Archive for December, 2014

Luke 7:11-17 — As we sit here on the last day of 2014, there are mixed emotions for many of us. Another year is ending. For some, the year has been one that they would like to forget. For others, it was a so-so year. For still others, it was a great year. For all, the year ends. It is time to hit the reset button. In a matter of hours, a new year will begin. 2015 is close at hand. The end of an old year and the beginning of a new one is an arbitrary dividing line that offers us an opportunity to leave the old behind and start anew, to get a fresh start, to start over, to hit the reset button and begin the game again. In that sense, a new year is a lot like salvation. It is an unearned new opportunity. It is given to us by the mere rolling around of the calendar. We do not get this dividing line by our own effort. It is simply given to us by the progression of time.

Jesus saw her suffering and his heart overflowed with compassion. This scene illustrates salvation for us. Because Jesus set His glory aside when He came to earth as a man, He could not be everywhere all at once. Although He was omniscient still, He could not be everywhere at once. So, here in this scene depicted in this passage, He happens upon a funeral possession. He was moved by seeing a widow leading her son’s funeral possession. He had great compassion for her situation. As a widow in the first century world, He knew that the woman’s situation was now desperate. As a woman in the first century, she was dependent on men for her livelihood and even her place to live. Inheritance did not go to women. Not only was she mourning the death of a loved one, she was also mourning her very bleak future. Without a husband and now without a son, her situation would quickly become desperate. She could be destitute within days and have to resort to begging for food and her very existence would become threatened.

Jesus intervenes. He had so much compassion for the situation that He stops the procession and performs a miracle. He raises the widow’s dead son back to life. There was nothing done by the widow or the son that drew this great favor from Jesus. It is apparent that Jesus and the widow were not acquainted with one another. She did not offer Jesus anything. She did not pay Him to do this. It was a completely unmerited act of compassion and kindness by our Savior Jesus Christ. He had compassion. He understood the situation and for no reason other than the love that Jesus has for all mankind, He broke forward into this family’s life and changed it forever. This unwarranted favor changed their lives forever. Although the son surely would die another physical death later as we are all limited dying humans, it is a sure bet that the lives of this mother and son were never the same again after this encounter with Jesus.

This momentary glimpse in the narrative progression in Luke offers us a look at salvation. Our lives are on a trajectory where we will intersect Jesus at some point in it, just as Jesus happens upon this funeral possession. Before we intersect with Jesus, we are lost in our dead and decaying sin life. We are like the widow who had no hope. Her situation was headed for desperate times. She could see no future. She could see no way out. We are the same way when we intersect our paths with Jesus. We are sinners in desperate situations. We see that our fate is a life of desperation, without joy, and feeling like we have no alternatives. We, as this widow, have hit rock bottom. The circumstances of our lives have led us down wrong paths and we are dead just as the son in this scene is. We are fixed in our circumstances and there is no change that can be made to it. We mourn. We cry out. We cannot fix anything. We need help but we see no way to change it ourselves.

Then, we intersect with Jesus. He has compassion upon us. He has the power to change our situation. He has paid the price for our situation even before we knew who He was. He walks into our lives and raises us from the death that is our life. He changes everything. Do we deserve this unmerited favor? Of course not. He raised this son from the dead. He had done nothing to deserve it. Jesus did not ask questions of the people in the procession as to whether this son deserved this miracle or whether the widow deserved this favor. He was moved by their suffering and He changed their situation. Jesus is so moved by compassion for your and my situation that He died for us on the cross as a sin offering to make us clean, whole, and restored to God. All we have to do is believe that He is the Son of God and that His death on the cross was a substitutionary offering for our sins-past, present, and future. And we must believe that He was not your average sacrifice (sacrificial death and that was the end of it). No, He was raised from the dead. He conquered sin and death. These are beliefs that we must have. We do not have to earn salvation. We must simply believe these things. When we proclaim these things with our mouths, we are yanked out of our desperate death spiral. There is nothing more than we have to do than believe and our lives are completely altered at that moment by the Holy Spirit. Forever changed by Jesus’ intervention into our lives. Forever changed by our intersection with Jesus. Forever changed by His compassion for our suffering. Forever changed by something that we did not deserve. No questions about what led us to our intersection with Jesus. Jesus is just filled with compassion for us having found our way into His path. Undeserved opportunities to reset our lives. Jesus offers us that opportunity when we intersect Him in our lives.

Just as the changing of the clock from 11:59:59 tonight to 12:00:00 offers us new hope for a brand new year without us having done anything to deserve a new opportunity, we have the same thing in Jesus Christ at our moment of salvation. The old year is swept away. The new one begins. The old dead life we knew before salvation is swept away and a new life in Christ begins. The calendar changes and gives an opportunity to hit the reset button on our lives. Salvation is the same. Salvation is a fresh start. Leaving the old behind and starting anew. Just like when the clock strikes midnight tonight. As we celebrate new years, new starts, let us celebrate, too, the new life we have in Christ that makes us new each and every day. Jesus – the ultimate reset button.

Luke 7:1-10 — As many of you know. I am a big Clemson Tiger football fan and have been so since I was a little kid. Tiger fan through thick and thin. I usually do not mix Clemson with these blogs but last night just taught me something about faith. It is faith that is the subject of today’s passage.

