We Have A Problem–And It's Human Violence!

Well, it’s time for another edition of my Monday Musings. But truthfully, I don’t have a heart this Monday for “musings” about our culture, leaders, churches, groups of people, or an individual. My heart is broken for the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement near Fort Worth. Just in case you haven’t heard, here is the link to the story. And let’s not forget the stabbing (which by the FBI definition is also considered an active shooter situation) at a Hanukkah celebration in New York. My heart breaks for this tragedy as well. (Here is the article on this tragedy.)

We are living in a culture that devalues human life. Now there’s an understatement for all times. And while my heart was breaking, I read a thread on the Fort Worth tragedy that made me…well…made me scratch my head. Here, see it for yourself–the name has been redacted to protect both an innocent and the stupid:

That last comment…”If you church has to have police and security, then you’re going to the wrong church.” Really? If this person sent their DNA to ancestry.com, I’m sure they would tell him he is kin to Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. Those were Job’s 3 alleged friends who asserted that bad things only happen to bad people. And I guess this IS my musing on this Monday.

No one is immune from evil. Just ask Jesus. And while there are those who want to blame a piece of milled metal for these latest two tragedies, the truth is those things did not cause this pain and suffering. It comes out of human hearts that have little to no regard for any human life. And all the blame cannot be placed on the assailants, though there bear their share. I see the contributing factors in two truths.

One Truth is that in a society when the most vulnerable can by considered, by a choice, as an inconvenience–unwanted–or unneeded–well, the rest of the human race is also considered expendable. To devalue even one life is to devalue all human life. After all, we are all made from and of the same stuff.

Another Truth is the loss of the Absolute Truth of God’s Word. People have moved from the time tested and proven Orthodoxy for a system where it all hinges on one’s feelings. Feelings cover the complete gambit of the human experience. While feelings can lead to something good–feelings can also lead to tragedy and pain; such as we witnessed this weekend. When people think they know more about God than His Preserved Word, nothing good will ever come out of it.

Anyway, that’s how my musing is working today. Just remember, in spite of all the evil and human violence out there, Followers of Jesus–you have your mandate: Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM! This will accomplish more than blaming inanimate objects or talking ugly about other people. Oh, one more musing, “There’s a lot more ways to hurt people other than with guns or knives. Your words, attitudes, actions and lack of actions wound others just as deeply, if not more so.”

It’s The Perfect Gift Because It’s The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

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1 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.  The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 

3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice.  They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.  4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.  You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.  5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.  They will be fuel for the fire.

6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! {Isaiah 9:1-7 NLT}

We’ve been looking at The Perfect Gift.  Remember I said that The Perfect Gift has 2 essential elements:

  1. First, it has something of the Giver in it.
  2. Second, it meets a need in the receiver.  Now, I need to add one more element that makes a gift The Perfect Gift.
  3. The Perfect Gift Is The One That Keeps On Giving.

Some gifts are made to last only a short time—like a gift card.  Some gifts wear out.  And other gifts?  Well…the are made to hide in the top of some closet.  But The Perfect Gift is the one that the receiver continues to experience for a long time to come.

Often the spirit of Christmas is overshadowed by that spirit of selfishness.  Often that spirit is intentional, but sometimes it is unintentional.  If we are not careful, we will become self-absorbed with our wishes, our wants, our desires, and our own will.  That first Christmas marked the beginning of God plan to ultimate and decisively deliver humanity from those unimportant and self-centered desires. 

God gave This Gift because This Gift can deliver every person from the things that rob and finally destroy their heart and life.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

Being a True Disciple Of Jesus is not a casual thing that we do occasionally and at our convenience.  To really experience the living Jesus by receiving The Perfect Gift for our own—Demands More From Us.  To accept the perfect gift does not mean we become inhibited.  To Accept The Perfect Gift Means We Become Inhabited! 

