December 13, 2011

Proverbially Speaking

 The life of the godly is full of light and joy, but the light of the wicked will be snuffed out.

--Proverbs 13:9 NLT)


Today's Text


9I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

John 10:9-10(NASB) [1]

15Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice."

Philippians 1:15-18(NASB)



Jesus NOT the Reason for the Season

By Don Meadows


Posters, letters to the editor, preachers and people in the pews do it vociferously this time of the year.  They proclaim, in protest of the commercialization of Christmas, that JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.


I understand their goal, agree with and applaud their efforts.  But they are wrong. 


Jesus IS NOT the reason for the season. 


You and I and the billions of souls who ever walked upon this swirling globe are the true REASON FOR THE SEASON.


Failure to realize that misses the real meaning of Christmas.  Yes, Christmas is a celebration of that miraculous birth in a manger in Bethlehem some 2011 years ago.  If we stop there, however, we perhaps bear a greater guilt than those who have no concept of the real purpose of Christmas.


Jesus said in John 10:10 (see above):  "I came that they (the lost sheep doomed to eternal death) might have life, and have it abundantly."  The purpose of the arrival of that babe in the stable was you and me.  We are the REASON FOR THE SEASON.


Every Christian is expected to do everything possible to proclaim the name of Jesus.  This is to be done in a loving, inviting way because that advances and, sometimes, accomplishes the purpose, the REASON, for Christ's birth.  To do less is to deny Jesus.


At one time I verbally resented the commercialization of the Christmas season.  It was easy to criticize those families whose houses were decked out with beautiful lights -- homes where I knew that not much thought was given to Jesus.  (My, isn't there a scribe and a Pharisee in each of us, quick to judge while not seeing the log in our own eye?)


Thankfully, I rediscovered Paul's introspection into the motivations of the human heart when it has a little bit of religion.  Paul's take, expressed in Philippians 1:15ff, states:  "Sure, there are people who preach Jesus for the wrong reasons.  Yet, there are others who have right hearts.  I rejoice in all forms of preaching, for the name of Jesus is being proclaimed.  Who knows if perhaps someone just might be moved to really accept Him, whatever the motivation of the preacher?"


Now the above paragraph is a paraphrase, of course, but it is in the proper context, I believe. Those beautiful outside lights, decorated windows and trees might mean little more than decorations to the ones who put them up. They probably put out decorations for Valentine's Day, Halloween and other holidays, too.


Here's a suggestion, however.  Instead of being critical, let's pray, asking the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to the life-giving reality that THEY ARE THE REASON FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON.  Let's live in such a way that they will see the difference Jesus makes in our hearts and attitudes.  Maybe they'll want what we've got.


Each time I hear a cash register ring, or see a package wrapped and given to someone, I am going to remember that Jesus was God's gift to you and me and all of us. (John 3:16)  Each light I see glowing brightly outside a home, business or on a tree, I am going to recall that Jesus said: I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.[2]


The smells of the holidays will remind me of the frankincense and myrrh given by kings when Jesus was about two years old.  The Christmas carols will cause me to think of the wonderful songs of the season we hear above the din of the shoppers and the times we sing them at church for three or four weeks.


Symbolism is such a part of the holiday; but don't forget, it's just that -- symbolism.   What's real, what's current is that Jesus is the genesis of Christmas, but you and I and all of us are the REASON FOR THE SEASON.

[1] New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation

[2] John 8:12 (NASB)


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December 25, 2011

Proverbially Speaking

 Fear of the Lord lengthens ones life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.

--Proverbs 10:27 NLT)


Today's Text



". . .and they bowed down and worshiped him."

--Matthew 2:11 (NLT) (entire text)



The Posture of Wise Men

By Don Meadows


Matthew 2 records the story of the visit of the wise men from the East to the home of our Lord.  More is reported of their journey, including the audience with King Herod, than is given of their visit with Jesus.


They arrived sometime after the nativity for Matthew 2:11 says, "They entered the house and saw the child." They knelt and paid Him homage and offered gifts.


There are four things we will consider in this story:


1.         They searched for Christ.

2.         They found Jesus.

3.         They offered Him gifts.

4.         They paid Him homage, or worship.


They searched for Christ.  Here is an important departure from the accepted -- and true -- doctrine of Divine Initiative.  It is true that God comes to us.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does search for the lost.  It's also true that the lost have a responsibility to seek God.


Inside of us is a desire to encounter the One who made us in His image.  I am touched when I hear of an adopted child searching for his or her biological parents.  It's a drive from deep within calling, if you will, for a deeper knowledge and understanding about oneself.


