Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Best Kiss Ever

Psalm 85:10

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
This morning I was sitting here in the early morning awoken from sleep and contemplating the great love and mercy that God has poured out upon my life.  I was thinking of where I had been just three short years ago, how lost I was, and now how God has restored me and given me back so much.  That verse as I read it this morning, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other,” sent me to my knees in tears of gratitude.
In Psalm 85:10, the Psalmist says, "Mercy and truth have met together.”  What had kept them apart?  Were they in need of reconciliation?  What enabled them to commune with each other?
Later, in the verse 10, the Psalmist declares, "Righteous and peace have kissed each other."  What was the occasion for this kiss?  Was it a passionate kiss that would have caused onlookers to blush?  Did it possess any significance or was it merely an action motivated by tolerance?  Was it a kiss denoting reconciliation?
Jeremiah was the picture of health, but a yearly physical revealed a possible problem. Upon further examination doctors diagnosed Jeremiah with lung cancer. He demanded a second opinion, got it and it confirmed that he had lung cancer. He demanded a third opinion and it too confirmed he had lung cancer. Unable to cope with such news, he began to show signs of severe depression. One day, to his wife’s joy and amazement, Jeremiah emerged from their bedroom with a smile on his face. When asked why he was so happy he declared, "I refuse to believe I have cancer. The doctors are wrong. The diagnosis is wrong. I never had it, I do not now have and I never will have cancer."  Three months later, Jeremiah died of lung cancer.
Truth can sometimes be a painful thing, facing reality is often a very painful thing.
Philip Dick, author of Minority Report said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away."
Often times rather than face reality people deny it, they justify their behavior and make excuses.
Boudreaux and Bobby Joe were drinking a few beers while driving around, when Boudreaux saw a roadblock ahead. He couldn’t turn around, so he told Bobby Joe, "peel the label off your bottle and put in on your forehead."
"Are you crazy?" Bobby Joe replied!
"No! Just do it and let me do the talking," said Boudreaux.
The officer looked at the two of them and asked, "Have you two been drinking and driving"?
"No," replied Boudreaux.
The officer looked at the labels on their foreheads and asked, "Then what’s with the labels on your forehead?”
Boudreaux drew himself up tall in the seat and explained, "Well, officer, we’re recovering alcoholics and our doctor put us on the patch."
Excuses! It’s easier to make them than it is to admit the truth.
We are even reluctant to admit that we are getting older or that we’re over weight.  I know I just had a birthday, and the last time I stepped on the scale, I told my wife it must be broken.
Scripture has diagnosed the human race to be guilty of sin and worthy of death. God says, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" and "the wages of sin is death."
We all stand before God accused.  How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?  How will you respond to God’s charge against you? What will you say?
 - "I didn’t do it; I’ve never sinned!"
 - "What I did wasn’t a sin!"
 - "I had every right to act that way!
 - "Yeah, but you don’t know what they did to me!"
One of the elders in the church I grew up in would often say, "An excuse is a skin of a reason stuffed with lies."
D. L. Moody said, "Excuses are the cradle in which Satan rocks men to sleep."
It’s amazing the excuses people come up with.
When a four-year-old’s mom asked her why she wasn’t eating, she replied, "I can’t eat; God told me not to." Her mother chided: "God wouldn’t tell you not to eat your supper." She looked up at the ceiling, then conceded, "Well, maybe it was Moses."
When God confronted Adam about Adam’s sin, Adam replied, "It was that woman you gave me."
In his book with Ken Blanchard, Everyone’s a Coach, Don Shula tells of losing his temper near an open microphone during a televised game with the Los Angeles Rams. Millions of viewers were surprised and shocked by Shula’s explicit profanity. Letters soon arrived from all over the country, voicing the disappointment of many who had respected the coach for his integrity.
 Shula could have given excuses, but he didn’t. Everyone who included a return address received a personal apology. He closed each letter by stating, "I value your respect and will do my best to earn it again."
