Are You Ready?

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people say it…and how many times I have said it too…’Are You Ready...for Christmas“?

Of course, when we ask this it’s sort of a ‘superficial greeting’–similar to ‘How you doin?’ It’s polite small-talk. Friendly banter.

The answer is anything from ‘Not even close’ to ‘Just about’ to the occasional ‘Absolutely–been ready since October!’

(You just have to wonder about those people.)

As for me…I’m ‘Just about’ ready.

A couple more gifts to buy, a little prep for our Christmas Eve service (6:30 @ KCC, by the way)…some ingredients from Meijer…then ‘yes‘, I’ll be ready!

When I think about the eternal significance of what we are about to celebrate, however, I think we should slow down and ask again…at a deeper level, ‘Are You READY?

Are You Ready…to celebrate the Incarnation–The amazing fact that God (the God of Creation, Ruler of all, Sovereign over all history) became flesh and blood–like us? (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

Are You Ready…to acknowledge that He came in the most vulnerable form He could–a baby–to traveling parents in an amazing, miraculous way? (Luke 2)

Are You Ready…to worship ‘Immanuel–God With Us’. God who became human in order to walk our walk, talk our talk–yet to do so without any form of sin? (Hebrews 4:15)

Are You Ready… to confess your sin and selfishness to Him, to ask Him for His gracious forgiveness–through the Son, Jesus–and receive His humbling, amazing Grace? (Romans 3:23-24; Ephesians 2:1-9)

Are You Ready…to surrender your life to Him in an ongoing act of worship, acknowledging His right to rule and reign over your life, your death, your eternity…and everything in between? (Romans 12:1-2)

Are You Ready...to believe and stake your life on the fact that He is ‘The Way, The Truth, and The Life”, and that “No one comes to the Father, except by Me” (Jesus)? (John 14:6)

Are You Ready…to lovingly, persistently, graciously and boldly share the Good News about Jesus to all who will listen, praying earnestly that some will come to faith–real, transformational, Life-changing faith in Him? (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Are You Ready…to welcome Him back again–this time as Triumphant Lord of All–coming to vanquish the man-centered anti-christs, who seek to establish themselves as ‘rulers’ over all? (Acts 1:6-11; Matthew 23:39)

Are You Ready?

This Christmas, it’s about much more than having the lights up and the shopping done…this Christmas, let’s say it as it should be:

Are You Ready...for Jesus?

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What Are You Waiting For?

Many of us know when we need to make changes.

Maybe it’s after that Doctor appointment. Maybe it’s after another fight…one more job loss…when the bills outlast the money.

Changes rarely happen with we’re comfortable. In fact, changes almost never happen when things are going well and we’re ‘safe and secure’ in our own lives.

That could be why I see a couple realities as I look around:

  1. People generally like where they’re at…and they want to stay there.
  2. When changes do happen, it’s often only when we ‘have to’ make them.

In those cases, the changes can feel traumatic…forced…difficult.

When it comes to FAITH, however, God is more ‘invitational’ to us.

He invites us to change, and asks us to respond because we ‘want to’.

Think of it this way:

If you’re a parent, you love your children. You want them to obey your rules…because you know what’s best for them. You know how to avoid danger better than they do. You know how to stay healthy more than they do. You know how to maintain relationships more than they do.

When your kids are little, you can ‘compel them’ to obey. In fact, as a parent, there are times you must do so.

However, as they get older, you don’t want to keep doing it that way–rather, you hope that they will realize that you are inviting them to a healthy, safe, relationally-sound lifestyle because you love them and want the best for them!

In the same way, God the Father invites us to move closer to Him…not primarily out of ‘fear’ or mere ‘obedience’ (although, as the God of the Universe, He deserves both). Rather, He invites us to move closer to Him because He created us, He loves us, and He genuinely knows and wants the best for us.

He loves us with a sacrificial love–one that sought to ‘rescue’ us from the dominion of darkness in this world.

In fact, that’s what Christmas is all about!

That’s why the cry of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel…’ still rings true.

 

We know we need Him…and the great news is that, He Came!

So…what’s it going to take for you to respond?

Is it going to take a crisis? Is it going to take a setback? Is it going to take an illness?

OR…is it possible for you, instead, to respond to His love through faith in Jesus, the Son–who was sent to ‘Rescue’ us that first Christmas.

