Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year Challenge

New Year resolutions are a lot like new cars.  At first they are shiny and impress but how quickly the new wears off.  Without daily maintenance and consistent payment, that new car quickly runs out of gas, breaks down, and is repossessed.  The new usually wears off everything when the first payment is due.  God doesn’t want your New Year dreams and plans to be repossessed.  He wants you to possess them!  But don’t be deceived about newness and change.  New cars are not maintenance free and occasionally have breakdowns.  You have to pay the price to have the new life you want in Christ.  You will have to give up bad habits and sinful actions.  Positive, wishful thinking isn’t the key to newness and change, daily living for the Lord and dying to self is the key.  This doesn’t mean life will be perfect in 2013 – it will not!  But living in Him will bring great peace, joy, hope, and fullness.  The new will never wear off of your relationship with Jesus – His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)!

One of my favorite quotes by Corrie Ten Boom is "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."  While 2012 may not have gone as expected, you can have a greater year in 2013.  I want to issue you a challenge to trust the unknowns of 2013 to God.  How do you do this?  It is more than just hoping everything will work out next year.  It is more than taking a “wait-and-see” approach.  You will get out of 2013 what you put into it.  Having a great year consists of more than setting the same New Year resolutions as you have the last few years.   2013 has 365 days and what you do with the first part of the year will set the pace for the entire year.  I want you to take the 21 day challenge with me to grow closer to the Lord.

You need a daily plan to accomplish a better life in the Lord this year.  The key word is “daily”.  A daily relationship with the Lord is the path to a new life in Him.  The Lord wants to make all things new in your life this year.  Isaiah 43:19 needs to be your theme verse this year.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  But remember the “I” in this verse is the Lord, not you.  Yes you are doing a new thing but only through the power of the Lord.

Before you do anything, make sure you have given your life fully to Christ.  You cannot add God or seek Him in troubled times.  You must make Him Lord of all of your life – which means all of your life revolves around Him and His agenda.  In order for you to grow in Him, you must first be born again (Read John 3).  Here is the 21-day challenge. First, read a chapter of John each day.  Apply what you have read to that day.  Second, pray throughout each day.  David said, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalm 55:17).  Third, fast something that distracted or stole from you in 2012.  This could be television, social media, sweets, etc.  Replace the time spent on this with steps one and two.  Fourth, repent of any habitual sins.  Make a daily decision not to fall back into this each of the 21 days.  Get accountability on this if necessary.  Fifth, forgive those who caused you the most pain last year.  Last, commit yourself to the church.  Don’t just be an attender but really invest in your church by serving, giving, and connecting with other members.  I pray your New Year will be productive and prosperous as you seek the Lord and His will. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Naming God's Son

My wife and I are having our third child in May and are very excited.  We will find out January 2 if it is a boy or a girl and have been going back and forth on names for him or her.  People put a lot of thought into the name of their children these days.  Some choose names after family members, others because of their popularity.  Another good reason to choose your child’s name wisely is so kids will not make fun of them in Jr. High (some kids are cruel and can make fun of any name – trust me on this one).  The classic way of choosing a name though is found in its meaning.

Jewish culture chose names based on definition.  This was not something taken lightly nor done at the last moment.  A person’s name conveyed their nature and character.  It was chosen in hopes their life would reflect their name’s meaning.  Jesus was given the name “Jesus” because He would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  I’m sure Mary and Joseph would have chosen a great name for Jesus but they didn’t get the chance like most parents.  Instead, they were given the name long before He was born.  The angel Gabriel told them to call Him Jesus (Luke 1:31).  Think about this miracle – it was the first ultrasound!  People generally chose two names; one for a girl and one for a boy because no one found out early what the gender would be.  That happened only at birth.  Jesus had a miraculous ultrasound – one that science and medicine cannot produce today.  His gender and nature was revealed earlier than anyone in history – prior to conception by the Holy Spirit.  Gabriel said, “You will conceive and give birth a son and will call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

He was also named “Immanuel” which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).  He was called Jesus because His mission was to save us.  He was called Immanuel because He saved us by being God with us.  Jesus was God fully (Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Ephesians 3:19).  Jesus is more than a baby in a manger scene on a front lawn.  He is the Son of God who came down to dwell among us and save us from our sins.  Yes He was in a manger but He was also on a cross and in a tomb that could not hold Him.  He is more than the centerpiece of a cute Christmas play.  His birth divided history in B.C. and A.D. and His death forgave mankind of their sins.