There are two ways to gain respect. One is to act nobly. The other is, when you fail to act nobly, make no excuses.
David tried covering his sin, but when He was confronted by God, he confessed, "Against You and You only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:1).
According to the Apostle John, confession is the only antidote to sin—"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" – 1 John. 1:9
You don’t have to confess it to everyone, but you do need to confess your sin to God.
As long as we deny reality of our sin, then "truth" is an enemy that stands ready to oppose and expose us.  As long as we deny reality of our sin, then "righteousness" demands our punishment, as long as we deny reality of our sin, "peace" will be elusive, and as long as we deny reality of our sin, "mercy" cannot come to our aid.
The Psalmist reports, "Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." John tells us: “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  15 (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”)  16 And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.  17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – John1:14-17
Where did mercy meet truth, and where did righteousness kiss peace?  At the Cross where the righteous demands of God were met in the death of His Son, at the confession of the truth about our sin, mercy rushes to meet truth, and at the confession of Jesus as our Savior, peace runs to kiss the righteousness imparted to us through His shed blood.
Again, I remind you of John’s statement, "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" – 1 John. 1:9
In like manner James exhorts us, "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed" – James 5:16
It is our fear of being exposed by the truth and rejected by the righteous that keeps us from experiencing the relief and the remedy brought about by mercy and peace.  The peace we long for and the mercy we need are ready to run to our side, as soon as we admit the truth.  Actually, there is no other context in which I can handle the truth, but in the context of grace. There is no other place to experience peace, but in the place where we come to faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Early in 1993 British police accused two ten-year-old boys of the brutal murder of two-year-old James Bulger. The two boys pleaded innocence. The young defendants responded to police questioning with noticeable inconsistency. The climax came when the parents of one of the boys assured him that they would always love him.  Confronted with irrefutable evidence linking him with the crime and the assurance of his parents’ love, the boy confessed in a soft voice, "I killed James."
The power that our sin holds over our lives drops sharply when we first admit its existence to ourselves, then to God, and then to at least one other person whom we trust and know loves and supports us.
The miracle of God’s love is that he knows how evil we are, yet he loves us. We can confess our worst sins to him, confident that his love will not diminish.  He is the way, the truth and the life, but He is also full of grace.
Scripture tells us that after Peter denied Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly. The hours that followed must have seemed like years.
Judas, unable to cope with the emotional pain of his betrayal of Christ, ended a similar experience by taking his own life with a rope and a tree.
Peter’s experience must have also been extremely painful, but his encounter with the Living Christ brings restoration. Instead of being rejected by the resurrected Jesus or put on probation, Peter was embraced by mercy and kissed by peace. He was forgiven and commissioned. It was Jesus who commanded him, "Tend My lambs…Shepherd My sheep…Tend My sheep" (John 21:15, 16, 17).
Two and a half years ago I had failed the Lord miserably, I had abandoned my calling and immersed my life in a bottle.  I stood at “the breaking point,” I had to choose whether to confess the reality of my betrayal of God, or continue to try and hide my sin in a bottle.  The first choice offered life, the second almost certain death, physically and spiritually.  Thank God I chose truth, and righteousness kissed peace in my life once again.
I don’t know what reality you are being called to deal with, but I can assure you that mercy and peace are waiting to smother you in hugs and kisses. Before this encounter can take place, you must first deal with truth and righteousness.
Confess your sin to God—your sinful attitudes and your sinful actions. He will tear the heavens and come down on you in ways that you cannot comprehend or contain. Do it now! This is a kiss you don’t want to miss.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