As an illustration, yesterday, prior to 5pm EST, no one gave Clemson much of a chance to beat Oklahoma given that we were going to be playing with our second string quarterback. A quarterback who had not given us much evidence of stellar play. Against Oklahoma, he was going to have to win the game with his arm, because Oklahoma has one of the best rush defenses in the country this year. Our second string QB (who had gotten a lot of playing time due to the injuries to our first string QB) had not proven to be an accurate passer all season. No one, including myself, gave us much of a chance. I knew Clemson’s defense would not let the game be an embarrassment to us but I thought we would lose regardless. Only the team itself and its coaches knew what was about to unfold. They had faith in themselves. The coaches had faith in them. That believed when all others said they could not do it. They believed and willed it to be so. Faith is believing what you cannot see but believing it to be true. Faith is trusting that something will happen.

Believing in what you cannot see. Believing when everything around you is screaming not to. This is faith. It is that full conviction to believe that it will be so. That is the amazing thing about this passage. Faith of a Roman soldier. We know from the text that this Roman soldier apparently had been in Palestine long enough to build relationships with the people in the area where he was assigned. He had become part of the local culture. We know from the text that he had built a synagogue for the local Jews. He knew he was not of God’s chosen people but he probably had come to believe in God. Because of this fact, we learn two things from this Roman centurion and Jesus’ reaction to him.

First, the centurion had become a man of faith in God. His illustration was perfect. He basically said that when he tells a soldier to go do something, he does not have to go check and see if it was done. He knew that it would be done. That is the nature of the military. A command is given and a command is executed in response to the command. Said. Done. The centurion tells Jesus that he has this kind of faith in Jesus. The centurion, by this time, with his connections in the Jewish community, had heard much about the growing ministry of Jesus Christ and the miracles that He had already performed. This centurion knew Jesus was what the Jews had been clamoring for, the Messiah. He probably did not know the Jewish scriptures with depth and level of knowledge of the people whom his armies were occupying but he got the point better than they did. He saw Jesus as more than a prophet. He saw Him as something far greater. He saw Him as a Healer. He had faith that Jesus was more. He had faith that Jesus was the Son of God. He may have not known what glories of what God is. He may have been wrestling with his past idol worship vs. the Jewish scriptures. He had though what ultimately we all need when it comes to Jesus, faith. Real faith.

Faith to believe that He is more than some radical rabbi. Faith that He is more than some non-violent philosopher along with the likes of Confucius, Gandhi, Buddha, etc. Faith that He is more. Faith that He is the Son of God. Faith that believing in Him will change everything. This is a perfect illustration of the Christian faith. You do not have to have a master’s degree in christian ministries or a master’s degree in theology to get what the centurion got. All it takes is the belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. All it takes is believing that we are sinners condemned by our own sins. All it takes is believing that Jesus Christ died on the cross to cancel out our sin debt. All it takes is believing that we are reconciled as pure and clean and holy before God through our belief in Jesus Christ and what He did for us. All it takes is believing that Jesus arose from the dead and, as a result, sin no longer controls us and that we are born to new life. The centurion had faith that Jesus was who He said He was. That’s all it takes. All the maturity things about what the faith means and the deep understanding of scripture and how it all ties together in Jesus comes later. All it takes to begin is faith. Bottom line, that is all that is required.

The second thing we notice here is Jesus’ reaction to the centurion. Jesus’ response tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to anyone who has the faith of this centurion. You don’t have to be born with a special pedigree. It does not matter what your past is. Surely, this centurion before was an idol worshiper as most Romans were. Their “religion” was an amalgamation of Greek and other mystic beliefs. They had a pantheon of gods they worshiped. He was a military man, too, in one of the most efficient killing machines the world has ever known, the Roman Army. They were ruthless at times. Victory and control was their aim. Their justice for violating Roman rule was harsh and swift. Surely, this centurion had a past that he was not very proud of. This past, I am sure is the reason that he did not want Jesus to come to his home. He knew of the Jewish rules about defilement and he accepted that he was not worthy even with Jewish friends. Jesus though tells him that his faith has been rewarded. The centurion believed that if Jesus said it that it would happen. That is real faith. Jesus says that this man, a Gentile, a Roman soldier, had greater faith than could be found among all of God’s chosen people, Israel. Jesus says right there that the kingdom is for those who have faith in God through Jesus Christ. The kingdom is for those who believe. The kingdom is for those who have faith. It does not matter who you are or what you have done in your past. You are never too far away from grace. You can be a murderer, adulterer, thief, idol worshiper, prostitute, beggar, or whatever sins who have seeped yourself in, you are never crossed out of the kingdom. You are never too far from the grace of Jesus Christ. All you have to do is have faith in Jesus Christ that He is who He says He is, like the centurion, and you become part of the family of the kingdom of God. You do not have to have a certain last name. You do not have to have grown up in church. You can be the worst of the worst and the kingdom is yours through repentance and faith in Jesus.

Faith is believing in things unseen and believing them to be true. Faith is believing firmly in that which others are not willing to believe. Faith is a resolve to push on through and believe in victory when others don’t give you a chance. Faith gives you access to do things that others think you cannot do. Faith is a strong, core-felt understanding that something is real (even when others laugh at you and say it is not so).

Faith is believing in Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. Faith is our access to the kingdom of God. Faith of the centurion is the faith we need. Faith that Jesus is who He says He is. This faith is the keys to the kingdom. This faith is our victory. This faith is our trophy. This faith is all it takes. My faith secures my eternal victory. It secures yours. Believe it and it will be so. Take your victory.

