Sunday, December 02, 2012

Are We Listening to God?

Do We Believe What We Hear?

As the Christmas season comes fresh this year, let's look at another section of scripture that is written before one of the narratives of Jesus' birth.  The first chapter of Luke looks at the two families that conceive in miraculous ways, but responded to the news differently, which ought to urge us as well to really think about whether the Word of God is the trusted source of guidance in our own lives.

The Gospel of Luke was written by the physician of the same name, who also penned the Book of Acts (both volumes make up one-quarter of the New Testament scriptures), a remarkable fact since he was most likely the only non-Jewish writer of the NT (Ref: Col 4:10-14).  Luke drafted perhaps the most most comprehensive, chronological account of Jesus Christ's life (birth, life, miracles and teachings, death, burial, and Resurrection), with an emphasis on his compassion for the less fortunate and neglected segments of society.  

Grab your Bible and read through the whole chapter.  Now we'll look at some key ideas, remembering that for over 400 years (since the prophet Malachi recorded his book), God was silent to the nation Israel.  Men and women still had faith in the God of their ancestors, but He was quiet.

vs 1-4: 
Luke uses eyewitness accounts to offer his readers a complete picture of the Son of God, so that we may know with certainty our Lord and Savior.

vs. 5-25: 
An angel first appears to deliver a message.  

vs 7: Remind you of another couple that conceived at an old age?  How about Abraham and Sarah.  Remember, the birth of a baby is miraculous, but what is most important here is that in the case of both Elizabeth and her cousin Mary, the child that they bore was conceived through the miraculous work of God.

vs 8-9: Burnt offerings were made to God twice daily, as a symbol of prayers and praise to God. Wilmington notes that for the priest to enter the temple was a special honor, happening only once in a lifetime.  What a great place for God to again speak, at this appointed time in history, to a man that walked blamelessly before the Lord (vs 6).

vs 18-20: Here we see Zechariah's response to the angel delivering the Word of God - DOUBT.  Even today, when we doubt what God can do, we have difficulty hearing him (and often wonder why).  For Zechariah, this meant becoming mute; in a sense, God was preventing him from wandering farther down a path of disbelief by preventing his tongue from working (sometimes, I think we all could benefit from this).  Not a punishment per say, but a method to lovingly restore this servant unto his Lord.

vs. 26-38:
Now Zechariah's wife, Elizabeth, is six months along in her pregnancy (although no one else is aware, see vs. 24), and the same angel of the Lord that visited her husband now appears to her cousin, Mary, with similar news.  However, Mary is to give birth to JESUS (vs 31-33).

vs. 34: BELIEF. Notice the subtle difference to Mary's reaction as compared to Zechariah's:  He could not believe what the Lord said would be accomplished, whereas Mary simply asked how it would be so.  Do we fully trust what God has planned, or do we try to use our own ways to make something happen our own way?

vs. 36: Proof of God's work is delivered, since Mary could not have known of her cousin's miracle.

vs. 37: AMEN!

vs. 39-56:
Mary leaves with haste to go to her cousin to share in this miracle, and stays with Elizabeth for three months. She also sings a song of praise to God.

vs. 42: Note that Elizabeth, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, acknowledges that Mary is blessed among women, not above.  We are not to worship the mother of Jesus, but rather follow in her pattern by worshiping the One himself who provides salvation to each person estranged from God, Jesus (vs. 47).

vs. 57-66:
The time has come for Elizabeth to give birth, and a great celebration follows.  For a moment, let's consider the means of the names in this family.  Zechariah translates to "The Lord remembers," and Elizabeth means "God is my oath."  Wow, the Lord remembers His oath - a clear reminder that God's promises endure and that He, through the Holy Spirit, is with those who call unto Him for salvation always, eternally.

vs. 59-60: The Jewish tradition of that day was for the eldest son to be named after his father.  Keep in mind that Zechariah has not spoken in over nine months (depending on which spouse you are, that though may be exciting or troubling!).  Elizabeth, keenly aware of God's plan for her child, intervenes and surprises the gathering by stating her son's name will be John (vs. 13), "the Lord is gracious."

vs. 63-64: True to His Word (vs. 20), at the moment that Zechariah communicates (via writing) that his son shall be called John, his tongue is freed and God allows his servant to speak again.  After waiting for nearly a year to utter a word, Zechariah can only praise God!

vs 67-80:
Zechariah's song, a prophesy about the life and ministry of his son, John the Baptist (reference the Gospel of John, first chapter) in proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the Christ, the fulfillment of all Old Testament promises and prophesies, the only one to walk ever in the perfect law of God the Father and able to save a guilty person from their sins.  

