Friday, January 30, 2015

Questions To Ask Of The Bible Passage You Are Studying

Have you ever been reading your Bible and been left scratching your head? Trying to figure out what the point of the passage is that you were studying? Or wanting to know what you should take away from it? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all have had times like this. Whether it would be trudging through those hard to pronounce seemingly endless genealogies in Genesis or Jesus’ puzzling parables in Matthew. Here are a few questions that very well might help you get more out of your Bible reading this upcoming year. Take the time to ask these questions about whatever passage you may be reading.

What Does This Passage Teach Us About God? The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. “Revelation” means “to make known.” It is through God’s Word that He makes Himself known to us. So, we learn the specifics about Who God is and what He does from the Bible. Ask yourself what characteristics about God do you see displayed in this passage. Does it say something about His love, His grace, His mercy, His wrath, His justice, or His holiness? Or do we see something that He does?

What Does This Passage Teach Us About Sinful Humanity? The Bible presents to us God’s commentary on mankind. We learn that God made man in His image. That this image became marred on account of the Fall in Genesis 3 and as a result of that act of disobedience, all men are born slaves to sin in need of salvation. Ask yourself what this says about our condition. Is there a certain sin that plagues mankind that is illustrated? For instance, the constructing of the golden bull calf by the people of Israel in Exodus 32 not too long after God’s redemption of them from their slavery in Egypt serves as a reminder of how prone to idolatry we sinful humans are and how much we need to constantly guard against such idols (which of course are not limited to statues). Or how does the passage point to our need of salvation that can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ?

What Does This Passage Teach Us About Jesus? We must realize when we come to Scripture that we are not the point. The main character of the Bible is God’s beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His story, not ours. We are blessed that God has chosen to make us a part of the story in having Jesus save us in His death, burial, and resurrection and accepting us to become His people as He views us as righteous through our faith in Jesus alone. This means we need to be mindful of how the passage points us to Jesus. And this is just as true for the Old Testament as it is for the New. Those genealogies in Genesis begin to make sense when we realize that they are connecting us to Jesus. Moses is tracing the seed God promised who would come to defeat the sinister serpent, Satan (Genesis 3:15). He wants us to see that He will be the son of Adam, the son of Seth, the son of Enosh . . . the son of Noah, the son of Shem, the son of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the son of Jacob, and the son of Judah. Those difficult names actually serve a grand purpose in God’s ultimate plan of salvation! Also, much of what God has ordained to occur throughout Old Testament history somehow foreshadows the coming of Jesus. A good example can be found in Genesis 22 when the young boy Isaac, Abraham’s one and only son whom he loves, carries wood up the mountain for what originally appears to be for him to be offered up as a sacrifice. A couple thousand years later, God’s one and only son whom He loves, will carry a cross of wood up a mountain for Him to be offered up as a sacrifice. Where a ram served as the substitute for Isaac, Jesus served as the substitute for God’s people. Pay attention to what we can learn about Jesus from the text.

What Part Does The Passage Play in God’s Plan of Salvation?. We must keep in mind as we read through the Bible that it is all one story. There is the grand narrative of God’s salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son. Every passage serves as a puzzle piece that together forms the full picture. It is helpful for us to figure out how the passage we are reading contributes to God’s overall plan. Perhaps it might be helpful to divide this plan up into four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. “Creation” is found in Genesis 1-2 where God created everything good and perfect. The “Fall” is described in Genesis 3 when man disobeyed God in the garden. “Redemption” is the work of Christ to save fallen humanity and “Restoration” serves as the end of God’s plan when Jesus returns and restores everything back to the paradise it was when God originally created it. Where does the passage fit in this overarching plan?

What Does This Passage Direct Me to Do? Are there any commands in this passage that call us to some sort of action? Anything it explicitly states that I should be doing in my walk with the Lord which I am not? Anything specific I need to go to the Lord in prayer about, requesting Him to work in my life? Asking these questions will help you discover what to take away from your reading.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Importance of the Word of God

Did you ever realize that the longest love poem in the Bible is not directed to a wife from a husband but to God’s Word itself? Psalm 119 is the largest of the psalms and bigger than 30 entire books in the Bible. This poem is an acrostic, which means that it is organized according to the alphabet. Broken down into 22 stanzas consisting of 8 verses, each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first eight lines each start with the first letter of the alphabet (aleph), the second eight lines with the second letter (beth), and so forth.

