Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Future of Christmas

It's nearly impossible to miss Christmas. Which is interesting to think about now as we are starting to take down ornaments off the tree, and taking down our lights outside that took me forever to put up!! But think back to Thanksgiving-Christmas was already everywhere!!
Radio stations play non-stop carols, people put blow up snowmen in their yard, your weekly newspaper triples in size with all the Christmas sales going on and yes, people seem just a little bit happier.
But way, way back there was a time where most people around the world missed Christmas. They flat out missed Christmas. They didn't celebrate anything. And yes, I'm talking about the first Christmas. The Christmas Day where God came to be one of us. That starry night as shepherds and wisemen huddled most likely in the back of some cave to marvel at the sight of God in the form of a baby. But even with the utmost importance of Christ's birth-people missed it.
Even with the prophecies surrounding the Messiah explaining a virgin's birth and even the destination, people seemed distracted-even the highly religious. It was a spiritually dark time in Israel. People were more worried about pleasing an oppressive Roman government than pleasing God in waiting for the Messiah. I can't help but compare that time in history to our culture today.
We've obsessed ourselves so much with pleasing a government and pleasing others (hoping to be pleased by others) that God has been shoved to the backseat.
I think this is where things need to change. This dilemma that we face brought about a thought in my mind and I've given it the title-The Future of Christmas.
No, it's not in danger of simply going away or moving to December 26th. It made me think about why we celebrate Christmas and what we need to start emphasizing. I believe the Future of Christmas is that we need to complete the Message of Christmas. Jesus was not just born, He lived, He died, He rose, and He is coming again. Yes celebrate Christ's birth, yes-read the birth story to your kids, yes-spend time with friends and family, yes-go ahead and buy each other weird gifts. All well and good, but let's start to realize that Jesus didn't stay a baby, He didn't stay in the manger. He had work to do.

We need to be watching and working until our Lord comes again. We should be using the days and years of our lives to serve the Lord-and to look for every opportunity to tell people about Jesus. The Future of Christmas for the church must mean we start taking advantage of opportunities.
So yes, Christmas has come and gone for this year, but the coming of Christ is happening again. We won’t remember the gifts we received on Thursday.
People may have missed the first Christmas, but we don’t want to miss His return.
The Future of Christmas? It’s simple. Don’t just be ready for December 25, be ready for Christ himself. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Christmas

Mary Did You Know? You will now be humming that song for the next week and it's all my fault! Usually around this time of year I always ponder just how much Mary and Joseph knew about Jesus. Yes, the angels came and told them some specifics:
But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. Luke 1:30-33
But any Dad who has ever witnessed the birth of a child nows that once that kid is born, you forget everything!! Where you parked the car, what name you picked out, what day it is, etc. Everything is wrapped around holding a child!! I'm guessing in that moment the angel encounters went out the window, possibly even forgetting what was foretold about the Messiah's life in the book of Isaiah-'He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter...'
All of that was forgotten in this moment-everything was about holding baby Jesus in their arms! And in that moment, for that time, I think it was right that they celebrated this birth. It was right that for that moment Mary and Joseph couldn't have cared less about shepherds, wise men, animals, being in a cave. It was time for these new parents to hold their new baby. But as we know moments come and go.

So what should our mindset be for this Christmas? The birth has come and gone. There are those who believe they have found the cave where the Christ was born. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But there sure aren't any shepherds there. It's filled with tourists. 
I believe celebrating this Christmas means we look at the total story. Why? Because we have it!! Yes our Messiah was born. The savior of the world! But we must team up that celebration with the understanding of why He came. He did not come to win baby picture contests! He came to grow as a man, to teach us how to live, to die on a cross for the penalty not of his sin but mine. And then to rise from death to show me that this life is not the end, but eternity awaits. Death has lost it's grip on me. 

So for this Christmas...I will celebrate. The birth, the life, the death, the resurrection of my savior-Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What's in a Name?