All of Us Have a "Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future"

Colossians 1:19-23

“For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,  20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.  21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled  22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—  23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister."
If you have read either of the two blogs that I have already published this Christmas, you can probably tell that I am not into the stories of the traditional Christmas messages and that I like to search for something unique and different for my Christmas messages. So today, once again, I want to break from the traditional text and search for Christmas in a not so obvious passage.
In 1843 the writer Charles Dickens penned these words that begin what is known to you and me as A Christmas Carol: “I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”
It would be my goal today, as most people’s thoughts are upon this Christmas season, to raise to life from the Bible for everyone that reads this: our Christmas Past, our Christmas Present, and our Christmas Future. Christmas holds for each of us a past that must be faced, a present that must be lived, and a future that must be longed for.
Christmas holds the mystery of God giving the gift of a savoir wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger and then thirty something years later placed upon a tree fashioned into a cross. God’s gift was not one to be purchased by us, but His gift would purchase you and me. From the manger to the cross we hear the whispered name of God with us, Immanuel.
So when the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4) had come God sent His Son into this world filled with the fullness of Himself (Colossians 1:19, 2:9), God in the flesh, so that you and I may receive of His fullness (John 1:16). Christmas at its best!
Man in all of his best efforts still comes to the manger emptied handed only to receive the blessedness of God’s peace and good will that offers him…Forgiveness of the Christmas Past…Help in the Christmas Present, and Hope for the Christmas Future.
CHRISTMAS PAST: You Once Were…
No one likes to see themselves for what they really are, sinful. Because we really don’t believe we’re all that bad.  Every one of us needs to look at our past.  None of us are ready for the present or the future until we deal with our past. You and I can’t walk in the fullness of God until we deal with our past.
For the sinner the past can haunt you, but for the Christian it can be forgiven never to bother us again. Is there anything in your past you are holding on to this Christmas that needs to be forgiven or dealt with?
The text from Colossians underscores our Christmas Past as one of alienation, enemies of God desiring to do bad things. “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (1:21a).
As Christians we can be thankful that our sins of the past have been forgiven.  True joy can only come as our sins of the past have been forgiven.
If you aren’t a Christian, your past is keeping you from God and God from you. You are alienated from God. Only forgiveness of your past can bring you near to God.  Until you and I see our Christmas Past as being separated from God because of our sin and in need of God we will never fully appreciate the Christmas Present nor Christmas Future to come.
CHRISTMAS PRESENT: You Are Now…
God does not intend to leave you or I struggling with the spirit of the Christmas Past.  For He has provided for us, in the midst of our darkened sin stained life, radiating from a manager, an old rugged cross, and an empty tomb the light of the world.  The closer we move toward Jesus we can begin to hear the call of the Christmas Present that says, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22).
The only way you and I can be truly happy during Christmas Present is to “Look upon Him.” The apostle Paul affirms our Christmas Present with these words, “…yet now He has reconciled (you) in the body of His flesh through death” (Colossians 1:21b, 22a).
Reconcile: “to reestablish a close relationship between; to settle or resolve; to bring (oneself) to accept.”
Why do you and I need to be reconciled to God? It’s called sin. Sin is the barrier between our fellowship with God. Because God desires our fellowship. He began the process of our reconciliation through Christ Jesus.
Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, born in the likeness of man as a baby, grew to be a man, God in the flesh, to die on a cross, shedding His blood for our sins. At His sacrificial death our sins were atoned and forgiven. Man through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was justified of his sins and reconciled…the relationship reestablished sin’s difference settled through the price of the Son, and is now made acceptable to God.
Romans 5:8-11 – “(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (10) For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (11) And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
God’s demonstration of love began in a manger and culminated on a cross. The demonstrated love of God through our Savior Jesus Christ brings justification of sins and reconciliation of the relationship between God and man. For those who confess and believe in Jesus Christ the alienation is removed and the hostility is gone…the relationship is restored.
Listen to the voice of Christmas Present:
2 Corinthians 6:2 – “For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Today, is Christmas Present…the day God extends to men, women, boys and girls the great gift of salvation through Jesus Christ His Son. And when one believes and confesses in Jesus Christ they are made right with God (reconciled) and now given the great blessing of making known Christmas Present!
2 Corinthians 5:17-19 – “(17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (18) Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (19) that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
CHRISTMAS FUTURE: You will Be…
There is a Christmas future waiting every individual, sinner and Christian alike.
For the Christian, Paul assures us that what God has begun in each of us He will finish it…bringing it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
Christmas future speaks to the time when we who are His, will be as He is! (1 John 3:2) Paul refers to it as a time of presentation before God. Colossians 1:22 – “In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.”
For the Christian Christmas future looks bright.
For the sinner, Christmas future looks gloomy. The future for Scrooge if he didn’t change was death, a terrible death with no friends, nobody to mourn or care. What about your future?
Here are the words those who are not Christians will hear in the future: Matthew 7:23 – “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Listen to Luke 13: 27b, 28a – “(27b) Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. (28a) There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…”
It doesn’t have to be that way.  Just as the scrooge awakened from his experience with his past mistakes, his present indifference, and his future of hopelessness and began to rewrite his present and future, so can you.  It doesn’t matter to God what you have done in the past, whatever mistakes you have made or the sins you have committed, or where you are right now.  Jesus came to earth and robed himself in flesh as an infant in a manger and offered Himself, God incarnate, to die on a cross to make a way for your reconciliation. Today you can know him as forgiver of your Christmas Past, Reconciler of your Christmas Present, and Hope for your Christmas Future.