And this poem is all about the Word of God. In fact, the author of the psalm finds himself so enamored with God’s Word that he basically refers to it in every single one of the lines of the poem. One word itself does not suffice for how he chooses to reference God’s Word. Instead, he needs to use nine different terms. He speaks of God’s “law,” “testimonies,” “ways,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “judgments,” “word,” and “ordinances.” He cannot speak enough about the Word of God.

Several times the psalmist mentions how he delights in God’s Word (vv. 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 174). For him, Scripture is more desirable than any material treasure. “I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (v. 14). “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver” (v. 72). “Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold” (v. 127). He certainly could sing that he “would rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” His love for God leads him to have a love for His Word that He has spoken to us. Such should be the desire for every Christian. Since God’s written Word points us to the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we love, we should have a similar attitude as that of the psalmist. Treasuring His Word far more than any earthly riches we may ever hold.

This delight in God’s Word greatly impacts how this man approaches the Word. He doesn’t just look at it once a week or a few minutes each day. It is constantly on his mind. He talks of meditating on the Word (vv. 15, 23, 48, 78, 148). “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). He ponders the Word as he goes about the chores and tasks of his day. He states that he has “stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (v. 11). In order for him to do this, he must have been striving to become very familiar with God’s Word; both what it says and what it means. There seems to be the idea of him working to have it memorized here. How else can one “store” something in their heart?

The author of this grand poem even is thankful that he suffered because it caused him to learn more about God’s Word. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (v. 71). He recognized that the trial or tribulation that he had to go through, which he never identifies anywhere in this psalm, had a silver lining as it produced a greater understanding of what God has said. Rather than complaining concerning his difficult experience, he rejoices. He recognizes that he would not have known God’s Word as much had he not gone through whatever the situation might have been. Do we ever think about how God may use hard situations to help us understand His Word better? To move us to trust Him more by taking Him at His Word? Or better yet, do we rejoice in our trials, knowing that in God’s purpose, we will come to know Him better in the revelation of Himself in His Word?

One thing this psalm certainly shows us is just how important the Word of God must be in a Christian’s life. So significant that we can’t just leave our Bibles sit on the shelf. Or substitute a daily Bible reading with a short quick devotion that tells a nice little story but only briefly mentions a verse of Scripture. I want to encourage you this upcoming year to make time to really read and study God’s Word. To set aside time each day to commune with God by reading a few chapters of Scripture. R. C. Sproul has stated that the real problem why so many of us are lax in our Bible study habits is not because we don’t understand the Bible or lack a desire to read it, but it stems from us being lazy. Reading and studying the Bible daily indeed is work and does take discipline. To help the congregation in which I serve in getting better at developing a necessary habit of Bible reading, I have invited them to join with me in following a Bible reading plan for the upcoming year that will take us through the entire Bible. I encourage those few who might happen to read this blog to find a good Bible plan and seek to read through the entire Bible this upcoming year as well. (If you would like some Bible plans to consider, or to join with the Mt. Joy congregation in the plan we will be following, please let me know.) Let’s pray that God would use our time in the Word each day to create in us the same passion and desire we witness in the 119th Psalm and further conform us into the image of His beloved Son.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Cost of Discipleship

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
~Luke 14:26-27

Being a disciple or follower of Christ comes at a great cost. It certainly is not an easy calling. Jesus could not be any clearer concerning this. Throughout His ministry, He continued to remind the crowds surrounding Him the full weight of what being a follower of Him entailed and even going so far as to push away those who were not willing to pay the cost.

Jesus first tells the crowds that to come to Him to be His disciple entails having Him as their greatest love. This is what it means when He says that one cannot be His disciple unless he would hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life. This is not a call to literally hate our relatives but that the true disciple’s affection for Christ must be so much greater for Christ than all others that in comparison to Him, all other affections would seem as hatred. Jesus must be the disciple’s highest love. He or she should not place anything in their lives above Him, whether that would be another person or themselves. The psalmist had the right attitude when he wrote, Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth (Psalm 73:25). A cost of following Christ is to love Him the most. To have Him serve as your greatest treasure and nothing or no one else.

