Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My sermon from this year's Christmas Eve service

Occasion:  Christmas Eve Service

Scripture:  Matthew 2:13-23 ESV

The Flight to Egypt
                13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Herod Kills the Children
                16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The Return to Nazareth
                19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

It’s called the Massacre of the Innocents – Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. We read an account of brutality like this and we say it is horriffic - and it was.  Unfortunately, it sounds all too familiar.  We continue to see images and read stories from Newtown, Connecticut.  We say that such a thing must come from some satanic source--and it does.  But we must remember that these are not isoated incidents.  Since Abel's blood wet the earth, Satan has demanded the death of our children.  Herod's horror simply mirrored Pharaoh's murder of the Israelite firstborn--and so it goes through the pages of time.
One preacher writes:  

“Abortion, child sacrifice, and other forms of infanticide were both legal and acceptable in pagan societies from the earliest times. One of the major signs of depravity in ancient Rome was that its unwanted babies were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements of from the attacks of wild foraging beasts. The primitive Canaanites threw their children into great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech. Is our contemporary society any less depraved because it delivers many of its unwanted babies to the hospital incinerator instead of the local garbage dump? Abortion today is even more vicious than the decadent practices of the Romans and the Canaanites since it has been commercialized and is “big business” for certain doctors and clinics. Our society has lost its fear of God.” [i]

And so it should come as no surprise to us when violence rules our nation, when the streets of America cry out with the blood of its children, even as the streets of Bethlehem cried out so many centuries ago.  Rachel is still weeping for her children.  The beauty of the Christmas story is tainted by violence.  The red in our bows remind us of a different crimson.  And like that first Christmas, our silent night ends with a journey into the wasteland, a journey into Egypt.  We ask ourselves, “What is the meaning of it all?”

What does God do with us when our stories are not so beautiful?  As people of faith, how do we deal with our journey into the desert?  We must understand that throughout the ages, God has used the desert experiences of our lives in order to show us that He knows what He’s doing.  He uses the wasteland to get us to trust Him for the present, and for the future.

God uses the wasteland to show us His Provision – The Israelites went to Egypt for its provision during the famine.  Not only did He provide for them while they were in Egypt; God also provided for them for 40 years while they were in the desert.

“Missionary statesman Hudson Taylor had complete trust in God's faithfulness. In his journal he wrote:
Our heavenly Father is a very experienced One. He knows very well that His children wake up with a good appetite every morning... He sustained 3 million Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. We do not expect He will send 3 million missionaries to China; but if He did, He would have ample means to sustain them all... Depend on it, God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.”[ii]

Perhaps you’re in the desert right now, and God is showing you that His provision is still there for you.  Whether you’re out of a job, or in fear for your job; whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or struggling to trust Him for the meat to put on your table—God is using this desert experience to get you to trust Him.

Sometimes, God uses the desert to put His people on Probation – The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because of their sin.  During that time, God purged the sin from His people.  They learned that they couldn’t do things their old, rebellious way.  They had to do things God’s way.  I know some people who have been incarcerated.  After they were let out of prison, they had a time of probation—of testing, to see if they really would keep their noses clean.  During that time of probation, there’s often a lot of temptation that people go through.  God uses this to see if they will go back to their old ways.  Maybe you’re in a wilderness time, and it’s a time of testing, a time of probation.  God wants to see what you’re really made of—whether you will trust Him to help you through those temptations.  Whether you will trust Him to help you live up to His calling.
Though it rarely makes sense at the moment, at times God uses the wilderness as a place of Protection.  Though it seems difficult, God may be sending you into the desert to protect you from something worse.  God led the Holy Family out of Bethlehem to nearby Egypt, to protect them from Herod’s threat.  The border of Egypt was only 60 miles away from Bethlehem.  Egypt, too, was a Roman territory, but crossing its border was not something that Herod had the authority to do.  Also, there was a significant Jewish population in Egypt, so Joseph, Mary, and Jesus could spend time among their own people while in exile.

You may be in a wilderness place in your life—but who knows?  Maybe God has placed you here to protect you from something worse.