Friday, December 18, 2015

It Will Be Midnight, That's Clear

On a hillside outside the little town of Bethlehem there were shepherds, gathered around a campfire, yearning to drive away the cold and the darkness of the night, on that night however, the darkness was just a symbol of the condition, the darkness, that engulfed all of mankind on that night.

A religious spirit, and a supernatural darkness covered the land. It was a darkness that could not be driven away by a campfire. It was Israel’s midnight hour – the darkest hour it had ever known, and the Jews were ripe for the coming of a Messiah that bring light into their lives once again.  While the rest of Israel slept in darkness that night, there was something wonderful that happened on the hillside where those shepherds lay.

The first part of one of the songs we sing at Christmas goes like this:
“It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold;
‘Peace on the earth, good will to men, from Heaven’s all gracious King.’”
Suddenly the angels appeared with their voices ringing to announce to the world that the Light had come because Jesus had been born in Bethlehem.  The darkness of the midnight hour was broken by the glorious light of Heaven.  Sin was about to be conquered forever because a baby named Jesus was lying in a manger.
This wasn’t the first time that God had delivered Israel in the midnight hour.  God called Moses and anointed him as the Deliverer of Israel and sent him to speak to Pharaoh as God’s voice saying, “Let My People Go”! Six times Moses went before Pharaoh but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he wouldn’t admit that Israel’s God was the only true God. But God was not giving up – the battle of wills was already won. God just had to bring one more plague upon Egypt to convince Pharaoh that He was greater than Pharaoh was.
Exodus 11:4-6
"And Moses said, thus saith the LORD, about midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it anymore."
Here again we see the Lord doing a miracle at the midnight hour to bring about Israel’s deliverance. I don’t know why God chooses the midnight hour, but it seems that He often does so.  Perhaps it’s the midnight hour because God has to let man sink to the very depths of despair before man will turn back to God. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that God will not share His glory with any man and when man is locked into the hopelessness of the midnight hour, that’s when God knows that no man can say God didn’t bring about a miracle.  Whatever the reason, God chose to bring about the final plague upon Egypt at the midnight hour.
Another time when we see something happening in the midnight hour is found in Psalms 119:62, "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments."
King David knew what it was to be locked in the midnight hour of sin and despair. He knew was it was to feel the pain of sin and the agony of defeat at the hands of the devil. But he also knew how to pray in the midnight hour. 
It’s often those prayers, those times when we cry out to God, when we have come to the end of our rope that really touch the heart of God. All of us have prayed at times when we were just going through the motions, but when you really get down to business – when the baby is sick and medicine won’t help; when death is knocking at the door and no one can do a thing to stop it; when all hope of deliverance is gone unless God performs a miracle – that’s when we really pray, and that’s when God really begins to move.
James 5:16, "… The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
Those midnight cries, those wee hours of the morning prayers, when the Holy Spirit is bringing you on your knees before God and you really feel the heaviness of the burden, are the prayers that seem to get the quickest answers.
Paul and Silas had done nothing deserving of the place where they found themselves on this dark night. They were chained to the wall in the depths of a prison under Roman guard just because they had cast the devil out of a young girl.
You won’t always find yourself in the depths of darkness at the midnight hour because of some dark sin in your life. Sometimes it’s just a trap that the devil lays for you and that God allows you to go through for His name’s sake.