Another cost of following Christ is your very own life. Jesus goes on to state that whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. A cross represents death. It was the common form of torture for criminals among the Romans. It would be the equivalent today of the electric chair. For someone to carry his own cross would for them to put themselves to death. Basically, to deny themselves. As Paul proclaimed, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). This means to surrender yourself fully to Christ. To no longer be concerned about what you want, what you will, and what you think best but rather to yield to what Christ wants, what Christ wills, and what Christ knows best. It is not adding Jesus to an already busy life but having Him become our very life. The very One we are living for. The reason for everything that we do. There is no possibility of turning to Christ and yet holding fast all of the rights to your life. To continue to live for yourself, doing as you please. In fact, if such an attitude persists in your life, you may need to evaluate whether you truly are one of His disciples.

I look at myself and shamefully notice how much of my life I appear to hold on to. How little I sacrifice for Christ and His kingdom. I would suspect the same would be true for you if you are honest with yourself. Have we become more concerned with our comfort and material possessions that Christ has become secondary? What do the things which we spend our money on indicate about where our treasure really lies? (Matthew 6:19-24) What would it really look like for us to radically abandon our lives for the sake of Christ? To be more occupied with Him and His Kingdom than us and our kingdoms? Are we really truly following Jesus as He has called us to?

The real cost of discipleship is giving up everything. Our allegiances to anyone or anything other than Christ and the claims to our own lives. But Jesus Christ is well worth this cost! As Jim Elliot, a man whose commitment to Christ literally cost him his life as he was martyred seeking to share the gospel with a hostile foreign tribe, stated, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Yes, following Jesus will cost us everything but He is worth that cost. Is He worth that much to you?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"God's Not Dead" Regardless of How He Is Presented

I just came back from seeing the new movie, "God's Not Dead." I was blessed with free tickets for the show and was interested in seeing it based on the previews. I know that many will go out to see this movie and while it has many positive elements, it contains areas that believers need to be concerned about. So if you will, you can consider this my "review" of the film. (I guess I should place a warning that there may be some spoilers here but these are things that Christians need to be aware of.)

At the outset, I must confess that I resonate with the lead character, Josh. In some ways I was that student in a college philosophy class with a professor seeking to demolish my faith in Christ and trust in His Word. In fact, I had a philosophy professor much like Professor Radisson. He even said some of the same things concerning his goal in liberating his students. (I laughed to myself when my college professor said such a thing at the irony that he was doing the opposite in persuading them to think like him, which is not being "liberated" to think for themselves.) I remember my peers chastising me for invoking religion in a speech I gave for my speech class as they thought it was not necessary and I should be more mindful of my audience. And of course the saddest thing is that this all occurred for me in a so-called "Christian" college. (Well, okay, the chaplain pointed out to me that it did not claim to be a "Christian" college but a college with "Christian values." But I digress . . . This post is actually about the situation portrayed in the movie.)

There is a lot to commend about this movie. I really liked how all of the different characters and storylines were weaved together and conveyed a powerful message of the importance of not being ashamed of Christ. This really serves as encouraging for college students who may be faced with similar situations. It was so great hearing Jesus Christ's name mentioned other than being an obscenity and even Scripture quoted. I rejoice in all of this. However, my issue concerns HOW this young man went about to defend the faith and provide a strong witness.

First off, in beginning his defense of the faith, Josh actually argues for what is called "theistic evolution." This is the idea that God serves as the one behind the Big Bang Theory and Darwinian evolutionary processes. He even goes so far to claim that the "Big Bang" serves as evidence of God saying "let there be . . ." He speaks of how God "governs" the evolutionary process. The irony of it all is how he then wound up contradicting himself when he quoted Genesis 1. As I have argued in a previous post (http://energeticexegete.blogspot.com/2013/01/creation-controversies.html), there is no way to reconcile Darwin's view of creature evolution from one common ancestor with the biblical account of creation. I will be frank here, you cannot believe the Bible's account of creation and also believe in evolution as Darwin has defined it since the two views are at odds with each other. It surprised me that the film had him go there. Or perhaps that might just go to show how so many are compromising Scripture these days.

Also, his argument for the existence of evil was very weak. The phrase "free will" does not suffice for a response. Time does not allow me to go in more detail pertaining to this at the moment but the way it was presented was far too simplistic and not persuasive. It winds up leaving one with more questions than providing any answers. You still have to deal with why God didn't end evil right away after the "free will" decision of Adam and Eve in the garden or why God even permitted Satan, the grand persuader of the Fall, to fall and rebel in the first place. A solid discussion of the existence of evil must go far deeper.

