Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Source of Change

“…apart from me you can do nothing.”
 (Joh 15:5 ESV)

            As we approach another new year, we once again hear people speaking about resolutions.  And I think that most of those who make resolutions are well-intentioned.  They recognize certain changes that need to be made in their life, and they set out to make those changes.
            That being said, I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions.  In fact, I can’t recall that I’ve ever made one.  And the reason is simple.  Even though I certainly recognize my flaws, and even though I know many of the changes that need to be made in my life, I also recognize my inability to make these modifications.
            The reason for this is simple: I’m a sinner.  And we can see the sway that sin holds over our life all throughout Scripture (Romans 3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 14:12, Romans 7:14-25, etc.).  We also see in passages, like the one above, that only in Christ do we have the means to overcome our sin.
            This verse comes from Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches.  He tells us in this passage that, unless we’re in Christ, we can do nothing.  If we’re separated from the vine, we can bear no fruit.  If we’re cut off from Christ, we’ll simply wither and be cast into the fire. 
            This is the concept from which the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is drawn.  It says: “We admitted that we were powerless over drugs and alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
            It rightly tells us that the first step to making a change is admitting that we’re powerless to make that change.  And it’s this that leads us to the source of change, which is seen in the Second Step: “Came to believe that God could restore us to sanity.”
            The same thing is true of any sin with which we struggle: Gluttony, gossip, taking God’s name in vain, etc.  We are powerless to overcome these sins by our own power.  It’s only as we come to understand our weakness that we discover the source of help.  And that source is Christ.
            We see this again in Galatians 5, starting in verse 16: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
            Our sin results from the flesh.  It flows from the desires of the flesh.  And, left to ourselves, it will control our life.  However, the fruit that God desires in our life flows from the Spirit.  It’s produced by the Spirit of God in our life.  It’s by his power, it’s by his leading, that we’re able to bear fruit for God.

            So, as we face the New Year, and as we think about the changes that need to be made in our life, let us not strive to accomplish them by our own strength.  If we do, we will only fail.  Let us instead admit our lack of power over sin.  Let us look to Christ for forgiveness, and for the power to overcome our sin.  Let us trust in the Spirit of God to produce his fruit in our life.

Monday, December 29, 2014

With no one in the sound booth yesterday, our message did not get recorded.  Sorry!  However, with Lent beginning on February 18th, let me encourage you to check out my newest book, Reflections on the Passion.  It's a great way to reflect upon the sufferings of Christ and the blessings he provided for us.  It's also a great way to examine ourselves as we prepare for our Easter celebration.  It's available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback formats.  Click on the link to take a look!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sharing the Message of Christmas

            One of the familiar stories of the first Christmas is that surrounding the shepherds, who were tending their flocks by night.  An angel appeared to them, saying: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds then went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. 
            Even though we’re familiar with this account, it’s the next part of the story on which I’d like to focus.  After they found Jesus, we’re told, the shepherds made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 
            Reading this story, in Luke 2, we might understand this phrase to mean that the shepherds shared with Mary and Joseph the message they’d received from the angels.  However, we’re told in the next line that all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  This suggests that the shepherds shared their experience not only with Mary and Joseph, but many others.
            What a great example for us, today.  We know that we’ve been called to share the gospel with all people.  However, few of us are faithful in this calling.  We’re typically content to keep the good news of Jesus to ourselves.
            Like the shepherds, we too should gladly go and share the message of Jesus’ coming with those we encounter.  As the angel proclaimed, it is a message of joy for all people.  It isn’t intended for only a select few.
            This is especially easy during the season of Christmas.  It’s easy because, even though it’s often neglected, the reason for the holiday is widely known.  And it provides us with a simple outlet to share the message of salvation.  As we sing the Christmas carols, proclaiming Christ’s birth, and as we recount the Christmas story, we share the gospel with those around us.
            As we look throughout the Old Testament, we see that this was one of the main purposes for the celebrations God instituted for Israel.  Not only was it a remembrance of the salvation God had provided them.  It was also a means for them to pass the message on to the next generation and to others in their community.  As they celebrated their redemption, they shared the good news of God’s salvation.
            Even though Christmas is a ripe time for us to share the gospel, it’s not the only time.  This is a message that we should joyfully proclaim each day.  It’s a message we should gladly proclaim that we might glorify God for what he’s done for us.  And it’s a message we should gladly proclaim that others might hear, believe, and confess faith in the Savior.


Monday, December 22, 2014

As we continued in our series, The Names of Jesus, we heard that Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. We saw that he is uniquely qualified to advise us in all matters of faith and life.  And, for this reason, he is the one to whom we should turn when seeking answers.  He's the one to whom we should turn when seeking direction in life.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus Blesses the Lowly

