Friday, December 24, 2010

This Just In...

I often wonder if Jesus was born in the 21st century what it would be like; what would the headlines be? Would anyone know or recognize Him?

"Woman Gives Birth - Claims She is a Virgin" - Three days ago in the small town of Minot, North Dakota, a 15 year old woman who claims to be a virgin, gave birth to her first-born, a son. Most are skeptical of her claims but thus far, nobody, doctors included, have been able to prove her wrong. Many of the local religious leaders have gathered to assess the truth of her claims and what, if any significance this brings. Some claim her son to be some deity, but most have passed the story off as a cleverly crafted lie.

"Homeless Group Claim Divine Vision" - A group of homeless men and women claim to have come face to face with an unexplained being(s); "something from heaven," one man said. Apparently, they were bedding down for the night when they were met with a vision. 'We weren't drunk, we weren't on drugs, we know what we saw, and we believe,' a woman interviewed for the story proclaimed. "I will never be the same" she went on. Few believe their claims, but it made news on an otherwise quiet evening in December.

"Strange New Star Appears" - A fierce battle has developed over the past few weeks between scientists, astronomers, astrologists, and religious leaders from around the world, as a bright new star has suddenly appeared in the night sky. Nobody can doubt that the star exists, for it is the brightest thing in the sky. Still, nobody seems to know where it came from. NASA, in concert with the European Space Agency, have agreed to move the Hubble Space Telescope in position to capture some images of the new star in hopes of learning its secrets.

I used to think, when I was young, that certainly I would have been one of the ones who would have believed. Now that I'm older, I often wonder...would I have believed? Would I have recognized Him? Or maybe like Thomas, would I have only believed if I saw with my own eyes?

"I wonder as I wander, out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come forth to die
For poor or'nary people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander..."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Matters - Virgin Birth

18 "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 

 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 18 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,a because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:18-20)

As our gospel of Jesus Christ comes under more and more attack these days, it is becoming critical that we have a deep understand about what we believe and why. It matters. One of the doctrines that gets talked about this time of year is the virgin birth. In two words, IT MATTERS. Jesus being born of a virgin is critical to who he is. And who is He?  He is fully God, and fully man. Take away the virgin birth, and He's fully man but not God. Take Mary out of the picture, and He's fully God, but not fully man.

And yet Jesus embodies both...He is both. During His time on earth He identified Himself as both. "...before Abraham was, 'I Am' " was a clear and absolute statement that He saw Himself as fully God. And yet one of his titles is the 2nd Adam; another is the Son of Man. If Jesus weren't fully man, He wouldn't be qualified to take our punishment on Himself and endure the cross.

Put simply, the virgin birth means that Jesus' Father is God, and His mother is Mary...fully God, born of the Holy Spirit, and fully man. It matters because this is Jesus' entry into our world. It matters because through this birth, God becomes man.

"So what?" you ask?

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." (A.W. Tozer).

I might paraphrase him and say this;

"What we believe about Jesus Christ is the most important thing about us."

It matters.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who do you listen to?

20"He who walks with the wise, grows wise;
but a companion of fools, suffers harm." (Proverbs 13:20)

I'm reading a book called "The Principle of the Path" and want to take some time to write about one of the concepts in this book. The point of this post is so simple, at the end of it you very well might say "no duh." That's how it hit me...until I looked at how I actually apply this principle. It's one thing to know something, or even to believe something; but it's quite another to implement it and live by it. So what is the big it?

Before we get there, let me ask you this. If you were driving and got lost, who would you rather get directions from? Someone who is on the side of the road and is also lost, or someone who has been to the place you're going and can tell you how to get there? Or let's say you're on vacation in Waikiki and you've never been there before. You're trying find the surf-rental shop. Do you ask directions from someone who is also on vacation for the first time, or from the local who has lived his whole life there?

The answers to both of those questions are obvious...we want directions from the 2nd person...the one who has been where we're trying to go and can tell us exactly how to get there.

Now let me ask you a question; the last time you needed some really good advice about something, who did you ask? One of your friends? Your peers? A brother or sister? Or, did you ask advice from someone who has been where you're trying to go?

A classic example of this can be found in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam has just taken over the kingdom from his father, Solomon, who has just passed away. He is approached by the people's representative, Jeroboam, who has but one request of the new king; lighten our load, and we will serve you forever.  Rehoboam wisely asks for 3 days to consult with two groups of people.