God sometimes causes His people to journey to the wasteland in order to fulfill Prophecy.  Verse 15 says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”  Here, Matthew shows the ultimate fulfillment of a prophecy made in Hosea 11:1.  While the prophet had been talking specifically about the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt generations ago, Matthew brings a more messianic understanding to Hosea’s words.

In VV. 17-18, Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, saying:
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew Henry points out:

“that prediction was accomplished in Jeremiah’s time, when Nebuzaradan, after he had destroyed Jerusalem, brought all his prisoners to Ramah (Jer. 40:1), and there disposed of them as he pleased, for the sword, or for captivity. Then was the cry in Ramah heard to Bethlehem (for those two cities, the one in Judah’s lot, and the other in Benjamin’s, were not far asunder); but now the prophecy is again fulfilled in the great sorrow that was for the death of these infants.”  Regarding the reference to Rachel, Matthew Henry says, “Some think the country about Bethlehem was called Rachel, because there she died, and was buried. Rachel’s sepulchre was hard by Bethlehem, Gen. 35:16, 19; 1 Sam. 10:2.”

There’s a big difference between the prophecies given by men of God and the predictions made by psychics and fortune tellers.

“A devout believer in astrology, French king Louis XI was deeply impressed when an astrologer correctly foretold that a lady of the court would die in eight days' time. Deciding, however, that the too-accurate prophet should be disposed of, Louis summoned the man to his apartments, having first told his servants to throw the visitor out of the window when he gave the signal. "You claim to understand astrology and to know the fate of others," the king said to the man, "so tell me at once what your fate will be and how long you have to live."

"I shall die just three days before Your Majesty," answered the astrologer. The shaken king canceled his plans!”[iii]

The last reference to prophecy that Matthew makes is in v. 23, which says, “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”  Three times in this short passage, the evangelist reminds the reader that all these things were the fulfillment of God’s ultimate design.  While life does involve pain (brought on by our sinful condition and by the Fall), God is ultimately in control.

Finally, God brings people into the desert for a time of Preparation.  This time in exile would prepare Mary for what Simeon had said, “A sword shall pierce your own soul.”   Beginning her marriage and her childbearing years in this difficult way would produce a toughness in Mary and Joseph that they would no doubt need for the rest of their lives.  It would also build resilience and a strong trust in God.  Just as Jesus needed forty days in the wilderness to prepare Him for ministry, often God has used the desert to prepare people for great things.

In light of recent events, I believe that America is in a desert time right now.  It could be that our church is also in a desert time—and we have to trust the Lord for whatever is going to happen tomorrow.  Perhaps you’re in a desert time right now in your life.  Whether God is reminding you of His provision, or whether you’re on probation at the moment, you can trust that God knows what He’s doing.  Listen to the prophetic word that He speaks to your heart, showing you that He has been working for your benefit, and He will continue doing so.  Trust that He will protect you today, and that He’s preparing you for tomorrow. 

The good news is that the Christmas story doesn’t end in the desert.  It doesn’t end in Egypt.  It ends in safety, and in return to blessing with restoration.  This is God’s ultimate plan for you.  And remember, God knows what He’s doing. 

[ii] Our Daily Bread, May 16, 1992.
[iii] Today in the Word, July 16, 1993.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Journey to Jerusalem

Today as I was getting dressed for church, I was putting on my tie tack.  I got distracted, and when I came back to where I had been putting on my tie tack, I couldn’t find my tie tack back.  I spent five minutes looking all over the place for it, until finally I felt something in my mouth.  It was my tie tack back.

Sometimes we lose things, like (putting glasses on head) saying, “Where are my glasses…where are my glasses?”  It’s no big deal, really, when it’s something like your tie tack back or even your glasses.  But what about when the thing you’ve lost is—hope?

The Jewish people in Babylon had lost hope.  They had been separated from their Jewish brethren now for centuries, and were isolated.  The one hope they held onto was the memory of a teaching their ancestors had received from the prophet Daniel.  Remember—Daniel had become the chief of all the astrologers, diviners, and magicians in Persia.  He had passed on to both the Jews and his gentile disciples the teaching that one day a Messiah would come to the people of Israel.  But now generations had passed, and still the Messiah had not come.  Then one day, hope shone like a bright light in the form a star that appeared over Israel—a star that the astrologers knew pointed to the promised One.  So they decided to follow the star to Israel and discover this newborn King.

