselves over everyone else? That doesn't sound very Christian to me.

Which brings me to my final question:

Who decides what great is?

As Christians we believe and recognize that God is the ultimate good. The Bible says, "every good and every perfect gift comes from above..." (James 1:17) so we must look to Him for what is good and, even more so, for what is great. 

So what does God say is great?

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

If we want America to be great than we need America to be a servant. We need America to continue to serving the poor and less fortunate. To serve those who are in need. To serve the rest of the world.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-5)

If we want America to be great than we need leaders who will lead with humility. Who will lead with childlike faith and be willing to admit when they are wrong.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Most importantly, to make America great, we need to learn to love as a nation again. We can not be built on hate, fear, or rejection. We must learn to love God and to love our neighbors. I think it is fitting that when Jesus was asked who our neighbor is he responded with a story about a Samaritan. The Samaritan was a group of people who were rejected by the Jews. They were considered unclean because their bloodline was mixed with foreigners. Jesus, with one simple story, rejected this entire idea. Yet somehow this idea has never seemed to fully leave the Church.

I pray that Trump will learn what true greatness is according to God. I pray that he will learn servitude, humility, and love. I also pray for all of those who followed Trump in his call to make America great again that they would also re-evaluate what they mean by great. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Stand Still and See the Salvation of the Lord!

"You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against the, for the Lord is with you."
2 Chronicles 20:17

God gave me a Word for 2017: It's Time to Fly! I feel that a continuation of this word is here in 2 Chronicles. I believe that God is telling many of us that we are entering a battle that we will no longer need to fight. 

Often God wants us to fight and God wants us to put in work to get the blessings and the victory that He has promised us but there is a time where God tells us to simply "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord"!

There is someone reading this post that has spent years fighting and God is saying that He is about to step in!

When you look through the Old Testament the people of Israel went through many battles. Whenever they were following God they found victory but that victory came in many different ways. There were times where they truly had to fight and put in the effort to get their victory and even times where they had many casualties on route to the victory. However, there were other times where the Lord took it upon Himself to do the fighting for them.

In this chapter, King Jehoshaphat receives this promise the night before a battle. The following morning he appoints people to go before the army and sing praises to the Lord as they approach the battlefield. When they arrive they find that the enemy army has already been defeated.

I believe that God is ready to defeat your enemy for you, you just need to start praising Him. Forget about your worries and your problems and focus your praise on Him and He will bring you to the victory that you have been fighting so long for. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 - It's Time to Fly!

"But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31

I have heard from many people that 2016 was a difficult year. In the world of celebrities there were many icons who passed away in this year and I also know many people have had personal struggles and losses in 2016. Personally, for me and my family, it has been the most difficult of recent years but it hasn't been the easiest either. We have had to work hard and endure through stress and busyness while striving to make the best of the year and where God has us at this moment. 

Now 2016 is over and 2017 is beginning. 
It is time to move forward and to leave the past year behind us!

Each year I try to seek God for a word to start the year off with. Many of you read my word for 2015, Rivers are About to Spring Forth! 

In 2017 I feel that God has told me, "It's time to fly!"

Many of us have been striving to do our best. To work hard and live the way that we are supposed. To strive forward towards the goals and calling that God has given us. But it's time to let go and let God mount us on eagle's wings. It's time to fly!

At church this morning the message was on Ephesians 3:20:

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,"

He able to do beyond what we can ask or think but we have to allow Him to. We have to let go of our own abilities and our own attempts and allow him to work. We have to release our control and allow him to lift us up! It's time to fly!

What is it that you want to see happen in 2017? What is it that you want to change in 2017? Instead of making resolutions that are bound to fail maybe this is the year to, "let go and let God"! 

It's time to fly!