Perhaps the biggest issue in the entire film was the main character's position. He appealed to reason to present his case for God more than God's Word. Paul did not say that he was not ashamed of reason because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes but rather that he was not ashamed of the GOSPEL, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). The problem with the professor was not that there was not enough evidence for him to believe in God but that he didn't want to believe in God. Romans 1:18-23 makes this explicitly clear about all men. Everyone suppresses the truth of the existence of God in unrighteousness because in our sinful nature we do not want to acknowledge Him. In fact, it wasn't until the climax in the film that the student finally confronted the professor biblically when he asked him, "Why do you hate God" and the professor finally admits that is the reason he CHOOSES not to believe in God. It wasn't because of the evidence but because he hated Him! Oh, how I wish that Josh would have confronted him like this earlier on instead of wasting his time trying to tie evolutionary claims with biblical truth.

We should keep this in mind when witnessing to an atheist that their issue is not a lack of evidence of God but their unwillingness to believe in Him and surrender to Him. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).

I could add to all of this the issue of a "watered down" gospel but I fear that is becoming so common place that it really didn't surprise me. I just will point out that when the apostles gave the gospel, they did not say phrases such as "accepting Jesus into your heart" but instead called all men to "repent and believe in Christ." I don't remember the word "repent" being in the movie at all; especially when one of the characters was giving the gospel.

Now I know that there will be some reading this who are complaining that I am being too nit picky about things. Why can't I just look over these things and enjoy the movie? Well, my friends, I am convinced that theology matters. That how you understand God and His Word affects everything in your life. That just as God does not overlook strange fire offered to Him (Leviticus 10:1-3) or by meaning well by touching His holy ark to keep it from falling (2 Samuel 6:6-7) that He does not overlook these things either. Whether they are portrayed in a movie or worse yet, practiced in real life. We must be discerning with what we listen to and what we watch. I had similar issues with the popular book (and I found out last night now movie) "Heaven Is For Real." (http://energeticexegete.blogspot.com/2011/07/heaven-is-for-real-but-not-because-of.html) Yes, this was an enjoyable movie with some wonderful points, but let's make sure that we don't fail to see the problem areas. All of us would do well to work at better understanding and articulating the gospel. This movie serves as a reminder of that. Every believer is instructed to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15) but we want to make sure that we are articulating that hope properly. The great news is that God is not dead regardless of how He is presented and argued.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria

PS. Turns out that I am not the only one when these concerns. Here are some much better written reviews of the film addressing the same issues I have raised:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2014/02/25/review-gods-not-dead-movie
http://creation.com/gods-not-dead-review

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Is Your Hope Built On?

One of my biggest concerns today is people's salvation. That they truly know Who Christ is and that they have a genuine faith in Him to save them. As a minister of the gospel I labor at this very thing. I fear that there are far too many who think or assume that they are saved who have not actually embraced Christ by faith but are essentially relying on their works to have a right standing before God. Scripture could not be any clearer that in no way will our works justify or declare us righteous before God. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:20). nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Galatians 2:16). In fact, it is our sinful deeds that condemn us and incur God's wrath upon us.

Our only hope to be saved from God's wrath that we deserve lies not with what we do but with what Christ has done. In His work of living a life of obedience and experiencing God's wrath when He died upon the cross in the place of sinners who repent and look to Him alone as their only hope to be seen as righteous before God. Knowing that we have no righteousness of our own to stand upon but can only stand upon the righteousness of Christ. That since God treated His Son as guilty of our sins and punished Him for them, in turn He views the repentant sinner as being as righteous as Christ is, instead of the unrighteous sinner that they are. Paul summarizes this point well in 2 Corinthians 5:21, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Isaiah communicates Christ's substitution for believers in his description of the Suffering Servant. Of the One who was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The healing, our salvation, is brought about BY His scourging which was received FOR our transgressions and FOR our iniquities. The basis of our salvation must be in Jesus' death for sin and following resurrection.