I do not mean this the wrong way or to be considered disrespectful with what I am about to say.  Nor do I mean to downplay this mysterious event of Incarnation—God becoming flesh—because I marvel and am amazed at this breathtaking mystery.  But it is too easy to love the baby in the manger.  Who among us doesn’t love every baby?  We are not called to love and follow the baby in the manger.  God Demands That We Love And Follow The Christ Of The Cross!  Face it, The Cross Is A Tougher Image Than The Manger

Yet this is where Jesus calls us to follow Him.  This is serious stuff because it means total and complete surrender to the Love of God expressed perfectly on the Cross.  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us.

Christmas Is About The Messiah And Our Acceptance Of And Submission To The Messiah.  Remember what that word “Messiah” means—“Messiah comes from the Hebrew word, Mashiach, meaning “The Anointed One,” or “The Chosen One.”  To be the Anointed, to be the chosen, isn’t an ordinary thing.  In the Old Testament, anointing was reserved for 3 particular offices:  Prophets, Priests, and Kings—offices set aside for God’s purposes.  Jesus As Messiah, Is The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.

That first Christmas marks the beginning of The Choice that Jesus made even before time began.  Jesus would enter directly into the fallen mess of creation to reclaim and restore it back to God’s Kingdom.  The Arrival Of The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King—Ushers In The Most Radical Movement Of God Since Creation.  His arrival is an offer—the offer to accept for ourselves that Jesus is The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.  Jesus has been Anointed for 3 Offices:    

1.  Jesus Is The Decisive Prophet.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He completely understands the mind of God.  All other prophets receive glimpses of that mind.  But Jesus Reveals The Whole Mind Of God Because That Mind Is In Him.  Not only this, but He sees our real mind and heart.  Prophets are also called to show where we are missing the mark.  To make us aware of what we are missing, and how God can and will restore us. 

False prophets fall into 2 overall categories.  First, False Prophets point out where we’re wrong without giving us the True Remedy.  And False Prophets aren’t truthful—they are mirrors of our own imaginations.  They feed us what we want to hear.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He Perfectly Reveals God’s Heart.  A Heart That Longs For Us To See Our Own Sickness So That He Can Bring God’s Desires Into Our Minds And Hearts.  He shows us HOW we can live the life we are created to live.  Not only is He the Decisive Prophet:

2.  Jesus Is The Decisive Priest.

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because continually He serves in the direct presence of God.  Human priests can only point toward God.  But no priest is closer to the heart of God than Jesus.  He Doesn’t Point Us To God, Because He Is God!

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because He intercedes for messed up and broken people—not the “oh, so righteous” feeling people.  True priests are those who feel for the condition of The Fallen Image Bearers.  The Decisive Priest is drawn to and into the messiness of deceived and broken people.

Jesus Is The Decisive Priest Because He Is Also The Lamb!  No other priest can do what Jesus has already done.  The priests of other religions want you to do something for their “god” before that “god” can do anything for you.  But This Priest, The Decisive Priest Is The One Who Offers For Us, And Is The Sacrifice That Once And For All Delivers Us From Sin’s Power And Dominion.  And Jesus is also Anointed for 1 more office, the Highest Office of All:

3.  Jesus Is The Decisive King!

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Holy!  Human leaders are guided by other interests.  They are all flawed somewhere.  But He Demands That We Be Holy As HE Is Holy.  He never accepts second place.  He will never play second fiddle.  He will never accept our leftovers.  He’s Jealous and will never share His rightful throne in our heart with anything or anyone else.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Eternal.  Every other kingdom, each dominion, and all other authorities will end one day.  They are never final.  Only His Dominion will last.  And He will hold every other authority accountable to Him.  Not only authorities, but each and every one of us.  This ought to be frightening—because it is!  But This Very Demanding King Has Something Else, Too.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Full Of Grace And Mercy.  He pours everything about Him into restoring us—WE are the object of His Desires.  And HE and HE alone, should be the object of our desires!  Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is, Well, HE IS!  Nothing we say or believe will ever change this fact.  Argue about it.  Deny it.  But Jesus is the King of Kings.

God doesn’t ask us to follow a baby; He calls us to follow the Conqueror of Death and Hell.  Christmas is a great time to remember Easter—because the power that conquered death is the power given to us when we open our heart to Him.  Joy and power are ours when we see for ourselves The Perfect Gift. 