Assuming that the King would be born in the royal palace in Jerusalem, the Wise Men first paid a visit to Herod, the puppet-king whose rule was sanctioned by Rome.  When they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews,"[i] Herod had no idea what they were talking about.  But the religious leaders knew.  They pointed the Magi to the prophecy of Micah, which said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."[ii]

Bethlehem was not what the Wise Men expected, yet at hearing God’s word through the prophet, they chose to follow the Lord’s direction instead of their own expectations.  They made a detour from their journey to Jerusalem and set their faces toward Bethlehem.  It was there that they found the Christ Child, and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

At times, we can be like the Wise Men—looking for Love in all the wrong places.  We try to find God at church, but we won’t find Him in the stained glass, beautiful cantatas, or Christmas decorations.  At church we’re pointed to the real place where we can find God—in a much more humble location, in our own hearts.  I hope that you’ll listen to God’s word as it comes to you this Christmas.  I hope you’ll find Him, even if it’s where you least expect Him. 

[i] Matthew 2:2 NIV
[ii] Micah 5:2 NIV

Monday, December 17, 2012

Grief and Grace

Spirit & Truth # 302
“Grief and Grace”
By Greg Smith

          Like you, I was shocked to hear the news of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  We mourn with the families of the twenty children and six adults who were killed.  We pray for their spiritual, physical, and emotional healing.  We grieve over the victims.  We also grieve over the unimaginable horror that must have lived in the mind of the shooter, Adam Lanza.  We weep for every injury and death—every single one.
            You may find it strange to grieve with Lanza’s family, after he caused such terror and devastation.  But when I think of a young man like this, I shed tears over the trouble that must have been in his soul for a very long time before he pulled the trigger all those times.
            Lanza is described as “weird,” or “a loner,” or “not connected with the other kids.”  Schoolmates said that he couldn’t maintain eye contact with other people.  Reports say that the shooter’s mother, Nancy Lanza, had said that he may have had Asperger’s Syndrome.  Unrelated to Asperger’s, Lanza also suffered from a disorder that caused him to feel no physical pain.  As a result, the media has been buzzing with discussion of mental and emotional disabilities and disfunctions.  Some of this is good—as long as it generates a productive conversation about our society’s skewed views of mental health, and works toward greater understanding of mental disorders.  But my concern is that the result may be quite the opposite.
            Almost immediately after the Newtown shooting, when the media reported Lanza’s Asperger’s Syndrome, a friend of mine inquired, “How is your son taking the news?”  What did she mean?  My teenage son, diagnosed with a minor case of Asperger’s Syndrome, has observed more severe “Aspies” isolating themselves and become vulnerable to discrimination.  People think that just because Aspies think differently than others there must be something wrong with them.  Some people may even fear those whose brains work differently from their own.  Yet nothing is “wrong” with those whose minds work on different operating system.  It’s been said that if the whole world is made up of people whose brains work like PCs, then Aspies are Macs.  Both work brilliantly—even if they are often incompatible.
            As a Christian, I try to be aware when I find myself judging others unfairly.  When I discover that I’m prejudiced against an entire group of people based on the misdeeds of one or a few, I need to put a stop to that attitude.  I wouldn’t say, “The shooter had brown hair, so I’m afraid that other Brownies might flip a circuit.”  Likewise, I hope that sensitive people will refuse to develop a prejudice against those with Asperger’s Syndrome or other similar conditions because of the actions of one man. 
            Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”[i] In God’s way of doing things, people who sow the wind of judgment will reap the whirlwind of their own discrimination.  Let’s be careful how we judge people who may share some of the same characteristics as others whose sins bring grief to our hearts.  Let’s take each person on his or her own merit.
            Just as it’s unhealthy to judge others based on Lanza, it’s also unhealthy for us to judge Lanza at all.  Facebook buzzes with people saying things like, “Lanza, I hope you burn in hell.”  But Jesus told us to love our enemies, and to forgive those who mistreat us.  Vengeance and justice are God’s province, while believers need only pray that healing will emerge from the ashes of our pain.  Hate only hurts the person who hates, but wholeness comes from the Lord. 
            As we remember the victims, let’s also look with compassion on Adam Lanza.  No one knows the internal torments he went through, except himself and God.  As we pray for victims’ families, let’s pray for Adam’s family as well.  They too are in need of grace.  And may God have mercy on us all.

