Friday, December 30, 2016

From the Heart

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I’m still thinking about Christmas. What is running through my mind is that Christmas is as close as many will come to Christ, and yet still miss Him, very much like those we read about in the Gospels. They were present at the coming of Christ, and yet they were untouched by it. Some of them who grew up in the shadow of the Temple and read the Scriptures daily, met Wise Men who followed a heavenly sign, explained the Old Testament to them, and yet still missed everything. How can that be? So near, and yet so far!

A simple answer is that they were acquainted with Christ, but never really knew Him. He was in their head, but not in their heart. Experts say there are levels of relationships. Three of the most common are: recognitionacquaintance, and experience. When it comes to my relationship with Christ, I want to experience Him, or as the Bible says, to KNOW Him. 

Think about it for a moment. The Gospels introduce to us religious leaders, Chief Priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, and others who daily immersed themselves in Scripture and spent endless hours in Temple service and worship. They were daily exposed to all that God had given them to point them to the Messiah — even walked with the very Messiah Himself —   and they still missed Him. Salvation was right in front of them, but only in their heads, never in their will or soul. He was near their lips, but not their heart!

A Savior, Christ the Lord, was born on Christmas Day. The offer of salvation is just as valid now as it was then. He came to “seek and save that which is lost” [Luke 19.10]. So as we approach a New Year, let’s be mindful of our relationship with the Lord and Savior. Don’t settle for being close to Him in every way except your heart. The Apostle Paul said it well, “That I might KNOW Him!” [Philippians 3.10].

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Matthew 15.8

Thursday, December 29, 2016

No Tomatoes

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

OK, imagine this scenario: You love tomatoes so much, you want to have a tomato garden in your backyard. When it came time to cultivate the ground, you didn’t. When it was the right time to plant the seeds, you didn’t. When it was time to water, you didn’t. When it was time to weed, you didn’t. Then one day you go to your backyard where the tomatoes were supposed to be and you’re shocked, “Hey God, where are my tomatoes!?” 

Ridiculous, right? Who, in their right minds, would think that without cultivating, planting, watering and weeding that somehow tomatoes are going to appear? The same is true of our spiritual growth. It’s just as ridiculous to think you can grow without reading your Bible, to become worshipers without worshiping, to serve the Lord while sitting, to get connected with other believers without reaching out to other believers, or to be a witness without witnessing!

If you are a Christ follower, you have grace gifts given to you by God’s grace. Therefore, do what He graciously expects you to do. Paul is a great example. He didn’t use grace as an excuse to be a slacker. He “labored more abundantly than they all.” Still, he understood that all of his efforts as a Christ follower were vain unless graced by God.

We’re about to start a New Year. So, remember that grace is not an excuse to be lazy or sinful. You’ll never get “tomatoes” that way!

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 1 Corinthians 15.10

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Seize the Day

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

In Greek mythology, Kairos was the personification of opportunity, luck, and favorable moments. Lysippos, a famous Greek sculptor, created an image of this god. It had wings on its feet to swiftly move through time. But the most interesting feature was a lock of hair - only on the front of its head and not on the back of it. The bronze sculpture stood at his home, and the following epigram was carved on the statue by Poseidippos:

"Who and whence was the sculptor? From Sikyon.
And his name? Lysippos.
And who are you? Time who subdues all things.
Why do you stand on tip-toe? I am ever running.
And why you have a pair of wings on your feet? I fly with the wind.
And why do you hold a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men that I am sharper than any sharp edge.
And why does your hair hang over your face? For him who meets me to take me by the forelock.
And why, in Heaven's name, is the back of your head bald? Because none whom I have once raced by on my winged feet will now, though he wishes it sore, take hold of me from behind.
Why did the artist fashion you? For your sake, stranger, and he set me up in the porch as a lesson."

Fiction? Of course. But there is a lesson to be learned: Make the most of every opportunity. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul made the same point to the Christ followers in Ephesus. “Make the most of your time,” he said [5.16].

The Greek word for time in this passage does not refer to clocks and calendars, but rather, to periods of time, eras, or epochs. Another way to say, “Make the most of your time,” is to “Make the most of your opportunities.”

The Psalmist may have had this idea in mind when he prayed, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” [Psalm 90.12]. That’s the right perspective! A wise person realizes the brevity of life and will seize opportunities every day in order to glorify God. 

We are coming up on a New Year. Let’s be wise Christ followers and flee opportunities for evil, but lay hold of the opportunities for good!

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5.15-16

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

He Is Lord!

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Christmas, as a holiday, is behind us. Onward to a New Year! 