Sunday, February 05, 2012

God Cares For Us

Jesus spoke many parables while He was on earth because much of the wisdom that He tried to impart was just to complex for the people to understand.  A parable is a way of using earthly examples to explain a Heavenly principle so that it could be understood, and when reading the Bible we see that Jesus used this pattern many times.

In John 10, we read about the Good Shepard.  We see that the Lord uses a familiar idea in that culture: shepards and their flocks.  As you probably know, sheep have a way of knowing their master, and will follow him only, even when multiple folks are brought together.  This happened often at night, when in the courtyard of a home a gatekeeper ("porter") was hired to keep all of the sheep in a pen while the shepard's slept.

On my father's dairy farm growing up, we did not have sheep, but the cows did follow his voice when it came time to calling them down from the hillside for feeding.  They knew him, and he knew them - even if one of the 80 were missing.  Same with sheep, and also the same with God - He knows us and is calling out to us so that we might choose to follow Him.

Let's look at the entire portion of Scripture now:
John 10:1-18 (KJV)
10:1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.

6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Jesus starts out this parable stating, "Verily, verily" and again echos this phase in verse 7.  Remember that in Scripture key ideas are repeated again and again, and when Jesus says "verifly" He is in essence saying "this is the truth."  The sheep here are just like us humans in that we are dependent on our Creator (even if we don't know it), and the sheep fold is the Church (remember, this is not only specific to a "congregation" because the Bible makes clear that an individual believer in Jesus is the Church.

It is interesting to me that verses 1-5 of this parable is directed towards those in ministry; at the time it was for the Pharisees and now can be looked at for those looking to enter into the pastorate (the only way is through Jesus Christ).  Jesus points out that His flock will only follow Him and His words, not those of a stranger.  God has given us not only His Word, the Bible, but also the Holy Spirit to test those things that we see and hear in order to prove if they are of God or not.

Verse 6 shows that those listening to Jesus still didn't get what he was trying to say.  There are times when I do not fully understand what the Bible tells me, but through prayer and studying God makes His way known to me.  I need to be patient and commit to seeking after Him.  Jesus gets his audience's attention again by clearly stating that "I am the door of the sheep."  In my own house, the front door offers an opportunity for fellowship as friends and family may enter in to share in my life, but also security and protection.  Jesus makes clear that this is the same with those who trust in Him, and that the Holy Spirit that is available to us now will help us to see what ideas or actions are of God or man.

Verses 9-11 explain more of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus was to make for me, and you, and all those who live in this fallen world.  He saved us from death, and offers today a way of salvation by the forgiveness of sins
because of His death, burial, and resurrection; we can have eternal life!  So much in this world continues to point towards the way of death and separation from God, but in His infinite love He offers a life that is more abundant than any of the perceived riches we can obtain on this earth.

We go on to read about a difference between someone hired to watch the flock and its owner in verses 12-14.  On the farm of my youth, my dad could not care for every aspect of the lives of his cows.  There was milking twice daily, feeding and cleaning, as well as going out to gather hay and plant corn.  He needed to hire people to help him, and when my siblings and I were old enough we were assigned duties to assist my dad.  We cared for the responsibilities that he gave us, but not to the full expectations that he had.  His care was greater because he had a bigger stake than just helping - he was responsible for everything.  Same with me at work in the pharmacy: at the end of the day everything to do with the business is on me (from proper filling and dispensing of medicines to recording the refrigerator temperatures).  I have people to help me, but in the end it is my responsibility to be sure every task is completed properly.  Jesus is the good shepard, and will not flee from us in times of trouble - Charles Stanley refers to Him as our "anchor in times of storm."  He was, is, and will be here with us.  He knows us and cares for us.

