FAITH IN OUR GLORIOUS FUTURE

(Hebrews 11:13-16) All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on the earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were looking for a better country–a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Abel, Enoch. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob are the people referred to in this Scripture.  They are the ones who admitted being foreigners and strangers on the earth.  Do you feel like a foreigner or stranger on the earth?  Maybe not, but think about the reality of our time here.  Our sojourn on the earth is a few short years compared to the eternal existence God has promised us.  In truth, we are simply preparing for the home that lies ahead.

Not to make light of our current lives.  The short period we are here is essential.  There are choices to be made and ministries to be carried out.  The most important choice is choosing Jesus as our savior and recognizing that his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead represent God’s provision for us. Through Jesus, we become sons and daughters of God’s promises.  As sons and daughters, we have an assigned purpose in God’s kingdom while here on the earth.  Like the faithful people of the past, we serve in God’s kingdom fulfilling what he has planned for us.

Looking ahead to what God has promised brings joy to us no matter what our circumstances.  Faith in our glorious future sustains us.  In hard times, we remember that this life is not going to last forever.  Our future lies in a country where there is no pain or sorrow.  Heaven will be filled with God’s love, and we will bask in his presence for eternity.

GOD WALKING AMONG US

(John 1:1-4) In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all thing were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

Imagine that God came and sat down with you and explained how best to live the life he has given you.  What an amazing advantage that would be.  Well this really happened some 2000 years ago, and Matthew recorded the event in his Gospel.  He starts out with these words, (Matthew 5:1&2) “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”  Matthew continues on and shares the words Jesus spoke that day found in chapters 5-7.

Probably most of the people there that day did not know they were listening to the one through whom all things were created.  At the end though, Matthew tells us they were amazed by Jesus’ teaching.  They also didn’t know that Jesus was going to die for their sins; he was offering them a fresh start, and an opportunity to live a new life in the way he taught them.

Today, there are still many who don’t recognize that Jesus is God, that he died for their sins, and that he offers them a fresh start.  They may be amazed by Jesus’ teaching, but they don’t realize that to have the power to live by them they must receive him as their savior.  For those of us who do know that Jesus is God, and that he died for our sins, when we receive him, he gives us his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13) to empower us on our quest to live by his teaching.

WALKING NOT RUNNING WITH GOD

(Micah 6:8) He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite scriptures.  It puts the requirements of walking with God in a nut shell.  It teaches us the basics in a clear and simple way.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the last part of verse 8 in these words, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” 

Notice the word “walk”; this scripture talks about walking with God – not running with God.  This is a “me” thing.  I like to think of my life as a quiet and peaceful walk with God.  I don’t believe that we are asked to be constantly out of breath while running with God. 

Walking humbly with God teaches us how to relate to God.  In our walk with God (not a run), we should assume a humble place.  Remember Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (see Matthew 11:30).  I think it’s acceptable to relax and enjoy our walk with God.  Don’t you think that the work of the Kingdom comes from a relationship born out of our quiet and peaceful walk with the Father God?

Jesus also said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (see Matthew 28:20).  Those who have received salvation through Jesus the Christ have become the children of God.  He is always with his children.  When we mess up, and fail to follow his teaching, he is with us.  When we take the wrong path, he is with us.  Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:37-39).  He will never abandon his children.

Micah 6:8 gives us clear directions, but we have the handicap of being sinners.  We have a tendency to fail when it comes to following those directions.  Therefore, we always need Jesus.  We need to remember that he is always with us, and he will never leave us.  Jesus is always teaching us, and he is always saving us.  He loves us!  In walking humbly with him, we learn to rely on him.  So, not taking ourselves too seriously, but taking God seriously seems to be good advice. 

PSALM 8, A PSALM OF DAVID

When we look with wonder into the heavens at night, we connect with the billions of others who have lived on the earth through the centuries.  There is in us a great awe as we survey the vastness of the heavens.  We are inclined to speculate about where it all came from.  For King David there was no doubt that his God had created all that he saw.  And in creation, he saw the glory of his God.  In Psalm 8 he voiced, “How majestic is your name in all the earth.”

In my quest to understand God, King David, “a man after God’s own heart” (See 1 Samuel 13:14), sets a perspective of God that is foundational.  To understand God, I need to see how big he is.  You can’t get any bigger than the creator of heaven and earth.  Everything I know and understand, plus an infinite amount beyond, was created by God.  He’s big!  Yet he allows praise from the mouths of little children to silence his enemies.  God is big, and he is humble.

What draws the attention of this mighty creator?  Human beings are at the center of his creation.  In our original state we were created just a little less than God himself.  We are created in his image.  He made us rulers over all the creature of the earth.  David’s response to these thoughts; “How majestic is your name in all the earth!”

As I look into the night sky, the words of Psalm 8 always bring, from deep in my soul, a resounding praise.  How amazing are you my God that you can create these limitless expanses, yet I am important to you.  Thank you God for loving me, redeeming me, and giving me an eternal future with you.

FAITH

(Hebrews 11:1-3) Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). This verse from Proverbs has been a pillar of guidance for me throughout my Christian life.  I have come to understand that to do what this passage directs is an act of faith.  Today I’d like to look into faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is called the faith chapter because it focuses on faith.  The first three verses give us a great definition of faith.  Faith is simply believing in what we don’t see.

The Bible, from beginning to end, is given to us to assist in building our faith.  It tells us what existed before us and what exists in the unseen world.  Our journey begins with faith, just a little faith, and that faith grows as we seek the God who is unseen.  He touches us in our inner being, and we experience his presence.  We find joy and new life as we grow in our knowledge of him.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.      Here in Hebrews 11:6 we read about this process of starting with a little faith, and God rewarding us in a growing relationship with him.    As our faith in him grows, we approach the place where we can trust in him with all our hearts and surrender our understanding to him. 