This is the time of the year where names matter.
We have joined the army of families that like to put together a mass mailer Christmas Card. Usually it contains a picture of my super cute family in the woods, or in the middle of snow. Or maybe even a picture with Santa but sadly this was the first year that Carlee wanted to have nothing to do with him. Maybe it was because we stood in line for over an hour to see a man in a red suit. I love being a dad.
My crafty wife takes these pictures and puts them together in a cute collage and then we send them out to family and friends that we aren't able to see often. To do that we need names (and addresses). Because I know how much they love getting Christmas cards. We tape ours all over our kitchen cabinets. And if you know me-I love clutter!! (That's called sarcasm.)
But names matter. My name matters because it represents who I am. Your name matters because it represents who you are. This time of year, every single person on the face of the planet is faced with one name-Jesus. Even today when Christ is being torn out of Christmas-we are faced with the name of Jesus. And yes I am that guy that when you say Happy Holidays-I will yell Merry Christmas back at you.
When you look at Isaiah 9:6 you see 5 titles for Jesus that I believe can be 5 gifts for you this year.
His Name is: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Wonderful-Because Jesus is wonderful he takes away the dullness of your life. Is your life dull? Are you bored? Look at the name of Jesus.
Counselor-Jesus will take care of the decisions of your life! You still need to make them, but He will guide you in which way to go. Do you have any decisions to make right now? Look at the name of Jesus.
Mighty God-This will take care of the demands of your life. Have you felt powerless lately? Have you felt that there is too much weight on your shoulders? His power-not yours-is what you need. Look at the name of Jesus.
Everlasting Father-Jesus will take care of your future. Have you ever stressed about your future? Do you spend more time worrying about tomorrow than realizing the blessings of today? Do you want assurance? Jesus wants to assure you that he has you in his hands. Look at the name of Jesus.
Prince of Peace-Jesus wants to take care of the disturbances of your life. Is your life filled with friction, hardship and difficulty? No? Ummm-try answering again. We all have it! How about peace that surpasses all human understanding? Look at the name of Jesus.

Names are important. Jesus' name is the most important. In your time of need say the name of Jesus.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Season of Stress

What have we done with Christmas?
Most likely as you're reading this you are in the middle of about 10 emails, texts and phone calls trying to figure out how you will spend your days on Christmas and around Christmas. This is the time of year that we become abnormally stressed out!! Why?? Because our families are weird. Yes, your family is weird. My family is weird.
We watch tv and find these horrible commercials of a family waking up on Christmas morning, fire ablaze, mom and dad sipping on coffee, kids all smiles ripping paper off useless toys and they appear to have been in their pajamas all day. They continue to hug and kiss one another, sing a couple carols in perfect harmony, and then take a joyous walk in the snow. Yuck.
Sometimes we watch these Hallmark moments and wonder what is wrong with our families. Why can't we join around the dinner table and like all the food and tell jokes that people will actually laugh at...it's so funny...it almost brings us to tears.
If we are consumed with places to be, things to buy, people to see what are we really celebrating?

Sadly I believe we have turned the season of Christmas into a season of stress.

So what needs to be turned around? We need to realize that the greatest preparation for Christmas is already done!! It's not you with that great glazed ham recipe or finding the best gift for your uncle that you know will make him laugh so hard he pulls something!! No-the message, the gift, the reason for Christmas has ALREADY COME!! It didn't come early or late-it was right on time.
Jesus has come which means your Christmas plans are already made. The celebration has already been prepared.

Matthew 1:16, '...and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.'

If you go further back in this passage of Matthew you'll find liars, adulterers, prostitutes and even murderers. Jesus came from a family full of people who had made a mess of their lives, and yet the grace of God still worked through them. No matter the state of your family believe that God can work through them and you. Jesus came to die for you and for them. Why? Because we needed it. Because we have sinned and fallen short.
So if the green bean casserole doesn't turn out-don't worry.
If you can't find a gift for that teenage cousin-don't worry.
If you're late for dinner-don't worry.
If your kids make you crazy on Christmas morning-don't worry.