Luke 6:43-49 — On Christ, the solid rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. That is the basic message of today’s text (vv. 46-49) within this passage. The old hymns sometimes say it best. Here’s some more of it:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Jesus tells us to lay our foundation on solid rock. We must dig deep and find the bedrock on which to build our foundation. Jesus is telling us that there will be floods. The song tells us that there will be storms. Jesus says, “when the floodwaters rise” not “if the floodwaters rise.” Jesus says that if we listen to His teaching and follow it, we will have built our spiritual house on a solid foundation. Christ the solid rock.

In this day and age, we have so many that are looking for something that they will never find. Bookstores are overflowing with self-help books. Many people think Oprah Winfrey is god. Many people are seeking but not looking in the right place. Many of us think that we can find happiness in things so we buy ourselves into debt. Many of us try to fashion new age religions made up of bits and pieces of eastern and western religions. Many of us are seeking truth in logic and make a religion of science. Many of us try to escape the eternal questions of life through mind-altering drugs or alcohol. Many of us try to find meaning for life in sexual relationships. Many of us make another person our god where our value comes from their opinion of us. All other ground is sinking sand. None of this is solid rock. All of these things disappoint. When the storms of life come, all of these things will eventually disappoint. If you are looking for the next great self-help book, it will disappoint. If you idolize another person, that person is flawed. They will disappoint. These things may give us a sense of security and spiritual pleasure, but they are built on the wrong things. If you are counting on inanimate objects, or imperfect human beings, you will be building your house on the sand. If you think having money and things will make you happy in your inner soul, yes, you may be right…for a time. Eventually, all of this stuff of this life will disappoint. All of these things are foundations built on the sand. Even some preachers who preach a false gospel of financial prosperity are foundations built in the sand. False prophets abound both within Christianity and without it. They are sinking sand. Anything less than Christ is chasing windmills. Anything less is sinking sand. Anything less is Satan’s playground.

It is only through anchoring our souls in the Word of God, all of it, that we have a firm foundation. It is only through a relationship with Jesus Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit that we find truth and understanding in His Word. It is only through surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ’s control that we have true freedom. In Him, we are freed from making ourselves our own gods or making something false our own god. In Him and His Word, we find eternal values. In Him, we find our salvation. In our salvation, we find the first true joy of life that sustains, that stays, that proves true always. When the storms of life come AND THEY WILL, we find our hope in Him. We place our anchor in the veil. It will not tear. It will never disappoint. It will never fail. When we have the joy of salvation, God’s Word has new meaning. You cannot run out of God’s love. He is eternal. His Word is there to give us instruction and direction. His Word is there to describe Him and His qualities. It is there to describe His love for us. Even science can only take you so far. There are mysteries to the universe that will never be explained by man and point us to only one thing. There is God. He is the Creator. He is what He says He is – The Eternal One who loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us on the cross so that we can have eternal life with Him in heaven. We ultimately must come to Him because that is what we are built for. Anything less is not eternal. Anything less is flawed. Anything less is sinking sand.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand. Are you tired of chasing that which disappoints? Are you tired of chasing the latest thing that guarantees your lasting happiness but is just a lie? Are you tired seeking favor in the eyes of others to find your value? Are you just tired? Are you tired of the waves of life destroying what you believe in because those things do not stand up to the waves? Are you just tired? Come to Him. Jesus is the solid rock. He is the firm foundation. All you have to do is quit fighting and surrender to Him. In admitting that your ways have failed and begging Him to take over, you will find victory. Jesus is the solid rock on which I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. When your hope is built on Jesus, it is real hope. It is lasting hope. It is THE hope. It is eternal hope that never fades, never fails, never disappoints, never disappears. Is Christ your solid rock? Come to Him now. Build your house on His foundation. It will never be swept away.

Luke 6:43-49 — Back in the 80’s, there was a song by Bryan Adams called “Straight from the Heart”. In the song, he asks his former girlfriend if they have a chance to get back together. He asks her to tell him “straight from the heart.” He wanted the pure, honest truth. He wanted to know what was really going on in her heart. In verses, 43-45 of this passage, Jesus tells us that it is the heart (our inner soul) that matters. From it flows what we are. From it flows the real us.

Jesus says that a good tree can produce no bad fruit and a bad tree can produce no good fruit. If our heart is dark, no matter how we try to make our actions be of light, our darkness of the heart will shine through eventually. As Jesus says in v. 45, “a good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart” and he goes onto say, “What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

Have you ever tried to pretend to like someone who makes you so uncomfortable or like someone who makes your blood boil? You can smile and make small talk. Then, this person keeps saying things that rub you the wrong way. With each rude comment, you find it harder and harder to keep your mouth shut. Finally, you blow up and let them hold it. Yes, I have been there. I know how that feels. I am usually a pretty easy going guy and nothing really bothers me but there have been a couple of people in these 50+ years that just rub me the wrong way. I go into situations with these people expecting the worst and harboring resentment toward them for what I perceive as self-centered and unfeeling behavior toward others. Then, during conversations with these people, they just seem to go after issues that they know are going to get my motor running. My heart’s resentment festers and boils within me. You know that type of person. We all have one or have had one in our lives. Jesus is saying that what’s in our heart of hearts is hard to hide. It eventually comes out. It boils over. It shows itself.