[i] Mt 7:1-2

Journey to the Manger

Dec 16, 2012
Title:  "Journey to the Manger"

Morris Mandell writes about a Chinese legend:
“A group of elderly, cultured gentlemen met often to exchange wisdom and drink tea. Each host tried to find the finest and most costly varieties, to create exotic blends that would arouse the admiration of his guests.

When the most venerable and respected of the group entertained, he served his tea with unprecedented ceremony, measuring the leaves from a golden box. The assembled [connoisseurs] praised this exquisite tea. The host smiled and said, "The tea you have found so delightful is the same tea our peasants drink. I hope it will be a reminder to all that the good things in life are not necessarily the rarest or the most costly.” [i]

             What is true for tea is also true for people.  Those who are the most interesting, intriguing, and inspirational are often not the grandest and most glorious.  Throughout the Bible, God uses common people to do uncommon things.  “The first shall be last,” Jesus said, “and the last shall be first.” [ii]  God’s Word is filled with stories of ordinary people like tradesmen, teachers, and tax collectors—the last people you would think of—all of whom changed the world.  Today’s scripture is about a group of people like that—tired shepherds who made an amazing journey from a dirty field to a dirty manger.

             Travel wasn’t done in those days just for fun.  Nobody left everything behind just for a week of vacation.  It took something tremendous in order to make someone leave their home or their work.  Maybe a celebration like a family wedding would call people to travel.  Or perhaps an emperial edict like the one that forced Joseph and Mary to uproot and go to Bethlehem.  Sometimes people made religious pilgrimages…but it took something special to make a person leave everything behind and travel.  It would take something big to make the shepherds leave their work and journey to the manger.  What would it take for you to leave behind all that’s on your plate today—to find what God has in store for you?

            Maybe you would say that it’d take a lot of luck.for something amazing to happen to you.  “These shepherds were just in the right place at the right time.”  Verses 8-9 say, 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.  You might argue, “These shepherds didn’t plan to be part of the Christmas story—they were just lucky!”  Similarly, you could argue that if you only had more luck, you might experience good things more often.  You might have won that $550 million Powerball jackpot last month.  Or maybe if you had just been born into a different kind of family, you might have ended up some kind of saint—but that’s just not who you are.  It’s just your luck that you would turn out the way you did.  But the Bible says that there’s more to it than simply chance.  Proverbs 16:33 (ESV) says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  In other words, your journey to the manger (or your journey to Jesus) isn’t a matter of chance.  It’s a matter of God deciding to appear to you in a wonderful way.
            One thing it would definitely take for you to move from the common, ordinary, everyday experience of your life, into an experience of God’s presence, is a huge dose of liberation.  Do you remember that show Fear Factor?  Contestants had to brave their greatest fears, like being covered with spiders or walking a tight rope across a canyon.  Each one of them needed liberation from the fear that gripped them.  Luke 2:10-11 says, 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.”  Do you know what you would have seen if you had been there that night when the angels appeared in the sky?  You would have seen shepherds shaking in their shoes.  This happens all the time in the Bible when someone comes face to face with an angel.  But the angel’s message is “Fear not!”  Hebrews 10:31 (ESV) says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  But instead of fear, the angel wanted the shepherds to know the liberation of meeting God face to face in the person of Jesus.  What are you afraid of?  Like the shepherds who quaked before an angelic appearance, are you afraid of the supernatural?  Would you prefer to remain in the dirty fields of life rather than going off to meet God face to face?  God wants you liberated so you can find Him.

