Friday, December 30, 2011

Return to Our First Love

In chapters two and three in the Book of Revelation the Apostle John writes to the seven churches of Asia Minor. He first addresses the church in Ephesus. He commended it for carrying on its work in the face of great difficulties, for rejecting false teachers, for speaking against sin, and for not growing weary. It was loyal in its practices and doctrines and, like most or our churches today, it thought it was a church with which God would be pleased.

Following his commendations John pointed out one major complaint. It is found in Revelation 2:4. It is a complaint that all of our churches should heed. John wrote, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (NASB). What was John saying? He was saying that they had become so mechanical in their motions that they had lost the miraculous devotion that they had experienced when Jesus Christ first became real to them. They had become caught up in their rituals and they had lost sight of the reality of the relationship that they had experienced with the One who made it all possible.

Does this sound like any church that you know? I think we would have to agree that many churches are so caught up in budget, programs, image, and hundreds of other things that they do not have energy left to simply bask in the good news of the Gospel. It is not that churches are doing the wrong things. It is that they are too often not doing the main thing. We would be wise to learn from the Shorter Catechisms derived from the Westminster Confession of Faith. In answer to the question, what is the chief end of man, it says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

When was the last time you glorified and enjoyed the person of Jesus Christ? Most of us have been so busy doing the business of the Church that we have not had any energy left to really enjoy the blessings of the church. Consequently, we have not fully enjoyed the peace, joy and abundance that He wishes us to have.

The good news is that John gives us a solution to this dilemma in the next verse. He wrote, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first” (Rev. 2:5a NASB). You could call this the “3R’s” of restoring the joy of our salvation. First, we need to remember the joy and excitement we felt when Christ first became real to us and we invited Him into our hearts to be our Savior and Lord. Second, we need to repent of becoming too busy to have time to spend in developing our personal relationship with Him. Third, we need to return to the things we were doing at the beginning of the relationship. We need to devote ourselves to private time for reading the Word, praising God for our blessings, and praying privately to Him about all of our needs.

Imagine if every church followed John’s instructions to remember, repent and return to the way things were spiritually in the beginning. For to happen, it must start somewhere .We may not be able to speak for our entire church, but each one of us can speak for himself or herself. If enough of us would follow John’s admonition to remember, repent and return, we could revolutionize our churches. Sounds like an exciting way to start a New Year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Power of Thinking Right

Someone once said you could tell more about a person from their checkbook and their calendar than from anything else they have. The reasoning is simple. People spend their time and money on the things that are important to them. There is another important gauge of a person’s interest that is much more difficult to identify. If you can determine the things that a person thinks about all the time, you can know who they really are.

It has also been said that we become what we think. This line of thinking prompted William Barclay to write, “This is something of utmost importance, because it is the law of life that, if a man thinks of something often enough, he will come to the stage when he cannot stop thinking about it.” In other words, our thoughts can consume our time and energy and can go along way toward determining who we are going to become. Obviously there are some limitations in this theory. For example, if someone is 5’4’’ tall and weighs 240 lbs. and has a vertical jump of 6 inches, he is not going to play in the NBA no matter how much he thinks about it. Such an extreme illustration doesn’t change that it is important how we think because our thoughts play an important part in who we are and who we become.

Since our thoughts are this important, it would behoove each one of us to make a resolution at the beginning of this year to think right thoughts during the coming year. In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (NASV). It would not be a bad idea for each one of us to adapt this verse for our resolution for 2012.

If we are serious about such a resolution, it will affect our lives dramatically. It will influence where we go, what we watch, what we read, and what we listen to. The results could be a changed life. Changed lives could mean happier homes and better communities. Considering the possible benefits, it is a resolution worth at least thinking about. After all, if you think about it enough, it may become who you are.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Proper Reaction to Christmas

An old missionary, who had served primitive, island people groups his entire career, recounted a story of a Christmas gift he received from one of the natives. It was a beautiful shell. He commented on the beauty of the shell and inquired about where the native had found it. The native told him that he had traveled by foot to the far side of the island to find the shell. His journey had taken him across mountains and through dense forest. The missionary expressed his gratitude but he also expressed an apology for the man having to go such a long distance. In response to the apology the man explained that the journey was part of the gift.

On the first Christmas long ago, God gave the world its most valuable gift. He gave the gift of Himself. He stepped out of eternity into time. He stepped out of the realms of glory into a fallen world. He did not come with great pomp and ceremony. He came as a child. He came to a tiny stable, not a glorious palace. His journey was a part of His great gift of love.

The world’s reception of this marvelous gift is much the same today as it was two thousand years ago. We see today the same three responses to this gift received in the second chapter of The Gospel of Matthew. Like Herod, many grow anger and feel threatened by the Christ Child. They fear that He will threaten their way of life. They refuse to even entertain the idea that they too are recipients of this gift. Like the scribes and priests, who were caught up in their own activities and did not investigate these claims, many have heard of the gift but are so busy with life that they do not take the time to stop and reflect upon its significance for their lives. Like the Wiseman, many understand that there is something special about this child and they greet His coming with adoration.

Things have changed little. There is still one birth and three reactions, anger, apathy or adoration. As it was then, it is now; each individual must choose his/her response. The later response certainly brings a greater sense of awe and wonder during the Christmas Season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The True Gift of Christmas

When our children were small we had a Christmas tradition in our home we called “family union”. On Christmas morning our two boys would come and get in bed with us. After several minutes of joking about Santa not being able to find our house, we would go to the tree to see what gifts they could find.