He is holding out an invitation to you…will you respond?

I want to invite you to come and hear more about it this weekend at our Christmas Program, “RESCUE!”. Saturday @ 7pm or Sunday @ 9 or 11am.

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Getting Warmer!

Ahh, winter.

A beautiful time of year–from the indoors!winter 2

I love to watch the snow coming down out the back of my patio door…or my office. Beautiful!

Seriously, there are very few feelings that are nicer than coming from the snow into a warm house…chili waiting…or maybe hot chocolate, wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting by the fire.

fireplace

There is just something satisfying about warming up when it’s cold outside.

When the world is cold, a source of warmth is most welcome!

Well, we all know that there are more ways that this world is ‘cold’ than merely the temperature.

This world can be a ‘cold’, mean-spirited, critical, self-centered and nasty place. It can be a place that bullies, abuses, and discourages us.

At times, we can feel alone, isolated and exposed–like a person locked out of their house with no coat and no keys on a winter morning. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also dangerous!

So, how do we ‘warm up’? Where do we get our ‘fire’ and our ‘blanket’?

It may not surprise you that I believe it comes from God.

As Augustine said,  You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee’. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As Physicist/Philosopher Blaise Paschal wrote, that the human heart has an ‘infinite abyss’ within, and that  “…this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Blaise Paschal,  Pensées VII(425)). The Psalmist wrote,

“As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God. 
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?” (Psalm 42:1-2)

This winter, let the cold outside remind you of the harsh evil of the world…but let the warmth inside remind you of the Love of God, the Father in heaven, who wants us to experience the warmth that comes from knowing Him–through Jesus, the Christ.

“This is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”–John 3:16-17

Let this thought sink in: God–the God of the Universe–wants you to know Him! He created you, He loves you, and He has ‘Life to the Full’ planned for you–as you love Him and move toward Him by faith in Jesus. hot chocolate

My prayer is that, no matter how cold the world is outside, you would experience the Love of God on the inside…and that His love would change things for you!

 

 

 

I Wonder…

I wonder what will happen tomorrow…or the day after tomorrow.

Will the ’causes’ that I agreed with have passed? Will those I disagreed with have failed?

Will the candidates I voted for have won, or been defeated?

Obviously, I don’t know that, and no one does-despite what all the conspiracy theorists out there say!

One thing is true: No matter what happens, it will still be UP TO ME to choose how I treat my fellow humans.

If my opinions prevail, and every vote I cast is part of the winning majority, I will still be responsible to love, respect, have compassion for, and pray for, everyone–even those who vehemently opposed me.

If my opinions fail, and every vote I cast is part of the losing minority, I will still be responsible to love, respect, have compassion for, and pray for, everyone–even those who vehemently opposed me.

This truth is something we simply must grasp–all of us! Each of us!

After all, the only way we can hope to get out of the cultural quagmire and the animosity so prevalent in our culture is if each one of us take responsibility for our own actions. Not the Government–not the President or his cabinet, the the US Congress, not the State Congress, not the courts…and so on.

YOU and I simply MUST commit to civility, discussion, respect and yes, love for one another.

From my perspective, as a Christian, the most loving thing I can do–no matter what political events transpire around us–is to point people to Jesus the Christ. He is “The Way, The Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except by Him. (John 14:6). He is the “Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His Sheep.” (John 10:11). While our enemy comes to ‘steal, kill, and destroy”, Jesus has come “that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but will have everlasting life! For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so the world could be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

None of those things are changed by our temporary (and yes–important) politics.

All of those things are true for everyone in the world–not only in America.

Keep that in mind tomorrow…and the day after, and the day after, and the day after….

We are here…for Him!

 

Pots and Kettles

If you are…ahem…at least ‘middle aged’, like I am, you have heard the phrase, ‘That’s like the Pot calling the Kettle black’.

It’s an idiom for hypocrisy–when person #1 accuses person #2 of doing the very thing that that person #1 is actually guilty of.

I always wondered: Where do phrases like that come from? According to my ‘extensive research’ (Urbandictionary.com and Wikipedia.com), it arose from centuries ago when people cooked over an open fire. They would use lead pots and copper kettles. Afterward they would clean and polish the kettles…but leave the pots untouched. This resulted in the pot becoming increasing sooty and black. It the pot were to look at the kettle and accuse it of being dirty, all it would actually be seeing is its own reflection.

