Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Miss Christmas

In Luke 2:6-7 we read these history-altering words: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” In just a few sentence Luke encapsulates ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’. Messiah has come! And we read with joy of the angels appearing to the shepherds, announcing the birth of the King. We wonder at what must have gone through Mary and Joseph’s mind through that first night. What an amazing experience, to be there for that first Christmas!
But have you ever thought about those who missed that first Christmas? It’s hard to imagine but there were many who simply missed it. And the reason I think it’s important to consider these who missed Christmas is because if we don’t guard our hearts, we too can miss it. Not that we miss December 25th, but that we miss the meaning of the season, the reason why we celebrate. I don’t want to miss this season of joy and worship! So who are those who did?
I think first of the religious leaders of the day. Everything in the scriptures they had given their lives to study pointed to the coming of Jesus. But when he came there were no priests to worship Him, no announcements in the temple. The reason is that the religious leaders had constructed in their minds an idea of who Messiah should be. They thought he was coming to institute a physical kingdom, but the kingdom Jesus came to usher in was a spiritual kingdom. And since Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, since He didn’t arrive with any fanfare or ceremony but was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, they missed it. Have we constructed a false image of Jesus in our minds? Do we believe He exists for us, or that we exist for Him? Do we worship who He is, or do we worship what we want Him to be?
I think of Roman Empire. There was no delegation from Caesar to herald the birth of the King of Kings, no recognition from the Empire. Why? Because what of any importance could possibly happen in Bethlehem? It was a backwater place in a backwater part of the empire. And since they didn’t think it was important, they missed it. Do we miss Christmas because we fail to see the importance of who Jesus is and why He has come? I know we pay a good deal of lip service to Him this time of year, but do we really acknowledge who He is and what He’s done?
I think finally of the people in Bethlehem. They were going on about their lives, just trying to get by. They weren’t doing anything overtly sinful but scripture tells us that only the shepherds came to worship the new King. No locals were there. Nobody from the inn. What were they all doing? Why did they miss it? I think the answer is most likely that they were simply too busy with their lives. The idea of a Messiah was nice but they just really didn’t have time for it. They had so much else going on in their lives they didn’t realize that Immanuel had come. Are we so busy that we don’t have time for Jesus? I know we like the idea of salvation, and we’re certainly not opposed to coming to church. But do we make time for Jesus? Is He the focus of our lives, or simply a part of our lives? This Christmas let’s make certain that we don’t miss it. Let’s make certain that Jesus is our focus, our joy and our purpose. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Christian's Obligation to His/Her President

So you might have heard that we had an election last night. Today about half the country is in mourning and the other half is rejoicing. But whether or not your candidate won is irrelevant to what the Bible says is your obligation to the leaders of our nation. Scripture gives clear guidelines that every follower of Christ must follow if we are to be obedient. Here are a few, in on particular order.
1. Recognize the Authority of our Leaders. Your candidate may not have won. You may not like who's in the White House. You may still have a bumper sticker that reads "My President is Charlton Heston." Thumbs on the bumper sticker because that's just funny. But that doesn't change what scripture says. Romans 13:1, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Did you catch that last part? Paul says that there are no authorities except for the ones that God has instituted. This means that whoever you voted for, God voted for President Obama. Now I know we're getting into some muddy theological waters here but the point is plain--leaders are instituted by God and their authority comes from God alone. So followers of Christ are to recognize that authority.
2. Obey our Leaders. Notice the first phrase in vs1 again--be subject. That means we obey. That means we follow the law. That means we pay our taxes. That means that, until a law is changed, we are obligated to obey that law. Does this mean we're obligated to disobey God? Not at all. If a law demands that we stop praying or stop sharing the gospel, we disobey that law because God is our ultimate authority. But unless a law specifically calls us to disobey God, we obey that law.The beauty of our nation is that we can write letters of protest, we can march, we can work to get the laws changed. But until they are, we obey them.
3. Pray for our Leaders. I Timothy 2:1-2, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for Kings and all who are in high positions..." We are commanded to pray for our leaders. Not encouraged to, not challenged to, not recommended to; but commanded to. Lots of Christians gripe and complain about our nation's leadership. My question is, do we pray for them as well? Because I know I don't as I should. It's much easier to complain about them than to pray for them. Now I've heard some people say, "You bet I'll pray for President Obama. I'm praying Psalm 109:8, "May his days be few; let another take his office." That's sort of missing the point. And by sort of, I mean completely. Why?
4. Respect our Leaders. I Peter 2:17, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." Now keep in mind that many scholars believe that Peter wrote this letter during Nero's persecution of the church. Consider that for a moment. When Christians were being persecuted and killed, Peter writes that we are to respect our leaders. I've heard many comments that essentially say, "There's nothing about our President I respect so I won't respect him at all." Actually there is something about him--his authority is from God, and you are commanded to honor him. We can--and should--disagree when things are done that are contrary to scripture. We should advocate for change and live gospel centered lives. But none of this should be done disrespectfully.
5. Don't Trust in our Leaders. Note I didn't saw we shouldn't trust them; rather, we shouldn't put our trust in them. God has created us to glorify Himself, and to allow us to enjoy His presence forever. Politics is not the way God intends to bring either of these about. Our hope and our trust should not be in whomever is in the White House. Our hope is found in the fact that Jesus is on the throne, that He has secured our righteousness before the Father and has granted to us the great privilege of going and making disciples. That's what matters most, and that should be our focus. Psalm 20:7, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Our hope isn't predicated on who is in Washington. Our hope is in the Lord.
So let us, as followers of Christ, be obedient to His word. Let us be salt and light in the world. Let us stand for what honors God and oppose that which dishonors Him. But let us do so in an obedient way. And if you're convinced that President Obama is the Antichrist, that he is determined to take away our rights to pray and he wants to persecute us, I would encourage you to consider Matthew 5:44-45; "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why October Was Great, Even Though I Thought It Wasn't