God Loves Sinners Like Us!  It’s useless to give your heart to the child in that feed trough.  Give your heart, mind, soul and strength to the One who first died on the Cross then rose from the dead!  Then rise up in joyful worship!

Joy isn’t just for Christmas or Easter—it’s for every day all day long.  Begin living in and through the Holy Spirit.  Trust, really trust that God will never lead you wrong—He will challenge you—but He will never lead you wrong. 

You may not understand what God is doing—you may not even like what God wants to do—but Christmas reminds it’s the right thing, always the right thing. 

God isn’t interested in the qualified people—He’s Wanting The Least Qualified Because We Are The Ones That He Can Pour The Holy Spirit Into.  Now, here lies the Great Contradiction to the world’s value system.  The world’s value system says that in order to receive, you have to Get All You Can, Grab All You Can, And Then Grip The Can

The value system of God’s Kingdom is that in order to receive, you have to share, help, and love unconditionally.  Have you given your heart to the baby—or have your given your heart to Lord and Savior of all?

No one wants to be on Santa’s “Naughty List” but on his “Nice List”.  Hey, it is doable—when push comes to shove, we can be rather nice at times, nice enough to be on Santa’s “Good” list. 

But let me ask you:  Is Your Name In The Lamb’s Book Of Life?  Before you answer, let me share the truth with you:  You can never be good enough, do enough good, to get in The Lamb’s Book of Life.  It’s God’s Gift, for those who will surrender everything to Him, and follow Him.

Jesus Is The Anointed One:  The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King! 

There’s something I realized in this week’s preparations, and it made me realize my own failure.  It’s something I should have said every week, but I haven’t.  So, I’ll say it now—and hopefully as long as I am preaching: 

You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  Jesus didn’t stay in the manger.  He didn’t stay in Egypt.  He Didn’t Stay In Nazareth.  He Was Always On The Move—And He Still Is On The Move.  He’s Moving Forward Advancing The Kingdom

That’s why each week I offer you The Next Steps.  And here is this week’s Next Step: Where have you settled in your journey? And where is He calling you to go deeper?  The Shepherds didn’t stay at the manger.  The Wise Men didn’t stay at that house.  Shepherds went back to their fields and the Wise Men returned to their homes.  But they weren’t the same.  If you are not sensing the call of The Spirit to go deeper and follow Jesus more closely, then this is your moment to come to this altar, and ask The Perfect Gift to show you how This Gift Keeps On Giving.

Saturday Stories-A 3 Year Old's Reminder

At the risk of sounding like an extremely proud Grandpa (because I am!), this Saturday’s Story is about one of our granddaughters, Caroline. Caroline is the daughter of my daughter, Leslie. Her mother put a curse on Leslie. You know the one: “I hope you have a child just like you.” Bless Leslie’s heart, she does! There are a lot of “Caroline Stories” I can tell, but today, it’s about the lesson she taught me when she was only three.

You Can’t Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!

Several years ago, my daughter Leslie and her kids, Ethan and Caroline, came for a visit. They lived 2 hours away; so any visit was special. I called my parents who lived less than a mile away so they could see their great-grandchildren. After a time, we were in the kitchen just us adults talking.

In our kitchen was a small single step stool. Debbie, being somewhat vertically challenged, needed it sometimes to reach stuff in the top of a cabinet. Caroline had noticed this stool and managed a new skill–jumping off and landing securely on her feet. It was only about 6 inches, but for another vertically challenged 3 year old, it was quite a feat.

So Caroline began to display her new skill. She called out to us and said, “Watch this!” Being doting grandparents and great-grandparents we applauded her and congratulated her on this newfound skill. After several successful jumps and our accompanying praise, we went back to our conversations as adults. Needless to say, this did not please the Princess Caroline. Yes, Princess Caroline; it’s a title well earned and most appropriate for her.

We were in a circle talking with each other when Princess Caroline squeezed her way into the middle of this circle. She pressed her index finger to her thumb, and pointed at us with that little hand. I’m sure she learned this visual expression from her teacher at preschool. With a determined expression and dead seriousness, Princess Caroline got our attention with these words: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!”