One Christmas following our family union time, we jumped up and raced into the living room, where the tree was located. Our eldest son was receiving a television for his room. Because of the cost of the television, he was getting practically no other gifts. The television was his Christmas.

The television was sitting on the coffee table across from the tree. He immediately wanted to turn it on. The cord was not long enough to reach the outlet. In my bull in a china shop manner, I picked up the table and the TV together and attempted to move it closer to an outlet. The freshly polished table was slick, causing the television to slip to the floor. The front hit first, breaking all of the dials and making the television useless.

You can imagine the impact on a ten-year old boy, when his entire Christmas was rendered useless. He ran to his room in tears and crawled to the foot of his bed. I joined him and we soaked his sheets with our tears. His heart was broken and so was mine. Finally, I was able to assure him the television could be fixed. I sought his forgiveness for being so careless. He was far more forgiving of me than I was of myself.

That year Christmas came on Sunday. After everyone had calmed down, we dressed for church. As we rode to church, I reflected upon the morning. I thought of the fragile nature of the things we get all excited about. We sometimes allow the commercial aspects of Christmas to detract us from the part of Christmas that is forever. I thought of the true gift of Christmas, the gift of God’s Son. I was grateful the true gift of Christmas could not be broken or taken away once it had been received. While these thoughts did not relieve my hurt for my son’s broken TV, they did give me a better perspective on the situation.

Do not allow worldly distractions spoil your Christmas. Guard against being overcome by all the festivities of the season to the point of neglecting the One it is all about. Strive to really keep Christ at the center of your focus. If you do, God will be honored and you will be blessed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

On December 25, 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down and penned the words to one of my favorite Christmas hymns, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. History reminds us that on this date the Civil War had been raging for over three and one half years. As he wrote, he was not blind to the carnage the nation had suffered as brothers fought against brothers. His frustration can be seen in the third verse: “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song, Of peace on earth goodwill toward men’”

Sadly, one-hundred and fifty years later, there is still is malice and hatred in the world; wars still continue to rage between nations; brothers and sisters continue to battle one another, if not with weapons of war with unkind words and deeds; and there seems to be little hope for genuine peace anywhere on the horizon. If we do not look beyond the now to God’s promises for the future, verse three would be the ending of our song and we would face a future of despair.

After expressing the doubts that world events can invoke, he gave further thought and penned verse four:“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, goodwill to men.’”

Apparently, in his despair, Longfellow recognized that God’s ultimate plans would not be thwarted by the actions of men. In due time wrong will fail and right will prevail and there will be genuine peace on earth. The prophesy of Isaiah 2:4 will become a reality: “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”

The skeptic reads these words and thinks they are naive. What the skeptic does not take into account is the fact that God does not operate on a time schedule. To Him, a day is the same as a thousand years. God sits in a high position where He sees the entire canopy of history. He sees the beginning and the end and He declares through His prophet that the day is coming when “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” By trusting in His sovereign rule, we can always have hope. We can know that our hope is not wishful thinking but it is recognition of a future reality that has not yet been finalized.

The good news does not end here. While we look with longing to the future time of peace, we also have the promise of an inward peace that will enable us to deal with the hardships and futility that sometimes seems to control the world. We have the words of our Lord, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27 NASB). My prayer is that each one of us might experience the wonder of His peace during this season of the year when we celebrate His coming to this earth and that each one of us will loudly proclaim that He is not dead, nor does He sleep. He lives; He rules; and He will in His own time bring everything to a close according to His perfect will.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Is So Threatening About Christmas?

For years there has been an active attempt to remove all symbols of Christianity from the public arena. This is most evident during the Christmas season. There is something about the symbols of Christmas that threaten the ACLU crowd. To me, this makes about as much sense as a democratic Moslem country being asked by a small Christian minority to remove all references of Ramadan from the public forum.

Regardless of how one feels about this issue, it seems to me the question must be asked, “What is so offensive about a holiday that teaches “peace on earth and good will toward men”? I believe that I have an answer to that question. The truth is that one can't hear the Christmas message and reflect upon all of its meaning without having a response. It forces us to consider eternal matters. It reminds us of God’s love and our responsibility to respond positively to that love. It points us beyond the cradle to the Cross. It demands that we deal with questions that extend beyond this life as we know it.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we find three reactions to the birth of this baby that set the stage for attitudes throughout the ages. Herod felt threatened by the news of this birth. He saw this child as an infringement on his power and rule. He violently sought to stamp out the Christ Child. The scribes and Pharisees on the other hand chose to ignore Him as much as was possible. Although they had the prophesies of the sacred writings that pointed to the birth of a special child, there is little evidence that they took the time to seek out the child and to attempt to verify or disprove who He was. Finally, there were the Wisemen who came and paid homage to the Child. They saw that this child was special and they worshipped him.

Two thousand years have passed and we still celebrate this birth. There are still those who are threatened by it; there are still those who choose to ignore it; and there are still those who choose to worship the “newborn king”. For those who choose the latter, Christmas represents far more than the frills of Christmas decorations and gifts. It represents the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s Son. It represents the gift that ultimately makes it possible for anyone who chooses to receive it to have eternal life.