Group 1 are the elders; these are older, wise men who have been with his father Solomon, (the wisest man who ever lived), and their advice is to do just what the people have asked...lighten the load, and their hearts will be with you. Group 2 is Rehoboam's fact, not even his peers, but his groupies - men his age or younger perhaps, who serve him. They tell the new king to make their load even heavier.  Rehoboam goes with the advice of the younger ones, and it doesn't go well at all. The people reject him as king, appointed Jeroboam as their king and the kingdom gets split in half.

There are two glaring mistakes we can see in this story, that we would do well to avoid.
1) When seeking advice, make sure you ask the right people. Ask it from those who are where you want to be.
2) If you're not willing to follow the advice you get, don't bother asking.

Rehoboam, from all appearances, already knew what he wanted to do and merely was looking for affirmation from his buddies to do it. Once he got that affirmation, he moved.

What path are you on? Is it taking you where you want to go? Are you getting good advice from those who are where you want to be?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The "Why" of Christmas

Who is Jesus, and why do we celebrate anyways?  The answer can be found in the three names assigned/given to Him.

- Jesus: it's a transliteration from the Hebrew name Joshua, and means "Jahweh delivers or rescues" or, in a word, "Savior"

- Christ: it's a translation of the Hebrew name Messiah, meaning "Anointed one."

- Immanuel: this descriptor puts two words together; ʻImmānū which means "with us" and 'El, meaning "God."  Literally, Immanuel means "With us God."

In these three names or titles, we have everything we need to know about Christmas...and more than that, everything we need to know about God.

The name Jesus gives us His purpose in coming - His purpose was simply to save.  Jesus knew his purpose, Himself reading from the scroll of Isaiah;

1 "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners..."

(read the full chapter here)

Jesus = Savior.  He came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Which brings us to his title, "Christ" or "Messiah."  This is His identity - He was and is God's "Anointed one."  Matthew especially constantly refers to Jesus as "Messiah."  This is the one - the long awaited one...the anointed one.  Read through the first chapter of Matthew as he recounts the genealogy of Jesus and you'll see 3 times in those 17 verses that Matthew refers to Jesus as the Messiah.  It's who He is. 
Which lastly brings us to this;

23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[a](which means “God with us”).  (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14).  

Immanuel (or Emmanuel), "With Us God" or "God with us."  With us in both time and space, with us in that He set aside His divinity to enter the restraints of our universe; fully human, and yet full divine.  With us in that he is FOR you, so much as you have given your life to following Him and believed in Him for salvation.  With us in that He, Jesus, lives inside of you.  With us in that we no longer need to wonder what God is like.  Do you want to know the character of God?  Simply look at Jesus.  He is the character of God...He IS God.  Immanuel...I don't know there could be anything greater.

What does all this mean? It means everything. It is the whole point of Christmas. What more is there to say?

16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  (John 3:16-17)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmastime is here

2"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned..."  (Isaiah 9:2)

Christmas means many things to many people.  Gifts, lights, decorations, trees, family, hot chocolate, time off school, parties and gatherings, etc.  Too often, however, it all adds up to two words; business + stress.  It would behoove us, then, to be intentional about what this season signifies.

6"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 9:6)

What if Jesus never came?  What if God didn't allow his Son to come?  What if?  We would still be walking in darkness.  We would be a people with the wrath of God laid squarely on our shoulders.  But...  

4"Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

It's a very scary thought to ponder...a life without Jesus would be a life with no hope.  Just look at those verses again and imagine the significance of Jesus.  My words seem hollow to convey the meaning of His birth.  It is the entrance of a deity into our human world.  There has never been and never will be a more significant entrance.  Not a king, but The King.  Humble, full of grace and truth.   

Take that word, iniquity - do you know what it means?

1. Gross immorality or injustice; wickedness.
2. A grossly immoral act; a sin.

That's what God laid on Him...His Son, Jesus.  He laid on Him the gross immoralities, injustices, and immoral acts of all of us - the entire human race.  All our pride, all our sin, all our selfishness, all our lust, all our gossip, all our murderous thoughts - all of it, laid squarely on Christ.  Why?
4Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you...
18"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
19See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
20The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise." (Is. 43:18-21)

God formed us for Himself.  He loves us...without condition.  What did we do to earn or merit such love?  Nothing.  We did nothing.  And that's the whole point.  It's God's love and grace, not ours.

What's the point of Christmas?  It's found in words; Hope, Peace, and Love.  But ultimately I think this word is even more appropriate to the season - Salvation.  This is the reason for Christmas.  As we go through the coming weeks, let us pause often in gratitude and remember who's birthday we are celebrating.