While we “adults” were through watching her most recent skill, SHE wasn’t through showing us her skill. And she wasn’t going to be ignored any longer. She pulled our attention from talking to watching. To make sure we understood her “point” she repeated it again: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!” Ever since that day, we have, often jokingly, said to each other: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!”

The Moral Of This Saturday Story

This 3 year old Princess taught an invaluable for all of us. How many times does The Father try to get our attention–but we’re too busy talking? Talking to each other. Talking about others. Politics. Sports. The news. The latest fake news from the internet. Talking with others about how much we know about God. Telling others what THEY need to know about God. Telling God what we need. Telling God what HE needs to do.

Talking, talking, talking and more talking to the nth degree. Caroline taught me a lesson that day that I have had to be reminded of. . .frequently. . .too frequently. Caroline didn’t have out attention because we were, in her opinion, talking too much to each other. We adults needed to re-focus our attention to what really mattered.

Do you suppose God ever takes His index finger, pressing it against His thumb and saying to us: “You Cannot Be Talking And Pay Attention To Me!” Caroline would not let us have a choice–we HAD to give her our undivided attention. But God? Well, He never violates one of His gifts to us–a gift that leads to heights of joy–or depths of regret and despair. Free Will!

But the truth is, we cannot be talking and Pay Attention To God. Our troubles and chaos of this era is because we haven’t been paying attention to God. So. . .Stop Talking And Pay Attention To God! You need to, and our culture needs you to Pay Attention To God! You can’t pay attention to God if you are too busy talking.

THROW IT OUT THERE THURSDAY-IS IT THE RESULT OF DNA OR 'OTHER' SPIRITS?

I believe that adults who allow those other spirits to influence their thinking opens the way for those unequipped and unprepared to handle the thought influences of these other spirits; and children are the most vulnerable to their influences.

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Well, it’s time for another “Throw It Out There Thursday”. Remember that no idea, thing or person is exempt from Throw It Out There Thursday. I do not expect everyone to agree with any conclusions I may reach. Enough disclaimer crap. On to the the subject at hand: “Is It DNA, Or The Result Of ‘Other’ Spirits?

This week I came across a “blow-your-mind-can’t-be-true” post on the infamous Facebook. I had to research it and follow the links to see if it was true. Sorry, Virginia, not everything on Facebook is true. If I burst your bubble. . . oh, well. . .toughen up buttercup! The story involves…read it for yourself:

Here is the synopsis:

  • Jamie Bruesehoff gave birth to a son
  • At some point he decided he was transgendered
  • Jamie Bruesehoff supported his decision
  • Who is now “Rebekah” has had a hormone blocking implant, twice, to prevent “her” biological gender from developing
  • Jamie is a Lutheran’s pastor’s wife and their group insurance plan payed for it.

So, at some point this “child” decided that God really wanted him to live out his life not as a biological “he”, but as a transgendered “she”. Now comes the fodder that will probably bring me a lot of “negative” feedback. Oh, well. Since when does an adolescent have the intellectual, emotional and mental wherewithal to reach such a decision? “Rebekah” Bruesehoff has none of the prerequisites for such a decision, neither does a teenager. I know this is not an isolated case. It is a scene that happens often in today’s culture; too often.

To empower a child the right to pursue such an idea is an act of, for lack of a civil word, an act of sheer incompetence by adults, especially parents. So, I have to wonder and ask out loud, how does an adolescent form such a thought? It had to come from somewhere. Including the unproven DNA hypothesis, how would a child frame such a thought?

Oh, and here’s some more on Jamie Bruesehoff, right from her website:

Yep, you read her bio correctly: “a openly queer woman married to a Lutheran pastor”; whatever “openly” means. She has also put her “daughter” in front of audiences, including youth audiences, promoting this “happiness” that God told “her” to have in life. It’s as plain as the sun shining in the daytime, that even in a fish market, this smells “fishy”. This Mother is more than an underlining influence; she is an overwhelming influence.

And this leads me to what I am going to “Throw Out There”. It isn’t a “feeling” nor is it God wanting this child to be what he “feels” like he is. No, this child is being influenced by ‘other spirits’. Now wait a minute. I didn’t say that transgendered people are victims of demonic possession. What I am throwing out there is that there are other spirits contrary to the Spirit of God influencing many, even children. These other spirits are from the realm of Satan, himself.

In my humble opinion, those other spirits are influencing the mother of this child. I happen to believe that these other spirits out there while not “possessing” people, certainly influence how people think and see life. Furthermore, I believe that adults who allow those other spirits to influence their thinking opens the way for those unequipped and unprepared to handle the thought influences of these other spirits; and children are the most vulnerable to their influences.

I would challenge you to do 2 things. First and foremost, show the kindness and gentleness of Jesus to ALL people. ALL means ALL. You will never influence others in a positive way by spewing verbal acid at them. Second, and just as important–engage in spiritual warfare against Satan and his minions. Become aware of their influences in your own thinking. Pray, study God’s word, and seek the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit.

Our culture is being attacked from all sides by the other spirits by influencing the thoughts and perspectives of people. And when those people who succumb to their influences are adults, and those adults have influence over children, they are putting those most vulnerable at the highest risk of grave danger. That’s how I see it….

MERRY CHRISTMAS BECAUSE HE'S IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!

I love to think–sometimes out loud (which many times gets me in trouble), sometimes in my mind (which occasionally wanders off and takes a while to come back)–and especially in my writing. But today, THIS DAY, I simply cannot match my thoughts to those who told about that moment when Mary gave birth to Jesus.

So, today, I will share with you what one of those who walked with Jesus had to say about that moment, and what followed. Not Matthew’s or Luke’s account–but John’s account. There are no full inns or stables or mangers or shepherds or Magi–just the wonder of that event. Read this slowly, and take it all in–especially that part about God moving into our neighborhood. That phrase is why I’m led to share it with you from The Message: John 1:1-18

1-2 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

3-5 Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,

    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

15 John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

16-18 We all live off his generous bounty,
        gift after gift after gift.
    We got the basics from Moses,
        and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
    This endless knowing and understanding—
        all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
    No one has ever seen God,
        not so much as a glimpse.
    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,

        who exists at the very heart of the Father,
        has made him plain as day.

For some of you, this is a hectic day trying to make all of your expected appearances. For some of you, it’s a day of deep sadness because you are alone. Remember, PLEASE REMEMBER, that Jesus has moved into YOUR neighborhood, whatever it looks like. He didn’t shun leaving Heaven to enter Mary’s womb–He didn’t shun being born in a stable–He didn’t shun the Cross. And He won’t shun your neighborhood–after all, He’s Moved Right In! And to quote another person:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood
A neighborly day for a beauty
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day
Since we’re together, we might as well say
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please
Won’t you please
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Mr. Rogers made this song famous–but it’s Jesus who makes it POWERFUL.

Take The Combo!

It’s not a matter of need. It’s not a matter of choice. It’s not a matter of want. It’s a package deal–a combo meal if you would. But this Combo Meal does not come in regular or large or super-sized proportions. So, you don’t have a choice there. It only comes in the Eternal Size. True, it’s far more than you can handle in one sitting–but that’s how it comes.

And you can’t make substitutions or additions to it. Nope, it just comes in one Way. This Combo Meal is God–the Father-DADDY; the Son–Jesus-your brother; and the Holy Spirit-your Friend. They are ONE but not the same. Each is unique AND they are equal.

Yesterday morning in my “4 Minutes” time (which is how I now describe my morning devotion time; and it’s usually MORE than 4 minutes), I was talking with all 3 of Them and I just blurted out, “Wow! You 3 are some kind of combo meal!” All 4 of us laughed at my outburst. And it got me to thinking about this Monday Musing.

The Church Of The Anemic, which describes much of Western Christendom, has found itself this way from many reasons. One of the primary reasons is that the Average Pew Sitter neither appreciates, nor understands the unique Combo of The Trinity. Some want a father-figure; some want a get-out-of-hell-free-card; and some want a kind of feel-good-feeling.

The Holy Combo Package is an all or nothing offer. I’ve heard, and in my more younger and foolish days, call the Holy Spirit “it”. The Holy Spirit is not an “it”, but a Person. I use the word “Person” because this wordsmith hasn’t found another way to describe from a Time-Focused perspective the Infinite And Eternal Truth.