There is no way for us to fake being a Christ follower for long. We can do all the right things. We can say all the right things. We can go to church every time the door is open. We can be a church events. We can serve. But if our following of Christ does not come from a changed heart, a heart of thanksgiving to Christ for our salvation, our true heart will show. In our leadership of community events at our church, I once had a person get mad at me because I did not put them in a visible position where they could be seen at an event. Never mind that they had never been to any planning meetings nor signed up for any area of service at the event, they just showed up and wanted to be put in a place of visibility. Sad, but true. Where is the heart? Our actions come straight from the heart. There are those who are unwilling to submit themselves to leadership and want to promote their own agenda. There are those who feign submission to your leadership to your face and then create kingdoms of their own within the kingdom. They create the us vs. them mentality among those that they lead. They create poison within the church by trying to create a church within the church. This poison shows itself in conflict with leadership at all levels. Their heart of hearts shows in their actions regardless of what the words say. These are the types that keep controversy stirred up within the church. Rather than spending our time serving the world, we end up have to deal with their controversies. We can fake being a Christ follower at times but our real heart shows in our actions.

Certainly, I am a flawed individual myself and I make no bones about it. There are times that I suffer from the same thing where I get jealous about people who seem to have the “it factor” when it comes to Christian service. I have to check myself. There are times that I scream out to the Lord that “you know that I am ready” why aren’t they using me. The Lord has to remind me often that I am where He wants me at this moment at this time at this place with these people. He has to remind me that He will make the path abundantly clear to me when the time has come. He has to remind me that this thing is on His timetable not mine. Like a kid who is defeated by the logic and authority of his parent, I hear the Lord and say, “oooookaaaaay”. Sometimes our heart is not in alignment with God’s will for our lives and it shows. We may try to cover it up but it comes out. That is when we have to check ourselves. We must realistically look at our actions. Are they promoting unity? Are they promoting love? Are they promoting the kingdom? Or am I serving myself? My agenda? My feelings? Me. Me. Me. or Jesus. Jesus. Jesus?

Straight from the heart. Give it to me straight from the heart. God show me where my heart is dark. Show me where my jealousies are. Show me where my self promoting agenda is. Show me where I need to submit to you. Show me where I need to submit those you have placed in leadership over me at this point in your preparation of my walk for what’s next. Show me where my hatred is. Show me where my pride is. Show me where my lusts are. Show me where my slander is. Show me where my idols are. Help me to identify the things in my heart that are not of you. Show me how to lay them at your feet. Show me. Show me. Show me, Lord. Make my heart pure and clean. Help me to operate out of humility for the things that you have done in my life. Help me to be humble, faithful, teachable. Help me to operate from a position of love. Help me to be like Jesus Christ straight from the heart. Amen.

uke 6:37-42 — Hypocrisy. Saying one thing doing another. Acting one and living another. Criticizing others when you have a closet full of faults that need attention. Mark Twain once said, “We are all like the moon. We have a dark side that we do not want anyone to see.” These are the things that we, as Christians, are often accused of by non-believers. And you know, in many cases, it is true. Jesus takes square aim at hypocrisy in today’s text. He uses an illustration to make His point but His point could not be clearer. Jesus often used hyperbole, exaggerated language, to make His lessons quite clear. Here, he uses a speck in the eye vs. a log in the eye. It seems hilarious to us and it was hilarious to Jesus’ listeners that day. But with the humor, Jesus drives his point home with force! What are we to learn from Jesus today? Are we to keep quiet when we see others blatantly live a life that is the opposite of what they proclaim? Are we not to stand for what is biblical? I don’t think Jesus is saying that. I think He is saying that we need to check our own closet before we criticize anyone.

Jesus said in this illustration that we should get the log out of our own eye before trying to get the speck out of another man’s eye. Yes, Jesus is telling us to check our motives when criticizing others. If it because you have become “religious” and have made being Christian be about keeping checklists of do’s and don’t’s, and pride yourself for the parts of the checklist that you keep while ignoring the ones you don’t then yes you are a hypocrite. Before we criticize others, we should go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to reveal any of our weaknesses in the area where we are going to criticize others, in particular, and to reveal to us all of our weaknesses. This should temper our need to criticize. Certainly, we need to check our motivation to criticize. If it is to create a pecking order between you and the person, then pride is the motivation. If the motivation to criticize is to tear someone down for a perceived advantage that they have over you, then hatred or jealousy is your motive. These types of criticism are like that church member who is jealous of you because of the access you have to the senior pastor that they do not have and jealous of the position(s) that you have at church but yet they do not see the servant’s heart that you have. They do not see the long hours given in love to the church. They just see what you have but don’t want all the hard parts – the dedication, the long hours, the sacrifices. When these things are the motives of criticism, then, we need to consider the sin that we have in our hearts that is giving rise to the criticism. If our motivation is love, if our motivation is not to tear down, if our motivation is to restore, if our motivation is reconciliation, then we will go to our friend or foe and speak to them privately. In those instances, we must admit our failures and lapses to them but tell them that out of love I want to point something out to you. This approach, again, must be bathed in prayer and seeking revelation from God about our own flaws. Jesus is not telling us to keep quiet. He is telling us to check our motivations before we criticize. There is an eternal difference between hypocritical criticism and loving criticism.

Another thing we need to talk about here is that this passage is the clarion call of the non-believer and the unrepentant sinner. This passage is their source for the “anything goes” battle cry. Anyone who lives an unbiblical lifestyle will use this to combat criticism of their lifestyle. Hypocrites they call anyone who points out that their lifestyle is in contrast to Scripture. Anything goes. Anything goes. That is the battle cry of today’s increasingly secular world. As long as I am not personally hurting you in some way, then, what I do is my own business. What is right for me may not be what is right for you so leave me alone because it is right for me. We now live in a world where Christianity is considered old-fashioned. It is not considered in step with the times. Today, the philosophy or religion is about personal free will and that I am my own god. I am god of me. You are god of you. As long as my self-created god and associated beliefs do not impinge on you and your self made god and self made belief system, then we are all good. There are no longer any moral absolutes. Truth is relative to the person who perceives. My truth and your truth can conflict with one another but both be equally true. This is the world we live in. Luke 6:41-42 is what is used to keep us quiet about that which is unbiblical. We cannot criticize because we have our own sins to worry about. We then for the most part remain quiet and sit on the sidelines and bemoan what has become of the world. We cannot say a thing, according to the secular world, because we are hypocrites to criticize another person when we have our own sins.