Last week I read through the book of Philippians in my daily devotions, and was again struck by the truth that Jesus is Lord. Say it out loud, “Jesus is Lord.” That was the confession of early Christ followers, which in some cases, cost them their lives. I often wonder if the many who profess to be Christians today would lay down their lives for that truth.

We are confronted with, and must answer, the question: Is Jesus Lord? Theologically, indeed! That is the declaration of God the Father as recorded by the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Christ followers, “Jesus Christ is Lord” [2.11].

The Lordship of Jesus is foundational to the Christian faith. It is the very essence of what we believe. When we confess Him as Lord, we don’t make Him Lord. He is Lord! We don’t make Him Lord after we are saved. He is Lord! When I hear someone say, “Make Jesus your Lord,” what I hear is, “You need to be saved.” We can never make Him Lord. God the Father has already done that. 

It’s interesting that the New Testament writers referred to Jesus, for the most part, as Lord and Savior, not Savior and Lord. It’s a critical point that some people miss. They think they can accept Christ as Savior, and then, at some later point, make Him their Lord too. I have a Greek rebuttal to that: Phooey!

First and foremost, we humbly bow before Him as Lord and receive His gift of salvation. There is no other way. In his New Testament Commentary, John MacArthur quotes the Puritan commentator, John Flavel, “The gospel offer of Christ includes all his offices, and gospel faith just so receives him; to submit to him, as well as to be redeemed by him; to imitate him in the holiness of his life, as well as to reap the purchases and fruits of his death. It must be an entire receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the little book The Best of A. W. Tozer, Book Two, Tozer wrote, “To urge men and women to believe in a divided Christ is bad teaching, for no one can receive half of Christ, or a third of Christ, or a quarter of the Person of Christ! We are not saved by believing in an office nor in a work.” 

In other words, if Jesus isn’t your Lord, you have no right to call Him, Savior. It’s for that reason, we submit to Him. The life of a Christ follower is characterized by humbly submitting to the authority of Jesus. To receive Christ as Savior is to submit to His authority as Lord. He is Lord!

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name … that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2.9, 11

Friday, December 23, 2016

How the “Grinch” Steals Christmas

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

If there ever was a single word synonymous with Christmas, it’s JOY. In fact, joy isn’t enough. It’s GREAT JOY! That’s what the angel announced to the shepherds on that first Christmas night, “good news of great joy.” You have a Savior. He’s here. He is Christ, the Lord. 

After seeing the Christ Child, they couldn’t contain their joy. They shared it with everyone. No doubt they were filled with wonder and praise, which they just couldn’t keep to themselves. 

Since that time, there has been a “Grinch” stealing Christmas joy. No, he’s not a green, lizardy looking guy, but he has been around for a long time. His name is Satan. He’s a thief. Let me call him a “Christmas joy thief.” His mission is to “kill, and steal, and destroy” [John 10.10]. And, he is highly accomplished at what he does. 

He has sapped Christmas joy from many by causing them to forget why we need the Savior born to us in Bethlehem, and what He could accomplish by saving us. 

A Savior for the PAST - Satan is really good at beating people down with intense guilt and grief over their past. The good news is that all the horrible things you have done in your life are no match for the precious blood Jesus shed on the cross. There is forgiveness because there is a Savior. The moment you forsake your sins, you are forgiven, cleansed, holy. Remember what He said to Peter, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” [Acts 10.15]. 

A Savior for the PRESENT - Rather than merely surviving, we are now alive in Christ. Jesus came to give us life [John 10.10]. Life with meaning and purpose. Life with joy and contentment. He called it “abundant life.” The Savior who came makes life worth living.

A Savior for the FUTURE - “No hope.” That’s another lie of Satan. But we have a Savior, who not only is with us today, but also “to the end of the ages” [Matthew 28.20]. We have a hopeful future beyond our wildest dreams. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2.9]. Wow on top of WOW! 

The Savior has come. And joy of joys, He came for you. That is good news of great joy! Don’t let the “Grinch” steal yours.

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2.10-11

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Away In A Manger

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

When I host trips to Israel, guests like to stop at olive wood shops to buy a souvenir or two, something made from olive wood to remind them of their pilgrimage. In every shop you’ll find carvings of the first Christmas complete with animals, shepherds, wisemen, Mary, Joseph, and, of course, baby Jesus in the manger. You can get them in any size you want, from 1 inch to life size. I saw one life size set in Bethlehem that was beautifully carved. I wondered about having it shipped home until I looked at the price tag — $55,000 — so much for that idea! 

At Christmas time, we often sing about Jesus being in a manger. Some think of it as a barn or some other enclosure, like a stall or cave. But technically, a manger is a feeding trough for animals. Mangers were most commonly made of stone. I don’t want to mess with your impression of the first Christmas, but most likely, Jesus was born in a cave or stall somewhere in Bethlehem, and laid in a stone trough.