The parable concludes with Jesus again foreshadowing his death on the cross for His people, even those that were not Jewish.  Remember that Jesus' earthly ministry was focused towards offering salvation to his people, the nation Israel.  On the cross, he was mocked as the "King of the Jews" and yet endured the pain of our sins our of obedience to the plan that God had for him.  He came to be our living sacrifice (John 15:13) and make a way for the Gentiles (like me - I am in the fold of vs 16 that He speaks of) to be offered the forgiveness of sins by His act of love for us.

God knows us, and He loves us.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to this earth to fulfill all of the requirements of the Hebrew law, and offer a way of salvation from the death of sin for those who believe in Him.  It is not by works, but from faith in what He did.  That is caring that is out of this world!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Another Resolution?

New Year's Resolutions often revolve around things in our lives that we want to change - dieting to lose weight, exercising to become healthier, finding or improving friendships or romance to avoid loneliness, and prosperity.  It is interesting to note that only 8-10 out of 100 people actually keep their resolutions for the entire year.  I have seen evidence of this while exercising at the local recreation center - the pool and weight room are packed for the first 4-8 weeks of the year, taken over by "resolutionists" but then things get back to "normal" as they lose their motivation to complete their resolution.

A fresh start for a new year?  For many years I have not made resolutions, as I often find that when I try to change something about myself I fail.  Don't you?  Soon the level of commitment required to make a change on our own takes too much energy to fulfill and we go back to the thing we are trying to evade.  I am so thankful that the Bible offers something far greater - a new life, in Jesus Christ, that is obtained once and for all by faith because of the forgiveness of sins that we can have only in Him.  

Remember, when God created the world, "it was good."  After that seventh day, man started to muck it up, and we have been ever since Adam and Eve thought it would be ok to ignore God's plan for their lives and take to their own choices.  This new life is eternal, and happens when God causes a transformation for all who believe in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.  We are not held hostage by our sins, even though we must still make a choice to yield control of our life over to the Creator and allow the Holy Spirit to take hold of our thoughts and actions.  

Believers in the New Testament are called to be new creatures - not "remodeled" but altogether new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV) "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."  It should be no surprise that the most of the books in this section of the Bible follow a similar theme (which was carried over from the Old Testament): believers in towns fall away from God and His teachings and a letter is written to them, often pointing out their failed attempts to live according to their own ways and lovingly guiding them back to the Truth.

In Paul's first letter to the folks at Thessalonica calls on them to increase in their faith by loving and serving others, as well as going to the Lord in prayer.  J. Venon McGee notes that Paul offers 19 tips to live a life that is pleasing to God, and the points are easily applicable to us today just like they were almost 2000 years ago.  See if you can find all of them:
1 Thessalonians 5:11-22 (KJV)
5:11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 

How are you doing with applying these to your life?  If they were not against our human nature, it won't be tough to patient to all men or hold fast that which is good.  See, when we try to do things our way, we go right back to desiring to control our life, and that will eventually end up in us being disobedient to God.  My way is not His, so my way way is not good.  Thank God we can find rest in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of all the baggage in our life.  Our relationship with God is only fixed when we trust in His Son, and then we can find that with Him working through us, those points above in Paul's letter can be put into practice.

"A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one Year and out another."  Found that anonymous quote while looking through the web, and it is so true!  We need to give our will and choices over to God so that we can be the people that He created us to be, as individuals and as larger communities.  God's promise of salvation does not change, and He is waiting for you to come to Him.  You see, we can do something that He can't: sin. Titus 1:2 (KJV) "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."  He does not lie, ever.

I won't worry about a resolution that will fade away just like our good intentions.  Only God can cause the changes in our lives that will mold us into the people that He can use to complete the plans that He has for each of us.  Resolve this year for the revelation of God in your life, and know that you can trust Him to keep His promises.

Don't Be Like Mike

My photo
Thankful that God has granted me a second chance (quite a few, actually) through my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I love the Lord, my family, and enjoy endless laps of swimming and circles on a motorcycle. Follow Jesus.