How do we respond to the world when they use Jesus’ words against us? I think we respond by saying yes we are flawed. We respond to the world outside our church walls in the same way we do within. We need to check our motivations. Protesting with loud speakers against gays is not properly motivated. Bombing abortion clinics is not properly motivated. Our motivation should be loving correction. Our motivation should be to get to know the girl who feels she needs an abortion. Our motivation should be to get to know the gay guy or gal. Each needs to know of God’s love. Each needs to be engaged with people that show Jesus’ same love to sinners. Jesus did not come to solidify the already saved. He came to save sinners. Jesus developed relationships with sinners – one on one. Should we not be same with those whose lifestyle is clearly unbiblical. We need to engage instead of standing on the sideline with protest placards. Westboro Baptist Church has not brought anyone to Christ with their belligerant tactics. We move check our motivations. Our motivations should be to get to know someone so well that they see that we admit our flaws and that we are thankful for a gracious God. Let our relationship with Christ help us point them to Scripture. Again, if our motivation is hate, jealousy or any other emotion than love, then, yes, we are hypocrites of the worst kind. If our motivation is to love those whose lifestyles turn our stomach, and we deal with each person one on one, then we go about earning our place in their lives and earning the right to speak truth into it. Love should always be our motivation when we criticize. Love should always be our motivator. Love brings people to Christ not hate. Love motivates people to repent not hate. Love changes everything. Hate only ensures the status quo.

There is an old song by Cyndi Lauper that says, “Money changes everything.” I am going to adopt it and change it a bit. “Love. Love changes everything.” What is your motivation for criticizing others? What is mine? Is it love?

Luke 6:37-42 — The blind leading the blind. Students greater than teachers. Jesus was a funny guy. He often used contrasts and hyperbole and word play to make his points memorable. The blind leading the blind and students being greater than teachers. What does it all mean? What is Jesus teaching us. I think Jesus is teaching us that we never have it made. When we think we have arrived, that is when we are most dangerous to the cause of the kingdom.

Jesus was a funny guy. Imagine two blind people leading each other around. It has disaster written all over it. Each one trusting the other to lead them away from dangerous situations. It’s the stuff of a Three Stooges short film or a Chevy Chase movie. I think what Jesus is trying to teach us something as followers as well as leaders. As followers, we must be careful who we follow. If a person is blind, as you know, it means that they cannot see. We must be discerning about what and who we follow. Right now, there are many false prophets out there that pass themselves off as preachers of the gospel. They are blind men and women attempting to lead us, but to what. I am always a bit leery of preachers who have their face plastered all over everything they produce. Their books have their faces on it. Their websites. Who are they promoting? I am not saying that all are like that, but there are some. Just look at some independent non-demoninational modern megachurches. These leaders have their faces plastered all over the websites and promotional material. They are celebrities. They have entourages that follow them around. This is not limited to men of God. There are celebrity women preachers too. Are they promoting the gospel or are they promoting themselves. We must be weary of false prophets and false teachers. We must be wary of those who only preach of propserity. We must be wary of those who preach that God is love only and that He will pretty much accept anything that you do. We must we wary of those who teach a watered down gospel just to add to the roles of their church. That is why my senior pastor has my utmost respect. Our church is classified as a large church. It is also classified as a “young in the faith” or “seeker” church. In this setting, it could be very easy for him to become a celebrity with an entourage. He could preach a watered down gospel. He could have his face plastered all over our church website. He could easily become one of those celebrity preachers. To him though, the gospel is first. The pure gospel with all its rough edges that cut and pierce the soul. The gospel that call us out of our comfort zone. The gospel that calls us to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives. The gospel that calls us to the hard work of the kingdom. Every leader we follow, we must compare their words and their actions to Scripture. My senior pastor is just a country boy from Green Pond, SC and it is all about the gospel with him. Nothing more. Nothing less. Examine who you follow against Scripture.

As leaders in the church, we must cognizant of the fact that we can only lead those who follow us as high as we are capable of flying. We will never choose those who work for us or follow us that have more talent than us. It is a simple fact of life. We cannot lead anyone farther than we have gone ourselves. We cannot lead others any further than we have gone or are willing to go ourselves. When we think we know it all and have the corner on the market is when we become dangerous leaders. Isn’t typical that those who cause strife in church are those leaders who are not willing to follow. Those leaders who are dangerous are those that create and us vs. them mentality within the church. Those leaders who are dangerous constantly second guess those who are over them but yet offer no solutions. Those leaders who are dangerous are those who cannot be team players. Those leaders who are dangerous are those who try to create a church within a church. Those who leaders who are dangerous within a church are those who are not willing to follow the leadership that is over them. Regardless of where you lead at church you have to follow someone. How can you expect to lead when you are not a good follower? We are called Christ followers. We ultimately must follow Christ. We must also follow those who God put in our path at this moment in time at this place and with these people. God has a purpose for the leadership that is over you in church at this moment.

