THE REASON FOR THANKSGIVING

(Ephesians 1:7-10 MSG) Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!  He thought of everything, providing for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

So here in America, we have a day set aside for thankfulness.  What a great idea!  Americans have much to be thankful for – such as our freedom.  This freedom has been bought and maintain at a great price. We are thankful for all those who have sacrificed for our country.  Yet there is an eternal freedom that has been afforded us by the sacrifice of just one.  This freedom is offered to all who live on the earth.

Our scripture from Ephesians begins with this statement, “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people…”  I don’t mean to trivialize the freedom we have in America, but I do want to emphasize the magnitude of what God has done.  All of mankind has been given the opportunity of being forgiven for their sins and to have eternal life. We in America and every other person on the earth can experience this freedom no matter what their circumstances.

Though I have many things that give me reason to be thankful, the foundation of my gratitude rest in Jesus Christ and him crucified.  All that I have and hold dear are because he redeemed me and gave me freedom from my sins. Jesus is my reason for being thankful.  I have a family and friends that I am privileged to enjoy here in this life, and I have the comfort in knowing they will be with me in eternity.  I am eternally thankful to my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ.

THE SECOND DEATH

(Revelation 21:8) But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.

Last week I wrote about the future of the children of God.  God has planned wonderful things for his children.  Those who refuse God’s invitation to forgiveness and eternal life will not be so fortunate.  The scripture for this week points to the second death.

Thoughts of the second death lead to a jumble of concerns and visions.  It’s hard to imagine the horror that this will be.  I know people who are running down that wide road to destruction.  It makes me want to carry a sign that reads, “THE END IS NEAR – BEWARE OF THE SECOND DEATH”.  I don’t think a sign would be very affective.  I can hear people saying, “Did you see the nut on the street corner with the big sign?”  However, this scripture does add urgency to my prayer life.

  Sometimes I get lax in my prayer time, but reading this scripture has stirred me to a greater resolve.  I think that prayer is the most effective way to reach those who have not accepted the salvation God has provided through his son Jesus.  I want to always be ready to share my faith, but I know that my words would not reach the heart of the listener, unless the Father is drawing them.  Salvation is a miraculous act of God, so lifting up a person through prayer is the foundational beginning for reaching the unsaved. 

The children of God have such a wonderful future.  There is always room for new brothers and sisters to join us.  Let’s be diligent praying for our friends, family members, neighbors, and those God has put on our heart, so we can be servants in his plan of redemption. Remember, our God desires that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

BE MERCIFUL

(Jude 22-23) Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.

 In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy. 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature, and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy. 

PEACE WITH GOD

(Romans 5:1) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Romans 5:10) For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

In war people are at odds with each other.  Their relationship is broken.  Hatred and distrust guide their interactions, and this causes them to fight with and kill each other.  When a peace treaty is finally signed, the opportunity to rebuild their relationship becomes possible.  With man, the hurts and attitudes that caused them to be at war, and the horrors that came about during the war, stand in the way of reconciliation.  There is great mistrust to overcome.  It often takes generations for forgiveness to slowly enter the hearts of the opponents.  This is the way of humans, but it is not the way of God.

When Jesus paid for our sins on the cross and ushered in new life for us through his resurrection, God was immediately ready for us to return to him.  God’s great love for us, welcomed us into reconciliation with him. Jesus made peace with God possible.

This is how we became God’s enemies.  In the beginning we rebelled against God.  He warned us of the consequences if we rebelled, but we chose to ignore the warning.  We ate from the forbidden tree, and death entered God’s creation. Our rebellion devastated his entire creation. This produced a great separation between us and God, and it made us his enemy.  In spite of our bad behavior, God, driven by his infinite love, worked out a way for us to return to him.

So, here we are facing the greatest peace treaty ever offered.  All we have to do is trust God and open ourselves to a renewed relationship with him.  What we will receive in return is eternal life in a recreated new world that is full of peace and love.  These terms sound like a great opportunity.  I’m accepting.  How about you?

HEIRS OF GOD

(Romans 8:14-17) For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about you adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I know that what The Apostle Paul is saying in these verses is true, because I believe the Bible is true, but I have trouble projecting what this will actually mean.  “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  It is too glorious to imagine.  However,  maybe it’s good that I don’t fully comprehend all that God has planned for his children.  Can you envision me walking down the street all puffed up with the knowledge that I’m a co-heir with Christ.  I’d be annoying and useless.

So then comes the humbling part, God’s wonderful plans and promises are available to us because Jesus suffered and died to redeem us.  We were dead in our sins, and not co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus made it all possible.  As the last sentence in our scripture passage points out, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  We have a life to live out here in this fallen world.  It’s not always going to be easy as we share in his sufferings.  Yet in humble gratitude we trust that the God who saved us has some unimaginable plans for us his children.

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.

THE DEPTHS OF GOD’S LOVE FOR US

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(Genesis 2:15-17) The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

(Romans 6:23) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Galatians 4:4&5) But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

In John 3:16 it is stated that God so loved the world.  We are part of the world he loves.  Since we are loved so much, he definitely doesn’t want us to perish.  In the verses from Genesis, we find the warning from God not to eat from the forbidden tree.  Adam ate from the forbidden tree and brought sin and death into our world.  As a result, we all have the sinful nature from our ancestor Adam; therefore, we are all under the sentence of death that Adam received.  This presented a dilemma for God.  He loves us all and wants us to be with him eternally.

God is just, so the sentence of death had to be carried out; but God, who is never surprised by events, saw this coming, and he made a plan to redeem us.  He sent his one and only son.  Jesus came to earth, took our sins upon himself, and paid for them with his death on the cross. He fulfilled the requirements of the law for us all.  Our death sentence was cancelled.  Justice was served, and God’s redemption plan was completed.

God loves us, and he demonstrated the depth of his love for us by sending his one and only Son to the cross.  Through this great and terrible sacrifice, redemption has been accomplished.  I believe that he is now eager for us to come to him.  God has given us opportunity for the eternal life that he always intended for us.

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.  

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.