            As I consider Christ’s birth, the words of Mary stand out to me.  In Luke 1, starting in verse 46, she says: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
            There’s a theme that runs throughout her song of praise that is echoed by Jesus several times during his ministry.  We see that the Lord exalts the humble and brings low the proud. 
            Mary begins by praising God for looking on her humble estate and blessing her.  Although we haven’t been blessed in the same way as Mary, although none of us have carried and given birth to the Savior, this is a statement that is true also of us.
            Jesus came into the world for the humble.  His mercy is for those who fear his name.  This is true from generation to generation.
            Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  Jesus came and gave his life for the sin of all people.  God's desire is that all should repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.  And Jesus offers his forgiveness to all people.  However, it’s only those who see their low condition, it’s only those who understand their sin and their need for salvation, who’ll receive this blessing.
            This brings to mind the words of Jesus in Luke 5:31: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus made this statement after being criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners.  He was criticized by those who believed themselves to be righteous.  And his point is clear.  It’s the sick, the sinful, who need help and not the righteous.
In saying this, Jesus wasn’t stating that those criticizing him were more righteous than those with whom he ate.  According to Scripture, we are all sick.  No one is righteous (Romans 3:10). All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  However, it’s only those who realize they’re sick who will seek the help of the doctor.  It’s only those who are sick who will receive the help that a doctor can offer.
The same message is contained in the words of Mary.  Those who are exalted will be brought low.  This isn’t because they’re unable to receive his blessing.  It’s because they think so highly of themselves that they will not receive his blessing.  But those who are lowly, who see their need for salvation, rejoice in the gift Jesus brings.  They see their need for salvation and they gladly receive it.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, may we see our need.  May we understand the salvation we require, as well as the salvation Jesus offers.  When this is true of us, we can, like Mary, rejoice in his mercy.  We can rejoice in the fact that we too will be called blessed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Yesterday, I delivered the third part of our Advent series on the names of Jesus.  We looked at Isaiah 9, where Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.  The first minute or so of the message didn't get recorded, but most of it is here for you.  To stream or download the message, click on the link.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Coming of Jesus

As I shared in my last post, the message of Christmas is that Jesus was born into the world to save us from our sin.  He came to give his life on our behalf that we might receive the forgiveness and the salvation of God.  
This brings to mind the words of Jesus in John 3, starting in verse 16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
These words are comforting because, when we think of our sin, the coming of God seems rather scary.  The thought of standing before God, the one who knows our every thought, action, and intention, seems absolutely terrifying.  It seems this way because we know our guilt.  It seems this way because we know the punishment we deserve.  
Our tendency is like that of Adam and Eve in the garden.  As they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, they hid themselves.  They hid themselves because they’d eaten from the tree which had been forbidden to them.  And they understood the consequence of their actions.
Recognizing our guilt, we too try to hide from God.  We are like children, scared at our parents' coming, because we have violated their commands.  We know that we deserve punishment, and this is what we expect with their arrival.
However, even though we deserve God’s wrath, Jesus' coming was for a very different purpose.  We're told that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  We're told that God did not send his Son to condemn the world. Jesus came that the world might be saved through him.  He came that those who believe in him will not perish.
What wonderful news this is in the face of our sin. And only when we recognize our sin, only when we recognize the punishment we deserve, does this message fill our hearts with joy. Jesus came for those who are undeserving of life.  He came for those who are unworthy of such a sacrifice.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

On Sunday, we heard part 2 of our Advent series on the Names of Jesus.  We talked specifically about the name Christ.  We learned that this name is a title, meaning Anointed One.  And we learned that the Anointed One, foretold in the Old Testament, was to be the Savior and King of God's people.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Meaning of Christmas

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."”
(Matthew 1:18-21 ESV)

            Most of us remember the Christmas story.  We remember how an angel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of the Most High.  But we also learn a great deal when we look at the story through the eyes of Joseph.
            He was betrothed to Mary.  But, when she was found to be pregnant, he planned to divorce her.  And the reason for this is obvious:  He knew that the child was not his.  But, as he considered these things, an angel appeared to him in a dream.
            The angel reassured Joseph that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit.  It wasn’t the result of any unfaithfulness on her part.  And, for this reason, he was not to fear taking her as his wife.
            However, the angel also shared with Joseph what this child would accomplish.  He was told that, when this child was born, he was to give him the name Jesus.  This name means “The Lord Saves,” or “The Lord is Salvation.” And he was to do this because the child would save his people from their sins.
            This is one aspect of the Christmas account that often gets lost in the shuffle.  We learn that Jesus was born into this world because of our sin.  He came to save us from our sin.
            We see in this message our need for a Savior.  We are a sinful people who deserve only the wrath of God.  And this would be our fate were it not for Jesus.
            This is a truth that many of us are reluctant to receive.  We’re willing to concede that we’re far from perfect.  However, we think of ourselves as good people.  And we tend to think that we deserve the salvation and blessing of God.
            In fact, we tend to think that it would be unjust of God to condemn us.  We tend to think that it would be wrong of him to send us to hell.  After all, how could a just God condemn a person who is good?
            Unless we realize our condition, the message of Christmas is absolutely meaningless.  Unless we see our sin, the penalty we deserve, and our need for a Savior, we cannot receive the message of Christmas.  Instead of rejoicing in a salvation that we could not attain by our own power, we’ll only continue in our effort to save ourselves.
            However, when we truly understand our lost condition, Christmas takes on a whole new meaning.  It’s only then that Christmas becomes more than just a fun holiday.  Our heart can’t help rejoicing the undeserved salvation God has provided for us.


Monday, December 01, 2014

Yesterday, with the start of Advent, we began a new series of messages.  We're looking at the names of Jesus, and what they reveal to us about him.  In our first message of the series, we learned that Jesus is Immanuel (God with Us), and why this is so important to us.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.