However, many who claim that they do hold fast to this blessed truth of the salvation that can only be found in Christ and what He accomplished on the cross wind up communicating something different; that their hope actually lies in themselves and in something that they have done. In asking someone how do they know that they are saved, a popular response is that I came forward to the altar at a revival meeting and prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into my heart. Do you notice a problem with this? The basis for their salvation in reality is not the shed blood of Jesus Christ in their place, experiencing God's wrath so that they may be pardoned and seen as righteous but works that THEY have done. Their act of responding to an altar call or praying the words of a prayer. In fact, Jesus and His work is not even mentioned in such a statement. Their hope for their salvation essentially lies in themselves and what they have done instead of in Christ and what He has done.

Now am I saying that it is not necessary to approach God through prayer to admit your need of Him and call upon Him to save you? Absolutely not! The prophet Joel provides us with the precious promise that whoever will call on the name of the LORD will be saved (Joel 2:32). We must realize that this calling on the name of the LORD to save us is a request that He would save us on account of His acceptance of Christ's death in our place, not because of who we are or the sincerity of our request. That the very reason that we call upon Him with certainty to save us is because of the mercy He demonstrated at the cross and Christ turning away God's wrath from us. In fact, we would have no reason to ask God to forgive us if it wasn't for Christ's atoning death.

I want to encourage you to examine yourself. Is your hope of salvation from sin and God's wrath found in Christ and His death ALONE or on a decision that you have made or the prayer that you prayed. Is it because of something that you have done or based only on what Christ has done? Can you truly say the words of the beloved hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less; Than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus' name"? If not, then repent and truly look to Christ and His work alone to save you. Resting in Him and the sufficiency of His grace.

In Christ,
Lee Smith
Sola Gratia (Grace ALONE)
Sola Fide (Faith ALONE)
Solus Christus (Christ ALONE)
Soli Deo Gloria (To the glory of God ALONE)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

God's Profound Providence in the Journey of Joseph

The Lord was with Joseph
Genesis 39:2

We currently are studying the book of Genesis in the Sunday School class that I have been blessed with the privilege to teach. As we have traced the coming of God’s promised seed in Genesis 3:15 throughout the entire book, something really struck me when we came to the account of Joseph; one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Towards the end of the book, Moses shows us how young Joseph goes from pasturing the flock (Genesis 37:1-22) to being thrown into the pit (Genesis 37:23-28) to serving Potiphar (Genesis 37:36; 39:1-18) to prison (Genesis 39:19-40:23) to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-37) to the palace (Genesis 41:38-57) to become the preserver of his family (Genesis 42:1-47:28). While we follow Joseph on this journey, Moses wants to make sure that we do not forget something very important. The fact that God guided and directed Joseph the entire way to accomplish the great purpose that He had planned.

Twice the narrator of Joseph’s life explicitly informs us that the LORD was with Joseph. The first time when he finds himself as a slave to Potiphar (Genesis 39:2) and then again when he sits in prison for a crime he was falsely accused of (Genesis 39:21). Moses also tells us that the LORD was with him during these situations as well (Genesis 39:3, 23). And when it may not be pointed out to us in words, we cannot deny God’s invisible hand in how things play out for Joseph. When his brothers plan to kill him, Reuben speaks up and persuades them against their intention (Genesis 37:20). The Midianite traders pass by the area at just the right time (Genesis 37:25, 28). Had they came by sooner or later the brothers might not have encountered them. It cannot be said to be mere coincidence or fortune that Joseph meets the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and interprets his dream in prison (Genesis 40:1-22). Even more so the fact that the cupbearer completely forgets about Joseph until two years later after the Pharaoh’s dream brings him to mind (Genesis 40:23-41:13). God clearly stood in control of each of these things in order to bring Joseph to Egypt and to meet Potiphar where he would wind up being placed in charge of just about everything in the country (Genesis 41:38-44).

This is a grand illustration of what we call providence. Providence is God working through ordinary means to accomplish His extraordinary purpose. In the case of Joseph, God used the desires, decisions, and deeds of his brothers, the Midianites, Potiphar’s wife, and the cupbearer for the sake of a greater purpose none of them could ever realize. That purpose was the salvation of His people. In fact, Joseph later does discern God’s hand in everything that brought him to the palace in Egypt. He tells his brothers after their reunion, Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5). God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:7-8). Think about what would have happened had Joseph not been sold to the Midianites. If he never was in the prison to meet the cupbearer. He then would have remained in the land of Canaan with his father and his brothers. When the famine struck the land, Jacob and all of his sons would have died of starvation. This would mean that the promised One who would defeat the devil (Genesis 3:15) and would come through the line of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:18), Isaac (26:4), and Jacob (28:14), would be gone as the family had died out. Through these various means of bringing Joseph to the palace in Egypt and making him the preserver of his family, God ensured that the promised seed would come, through Jacob’s son Judah and on through the line of Joseph and Mary (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38).