 

Today in this world (especially in America) there is a whole lot of ‘Pots’ calling a great number of ‘Kettles’ black.

…and before you assume that you’re the shiny one, there’s a good bet that you’ve got some ‘soot’ on you.

So do I.

We all have a worldview–a point of view from which we interpret events in this world. That’s normal and fine. However, we have an increasing tendency to assume the worst in those who see things differently than us…and we tell them so, in Tweets, Facebook posts, or Blogs.

While it may be a good thing that we’re expressing our opinions, it doesn’t take a social scientist’s study to see that the net effect in our culture has been a coarsening of discourse. What used to be an occasional debate and disagreement has become a 24-hour-a=day, 7 day-a-week Twitter war, where each person tries to get a better ‘mic drop comeback’ to their opponent. Mic DropAll the while, relationships, families, and even our society is being ripped apart.

The result? We find ourselves increasingly marginalized and separated into smaller and smaller groups, where we share our ‘offenses’ that we’ve taken from others.

The thing that unites us is…division!

The ‘Left’ accuses the ‘Right’ of being ‘hatemongers who are power-hungry’, and the ‘Right’ accuses the ‘Left’ of being ‘anarchists who morally divisive’. One claims that the ‘other’ started it, and the other replies ‘did not–you did’!

Sort of sounds like a child’s playground argument, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Proverbs 26:20-21:

“Without wood a fire goes out;
    without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.”

 

Now, we have increasing animosity in the news. Terrorism in the mailboxes…violence against a synagogue…riots in Seattle–and that’s only in America over the past week!

Soon, we have an election.

I (along with many) are so tired of the commercials. It’s almost comical to stick through one commercial break in a news program. In just one commercial break–one commercial accuses the Republican, and the next commercial accuses the Democrat–of the same thing!

Question: Where will this end?

Truthful answer: We don’t know. It depends…on us! You and Me!

It is very possible that we’ll have increasingly violent attacks on Politicians, Religious institutions, and the very fabric of our nation.

…or, we can repent of our sinful pride, and seek to be peacemakers instead.

Will we–You and I–continue to throw logs on the fire?

Will we resort to childish ‘you started it’ arguments, or will we challenge ourselves to Rise Above, and seek respectful discourse, assuming the best about the other person along the way?

Some of you reading this right now have already answered ‘yeah, but…’.

STOP! Just STOP!

The enemy of our souls is fomenting an increase in selfishness and hostility, and it’s not going to end well!

That’s why it is CRUCIAL for those who are children of God, by faith in Jesus, that we stand up and love others…as we should. It is crucial that we Christians live out the things we say we believe and show the love that we’ve graciously been given. It is imperative that we remember that we are NOT ‘of this world’ and that our #1 priority is living for the glory of God–and pointing others to our eternal future, inviting them to come along.

1 Peter 2:9-17: 

“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.”

THIS is what we were called to–not mud slinging…and not accusing others of the very sins that we, ourselves are committing.

They’ll know we are Christians by our love!

As for me, I am trying to raise the level of discourse with those who don’t see things the way I do.

I invite you all–Christian or not–to join me!

 

Foolish or Wise? Which Will It Be?

There are no shortage of ‘opinions’ today.

People seem to grow more ‘opinionated’ every day…and show it–with gusto!

Social Media has ushered in a ‘coarsening’ of those opinions (in my opinion). 🙂

Having an ‘opinion’ is not necessarily good…nor is it necessarily bad!

One thing we can all agree on, however, is that ‘just because I think it, doesn’t mean it’s right–or certainly smart, wise, or ‘right’.

There are many people who are ‘spouting off’ their opinions–from the most powerful to those with a very small circle of influence.

Influence, however, does not make one ‘wise’. Because you may have ‘Followers’, that doesn’t mean that you have ‘wisdom’.

How can I know?

The Scriptures provide the answer. The book of Proverbs, by itself, is a great guide.

Even one chapter–Proverbs 18–provides much to learn from.