Your Christmas isn't ruined. Just know the Message of Christmas is about the Messiah that has already come-Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The End Times

Recently I gave a sermon called, 'The Day of the LORD is Coming' at our church. We are studying the book of Malachi (which is HARD) and we came to chapter 4 where it speaks of heaven and hell. Sometimes it's very hard to wrap our minds around heaven and hell and especially the end times; mainly because we don't want to, or we don't want to take the time to study.
Through my studies of the Bible, and yes that means Revelation, I've come to this conclusion:
I need to live in joy and not fear.
Ok...that sounds like a nice tweet and not a theological stance. Well, let me explain. As a Christian, I'm a believer in Jesus Christ. I don't just know about Him, I believe in Him-which means I follow Him. I believe that when I die, I get to open my eyes and see my savior Jesus. I have a 'Blessed Assurance' that He will welcome me into His presence. Until then-how it happens, the signs, how Jesus will reach the lost...I don't know. I can read prophecy from the Bible and put together my opinion, but I need to realize that God is God. Isaiah 55:9, 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.' 
Sometimes I fear 'End Times Prophecy' has become an industry by those who are looking to write a best seller (not all but some!). But instead of trying to convince you on how the end times will happen, I would much rather spend my time making sure you know Jesus. I want to see the Holy Spirit work in your life, because He convicts, He supplies your needs, He fills you!! We are privileged to be apart of the process. 
So what's going to happen, when will it all happen, are there signs that we can decipher now????????? Your blogpost title said End Times!!!!!
All great discussions around a cup of coffee, but there is ultimately a much better discussion to have.
Do you know Jesus?
You see, we will all have our opinions about end times, and even heaven and hell, but there are some non-negotiable items for me. 
Matthew 24:36, (Jesus speaking) 'But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.' So even though I might like putting together world events like a huge lego ship, I don't know when Jesus is coming back.
Matthew 25:46, (Jesus speaking) 'Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.' Yes, I believe when Jesus comes people are going to end up in heaven and hell, and be there forever. 
And yes, it's still my favorite: John 3:16-17, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.'
This is why it's so important you know Jesus. God's great commission for me is not to persuade people to agree with me on how the end times will happen-it's to bring people to the feet of Jesus and have them make a decision.

I hope that when you think of heaven and hell, and even the end times, you can find joy in knowing you win. That's right-YOU WIN, because JESUS HAS ALREADY WON. 

If you'd still like to have that discussion around coffee-great. This cup is on me.


Friday, October 31, 2014

A Very Confusing Day

Yes, today is Halloween, October 31st, Harvest Day-whatever you want to call it.
Like most things you can find whatever information you want to try and argue your side.
Halloween is harmless because of  __________. Halloween is a devilish holiday because of ___________. Instead of trying to prove what Halloween is because of the past I wanted to pass my thoughts on the present state of Halloween.

I don't like it.

I don't like the types of shows on t.v. that glorify violence and horror. I don't like the costumes I see at Walmart that try and prostitute our children. I don't like seeing children running in neighborhoods without supervision. And yes, I'm not a huge fan of candy. I know, former youth pastor, weird.

So I can be an ol' crotchidy man or....

Since I know my children will grow to love trick or treating: I will not let my kids watch t.v. alone this time of year. My wife and I will always make the costumes that my children wear. I will always have time to walk my children around our neighborhood. When they get 'too old' for trick or treating we will open up our house to be the 'cool house' on Halloween. And by 'cool house' I mean parent supervised, bobbing for apples, pumpkin carving, costume contest, everyone out by 10pm house.
And yes, I'll let my kids eat candy really late at night-one night of the year!

I believe that we need to shield our children from certain things, but also let them be exposed to certain things. If truly all things can be used for good, why can't a time when we actually get to meet our neighbors be a good thing?