Having an accurate assessment of the Nativity isn’t the most important thing. Understanding why the Nativity, is. Let me ask it this way: Why a stall? Or, why a manger? Wouldn’t God have been better served had Jesus been born in a palace and heralded by the Jerusalem Post?

I think I can answer that question with two words: HUMILITY and ACCESSIBILITY. 

Humility - Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, gift wrapped, if you will. That’s how peasants kept their little ones warm. But it wasn’t just humble clothing; the Creator of all things came as one of His created things, a human being. How humbling for almighty God. The more I think about it, the more staggering it becomes. It shouldn’t surprise us, though. Humility would depict Christ’s life and ministry from beginning to end.  

Accessibility - Going to a throne to visit a king could be intimidating, that is, if you were fortunate enough to have an audience with him, to approach him. So let’s be honest here, there is nothing intimidating about approaching a stall or feeding trough. You don’t need special credentials, in fact, you don’t need an invitation or appointment to go to a trough. Look at the shepherds on that first Christmas. They just went in.

Accessibility was a mark of Christ’s life and ministry as well. He welcomed children [Matthew 19.14]; a woman with an incurable disease [Luke 8.43-48]; and so many others.

Words from the old hymn, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, say it well: 

Infant holy, infant lowly, 
for his bed a cattle stall; 
Oxen lowing, little knowing, 
Christ the babe is Lord of all.

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2.15-16

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bring Your Gift

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

What does your Christmas shopping list look like? Mine has a name followed by a limit of how much I will spend for the gift — I’m not being Ebenezer here, but I don’t want to spend even a penny more than my set limit. That being said, what I spend rarely coincides with the amount I intended to spend. Can I get a witness! And I love it when I’m able to draw a line through the name. Done!

I have another list, one much more important than my shopping list. I carry it with me everyday, everywhere. I call it “My Life Plan.” It’s in my heart and I am constantly making choices in light of it. I guard it as treasure map to eternity, and it really is just that. And just like my shopping list, there is a gift involved. It can’t be purchased, but it is an extremely important gift … a heart fixed on obedience. It is the best gift I can offer to the One who loved me, and gave Himself for me.

The Psalmist wrote about it: 

O God, my heart is fixed!” [Psalm 108.1a]

I take joy in doing Your will, my God, for Your law is written on my heart” [Psalm 40.8].

A “fixed,” “determined,” “steadfast” heart rightly focuses on God, His will, and His way. 

As we turn to the Christmas story, we’re reminded that Magi came from the East bearing gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Matthew referred to them as “treasures.” But before the gifts were given, they fell down and worshipped Him. 

It’s Christmas time — the perfect time to “go to the manger,” fall on our faces in worship, and offer our gift. So, take a look at your gift list to Christ. Check it twice if you want to. Then, give Him your best gift: a heart fixed on obedience.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2.10-11

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Just Tell Them It’s Jesus

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Every church that has put on numerous Christmas pageants has a story to tell. I like the one I once read about where a gifted singer said, “What Child is this who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” A young boy shouted out, “It’s Jesus, just tell them it’s Jesus!”

Times like that really crack me up, but the child was absolutely right. Tell everyone! That’s what the shepherds did at the first Christmas. After they were pointed to Jesus by the angels, they “made it widely known” [Luke 2.17]. Seems logical to me; how could they remain silent having witnessed such an event? A similar question is, how can we remain silent having been redeemed by Christ?

Perhaps you are like me and often feel unqualified or unworthy to share the Gospel. What keeps me on track is to remember the shepherds. They were a motley crew, the most unlikely “evangelists.” Poor, dirty, rough; considered the low-life of society in those days, yet God used them to tell the story. One could rightly say they were the first-ever Gospel preachers.

I’m glad they didn’t remain silent about what they saw when they found Jesus. It encourages me to do the same. It’s Christmas time. Let’s share the Good News — not just about the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” but also about Jesus who saved us from our sins!

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. Luke 2.15-18

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Little Town of Bethlehem

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The Christmas Story centers geographically on a cave/stable in Bethlehem. “Little” Bethlehem was an insignificant town in its day. It was completely overshadowed by Jerusalem, a mere five miles away. And yet God chose it to bring the Messiah into the world. One could argue that it was significant because the Messiah was in the line of David, himself, a Bethlehemite. True. But it seems to me that misses the point of Micah’s prophecy. Bethlehem is little; it is not great just because David was born there. Isn’t that just like our God, though? He chose something little, insignificant, out of the way, and did something so miraculous, it changes history for all eternity!

God has done that throughout history. I think God does it that way so that no one can boast in their own merit or achievements — but only in the marvelous mercy of God. No one can can rightfully say that God favored Bethlehem because of what it had achieved. Since God is not impressed by our bigness, He is free to chose on the basis His mercy. 

Think about it for a moment. Not only did God chose Bethlehem, He also chose a cave. Using the same logic, He did it so that the innkeeper couldn’t advertise, “God chose the comfort of my inn.” So the carpenter couldn’t say, “God chose the craftsmanship of my bed.” No! A hundred times, NO! God chose a cave and Bethlehem so that no one could boast. 

And now, the joy of joys, God chose you! When He did, it wasn’t your prominence, popularity, or prestige. He chose you by His own glorious mercy. Now, we can sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!” Never glory to us. 

We get the joy — God gets the glory!

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. Michael 5.2

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

It’s not long now. In a few short days, people will be “experiencing” Christmas. For some, it’s the shopping thing; others, the baking thing; others the decorating thing. For some, it’s even a religious thing. None of these are bad in and of themselves. But for many people, they are the necessary ingredients to achieve the ultimate Christmas. Unfortunately, when one tries to achieve the ultimate Christmas, it usually produces ultimate exhaustion!

In my mind, the major cause of this holiday’s exhaustion is the need to manufacture the ultimate Christmas. Who doesn’t want the ultimate Christmas — it’s so deceptively good. Here’s my 2¢ of pastoral advice, sidestep the seduction and set your desires in the right direction.

First, Christmas is not about “doing.” We have convinced ourselves that Christmas has a certain look and feel to it, which requires certain things to be done. There was nothing traditional about the first Christmas — the birth of Christ. It was a miracle! So, if doing is important to you, here’s the best thing you can do: point people to what was done for each of us because “there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Second, just be grateful. Gratitude is one of the best ways to take our eyes off ourself and return our focus back to Jesus. When gratefulness flows from the heart, competition with the stressors of the season is nearly impossible. 

Christmas can be so much more than exhaustion, mediocrity, and empty promises from TV advertisements. So let’s determine to keep idols that compete for our hearts in check. A manufactured, ultimate Christmas may tempt me to “do,” but the awareness of Jesus in my heart will help keep Christmas in its rightful place.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” Luke 2.8-12

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

At Christmas, more than any other time, we talk and sing about the name Immanuel. Long before the first Christmas, about 700 years, the name Immanuel appeared for the first time as part of a prophetic word from Isaiah to King Ahaz of Judah. It was during the time when Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Syria had formed a coalition to stand against Assyria. Isaiah warned the King not to join the coalition. He counseled him that regardless of what they thought, they would not succeed. 

The coalition was indignant that Judah would not join the uprising and threatened Judah with an invasion. Ahaz thought it would be wise to appeal to Assyria for help against Israel and Syria, but again, Isaiah urged him not to do it. Rather, he insisted that the King trust in the Lord for help. He even invited the King to ask for a sign to confirm the prophetic word. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused because he had already decided to join with Assyria for their national security.

It was then that Isaiah made the now famous proclamation: “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [Isaiah 7.13-14].

As you may well imagine, in just a short time, Syria and Israel were soundly defeated, just as Isaiah said they would be. And in just over 100 years, Judah would succumb to mighty Babylon, with many of its people taken captive.

It was Matthew who recalled the prophetic words of Isaiah, applying it to the child born of Mary. She was the “virgin” betrothed to Joseph. The sign given to a rebellious king hundreds of years earlier, now was a sign meant for all of God’s people - God with us. 

The Bible is the story of God’s persistence to dwell with His people. Immanuel - God with us - to rescue, redeem, and restore our fellowship with Him. That is the Christmas story.

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1.22-23

Monday, December 12, 2016

Get to Work

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

One of my favorite sections of the New Testament is in the book of Hebrews, specifically chapter 11, which deals with faith. I’m inspired by the examples of those in the past that lived full-out for God. I want to be like that, and I think you do too, right?

Each person mentioned in Hebrews 11 made their true faith known by the things they did.  They demonstrated a principle that is consistent throughout Scripture: True faith always produces righteous works. James said it well, “Faith without works is dead” [2.26].

One example we read about is Noah, characterized in Scripture as “a righteous man, blameless in his time… [who] walked with God [Genesis 6.9].

First, I can't imagine living to be 120 years old, much less devoting 120 years to produce something never seen before (a boat the size of a destroyer), to protect me from something never experienced before (a deluge of rain). But Noah could, and did!

The sheer magnitude and timespan of his task made Noah’s faith unique. It’s doubtful that God would ask anyone in our time to do something similar. But it does beg the question, if Noah could stay the course and see his assignment through to completion, can't we do the same?

Let’s pursue our ministries as faithfully and persistently as Noah did his. True faith works.

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Hebrews 11.7