We must always be ready to learn. We must be students always. We must never think that we have got it made. We must learn from those whom are our leaders. We must be humble enough to understand that God has those in leadership above us for a reason for us in this point of our spiritual maturation. We must be humble leaders ourselves over those that we lead. We must never think we have the only way of doing things. We must be willing to continually learn from Scripture, from the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls, from the action of the Holy Spirit in the words of others whom we trust. We must be submitted to the leadership of Jesus Christ in everything that we do. You know all of this is true both in church settings and in non-church settings as well. To be a good leader of others we must never think we have it made, that we don’t have to learn anymore, that we have all the answers. We must be submitted to Jesus. We must be humble enough to correct ourselves when the Holy Spirit points it out to us. Since we are completely flawed human beings, we must be submitted to the leadership of the Perfect One. Since we are completely flawed we must guard against thinking we have all the answers and no one else knows this Jesus thing better than us. We must be disciples of Jesus not His equal. We are not God and never will be. Let us lead from the humility of knowing that we are flawed human beings yet have been chosen anyway to be in leadership. There is humility in knowing that. None of us deserves to be in the leadership positions that we hold in church. All of us are completely flawed sinners that are forgiven through grace.

Whether you are a leader or not, we can all be blind leading blind folks. Whether you are a leader or not, we can think we know it all and don’t need to learn anymore. Whether you are a leader or not, you can influence others with the brand of gospel that you share through your life actions. Whether you are leader or not, you must be discerning as to what brand of gospel you swallow. There is only one true gospel and it affects how we follow and how we lead. The true gospel is that we are sinners destined for separation from God, a God who will justly judge us for our sins, a God who is sinless and pure and in the presence of whom sin cannot exist. We are destined for separation from Him in a place called hell where there is eternal separation from God and the gnashing of teeth and gnawing of bone and flesh eternally. That is what we deserve. However, through God’s love for us He sent His only Son to be a sin sacrifice for all those who believe that He is the Son of God so that we could be reconciled to God. This is the gospel we should preach. This is the gospel that we should compare our leaders to. This is the gospel we should remember in all humility when we are leaders.

Otherwise we are the blind leading the blind. Otherwise we are students who think that they can run the school better than the teachers. Let us be humble, faithful and teachable. Let us be disciples. Let us learn from the Master. Always humble, ever teachable.

On this day, we celebrate the most amazing event in human history. God set aside His glory and came down from heaven and entered in. He entered in. He came into our world, our limited, temporal existence. He experienced life in the flesh. He knows laughter. He knows tears. He knows joys. He knows sorrows. He knows what it is like to live in the flesh. He knows you. He knows your deepest hurts. He knows your greatest joys. He knows you and loves you. He knows what it is like to be human. He lived among us and felt everything we felt.

On this day, we celebrate the necessary birth. We would not have salvation if it were not for this day. Without breaking into history, Jesus could not have lived the perfect life on earth. He could not have died as the sin sacrifice that reconciles us permanently to the Father without having been born into the flesh. He had to be born into the flesh so that He could die for us. Without Christmas morning, there is no Good Friday. Without Christmas morning, there could be no Easter morning. Christmas is the necessary bedrock on which our faith is built. He came down. He came down from heaven to live the sinless life so that He could be the perfect once and for all sacrifice. He came to solve the sin problem once and for all. It all starts with Christmas.

On this day, we celebrate a love unequaled. We have a Father in heaven that loves us so dearly that He loves us even though we rebel against Him. He wants to have relationship with us. He wants us to be in His presence. He cannot tolerate sin though. He loved us so much that He came to earth to save us from ourselves and to reconcile us to Him. All we must do is accept His love as expressed on the cross. As expressed through the resurrection. He loves us that much. To lay aside His glory to live among us, to die for us. That is love unequaled. It all starts on this day. In a stable. In Bethlehem.

Christmas the most amazing event.
Christmas the necessary birth.
Christmas the love unequaled.

Today and tomorrow, we will take a break from where we are in the Book of Luke to talk about what this whole Christmas thing means or should mean to us as believers and to non-believers…

When you reflect back as a child what was the greatest Christmas gift you remember ever receiving? What is that first bike? What is that first game console? Was it your first car? However, I bet the Christmas memories that are burned in your memories was not the material things that you received. It was that moment in time where special family moments occur. Memories are made at Christmas. We feel a heightened sense of love at Christmas. But what does all that have to do with being Christian. Why is it or should Christmas be so important to us?

The heightened sense of love that is the spirit of Christmas is because it represents the greatest gift ever given. It is at Christmas that Christianity begins. Without Christmas, there would be no Christian faith. The Christian faith requires that there be a Christmas. Just think about it. Everything hinges on this moment in time 2,000 years ago. First, Christmas is the culmination of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. Second, it was absolutely necessary that Jesus come to earth in the flesh. Third, our salvation depends on this baby being born. Christmas is the most necessary event in human history. Christmas, what could be more necessary?

The first thing about Christmas that is important is that it is evidence that God keeps His promises. Throughout the Old Testament, God promises through the prophets that there will be a Messiah that will come to save His people. God never has broken a promise that He has ever made. God is a God of integrity. When He makes promises, He keeps them. Through this baby boy born in anonymity in a stable in Bethlehem, God kept His promise to send a Savior. This gives us great confidence in the promises of God. The promise of a Savior was fulfilled. Jesus came to earth, God in the flesh, to save His people from their sin. What started in the Garden of Eden began God’s plan to reconcile man to Himself. This birth is a required part of God’s plan. Without this birth, there is no fulfillment of Scripture. Without this birth, God is still unseen. Without this birth, God does not have a face. Without this birth, the love of God is abstract. Without this birth, though a loving and powerful God, He would still be a bit remote and unapproachable. Christmas was necessary to fulfill Scripture of a promised Messiah. God come down out of heaven to live among us. Christmas is necessary as demonstration of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises.