The names “Immanuel” and “Jesus” both show how much He loves us - “Immanuel” in its meaning and “Jesus” in its commonality.  Before the incarnation of Jesus, the Jewish people viewed God as holy but distant and unapproachable.  Relationship was not synonymous with God.  The name “Jesus” was a common name of the day.  This name showed He truly identified with common man.  He took on the name of many of their brothers, dads, and cousins.  God became a man who had all things in common with us.  He even took on a common trade of a carpenter.  Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.”  If He had not become one of us He could not have saved us.  Jesus is now more than a common name.  It is the name above every name (Philippians 2:9) and the only one that can save us (Acts 4:12).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Making The Possibliy Impossible Possible

What in your life seems impossible?  Not difficult, impossible.  There is a difference between difficult and impossible.  Difficulties seem to have solutions while impossibilities lack them.  Difficulties still have hope while impossibilities do not.  We tend to think we can handle difficulties if we just hang in there long enough.  Impossibilities cause us to give up.  God wants to work in your difficult and impossible situations.  Lord Coggan said, "When God intends to make something wonderful He begins with a difficulty. When he intends to make something very wonderful, he begins with impossibility."  Only God can make the possibly impossible possible and create very wonderful out of miserable.
Many have experienced difficulties in pregnancy.  Jesus' birth was not just a difficulty, it was an impossibility.  Mary was a virgin.  We see Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's announcement of Jesus' birth in Luke 1:34-37.  “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.  Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.   For with God nothing will be impossible.’”  It was not new information that a virgin could not have a baby.  It was not something that was difficult to make happen, it was impossible!  But the angel reassured Mary God could do anything – with Him nothing will be impossible. 
I’m reminded of God’s ability to make the possibly impossible possible throughout Scripture.  Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  It is God’s nature to do the impossible.  He is still the God of miracles.  Only God can create life.  The conception of a baby is a miracle in itself.  But God stepped up the miracle of birth with the impossibility of a virgin birth.  Only God can breathe human, sinless life into the already existent divine second person of the Trinity through the womb of a virgin.  Only God can orchestrate Jesus being fully God and fully human at the same time!
Remember when Abraham and Sarah were awaiting the promise of a son?  They were old, too old to have kids as they were 100 and 90 respectively, but God promised and delivered the impossible.  God told them, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).  Remember when the Israelites were complaining about their food source and God told Moses He would feed almost a million of them for a month?  God asked them, “Is the Lord’s power limited?” (Numbers 11:23).  Job recognized God’s ability to do the impossible when he said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” Job 42:2).  Isaiah said the Lord’s hand is not so short it cannot save and His ear is not so dull it cannot hear (Isaiah 59:1).  Jeremiah said, “Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jeremiah 32:17).  Jesus said about salvation, “with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). 
What is your impossibility?  Is it too big for God?  Absolutely not!  God can accomplish through you what you have written off as impossible.  God can change the impossible circumstances in your life but the biggest thing He wants to change is you.  You are not impossible.  Never say “never” when it comes to what God can do through and especially in you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Wrappings

I love Christmas presents!  Some people will go to great lengths in giving this time of year.  Some will give extravagant and expensive presents while others will not be able to give anything.  I recently read about some of the most expensive presents from Neiman Marcus.  Nothing says Merry Christmas like a $90,000 gaming machine, a $99,500 water-propelled jetpack, a $250,000 private dinner for 10 featuring four famous chefs, or his and her submarines for $587,000. 
Scripture says it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).  I always have my wife’s gifts wrapped professionally as opposed to my amateur attempts at wrapping.  Ladies listen up.  Wrapping paper for men is just an obstacle to either keep us from what we really want or a tool of Satan to get us in the flesh as we try to keep an expensive present looking that way.  God gave us the greatest present.  In fact, the wise men were not the originators of the Christmas present, God was!  Luke 2:12 tells us, “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” God did not wrap Jesus in royal garments and lay Him on silk sheets in a gold baby bed.  Jesus came in simple swaddling cloths.
Swaddling seems like a cute word.  But it really means “strips”.  Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth, not a whole baby blanket (which did not even exist at the time).  Traditionally, Jews would carry strips of cloths around with them wherever they went.  They were not to touch a dead body and in case they came in contact with one, they would pull out the cloths strips to move the body.  On long journeys, Jews would also take along thin, gauze-like cloth and wrap it around their waist many times beneath their clothing.  It was reserved for injury but mostly death.  If someone died during the journey, their friends or family would remove the "swaddling cloth" and wrap it around them to complete the journey.  Many women and babies died during childbirth during that time.  These cloth strips would be used to wrap the dead mothers and stillborn babies before burial.  In fact, Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was buried in Bethlehem and every Jew knew that (Genesis 35:19).  Perhaps Mary had the thought that she was being sent to Bethlehem for this great honor of birthing God’s son but then she would die.  She was prepared with strips of cloth ready for her death.
Instead, Jesus was born and wrapped in these swaddling cloths.  Jesus was wrapped in burial clothes.  Joseph also had these cloths wrapped around his waist.  How appropriate.  At His birth, Jesus was wrapped in the very type of cloths He would be buried in.  Amazingly, the baby Jesus was wrapped in the death clothes of his earthly father Joseph, and thirty three years later was buried in the tomb of a different man named Joseph. Another amazing point is the Magi brought the young boy Jesus gifts of gold representing his kingship, frankincense symbolizing his priestly role, and myrrh prefiguring his death and embalming (Matt. 2:11).  While they celebrated Jesus’ arrival as king, they recognized His reason for coming to earth. He came to die.  Luke 2:12 tells us the swaddling cloths will be part of the "sign" to everyone of His true identity as the Savior.  The greatest wrapped gift of all was Jesus.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger so that we could be wrapped in His righteousness and go to heaven.