So this morning I was lying in bed, mentally reviewing the month of October. And truth be told it didn't look too good. From most angles, October appears to have been a pretty lousy month. At the beginning of the month I rolled my ankle while running (I also narrowly avoiding being hit by a car, as I fell almost directly into it's path when I rolled said ankle). This minor injury caused me to miss almost 2 weeks of training. This mattered simply because I was preparing to run my first Half Marathon. When my ankle recovered I eased back into running, then went for a 10 mile jog the week before the race. My knee was pretty sore after the run and at the time I thought I had tweaked my knee. But the following Saturday my knee was still hurting. It hurt at the beginning of the race. It hurt worse during the race. By the end of the race I could barely walk. Couple hours after the race I couldn't walk at all. Turns out I've partially torn my meniscus (which, though a terribly unpleasant thing to experience, is actually a fun word to say--go ahead, say it a few times. I'll wait.). To top all that off, on the way home from the race, as I grumbled about my meniscus (isn't that fun?) the transmission on our van went out.
Now that brief summary should make plain to you the joy of the month of October. Lots of stuff went wrong. Lots of stuff happened that was very frustrating. Some of it was quite embarrassing. The point is, I thought I had lots to grumble about. But as I mentally replayed this disastrous month I was reminded of the things that made October great, even though I thought it was terrible.
I've got an amazing wife. She loves me. She takes care of me when I do stupid things like run on a messed up knee (even though she's been having heart & blood pressure issues for a while now). She is an incredible mom. She loves Jesus. She loves her church. And to top it all off, she's pretty dang good looking. A gimpy knee and worn out van hasn't changed that.
I've got some incredible kiddos. Lily, Emma & Owen are a constant source of joy and/or frustration. Just kidding. Mostly joy. They are an absolute hoot to be around. They even finished my race with me! Through all the frustrations of the month I can still rejoice in my precious children.
Most of all, nothing that happened this month has made any changes to who I am and where I stand. Jesus is my righteousness before the Father. I've been clothed in His good works and all my sin has been placed on Him. In Jesus I've been granted adoption, redemption, and justification. God's wrath was poured out on Jesus, my substitute, and nothing can change that. I choose to glorify God for last month. I can thank Him and worship Him for this month, and for all the months to come. Why? Because nothing that happens can change what He's promised. In Romans 8:38-39 Paul writes, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  God's love for me is wrapped up not in what I do or what happens--it's all contingent on Jesus. And He has secured that for me forever. That means that neither gimpy knees, nor worn out vans, nor ungrateful creatures like me will be able to separate me from God's love.
This month, despite all my grumblings and frustrations, God has not cast me off. He hasn't grown weary with me and washed His hands of me. He has continued to love me and care for me. And He will do so forever, because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.