I am certain that Paul and Silas wondered why it was happening to them, but they didn’t blame God, get mad and quit the ministry, or curse the guards. They didn’t complain over their cold bread and water, if they even had that. They didn’t murmur because the air-conditioning was just right or the heater wasn’t right, or the lights were too dim. They just started praising God in the darkness and waited for the will of God to be done.
Acts 16:25-26
"And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed."
Psalms 22:3, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel."
When the praises go up, the Holy Spirit comes down
 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Paul and Silas already had liberty in their hearts, but now they were going to experience the liberty that God gives in a very tangible way.
Another time when we see God working in the midnight hour is found in the Parable of the Ten Virgins found in Matthew chapter 25.
Matthew 25:1-13
"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."
Midnight - a time when we least expect anything to happen; a time when most of the world is asleep or trying to rest to forget the things of the day that has past, and not to worry yet over the things of tomorrow.   It’s the midnight hour, not just 12 o’clock by the clock, but midnight because of the powers of darkness that seem to engulf you, and to engulf the whole world.  As our world is ever growing darker and falling deeper into the darkness of sin, I can’t help but believe that we are approaching the midnight hour for mankind.  
As Christians we understand that Jesus, the Messiah and Deliverer, has already come. He was born in that manger over 2000 years ago, He died and rose again, and is alive forevermore. Though the world grows darker, we see the light. We can hear the angel choirs singing in the realm of the Spirit and we understand what they mean whey they sing, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace, good will to all men.” We hear the Lord saying, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” We see the “Star of Bethlehem” as a light in our hearts for Jesus is that star, the Bright and the Morning Star, that has risen in us to give us the light of the gospel.
But I can’t help but weep this Christmas for the rest of the world that is caught in the darkness of sin. They are approaching the midnight hour. Soon we will hear the trumpet sound, and the midnight cry will go forth, and where will they be when it sounds?
It won’t be only those who have never known Jesus who will remain in this world during its darkest hour.  There will be church people who will remain who had the religious spirit of the Pharisees and the Sadducees but who really didn’t know Jesus at all.  There will be those who once were on fire for God but they have allowed the darkness to kill the fire and destroy the light in their souls, and now they will live in that darkness forever.
There will be those who have ceased to pray, ceased to serve God and ceased to read His Word who will suddenly, and without warning, find that they can no longer pray, serve or read, because Satan will complete the blinding process in their heart and mind.   There will be those who were once delivered by the power of God as the light of the gospel shone in them, but now they are locked down again, forever chained to the blackness of sin and despair.
There is a midnight cry coming. We are approaching the midnight hour! Right now there are children all across the land who are being told about a fat, red-suited elf, riding a sleigh pulled by 8 miniature flying reindeer. They are told to go to sleep before midnight so he can pass by their house. They are being told that he will give them what they desire.
But I wonder how many of those same children are being told that the very Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is also coming soon, in the midnight hour. I wonder if they are being taught that Jesus is riding on the clouds of Glory, or seated upon the Throne of God, or that He is carried about by the Seraphim of Glory?
We are approaching the midnight hour! Who are you looking for – an elf in a sleigh – or Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? Don’t let the devil lull you to sleep now. The hour is growing late; the midnight hour is approaching; and you want to be found watching and waiting for Jesus’ coming!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The First Christmas Tree