The second thing about Christmas that is important is that Jesus lived among us. Theologically, the humanity of Jesus is an important aspect of His earthly life. Jesus is divine (John 1:1; Colossians 1:16), yet also took on a human body to identify with humanity. He was born of a woman (Matthew 1; Luke 2), ate food (Matthew 4:2; 21:18), slept (Luke 8:23), and experienced temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). Like other humans, he could perspire (Luke 22:43-44) and bleed (John 19:34). He also displayed humans emotions, including anger (Mark 3:5), joy (John 15:11), and sorrow (Matthew 26:37). Jesus was a real dude who really existed. He came to earth through a mother’s womb just like each one of us. He did all the things we do as humans. He grew up and experienced all that awkwardness. He ran and jumped and played as a child. He knows what being a child is like. He apprenticed for his family trade with his earthly father. He attended weddings and celebrated major events in life. He knew the sorrow of death of family and/or friends. He knew what it meant to have real friends. I am sure there were moments with His disciples where there was laughter that made His chest hurt. I am sure there were moments where there were profound conversations with them that stuck in His memory. He knew being betrayed. He knew being deserted. He knew pain. He knew being unjustly accused of something. He knew feeling so completely alone that you don’t think that there is one person on earth that cares about you. He knows physical ailments that cause your death. He knew human death. None of this happens without Christmas. Jesus knows the human experience that you and I go through because He was born into the flesh. Jesus knows what we go through because of Christmas. Because of His experience in the flesh, He is now our Advocate with the Father. None of this happens without Christmas.

In terms of His divine plan, Jesus also became human as part of His plan to die in our place as a sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22). Further, in order to resurrect, He first had to physically die, which required taking on a physical body. In fact, our salvation completely depends upon Jesus coming to this world in human form. Romans 5:8 clearly states, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His love was fully displayed in taking on human form and allowing this form to be destroyed as a sacrifice on our behalf (Isaiah 53). Unlike any other human, Jesus lived in a human body yet did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 shares, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He resisted temptation perfectly (Matthew 4:1-11), revealing both His full deity and full humanity. In order for Jesus to die as the perfect sacrifice, as the final culmination of the Old Testament sacrificial system instituted by God, He has to be born in the flesh and live a sinless life. All other sacrifices were imperfect and had to be repeated because they were created beings sprung forth from an imperfect world. Jesus is part of the trinity of God, thus not created. He is eternal. He is perfect. However, in order for Him to be a sin sacrifice for us, He had to come into the world. He had to come into human history. He had to live in a human body so that He could die as our sin sacrifice. None of God’s redemptive plan culmination happens without Christmas. None of this happens with this baby boy being born on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day is important to believers as we celebrate what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Our faith is built on this bedrock of Christmas Day. Immanuel. God With Us. Christmas Day is important for non-believers too but not because they get to join in the gift giving. It is important to non-believers because Christmas Day actually happened. Jesus does not have to re-do Christmas. It is there for the taking. Jesus came into the world on Christmas to ultimately be the once-and-for-all time sacrifice for the sins of all who have ever been born or ever will be born. The work is done already. All you must do is believe that this baby boy is the Son of God who died for your sins and you shall be saved. That’s it. Done deal. All because of Christmas.

My favorite movie is “The Last Samurai” and in that movie there is a classic line. Ken Wantanabe’s character says to Tom Cruise’s character that the ways of the Samurai are no longer necessary. Tom’s character says the classic line, “What could be more necessary?” It is that line that applies to Christmas for humanity. What could be more necessary than Christmas! It was necessary. It is necessary. Nothing could be more necessary.

Luke 6:37-42 — It is a bit ironic and God’s timing that we come to this part of the passage on the eve of Christmas Eve. Jesus says in v. 38, “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” According to, Americans spend around $450 billion annually on Christmas gifts. We spend lavishly on Christmas. By comparison, according to Charity Navigator, Americans donate $295 billion to charity each year. That’s a big difference. What are we to learn from where we are compared to what Jesus says?

I think the first thing that Jesus is teaching us is that giving is a continuous imperative. It is not something that we do once a year. In John 3:16, we see that God gave His only Son so that we may have eternal life. That’s a pretty big gift to the world. God is the greatest giver of all. To not give is to be disobedient and inconsistent to our new Christ like nature. Just because we gave last Christmas does not mean that we can sit back and wait until December rolls around again. Agape love keeps on giving even when it knows that a certain person probably will not return the favor. That’s the kind of giving God did. He gave His Son without wondering whether He would get love in return for it. If we love God then when will give. Let your giving grow out of the overflow of the love that Christ has put in your heart. Part of the popularity of gift giving at Christmas is getting something back in return for the gifts we give. Real giving is about loving others because Christ loved us first and as a result we give regardless of whether we get in return.