“A fool find no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinion.” (verse 2) 

“He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.”(v. 13)

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (v.15)

Other chapters of Proverbs speak to this too:

“The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” (15:2)

“A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” (15:14)

The point is that simply ‘going off’ and ‘venting’ is not ‘Wisdom’. Any ‘fool’ can do that. Any fool can “feed on trash”…and we all know that there’s LOTS of ‘trash’ to choose from!

So, how can I know? How do I know true ‘wisdom’? How do I know if I have it, or if those I listen to have it?

Again, the Scriptures provide the answer.

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”–Proverbs 1:7

If you are trying to be ‘smart’ or ‘wise’, but do not fear (revere, worship, stand in awe) of God, you may be many things. You may be learned, you may be experienced, you may be well-schooled, but you are not “wise”.

True ‘Wisdom’ must…simply must…come from God, who is the only truly ‘Wise’ One there is!

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18)

Don’t settle for the ‘wisdom’ of this world–that is a dead-end street.

Instead, go to the Lord for true Wisdom.

He will guide you, keep you on track, and help you know who’s ‘opinions’ are worth listening to…and who’s aren’t!

No Rest for YOU!

One of my favorite ‘Seinfeld’ episodes from years ago was called ‘Soup Nazi’. There was a chef in New York who was very temperamental, and IF you wanted soup from him, you had to make sure to conduct yourself according to his ‘code’ while in his shop…otherwise you’d here the phrase, “No soup for YOU!”, and you’d get kicked out. Soup Nazi

Fortunately for us, God’s approach is very different than that, however, many don’t understand that. In fact, many–outside the Church, and even inside of it–believe God to be like that temperamental chef, and if we ‘mess up’, He’s going to say something like ‘No Rest for YOU! No Salvation for YOU! No Grace for YOU!’

The truth is that, IF it were up to us–our heart and behavior–we would stand condemned. Not because God is irrational or moody, but because we have rebelled against His righteous, holy standards. By ourselves, we can do nothing to change that.

The Scriptures make it clear: Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”; Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way”; Ephesians 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”

That’s the ‘bad news’ of the Gospel.

Fortunately for us, however, God didn’t let it end there.

Instead, He provided for One–Jesus–to be the ‘Atoning Sacrifice’ for our sin, and to earn our forgiveness…the Perfect One substituting Himself for the imperfect ones…the Righteous One paying the price of us, sinners.

Romans 3:23-24:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Ephesians 2:1-5: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

That’s the Good News of the Gospel!

Here’s the crucial…life-changing…ETERNAL Truth that YOU need to deal with:

God loves you and wants to welcome you in…but you need to repent of your sin and receive His forgiveness, by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

God wants us to have ‘Rest’…real, eternal rest!

‘Yes–Rest for YOU!

But…sadly, many of us would rather try to figure out our own answers.

We try to either: 1) Write God, Himself, off as an ‘invention’ of people who were more ‘primitive’, and less ‘enlightened’ than we are; 2) Convince God (and ourselves),  that we’re ‘not that bad’ and that we don’t really need His forgiveness or Jesus’ sacrifice; or 3) Show God that we’re going to try to ‘straighten up and fly right’, and that we’ll just try harder.

We invent ways to make ourselves righteous, hoping to placate Him.

This is nothing new.

The people of Israel, who should have known better, did it continually.

They would try to ‘figure out their own answers’, yet they’d miss God completely. Therefore, they’d be disciplined by God–out of His love, and for their own good–to bring them back to Himself.

He–their loving God and Heavenly Father–wanted to show them love and compassion…but it’s as if they said “NO!” “No Rest for ME!”

Isaiah 30:15-18:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
16 You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
    Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
    Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
17 A thousand will flee
    at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
    you will all flee away,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
    like a banner on a hill.”

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!”

We’re pretty similar to them.

We try to figure out our own answers…our own ‘solutions’ to our personal and societal problems. We figure that, if we can just pass the right laws, put the right safeguards in place, elect the right politicians, then we can ‘have rest’.

Yet, this will never be the case–as a society, or as an individual.

You and I CANNOT have real ‘Rest’ apart from Jesus the Christ…because, apart from Him, we remain dead…separated from God.

The GREAT news?

We don’t have to stay there!

Through repentance and faith, we can be forgiven–and have New Life, in Jesus!

Then–and only then–can we hope to hear, ‘Yes! Rest for YOU!’