I am concerned that many have the view of The Holy Combo that I held in my younger, immature and more foolish days; that they exist in a hierarchy–Father is the Big Guy, Jesus is Middle Management, and The Spirit is the Floor Supervisor. Eventually, I came to understand the fallacy of such thinking. And when I read The Shack, by Paul Young, the Floodlight came on. I realize some have an “issue” with this book. Chill out! It’s only a book–but it shines with insight and wisdom. Now if your issue with the book is The Father being a big, black woman–remember He once spoke through Balaam’s jackass–and I’ve personally heard Him speak through other jackasses even today.

I could go on, but let me bring to an end this Monday Musing. As you do your “4 Minutes” with God each morning, think about ALL 3 OF THEM. Talk to each one at a time, and to all 3 of them at once. If you don’t like Paul Young’s images, come up with your own images; but remember God isn’t white middle class, or whatever your personal culture looks like. If you want God, you gotta get The Combo. And if you want a combo without some things or a couple of extra things, go to the McDonald’s Drive Thru. You can’t get that with God–It’s all or nothing.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

THE PERFECT GIFT HAS THE PERFECT NAME!

The Jesus We Need Is Not Found At The Manger, But At The Cross.

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18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born.  His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph.  But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.  “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

Matthew 1:18-23

What’s in a name?  In the tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Or as Bubba Bussey of Rick & Bubba might say, “Call a skunk a flower and he still stinks.”  What Shakespeare was trying to say that what is important, is who a person is, not what they are called.  If You Can Remember Only 1 Thing, This Is it:  The Jesus We Need Is Not Found At The Manger, But At The Cross. 

We place a lot of emphasis on naming children.  Naming a new baby is a challenging process.  It’s hard to please everybody with a name.  Dad wants a name that will look good on the sports page, like Tua Waddle or Bo Patrick.  Mom selects a fashionable name and insists on no nicknames, something like Catherine or Benjamin or Cynthia.  Grandpa wants to use a hallowed family name from the past, like Horatio or Alonzo.  Aunt Phebe wants a name that reflects her culture, like Tranquility or Greenpeace or Mellow.  It’s a miracle of diplomacy that a name is ever chosen.  We want names that reflect character and potential, and hopefully fit the child.

But Mary and Joseph did not face the hassle of finding a name for their baby boy.  They didn’t have Joseph’s father saying, “You know, you should name that boy after your Great-Great-Great-Great grandfather Zadok.  I don’t know why our family hasn’t used that name more.”  That important matter was decided for them by God, and the message was delivered by an angel. 

Remember the story with me.  Joseph, a local carpenter, is deeply troubled. His fiancée Mary is pregnant, and he knows that he is not responsible.  She says it is the Lord’s doing, but Joseph is a practical fellow. Maybe he fears that she has been raped, perhaps by one of those hated Roman soldiers.

Maybe he thinks that she’s afraid that he will do something rash that will endanger his life.  She refuses to budge from her story. So he has decided to break the engagement quietly in order to limit the public disgrace.  He knows the community elders could have her stoned for adultery if he breaks the engagement.   His heart is breaking because I believe he loves her.

Absorbed in these sad thoughts, Joseph falls into a troubled sleep.  In that troubled sleep, he has a dream.  An angel tells him that Mary is telling the truth.  He is ordered to skip the balance of their one-year engagement, to go ahead and marry Mary right away.  In other words, Let The Gossips Talk! 

Then the angel revealed something else very important—the name of the baby and His title. “You shall name Him Jesus!”  And his title will be the one predicted by the prophet Isaiah some 800 years earlier—“Emmanuel—God With Us.”

The Name And The Title reveal what Christmas is all about.  Yeshua!  In the Hebrew it means God Delivers, Saves, And Rescues!  It’s The Perfect Name For The Perfect Gift for many reasons.  In the light of Advent, allow me to share with you 3 reasons why Jesus is the perfect name:

1.  It’s The Perfect Name For Hope!

There was no prophetic voice for over 400 years.  Heaven was quiet.  God seemed to be silent.  No one stepped forward with a Word from God.  Except for a brief period, they had been under foreign occupation and rule for nearly 600 years.  No voice from heaven and held captive, there was a struggle—the struggle for hope. 

When hope was obscured by years of fear and oppression, God spoke, not with words, but with a baby. John put it this way in 1:14 from the Message:  The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Jesus is the perfect name for Hope because He chose, out of His awesome love, To Move Into Our Neighborhood.  What does your neighborhood look like right now?  No, not the one where you house is located, but the one that surrounds your day to day living.  Are you living in the neighborhood of Fear?  Despair?  Chaos?  Confusion?  Addiction?  Loneliness?  Uncertainty?  Depression?  Shame?  Doubt?  Guilt? 

Listen, Someone else has moved into YOUR neighborhood and His name is Jesus—God Delivers, Saves, And Rescues!  He joins alongside us, giving us courage, determination, comfort, strength to move through and power to overcome.  Jesus broke through the silence and oppression then, and He still does it today.  That’s REAL Hope!  When Jesus moves into our neighborhood, there is always Hope!  Jesus Is The Perfect Name For Hope!

2.  It’s The Perfect Name For Joy!

There is a real problem in our culture today—people are wanting happiness, rather than Pursuing JoyThe Difference Between Happiness And Joy Is Clear:  Happiness Is Found In Some THING—Joy Is Discovered In Some ONE!  Happiness is built on the assumption that if we just had “that”—that amount of money, that relationship, that job, that other pastor, if we could get into that clique, if we had that car or that house—then we would be truly happy.  If we just had that Samsung 122” TV, or get that promotion, or get rid of that boss, or that spouse, then we would be happy.  The truth is, sometimes we manage to get those things, and for a time, we’re happy.  But when the new wears off, then we will start looking again for something That makes us happy.

On the other hand, Joy is discovered in Some ONE.  As someone once said, There’s A God Sized Hole In Every Heart And Only God Can Fill It!  Not just anyone, but the one who is named Jesus.  We are created for an intimate relationship with God.  Circumstances change, relationships change, material stuff wears out, breaks down and becomes obsolete, wealth comes and goes, even our health changes over time as I have so painfully discovered. 

But God is going to stay with you through thick and thin, ups and downs.  His Presence, Promises And Power are always Here and This rather than That, is what fills us with joy.  Because He Has forgiven us He can be trusted to be our Lord, because He gives us life now and eternal life later—Now That’s The Perfect Name For Joy. 

3.  It’s The Perfect Name For Love!

Love is more than words, much more.  Truth is—words are a cheap substitute because they lack the 2 key components of real love—the love that God gives.  John wrote in 1 John 3:18-19—Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  Our actions will show that we belong to the truth. 

God’s love is expressed in His heart and in His actions.  Words alone are shallow, but love that acts out of the heart is deep, lasting, and powerful enough to transform another person’s life.  Love Without Actions Is Shallow, And God Never Dwells In The Shallow Places, But In The Deepest Parts Of Our Heart.

Jesus set the pattern with His example.  Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13  But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law.  When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 

In 1873, Father Damien De Veuster voluntarily went to Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands.  Molokai was an isolation island for those with leprosy.  He helped improve their quality of life with a water system, a sanitation system and a clinic.  With help of the local lepers, they build a chapel where services were held every Sunday.  Every Sunday, Father Damien would begin his sermon by saying, You lepers know that God loves you.”  This went on for years. 

Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way:  “We lepers know that God loves us.”  Father Damien had contracted leprosy.  He was so busy taking care of them, he didn’t take the time to take care of himself with a simple task of washing his hands.  Yet he went on loving and serving until his death in 1898.

Jesus did not come in a disguise, He came in Real-Life-Flesh-And-Blood, the same stuff of you and me.  He ran, He played, He skinned his knees, laughed, swam, fished, cried, built tables, attended parties, felt anguish and heartache, laughed at jokes and told jokes.  He understands you because He experienced what you experience.  And why did He do that?  He Did It So That We Could Know That He Loves Us!

I want to take this love He has for you one step deeper.  Jesus does not say, You sinners know that God loves you.  Jesus does not say that, He says something much more, much deeper, with more love.  Jesus says to you and me, We sinners know that God loves us! 

I say this because the holiness of God demands justice—that the penalty for each and every sin MUST be paid IN FULL.  If we do not go to the Cross with our sins, and say, “This is the only place my sins can be forgiven”, then the gift hasn’t been received.  And if God accepts us without going through the Cross, Without the penalty being paid, God no longer remains Holy. 

While on that Cross, as Jesus was suspended between heaven and earth, between us sinners and the Holy God, the penalty of all sins—my sins, your sins, everyone’s sins—was placed on Jesus, and for that moment, Jesus became The Sinner.  Want a verse from the Bible to prove this?  2 Corinthians 5:21—“God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (The Message)

And He did it for only one reason:  Love!  YeshuaGod Delivers, Saves, And RescuesIt’s the perfect name for the Perfect Gift—Yeshua — God Delivers, God Saves, And God RescuesIt Truly Is The Perfect Name For The Perfect Gift.  Have you accepted the Gift for yourself?  If not, how can you turn away from Him?  Do not give your heart to the Baby in the Manger.  Give your heart to The Man on the Cross.

As we approach Christmas, your Next Steps can be the most important ones of your life:

  • If you have never felt the shame of your sins, felt the despair that comes from the Penalty of those sins, you need to.  To know The Savior is to know we’re a sinner.
  • If you are struggling right now with that penalty—then struggle no more.  God Delivers, God Saves, And God Rescues!  And that, my friends is the Perfect Name for the Perfect Gift!

Saturday Stories–A Christmas Story

“So they can all see the baby Jesus.”

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Being a pastor, I am often blessed to hear others tell wonderful stories of faith that have impacted their lives.  One such faith story comes from the time when I served the Weeden Heights congregation back in the 90’s.  Jimmy and Elaine Springer were such faithful servants of God, and I considered myself to have received an extra blessing by becoming more than their pastor, but also their friend.  One day Elaine shared with me a simple but powerful image of why we all need a child-like faith.

 See Jesus This Christmas

It was during the Christmas season.  She and Jimmy had decorated their home to match the festive holiday season.  Among their many decorations was a Nativity Set, complete with all the characters and animals.  Elaine said she carefully arranged the scene so that each figurine’s face was looking outward.  This way, each person who looked at the scene could see the faces of Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men.  During a visit from their grandchildren, Elaine said she walked past the Nativity Scene and all the characters had been moved.  They formed a circle around the manger, and the baby, Jesus.

Well, she carefully rearranged them back to their original state, only to discover sometime later to find them in a circle again—all in a circle around the manger and the baby, Jesus.  When she asked her grandchild why she had rearranged them in a circle, the child’s reply is a classic and full of faith:  “So they can all see the baby Jesus.”  Needless to say, the words spoke to Elaine’s heart, and the truth was ever so clear.  The Nativity Scene was indeed correct—each person, each animal facing and focused on the Christ child.  Needless to say—the Nativity Scene remained that way, all characters in a circle that focused on Jesus.

The Lesson 

It was a special Christmas when a child reminded everyone, that this Holiday Season is really about one thing—Jesus.  And I remembered the words of Paul in Hebrews chapter 12—“Keep your eyes on Jesus!”  This time of year is truly a busy and sometimes stressful time.  Crowded streets and highways, parking lots that are full, huge shopping crowds, long lines, finding the perfect Christmas gifts; all this and more sometimes makes us forget what the Season is really all about. 

So, if you are all stressed out, I have a word for you; that word is—STOP!  Take your eyes off the crowds and lines and sales, and circle up around Jesus and focus on Him!  Right now, or when you get home, go to that Nativity Scene in your family room, then move all those figurines into a circle around the hope and love that can only be found in Jesus.  And if someone asks, “Why are these figurines in a circle?  I can’t see their faces.”  Tell them, for God’s sake, tell them, “Look where they are looking—see the face of Jesus.”

And from this Kingdom Pastor, who often struggles to keep his focus, I want each of you to experience the inexpressible Joy, Hope, Peace and Love that comes from “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”