Soooo maybe I do like Halloween.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Connecting Your Ears to Your Heart

I'm a great listener. I can listen to hundreds and hundreds of your best stories, give a hearty laugh every now and then and even a fist bump if necessary. Now, am I going to remember those stories?? Well now you're asking quite a bit from me.
I don't think our culture has turned into people who don't listen, they just don't take the time and effort to connect it to their hearts. Yes, some of it has to do with selfish pride, and laziness. But I believe a large majority has to do with the simple fact that if you bring something to my attention that would trigger a change in my life...well...you're the hypocrite!! You're not a real friend!! Why can't I be who I am?!?
Sadly this is why so many people attend church for awhile, until they hear a message that convicts something inside of them and leave. Hopping from church to church until they can find a place that isn't so 'judgmental'. I've seen resistance to church, pastors, messages, but what if it's resistance to the truth? I believe that resistance to the truth isn't because people don't fully understand, it's just because they don't like it. Why can't God just be who I want Him to be? Why can't the Bible say what I want it to say?
Throughout the Bible we see covenants, or promises that God makes with His people. There is one covenant that sticks out to me very clearly. It's a covenant between God and Levi-it's found in Malachi 2:4-7. Starting in verse 4 it says, 'My covenant was with him (God speaking to Levi), a covenant of life and peace...' Yeah I'll take that. God, you're offering peace?? Yeah, my life is a bit crazy right now, I need some peace. Life?? Yeah, I'm good with living-I'll take that too.
But promises are worthless if they are only 1 way. True promises are between 2 people with communication on both ends. So what was Levi's end of the deal? 'Reverance...true instruction was in his mouth...walked in peace...walked in righteousness...turned many from sin.'
Ohhhh. So that's why Bible believing pastors talk about Jesus and sin.
The next time you're in church see if you're ears are connected to your heart. Don't just listen for the things you want, listen for the things you need. If your life is committed to resisting change and avoiding all kinds of conflict, you'll end up in a dark place all by yourself.

God gives forgiveness. He gives hope and He loves you. Stop resisting.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Sacrifice

As we're going through the book of Malachi in the Bible, there are times where it feels like someone took a brick and slammed it in your gut. This is one of those passages-Malachi 1:6-14. So God is speaking through Malachi to the priests of the temple. Notice how when God wants change He first speaks to the religious guys. Clean up your act-how can people know me if you only live for yourself?! 
Here's the passage:

V. 7-9: “You placed defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.
So what's happening? Well the people were bringing sacrifices to the temple-good. The problem? They were missing eyeballs, missing limbs, they were sick and diseased. Since this was Pre-Jesus coming to earth, people would bring the best of what they had to the temple to sacrifice in respect to God, but also to say thank you for His blessings. Sacrifices were a way to honor God. And animals in this day would represent wealth.
Oooooooh. What would you guess would be the first way that he would approach the issue of honor? Where should he start? He starts in a place that you don’t want him to, which means you need him to, and that is to honor God with your wealth.
 How many of you know that God knows your bank account? He knows how much you make, how much you give, and how you spend it. Did you know that? He does.
Here’s the issue: God doesn’t want your money. God wants your heart, but your heart is an indication of your money, because Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is.” You can’t say, “I love the Lord; I just don’t give.” In the same way, a husband and a father can’t look at his wife and kids and say, “I love them; I just don’t give them anything.” 
And so he parallels this with how they treat the 'governor'. 
He’s referring to the paying of their taxes, that the governor would demand your taxes, and you would not try and get away with giving the governor a lame tax payment.
For example, let’s say you get your tax bill and the government says, “You owe x number of dollars.” And you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t want to pay that. I have a box of old baseball cards in my closet. I’ll bring that to the IRS office, leave it at the front door with a note saying, ‘My taxes are now paid,’ and I’m sure they’ll be OK with that.” God’s saying, “You’re conducting your affairs with me in a way you don’t conduct your affairs with others. You’re taking advantage of my kindness. You would never give these things to people you love." 

So as the brick hits your stomach-what does your sacrifice look like to God? Have you kept the best of your wealth for yourself? Have you kept your time only for yourself-is it time to give God your time and serve? 

God loves, God forgives, and I pray that as I look at my life and everything I have it would honor God-not myself.