The Message translation states our Hebrews 11:1-3 scripture like this, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”  Growing in trust and faith in our God is a quest all believers share, and this quest is filled along the way with rewards from the God who loves us.

THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

(2Corinthians 5:17-19) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Last week I wrote about God’s amazing plan to bring us back to what he desired for us from the beginning.  He reconciled us through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus took our sins upon him and paid the price that we were unable to pay.  So here we are a new creation before God.  He has given us the promise of eternal life – never to be separated from him again.  Can we share a WOW! 

What are we going to do to show our gratitude for this great gift?  We don’t have to do anything to earn this gift because it has already been given.  The Apostle Paul tells us what God wants us to do to show our gratitude.  He has given us the “Ministry of Reconciliation”.  He wants us to tell those we live among: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 

Yes, as you think about it, this message is not necessarily going to be received as the good news.  People don’t always believe it, and some simply want to go on sinning.  They are often offended by the message.  Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents, but be as gentle as doves since our ministry is not always effective by using the direct approach.  I have always tried to live in the joy and hope God has given me. I’ve worked to love people, care for them, and pray for them, while waiting for the time to come when their heart is opened to receive the message.  This is how I have approached the ministry of reconciliation, but we are all uniquely gifted by God to share the message in the way he has designed us. 

In loving gratitude, let’s continue to tell of the wonderful, miraculous gift God has given us.  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have eternal life with him available to us.  Thanks be to God that he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.

CHRISTMAS MAGIC

Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

(Luke 2:6-14)  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

            And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

            Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

            “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

                  and on earth peace to those on

                        whom his favor rests.”

You hear a lot of talk about the Magic of Christmas at this time of year.  Webster’s definition of magic includes the term “supernatural”.  Christmas is definitely supernatural.  In Luke chapter 2, we read about the birth of Jesus and those who are involved in this one-time event. Think of it, a virgin gives birth, angels appear and give glory to God, and the Savior of the world is an apparently helpless child lying in a manger.  This is real magic; not a slight of hand or an illusion, but God’s kind of magic for it is supernatural.

In our everyday natural lives, we at times experience God’s supernatural intervention.  Someone receives salvation, unexpected generosity, supernatural healing, answered pray, or God’s unforeseen provision.  At Christmas time, we tend to expect these “miracles”.  Of course, God is always at work in our lives, but there is something magical about Christmas.

What could be more magical than the coming of God’s son to save us from our sins?  God’s way of doing this is supernatural, miraculous, and magical. Perhaps Christmas magic is rooted in our hearts because the miracle of salvation has come. 

 I pray that you have a happy and content Christmas celebration, and that the magic of Christmas will be with you throughout the New Year.

THE PLAN OF GOD AND OUR EVERYDAY LIFE

In the first chapter of Matthew, he presents us with a genealogy from Abraham to Jesus.  Each of the people mentioned in this list were just like us going about everyday life.  In all the ups and downs of life, we are all unaware of our specific part in God’s plan.  Yet those mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy are all in the linage of Jesus. 

In his genealogy, Matthew calls our attention to four couples.  These couples are: Judah and Tamar, Salmon and Rahab, Boaz and Ruth, and David and Bathsheba.  They each have their stories recorded in the pages of the Old Testament. 

The story of Judah and Tamar is found in Genesis Chapter 38.  The story of Salmon and Rahab is found in the book of Joshua chapter 2 and culminated in chapter 6 verses 17, 22 and 25. Salmon took Rahab as his wife. His name is not mentioned in the Joshua story, but Matthew’s list confirms him as the father of Boaz.  The story of Boaz and Ruth is found in the book of Ruth.  It’s a great story.  The story of David and Bathsheba is recorded in 2nd Samuel Chapters 11 and 12:1-25. 

The everyday lives of these couples, and all the others mentioned in Mathew’s list of forbearers, played important roles in God’s plan.  Some of them were of Hebrew descent, and some were not.  For three of the couples, sin was obviously part of their story.  Still, they all played a part in the coming of Jesus.  In the course of their everyday lives God brought about his miraculous plan for the salvation of the world.  God’s plan is not finished. 

In our everyday lives, we are living out our part in God’s continuing plan to bring others to salvation.  In the midst of this chaotic world, let’s share the wonderful story of the true meaning of Christmas to all who will listen. Who knows what part our everyday lives may play in God’s miraculous plan.  

A GOOD LIFE

Most people would say, “My overall goal is to have a good life”.  If you asked them what that means or what does that look like, you’d get a human answer.

Planning for a good life requires many assumptions because our lives are terminal and of an unknown number of years.  This is a precarious platform on which to plan.  We don’t know what is going to happen five minutes from now, or if we will be alive five minutes from now.  Statistically, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be living five minutes from now, but you know statistics aren’t that reliable.

We have only one sure way to plan a good life.  I found that way in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” The longer I live, the more I appreciate the wisdom of this proverb.  Since we have no clue about the future, how can we plan for it?  The Lord alone knows what the future holds.  Trusting him provides a great life plan.  I’d like to add this amazing truth that comes with trusting the Lord, “in Christ Jesus death is no longer part of the equation.”

GOD’S KIND OF LOVE

God’s love is other oriented. God’s love is self-denying.  I’m relying simply on what Jesus demonstrated on the cross to make these statements. Jesus thought about us. He put our need for salvation before his own needs.

God’s love is personal. As Jesus ministered with his disciples, he knew each one of them individually. They were intimately involved in Jesus’ mission.

Today we are recipients of God’s kind of love. He continues to look to us and our needs. He knows us personally and draws us into his family.

1Peter 1:17-21 MSG, Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no after-thought. Even though it has only lately – at the end of the ages – become public knowledge, God always knew that he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.