Some people are so set in their ways that they won’t set out unless they see a sign.  Like the barrage of signs that someone put up along the freeway that were written as if they were from God.  Like, “I miss how you used to talk to me when you were a kid—God.”  Or, “As my apprentice, you’re never fired—God.”  Or, “Let’s meet at my house Sunday, before the game—God.”  It’s not wrong to ask God to make something clear to you.  Gideon set out a fleece,[iii] Noah sent out a dove,[iv] and God gave the angels to the shepherds, and He told them what to look for as they searched for the baby.  In vv. 12-14 the angel says, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
You might remind me that twice in the Gospel of Matthew,[v] Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign.”  Yep—He did say that.  But notice that word “miraculous.”  Jesus didn’t say it was wicked to ask for a sign of any kind.  No—God is in the business of giving signs to His people.  But don’t insist on miraculous signs.  Instead, be observant of the way God is speaking all around you.  Look for simple signs.  Listen to the conversations that just come up “by accident.”  Pay attention to what you read in His word everyday.  Watch the examples given to you by natural events.  God is still speaking—but you don’t need a billboard to hear Him.
The last thing you will have to do is Switch employers.  Verses 15-16 tell us, When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  Do you think that those shepherds could have left their flocks alone in the night if they were concerned about what their employer might think?  No—they had just heard the greatest news ever shared with human beings, and along with that they received a commission from God.  That baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, but maybe that wasn’t enough warmth in a cold, wet cave.  God was sending the shepherds with some fleece to keep that baby warm!  Their job was to switch the swaddling clothes for the snuggly skin their sheep could provide.  The shepherds switched employers, preferring their mission from their Maker over their mandate from the man they worked for.  If you’re going to serve God, you’re going to have to switch employers.  Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.”[vi]
Switching employers doesn’t mean scrapping the work that you do.  The shepherds didn’t quit being shepherds—they simply readjusted their priorities to put God first in all things.  Do you remember those seven dwarves who sang, “Whistle While You Work?  Well, the shepherds changed their tune to “Worship While You Work.”  Verse 20 says, The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  They continued in their chosen profession, glorifying God as they worked. 
Our Gold Nugget for today is Colossians 3:23-24.  You can find this verse printed in your bulletin.  I encourage you to take it home and cut it out.  Anthony told me this week that he keeps his on the dashboard of his police cruiser.  What a wonderful thing—for people who get arrested to sit in the back seat and instantly get a word from God!  What a great thing—for Anthony to be reminded of God’s word daily.  I hope you’ll take yours to heart as well.  Colossians 3:23-24 is our Gold Nugget for 2012.  We started out the year by talking about doing our best in all circumstances.  Go ahead and take your bulletin out so we can read it together.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
God calls each of us to Journey to the Manger.  It won’t take luck to leave behind the mundane life and find God.  It will require, and result in, a divine liberation from fear.  You may see some signs along the way if you’re looking to find Jesus.  He calls us to continue doing the work that we’ve been doing, but to find God in it.    Like He did with the shepherds, God wants to wake you up to His will.  He wants you to be willing to follow where He leads.

[i] Morris Mandel in Jewish Press.  K. Hughes, Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, Tyndale, 1988, p. 133.
[ii] Mt 19:30; 20:16
[iii] Jud 6:36-40
[iv] Gen 8:6-12
[v] Mt 12:39; 16:4
[vi] Mt 6:24

Monday, December 10, 2012

Journey to Bethlehem

Spirit & Truth # 301
“Journey to Bethlehem
By Greg Smith

            Jack Kaplan is a man who has enjoyed considerable prosperity in life.  As the owner of a chain of franchise restaurants, he is used to having everything he wants.  He lives in the largest house, perched on the highest hill of his neighborhood.  His children attend one of the prestigious schools in his city, and he's been planning on taking his wife to Europe in the summer.  But due to a series of poor business decisions, Jack has finally accepted that he will no longer continue owning his restaurants.  He's uncertain as to how he can continue to afford to send his kids to the school they've been attending, and he's long since given up on the idea of Europe this year...or any year, for that matter.