Friend, if you have never sensed the tugging of God at your heart, reach out to Him.  "Lord, I want to know You because I am of You.  Reveal yourself to me in ways I can understand."  Get ready, then, for some amazing things to happen in your life. 


The wise men understood the heavens, so God spoke to them through a star.  Look in the experiences of your life; there, somewhere, you will comprehend God's summons.  Follow it, search it out.


Relationship with God is more than the attainment of salvation. It is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for who and what you are, your potential and your limitations.  Surrendering these to Jesus enables one to grasp the greater joys God wants for you now.  And you will, thus, apprehend the greater realities of eternal life.


Secondly, they found Jesus.  God does not call us to look endlessly for Him.  There was a star; there was a house.  There was a Child.  The wise men saw these and found Him.


Have you seen Jesus?  I have!  He's in plain view, if you have eyes to see.  Such sight is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the spirit of one who embarks determinedly upon a faith journey to find Him.  When they saw Him they were changed.  No one can ever encountered the Living God and remained unchanged.


God is visible in the Church. I recently read that the people of  The United Methodist Church, through UMCOR --  the United Methodist Committee on Relief -- have given some $40 million to Haitian earthquake relief.  That is Jesus visible through caring hearts moved to open pocketbooks.


He also can be seen in the touch of a child, the hand of one dipping soup for the homeless or less fortunate.  Jesus is made visible in a "Get Well" greeting sent to someone, perhaps unknown, battling a deadly disease or suffering the wounds of loneliness.  The loving Lord is known in the gentle caress of a nurse in Hospice, making life a little less painful and death not so frightening.


God reveals himself in many way.  How have you found him?   As Master? As a child?  Yesterday?  Today?  Count the ways.


Third, they offered Him gifts.  Giving comes naturally when God is involved.


Much symbolism has been suggested for the gifts of gold, frankincense  and myrrh.  I attach no significance to these except this:  They were expression of adoration which emanated from hearts  changed through the processes of search and discovery. 


What probably began as a journey born by professional and intellectual curiosity turned into a heart-changing encounter.  These learned men must have been surprised, and amazed!


Note the gifts were offered AFTER they had bowed and paid Him homage.


During the Christmas season gifts are exchanged and presented for many reasons.  Those treasured most may not be the most expensive, dollar-wise, but those communicating genuine love.  The gift that touches the soul is not the one exchanged for another.  It's the one presented with no expectation of reciprocation but given to declare completely, "I love you."  Love always involves sacrifice, calling for emptying of oneself for the beloved.


Jesus, you'll recall, clarified the true worth of gifts:

" And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.  A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;  for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."[1]

The question begs, "What have I given to Jesus?  This year?  This Christmas?  What have I held back?   Why?"


Finally, these men knelt and paid homage to the child.  The King James Version says they "worshiped Him."  The words "homage" or "worshiped" probably come from a root word used to connote the actions of a dog.  Here it is used as "a dog licking his master's hand."[2] 


I thought of Diesel, my buddy, who delights in being with me.  He's beside my bed when I fall asleep and there each morning when I awake.  He will lick my hand or face if given half a chance.  His love for me, I believe, is simple and pure.  He loves me for what we have experienced together, for what I do for him.  I love him for the love he has for me.


When those wise men saw the Child, I believe, something happened in the depths of their souls.  They recognized Jesus as Master and bowed, not out of political necessity nor of honoring tradition.  There is no record that they bowed before Herod; but when they looked into the eyes of God they did what was wont to do:  They humbled themselves before the King of kings.  In an instant, it is reasonable to declare, they were changed.


He or she who comes into the presence of the Holy God of everything feels humility.  There can be no other imaginable demeanor when one embraces the person of Jesus the Christ.


It is amazing to me how Christians can be so casual about declaring Jesus is in their presence.  One can only be disturbed at the numbers of churches which have declared they will forego their regular worship services to accommodate Christmas morning family-togetherness.


One can not help but wonder:  To whom do we pay homage when Christmas falls upon Sunday?  Whom do we worship?  The idea of the holiday?  Families in the congregation who have little, or no, understanding that Christmas is an observance of God's plan of redemption through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus and will stay home to embrace their newly-opened stuff?  Are we yielding to the expectation that not enough people will show up to justify heating the building or taking the time to prepare a sermon?


Today, this Christmas morning, and every other non-holiday, the haunting question arises:  "Whom do I worship today?"


O, Thou born in manger stall,

Gift of life to one and all:

Receive, please, my heart's praise.

And may it be for endless days!


[1] Mark 12:41-44 (NASB)

[2] Greek Strong's word #4352



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