The other day I found myself watching an old movie from 1996 entitled, "Dead man Walking."  I must be forthright and honest, I support capital punishment, in fact I don’t think we use it nearly enough.  But I also have to admit that I came away from watching that movie with a sense of abhorrence at the seemingly callousness of those who were charged with administering the actual act of capital punishment, which is probably what the liberal Hollywood director intended.

The cry as they walked through the corridor to the death chamber, “Dead man walking,” how final, how seemingly irrevocable, and regardless of your view on capital punishment, most people cannot help but be left with a sense of uneasiness at the execution of a fellow human being.  "Dead man walking." A forecast of doom, the ultimate declaration of guilt, and an appropriate moniker to a deserving inmate on death row.
But how would you feel if you visited the maternity ward at one of the numerous hospitals in the world, and amidst the cries of the newborn and the excited celebration of their families could be heard the cry resonating in a deserted passageway -- "Dead man walking?"  And yet on that night in Bethlehem, as a myriad’s of angels burst into ecstatic praise heralding the birth of a special Baby in that hastily arranged, and rustic labor ward, an alternative to that celestial composition entitled "Glory to God in the Highest" could very well have been "Dead Man Walking."  For on that night in the little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds did what shepherds do and wise men studied the stars and kings assessed their political futures and priests sought to defend the faith by upholding the status quo and adhering to tradition, a baby was born to die.
The very announcement of His birth was also a proclamation of His impending execution.  Jesus was not born to live a charmed life, but He was born to face execution. It was not to receive the adulation of ululating crowds that Christ came into the world that night in Bethlehem, but it was to be murdered. The King of kings did not come to ride in regal grandeur, but to be led like a lamb for slaughter.
The son of God was not afforded the mercy of lethal injection, the electric chair or the hangman’s noose. No, nothing as merciful as that. But instead the one that came to bring light into the world was destroyed upon an object of abject torture. On a hill far away, on an old rugged cross, on an instrument of torture devised in the cauldron of hell by Satan himself and ultimately applied by human agents. Some of those human agents had raised their voices a few days prior to His death in shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David." They now joined the very forces of evil in human form standing in the courts of Pilate chanting "Crucify Him, crucify Him."
Born to die -- in agonizing tones of bewildered prediction the prophets had scratched out on tablets of clay, on papyrus sheets, and scrolls of parchment the sometimes-cryptic clues as to the destiny of the Son of God:
Genesis 3:15
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel."
Isaiah 53:1-12
1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no {stately} form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  3 He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  4 Surely our griefs He himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being {fell} upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.  8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke {was due?}  9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.  10 But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting {Him} to grief; if He would render himself {as} a guilt offering, He will see {His} offspring, He will prolong {His} days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see {it} and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.  12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
The heavenly celebration of joy that appeared in that little town of Nazareth did not initially allude to the ultimate purpose for His coming to this earth:
Luke 1:26-32
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth,  27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  28 And coming in, he said to her, "Hail, favored one! The Lord {is} with you."  29 But she was greatly troubled at {this} statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.  30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
But in appearing to Joseph, the purpose is outlined in the explanation of His Name:
Matthew 1:18-21
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.  20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21 "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
The writer Ellen White records for us:
“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. "With His stripes we are healed."
This year, as the world focuses on the glamour and glitter, the glory and grandeur of the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem, let us recognize that His birth, death and resurrection had been determined from before the beginning of time as the ultimate solution to the problem of sin in our lives.  May we recognize this Christmas that the ultimate Gift was provided by the Supreme Giver:  the gift of forgiveness for our sin, the gift of freedom from our guilt, the gift of unconditional acceptance, the gift of the assurance of salvation, and the gift of eternal life.
For on that night in the little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds did what shepherds do and wise men studied the stars and kings assessed their political futures and priests sought to defend the faith by upholding the status quo and adhering to tradition, a baby was born to die for you and for me.
And most importantly we must remain watchful, because as shepherds are still doing what shepherds do, as wise men are studying the financial and economic indicators, as politicians are still assessing their political futures, and the church seeks to defend the faith by upholding the status quo and adhering to tradition; the Son of God, no longer as a baby, no longer as a suffering servant, but this time as a conquering King in royal splendor riding on the clouds in heavenly majesty, is preparing to come again!
Yes, He was born to die, but He arose in triumph over sin and death. And He is preparing to come again. I pray to God that as we celebrate His birth today that we will not reject His death on the cross for us and that we will be ready for His Second Coming to this earth.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Dig A Ditch

Nehemiah 1:1-4

“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.
It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan[a] the citadel,  2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.  3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

I believe that Nehemiah represents a type of the Holy Spirit, the actual meaning of his name is comforter.  In this portion of scripture Nehemiah is grieved that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down. Nehemiah has come to restore the walls.
The wall represents the standard, the power, the strength, the character, the integrity of the church.  Traditionally walls do two things:  First they keep things safe inside, and second they keep things out.  A wall is meant to preserve, keep safe, and keep the appropriate things in and it is also designed to protect, and to keep bad things, or inappropriate things out.
There is no question, in my mind and there should be no doubt in yours as you read it, that Nehemiah is a book about revival, about restoration, and about bringing back the glory of God to the church.  It starts with an honest assessment of the brokenness and despair of a people who have lost faith.  They have given up any hope of change and have accepted their condition as terminal.
I am writing this message today to some people who need to hear this:  You've been looking at some situations in your lives that have been labeled terminal.  The doctor has told you that your condition is terminal, the lawyer has told you that your circumstances are terminal, the banker had told you that your finances are terminal, the devil is telling your sin has rendered your spiritual life terminal, and even your family and friends are acting like its terminal. 
You're looking at the rubble of a wall that once protected and preserved and it appears to be beyond repair.  You can’t picture how God is going to repair your marriage, you can't see how God will heal you of that disease, you can't imagine how you're going to get out of debt, you can't envision how your ministry could ever be restored, and all you can see is the impossibility of the addictions that you have allowed to enslave your life.
There were some people in the Bible that were in the same situation.  They were in the wilderness and they were dying of thirst so the Prophet told them to dig some ditches.
2 Kings 3:16-20
And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’  17 For thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.’  18 And this is a simple matter in the sight of the Lord; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand.  19 Also you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall cut down every good tree, and stop up every spring of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” 