            As hard as things are for Mr. Kaplan, things are more difficult for Clare Sidler, who is a waitress at one of Jack's restaurants.  Due to the owner's business problems, Clare has been laid off.  Now she has to go job hunting, but depression has begun to set in, crippling her ability to get out of the house and even look for employment.  Her family needs her to work, and she knows it.  But even mustering the energy to get out of bed in the morning takes all the energy she has.

            I wish I could tell you how Jack's story, or how Clare's story, ends.  The problem is that they haven't ended yet.  I can't wrap either of them up with a nice Christmas bow for you, because both Jack and Clare are waiting to see how their own stories turn out.  Times are uncertain for them, as they are for many these days.  

            Times were uncertain for Mary and Joseph as well.  Caught in an uncertain political time, they had to make an arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be taxed.  The journey would have been difficult enough at any point in the pregnancy, but Mary was “great with child.”  Surely this slowed their travel so that by the time they reached Bethlehem there was no room in the village inn.  As Mary began to go into labor, there remained no place for her to deliver.  So they found a dirty cave outside of town that the villagers used for a stable.  There, with Joseph as the midwife, she delivered her baby.  Wrapping the child in old rags to protect Him from the cold, she held Him close and nursed Him til He slept.  

            We’ve all read the story, so we know how it turns out.  We know about the shepherds and angels, and the wise men with their gifts.  But, like Jack and Clare whose stories haven’t yet been finished, Mary and Joseph didn’t know how things would turn out.  To us, Christmas is a beautiful story.  To those who lived it, uncertainty ruled their hearts.  

            You may feel unstable today as well.  Fiscal cliffs, family troubles, friendship difficulties, or physical ailments cause uncertainty in your heart.  But when you have uncertain provisions, God gives a certain promise.  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  Your story isn’t finished yet, but you can be sure that the Author knows how it ends.  And you can be certain that His plans for you involve blessing and hope.  Trust God for your future, and leave your worries to Him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Spirit & Truth # 300
“Journey to the Center of the Earth”
By Greg Smith

            Have you ever moved to another country?  Expatriates talk about the culture shock that they go through when they leave their homes behind and exchange them for a foreign society.  Sometimes in such a move you also have to learn a different language.  Missionaries and members of the military may even experience danger when they perform their duties in another land.  Then if you move back home after being gone a while, you experience that culture shock again.

            If culture shock can be so great when you move from one country to another, imagine the shock of moving to another world.  For example, scientists have just discovered water on Mercury.  What if, in generations to come, we were to colonize another planet?  Or, like in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, you could descend to a lower region of the earth filled with strange and wonderful creatures, plants, and experiences?  You’d be reeling from the adjustment!

            Jesus had his own “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”  Ephesians 4:9 (ESV) says that Jesus “descended into the lower regions, the earth.”  He abandoned His heavenly throne for a world that was entirely different from anything He knew in Heaven.  Imagine the culture shock He must have had when He exchanged glory for guts and grime!  John 1:14 (ESV) says that He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  He made the world, yet He chose to become part of it.  Those who received their very breath from their Creator rejected Him when He appeared.  Yet even though we rejected Jesus, He sacrificed Himself to save us anyway.

            What kind of God does something like that?  When people reject me, I’m likely to return the favor.  Yet when we despised Him, He died for us.  What a staggering thought!  Then, the Bible tells us something equally staggering.  “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5 NIV).”  God expects Christians to act like Christ.  We can’t do that on our own, but when the mind of Christ dwells in us, He can transform us into Christlike people.  

            It takes a humble God to endure the culture shock of abandoning Heaven in exchange for the discomforts of this world.  It takes even more humility to endure the cross’s shame for people who refuse you.  But that’s the kind of meekness that Jesus modeled—and He told us, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5 ESV).”  

            Even as Jesus left His glory and descended to those who were less than He was, He calls you to leave your glory.  Are there those who you feel are less than you?  Maybe you feel you’re smarter or wealthier or more athletic or more beautiful or holier than they are.  Jesus calls you to leave your glory and come down to their level.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).  Only when you do this can you be like Christ.  Only this way can you truly call yourself a Christian.