Jesus says that when we develop a giving attitude, when it becomes part of our DNA, God will bless that. When it is our nature to give rather than doggedly protect what little we have, God will provide for us. Sometimes this will mean that our blessings will be greater than our gifts. When we quit expecting payback, He seems to bless us more. Did you know that there are over 2,300 verses in the Bible that deal with money. Over 15% of what Jesus said was about money and possessions. He spoke more on our use of money than He talked about heaven and hell combined. Someone once said, “show me your checkbook and I will show you what you worship.” It is easy to let materialism become our God. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Paul teaches us that “6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” What does it say about us when the average Christian spends more on Christmas than we do in our giving to our church? The only place in the Bible that God invites us to test Him is when comes to the tithe. In Malachi 3, He does just that. While our kids get the latest Xbox, our churches struggle mightily to make ends meet. Giving should be a part of our DNA. As Christ followers, giving of time, talents, and especially resources should be our focus. Meeting needs of others year-end as individuals and through our local churches should be our focus. Our churches should spend as much of every dime given on meeting needs of others. It is part of who we are and who we are supposed to be. Jesus says that God will bless it and multiply it.

It is funny that the harder we try to hold on to our things, to keep our things, and to buy more things, the less happy we are. And the harder it is to keep what we have. Americans typically spend 110% of what we make annually. We have gotten so wrapped up in our things that we have no room to give. When we realize that living more simply with less things and less debt, the greater our happiness and the less our stress. When we live on less than we make, we make room for giving. When we put God first in our finances, it is amazing how much less it takes to live. We change our attitudes about acquiring things. When we put God first in our finances, we want to honor Him first. When we seek His kingdom first with our finances, it is amazing how much deeper our relationship becomes. We change our perspective. Giving it away becomes more important than keeping it. When we have that attitude of gratitude and honor toward our Savior, God blesses it. When we tithe to our local church, we are trusting God to provide for needs. God never fails to honor those who honor Him above all things.

Let us at Christmas remember it is not about the stuff. Let us remember it is not about getting. Let us remember that it is really about honoring God by giving. He gave us the ultimate gift in Jesus. The one gift that keeps on giving. The gift of grace. Let us remember that we give gifts at Christmas not to get gifts back. We give because we love. Let us remember that giving is the result of love. Giving should be our year-round attitude. Giving should be our outpouring daily. Giving is how we express our honor for God. God will honor your giving when it is given out of praise for Him. When we let go of our grip on our things and have an attitude of giving, God honors that. He honors that year-round.

Luke 6:37-42 — Like a fine wine that needs to age, we need to take our time on this passage to get it full flavor and benefit. Jesus says, “Judge not and you will not be be judged.” That’s tough one. What did Jesus mean? Are we not judge at all? Are we supposed to let anything pass as OK? Are we supposed to just accept any behavior? Christians seem to have a reputation for doing the opposite of what Jesus says. We are for the most part considered a judgmental lot by the unbelieving world. But does Jesus really mean that we are just supposed to accept everything and stand for nothing?

That’s a loaded question for sure. I think if we just took this statement at face value without context then it would seem that Jesus would be saying to judge not all at all. It would then become contradictory to Jesus’ own actions when it came to the Pharisees. Since Jesus was perfect, and Scripture is perfect, we must dig deeper into what Jesus is saying. In the context of this whole passage, Jesus was saying that the only way that we should judge others is the manner in which we would want others to judge us. How do we want others to judge us? We want others to not make rash judgments about us. We want others to judge us only after careful consideration.

Have you ever been a subject of a rumor back in high school? Or for that matter, have you ever been accused of something that wasn’t true? Have you ever been a part of a real life situation that you see on TV where the truth only comes out in the end. We should never classify and write off a person without considering the facts and circumstances. How do we get to know the facts and circumstances? By getting to know the person well. If you get to know the person. There may be reasons for why a person is in a situation that they are. It humanizes them. It is harder to judge a person when you know them. Passing on rumors are easy. Judging people you do not know is easy.

The German people in World War II fell prey to judging others by simply accepting a premise laid out there by the government. It was easy to blame the Jews for the economic problems which made it easier to the government to do what it did. It was easy to judge the black man as evil prior to desegregation and the changes of the 60s. We didnt have to get to know them. It is easy to call a high school girl a tramp than that it is to be her friend. It is easy to start a riot and loot and steal over a man getting shot by a policeman for stealing and refusing to stop when told to than to understand the facts. It is easy shun someone who has committed adultery than to try to understand the underlying causes so that you can help possibly save a marriage or at least salvage the souls of two hurting people. It is easier to judge illegal immigration as bad but yet not be willing to do the kinds of jobs that they are willing to do.

We should walk a mile in someone’s shoes, as the old saying goes, before we judge them. We must withhold judgement until we have given careful consideration to the facts and circumstances. Yes, we should hold people accountable for their actions but we should just with the same measure of justice that we would want for ourselves. Our judgements of others should be not to write-off but to reconcile. When we hold others accountable for their unbiblical actions it should not be to shove them out the doors of our churches but rather to show them the error of their ways with an eye to reconciliation. This is the way we wished we would be judged ourselves when we do things that are unscriptural and we do not see it.

Jesus wants us to be in relationship with others. Jesus wants us to know the facts and circumstances so that we can judge the spirit of a man rather than simply judging his actions. Jesus wants us to judge others with the same level of forgiveness, the same level of love, the same level of mercy that we want for ourselves. If we show no mercy to others, why should they show mercy to us. Think about that the next time, you see that girl at school who dresses differently, is a little too friendly with the boys, and is just different. Get to know her. Find out why. Think about that the next time someone has a moral failure in your community. Think about it next time…. Before you judge someone, think about how you want to be judged for your own moral failures. All of us have them. Some are just more public than others. Show them the same mercy that you want to shown. Love them with the same love that you wan to be loved before you jump to judgment.