We should be thankful for God’s invisible hand of providence in our lives as well. Using the ordinary means of everything in our lives, including our heartaches, disappointments, difficulties, and trials for His greater purpose. And His purpose is to direct us to that seed that He preserved through the workings of His providence in the life of Joseph. That seed being the Lord Jesus Christ who came to give His life in place of those who repent from their sins and embrace Him in faith. Far too often we get too caught up with the world and God needs to bring us to a place where we are reminded that Jesus MUST serve as our only treasure, as our “all in all.” Such is why Scripture instructs us to rejoice in our trials and in whatever God does in His providence in our lives (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; James 1:2-4). Are you looking and relying upon Him? Perhaps that could be where God is directing you in the troubles that you currently may be facing. Keep looking to Him throughout whatever you may be going through. As William Cowper wrote, “behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, December 2, 2013

Preparing For Advent

As we prepare for the Advent season, the time when we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, I thought it might be helpful to take a moment to look at how those who were present at His birth viewed the event. I fear that if we are not careful, we can easily get so caught up with all of the commercialism of the holidays that we lose sight of the real reason that we as Christians celebrate.

With the shepherds we notice that Christ served as the reason for their rejoicing. After the angel appeared to them to tell them the wonderful news of the Savior who had been born that day (Luke 2:8-14) and when they had found the baby lying in the manger as the angels stated, we read that The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them (v. 20). The arrival of the Messiah led them to worship God. They responded in praise and adoration.

For the magi, Christ served as the object of their search. They followed the star that indicated that His birth had come (Matthew 2:2). Perhaps they were thinking of the prophecy uttered through Balaam recorded in Numbers 24:17. A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel. They “traversed afar” (as we often sing) to finally reach the promised Christ child. And we witness further rejoicing by them and their worshiping of Christ Himself. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Matthew 2:10-11).

Luke highlights two individuals that come in contact with Jesus in the Temple. Their names are Simeon and Anna and Christ served as their hope. The Messiah was what Simeon had been waiting for. We are told that he was looking for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). He was hoping for this One to come to comfort and deliver his people and God revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen Him (v. 26). He even points out that the Messiah would be the hope for all the nations, both the Gentiles and the Jews (v. 32). Anna also was in the Temple and upon seeing the Messiah, was giving thanks to God (v. 38).

There are a few things we notice with all of those who first witnessed this monumental event in the course of history (really His-story). They all were centered on Christ. The shepherds rejoiced on account of Him, the magi sought after Him, and Simeon placed his hope in Him. It was all about Him. Also, they worshiped God on account of Him. This worship also can be seen with several others who had the special privilege of coming in contact with the Messiah such as Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph. And I think that it is very important to note that their celebration was not merely over the fact that God came to earth in the person of Christ but in what that Messiah would accomplish. It was not about the manger that cradled the baby as it was the cross that He would grow up to hang upon. The shepherds were rejoicing over the truth that the angel conveyed that this Messiah is the Savior (Luke 2:11). Simeon exclaimed that my eyes have seen Your salvation (Luke 2:30). Anna continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). Mary exclaimed, My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47). Zacharias likewise praised God for the salvation that this Messiah would bring. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant (Luke 1:68-69).

So let’s not lose our focus this Christmas season. While the “most wonderful time of the year” often becomes the “most stressful,” may we keep Christ at the center of our celebrations, worship and praise God for Him, and look past the “away in a manger” that we sing about to the purpose of His birth, salvation through His death in the place of repentant sinners and His resurrection three days later. In fact, it is because of Christ’s death on the cross that gives us the reason to sing of His birth. As one song properly puts it, “The beginning of the story is wonderful and great, But it's the ending that can save you and that's why we celebrate.” And this focus and celebration should not be limited of course to this time of Advent but one that we should have year round for the glory of God.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee