Open Up the Windows

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Daniel 6:10

Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth, but from falling in love. The story is told around Washington about former presidential assistant Bill Moyers, who has a strong Baptist heritage and is presently a popular political commentator. Moyers was giving thanks at a lunch with President Johnson.
His prayer was interrupted by the President, who said, “Speak up, I can’t hear you.” Muttered Moyers, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President.”

Jesus said, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Dwight L. Moody had a practical mind that never let a meeting get out of hand. Long public prayers particularly irritated him. Once he told his song leader, Sankey, “Lead us in a hymn while our brother is finishing his prayer.”

There are three rules about a prayer life if you want God’s blessing. Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. RULE 1: We must not let anything shut down our prayer life with God. Daniel knew that it was a foolish decree that Darius had made. Daniel knew that there were those who were trying to destroy him. The easy solution would have been to “give in” and go along with the majority. Even though Daniel knows that it is against the law, he is going to be disobedient! Darius is not a god and Daniel will not pray to what would constitute an idol. Daniel will not stop talking to his God.

Jesus’ disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread-which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Even with the windows open and his voice heard on the city streets, Daniel is going to pray.

Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed….RULE 2: Prayer should become a routine part of every day. Anything of importance must be a part of a daily routine. Prayer isn’t just when we are in difficult times – if it is, that says something about our relationship with God. If God is only a second thought in the course of the day, that says something about our closeness to God.

…giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. RULE 3: The style of our prayers tell a lot about the content of our hearts. The Hasidic Jews tell the wonderful story of Morris Meltzer who went to his rabbi and said: “Rabbi, my wife is going to have a baby. It’s our first child and my Lily isn’t so young.
When she goes into labor at our home would you make a special prayer for her?” The Rabbi said, “I’ll do more than that! I’ll come to your house with nine other men to form a minyan and we will pray for her together.” When the labor pains began, Meltzer telephoned the doctor and the rabbi. The doctor came and ran upstairs to the bedroom — the rabbi and the nine men stayed downstairs and began to pray vigorously. Morris sat outside the bedroom and waited. Suddenly the cries of a baby were heard and the doctor stuck his head outside the door and announced: “It’s a boy!” Morris ran to the head of the stairs and yelled down to the swaying men below: “It’s a boy!” They stopped praying — and the men cried out “Mazel tov!” “Congratulations!” The rabbi cried out: “Blessed be the God of Israel!” Then they went back to praying, and Morris went back to the bedroom door, when almost immediately the doctor stuck his head outside the door again and said: “It’s a girl! Twins!” Morris ran to the stairs and yelled: “Another baby! It’s a girl! I have twins!” “Mazel Tov,” shouted the men. “Blessed be the God of Israel,” said the Rabbi. And they went back to praying again. Back to the bedroom door went Morris. The doctor peeked his head outside the door and said: “Another boy!” Morris said: “What? Another boy — triplets!” Morris ran to the stairway and yelled down to the rabbi and the other men: “Hey, all you people down there… STOP praying!”

For Daniel, prayer is worship. To talk to God is more than conversation, it is worship! “Giving thanks” the Bible says.

One day in Lucerne, Switzerland, a man went up to the summit of Mount Pilatus in a cable car operated by hydraulic power. As he ascended, he marveled at the miracles of modern engineering. More than halfway up, his attention was caught by a waterfall. The water poured down the mountainside. If the railway symbolized modern science, then that waterfall was the symbol of primitive nature. “What a contrast!” he thought. Then it suddenly occurred to him that the waterfall was not a contrast but a complement. It was the source of that hydraulic power. It was the force of that water that was driving him up. So it is with prayer. The power that takes us up to God is the same power that comes from God.

Optimistic and Positive

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James 1:2-3

A woman went to the psychiatrist and poured out all her problems. The doctor said nothing — just nodded and grunted throughout the session. By the end of the hour, the woman was a bit irritated at his lack of input, so she said to him, “Well, Doctor, what’s your opinion about my case? What do you think?” The psychiatrist gathered himself together and said, “Well to be truthful I think you’re crazy!” The woman was aghast at his impertinence. She retorted, “Well, I think I’d like a second opinion.” So the doctor said — “O.K. If you want a second opinion — I also think you’re ugly!”

Bad attitudes have almost become a way of life in our society. The story of Elijah sitting under the juniper tree and pouting because he had been chased out of town by a ticked-off Jezebel is a study in bad attitudes. He’d had it. Rejection is a powerful theme in our lives. Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering servant as the one who was despised and rejected by men.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls a “bad attitude” arthritis of the spirit. The problem with a bad attitude is that it doesn’t allow us the power to see the real world. A pastor was visiting one of his parishioners, and as they were talking the conversation began to lag. The lady of the house, wanting to pick up the conversation, pointed out her window to her neighbor’s back yard where the wash was hanging on the line. She said: “See that lady next door and the wash she hangs out, see how dirty it is, she never hangs out a clean wash.”
The pastor felt somewhat uncomfortable and tried to change the subject and quickly drew the visit to a close. As he was departing, the lady of the house walked out on the front porch with him and again the wash next door was clearly visible to them. They both realized at the same time that this wash was sparkling white, just as white as any wash could ever be. The truth began to dawn on them that it was not the neighbor’s wash which was dirty, rather it was the window through which they viewed the wash.

Victor Frankle during his stay in a German prison camp discovered a real truth – we have the freedom to chose our own attitude! How are we going to respond? Those who responded to all the harshness with negative feelings didn’t live as long in the camp. Those who responded with a positive attitude lived the longest. The Apostle Paul writes, (Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.
“It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Having an optimistic and positive attitude seems to strengthen our faith.
James is leading the Church at a time when it is very difficult to be a Christian. The Church is poor and all of Jerusalem is struggling. But James writes, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?
Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. We misunderstand the reason Jesus says this, it is not for the benefit of the one being forgiven, but for the one forgiving. I am reminded of the young girl killed in a robbery of Mr Goodcents. When the killer was arrested and known to the community, her parents, “Forgave the man.” The benefit wasn’t the killers, but the freedom of the parents. It was a very Christian thing to do. The freedom to choose our response!

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it [demon] out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Prov 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Prov 15:13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. Prov 15:30 A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Never under estimate the power of an optimistic and positive spirit!

Research has proven that prayer mixed with medicine has better results.
Elderly people with pets live longer then ones that do not. The more happy the marriage, the better the quality of life people live. All directly related to having an optimistic spirit and a positive attitude. I went to the doctor one time for a serious sinus infection. He gave me an antibiotic as we would expect. But he also gave me a steroid that he said would boost the benefits of the antibiotic and make it work faster. An optimistic life and a positive attitude boost the benefits of our faith.

In the early 1800’s the custodian of a large cathedral in Europe saw a man come in just before he locked the doors. The custodian told him that he was about to close the cathedral and needed to leave. The man said that he had traveled a long way and just wanted to see the organ. When the custodian showed him the organ he asked to sit at the console of the great organ. “No,” the custodian said, “I could get in trouble with the organist.” But he let him. Then he asked to play the organ. Finally, the custodian relented and let him play. It was the most beautiful music the custodian had ever heard. “Who are you?” the custodian asked. “Felix Mendelssohn,” said the man. The custodian thought to himself, “I almost didn’t let the master play my organ.”

How many times have we not almost allowed the master to play in our lives because of our bad attitudes?

Our Advocate

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John 15: 26-27

Emmanuel, God with us. He who resided in Heaven, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, willingly descended into our world. He breathed our air, felt our pain, knew our sorrows, and died for our sins. He didn’t come to frighten us, but to show us the way to warmth and safety. However, Emmanuel (God with us) doesn’t end, for the Holy Spirit on Pentecost comes and remains with us forever.

The importance of the Holy Spirit is shown not only in events, but also in the frequency of his mention in the Bible: 142 times under 15 different names in the Old Testament, 256 times under 7 different names in the New Testament.
Noting the Holy Spirit’s prominence in the Bible: 398 references.

Of the trinity of God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) it is the Holy Spirit that is least understood and least appreciated. When Walter Wangerin was pastor of an inter-city church in Evansville, Indiana: Lillian Lander, an old black woman, would shake his hand each Sunday after services, lining up with everyone else and waiting her turn. She was short. Always he had to look down in order to find her. She was soft-spoken. Always he had to bow down in order to hear her. She was inner-city and self-educated, as was most of the parish then; but she chose her words with particular care, and always I weighed those words to find their value. Some Sundays she would say, “You taught us today, pastor.” Other Sundays she said, “Hooo!” and “Mm-hmmmm! How you did preach!” So, I stopped her one Sunday, holding tight to her hand. “Lillian,” I said, “sometimes you say I teach.” ‘Mmmmm-hmm.’ “And sometimes you say I preach.” ‘Mmm-hmmm.’
“Is there a difference?” She gazed at Wangerin a moment as though to say, “Didn’t they tell you in the seminary?” “When you teach, I learn somethin’ for the day. I can take it home, and I can do it.” She paused. “But when you preach, God is here. God is holding us. And sometime he smilin’. And sometime he be frownin’, surely.”

In the 15th Chapter of John, Jesus talks words of comfort with His Disciples who know that they are hated by the world. “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. It is interesting that John records this, for a little later in John 20:22, John will tell us something different. The issue is the difference between the “pre-resurrected Christ” and the “post-resurrected Christ.” Jesus said, As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

The festival is called the feast of Weeks because it was celebrated seven complete weeks, or fifty days, after the Passover. The Scriptures do not clearly attach any historical significance to this festival but seem to teach that Pentecost owes its origin to the harvest that terminated at this time.
Pentecost would take place 50 days following the Passover. The Resurrection (Easter) came 3 days after the Passover. The Ascension came 40 days after the Resurrection or 43 days after the Passover. Then Pentecost came one week after the Ascension.