20 Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water.
The Prophet told them: You won't see wind or rain yet that Valley will be filled with water.  When they woke up the next morning, as the grain offering was being made, water came by the way of Edom and the country was filled with water and every ditch was filled with water. 
I know right now your situation seems impossible.  It’s been a while since the rain has fallen in your life and you can’t remember that last time the wind blew.  In your flesh your situation seems terminal, you can't see how your circumstances will ever be changed, but I am telling you God is sending the water.  The water may for your healing, it may be deliverance for your prodigals, restoration for your marriage, a breakthrough in your finances, or it may be the end to a spiritual drought.  I don’t know what the water will mean to your life, but I know that it’s coming.
Healing power is on the way, a miracle is on the way, your deliverer is on the way, your Nehemiah is coming, the Holy Ghost is coming, and He has your answer!
So don't accept the evil report of those who lack faith, don't accept the report of your own senses, but believe God’s report and dig a ditch!
Believe God's report and begin to praise him right now in the middle of your desert, in the middle of your fiery furnace, in the midst of your lion’s den, in the midst of your pain, and in the face of that bad report.  Your life may be surrounded by broken pieces, surrounded by voices of hopelessness and despair.  It doesn’t matter!  Dig a ditch!
The devil would have us believe that our situation is terminal, he would have us believe that we can never be healed, that your marriage can never be restored, that your prodigals will never come home, that this nation is doomed, that we are beyond help, that we have passed the point of no return, that evil has triumphed, and that false religion, homosexuality, lust, perversion, and idolatry have won.
He would have us to believe that are preaching is in vain, that the preaching of the cross and the blood of Jesus as the only remedy for sin, and that holiness and purity and truth and sanctification are all messages that are outdated and powerless now.  But the devil is a liar.
It's not hopeless and it’s not useless, and there is no expiration date on the blood of Jesus and the message of the cross.  The gospel is still the power of God to save all who believe.  The preaching of the cross is still as powerful as ever, and the power of the Holy Ghost still sanctifies and delivers and gives us power over sin.  God is still sends revival wherever the gospel is preached, believed, and acted on.
I want to encourage somebody today.  Your labor in the Lord is not in vain!  Keep preaching the cross! Keep preaching the blood of Jesus!  Keep preaching holiness!  Keep preaching righteousness and sanctification!  Keep rebuking the enemy and casting out devils and healing the sick in Jesus’ name!  Don't compromise!  Lift the standard high and your work will be rewarded!
We can see revival, we can have a mighty move of God, the wall can be rebuilt, but it's going to take some work on our part.  Revival is not a random act of grace that falls unsuspectingly on random people from time to time as the Lord sovereignly chooses.  Revival is the fruit of the cooperative effort of the Spirit of God and the people of God.  So dig a ditch and offer the sacrifice of praise!
Revival is not an accident, it begins with the desire for change.  It begins when we are able to see and admit what we have lost, what's been broken down, and we choose to no longer accept it as normal.  Sin is not normal, sexual immorality, divorce, sickness, and idolatry are not normal.  Revival is God's people praying, fasting, sacrificing, laying aside fleshly carnal pursuits, repenting, turning from our wicked ways, crying out to God and God answering them.  Stop sulking, start digging, and start praising God!
We can have revival whenever and wherever we are willing to pay the price and do the work.  It begins with every child of God rebuilding the wall in their own hearts, the wall of honesty and integrity truth and righteousness.  Start digging a ditch, present your living sacrifice to God, and God will send the water!
Nehemiah 4:1-3
“But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.  2 And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?”
Sanballat was saying was, the stones are trash and they're not good for anything.
When I read that, something stirred inside of me because I could hear the devil talking.  Through his words, I could hear him saying to so many people: you're no good, you've been burned, you're all messed up, you're broken, you're a drunk, you’re a drug addict, you're a homosexual, you cheated on your wife, you failed the ministry, you're a nobody, you're rubbish, you're trash, you're good for nothing, nobody wants you, you’re burned up and your situation is terminal.
But I can hear another voice speaking: the voice of Nehemiah the voice of the Holy Spirit saying: I want these old burnt stones.  I want those stones piled up in the trash over there, the ones everybody threw away, the rejected ones, the broken ones, and the ones that don't fit.  I want the burned stones, the ones who carry the scars of their abuse, the ones with needle tracks, the ones who have been rejected by religion, the outcasts of society, the lepers, and I want the untouchables.

I'm going to do exactly what you said I couldn't do, I'm going to take these old burnt stones and I'm going to make a new wall with them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that God uses old burnt Stones.  Excuse me please, I’ve got a ditch to dig!