God has always been present with His children. When someone understands the truth about Christ, it is always a divine miracle. Remember Peter’s great confession? Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” How did he know? Jesus said, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” There is no way to recognize Jesus Christ for who He is except though a miracle of God to open spiritually blind eyes. But when Christ opens the eyes of a soul, suddenly truth becomes recognizable.

“Every time we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it. Many people quench the Spirit by being down in the mouth rather than rejoicing, by planning rather than praying, by murmuring rather than giving thanks, and by worrying instead of trusting in him who is faithful. From Acts 12:2 we know that Herod beheaded the apostle James, brother of John, but do you know the rest of this story? James was the first apostle to suffer death after the martyrdom of Stephen. Although Herod was the authority that took his head, James’ fate started when a nameless individual brought charges against him before the tribunal. When the case was over and James had been condemned to death, this man who had instigated the trial was deeply moved by the behavior and countenance of the apostle. James was so filled with the Spirit of God that on the way to the place of execution, the one who had initiated the charges against him made a confession of faith in Christ. When he asked James to forgive him, the apostle said, “Peace be to thee, brother.” James then kissed him and both men were beheaded for their faith in A.D. 36. A Spirit-filled life may lead to physical death, but more importantly, it always leads to eternal life.

Dr. Raymond Edmond of Wheaton College had not been in Uruguay as a missionary very long when he became deathly sick. In fact, the Uruguay nationals had his grave dug, and were waiting close by to take his body away. Suddenly, Dr. Edmund sat up in bed. He called to his wife, “Bring me my clothes. I’m getting up!” He had instantly recovered and nobody knew what had happened or what had caused his recuperation. Many years later he was retelling the story of this remarkable recovery to a church in Boston. After the service, a little old lady with a small dog-eared, beaten-up old Prayer Book came up to him. She said, “What day did you say you were dying in Uruguay? What time would it have been in Boston?” They figured it would have been 2:00 A.M. on a specific date. Her wrinkled face lit up. Pointing to her book, she exclaimed, “There it is, you see? At 2:00 A. M. on that date, God said to me, ‘Get up and pray — the devil’s trying to kill Raymond Edmund in Uruguay!'”

Bob Mumford, in “Take Another Look at Guidance”, compares discovering God’s will with a sea captain’s docking procedure: A certain harbor in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger.

God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply-the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three harbor lights of guidance are: The Word of God (objective standard), The Holy Spirit (subjective witness) Circumstances (divine providence). Together they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along His way.

LEADERSHIP IN DREAMS

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Matthew 1:20-21

A wife said to her husband over breakfast, “I had a dream last night that you gave me a pearl necklace. What do you suppose that means?” “You’ll find out tonight,” the husband said. And sure enough, that evening he gave her a copy of a book entitled “Interpreting Dreams.”

All of us have dreams. We dream every night when we sleep, most of which we don’t remember the next day. In our dreams, we fulfill fantasies and desires. We live nightmares and fears. We relive the days events and how they could have been different. Dreams serve us in a variety of ways.

Dreams are one avenue in which God talks to us. Joseph is a normal, level headed and good man. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Get the picture? Your girlfriend with whom you have never had sex is pregnant! She tells you that it is God’s child. You don’t believe her and you know who everyone else in town thinks this child belongs to. Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

That is some dream! It would make a man change his whole course of action. The dream is a domain of experience, having an intellectual, ethical, and spiritual significance. (Living in an earthly body, we have, as the confusing background of our being, a dim region, out of which our thinking labors forth to the daylight, and in which much goes forward, especially in the condition of sleep, of which we can only come to a knowledge by looking back afterward.) In dreams, one’s true nature manifests itself breaking through the pressure of external relations and the stimulation of the waking life.

The Scriptures appear to hold the person responsible, if not for dreaming, at least for the character of the dream. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said. “Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will bring you back the answer the LORD gives me.” So the Moabite princes stayed with him. God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?” Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: `A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.'” But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s princes, “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again. Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” he said. Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.” Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.” The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.”

Because the dream was looked upon as a communication from God there arose those who professed the ability to interpret them (see Magic). They were not to be listened to if they taught anything contrary to the law. Instances are given of God’s aiding men to understand dreams and the divine lessons taught thereby, e.g., Joseph and Daniel.

“A significant aspect of dreams is the spiritual: they may become the means of a direct and special intercourse of God with man. God warned the wife of Pilate against being concerned in the death of the Just One.”

Dreams come with maturity of faith. Charlie Brown is at bat. STRIKE THREE. He has struck out again and slumps over to the bench. “Rats! I’ll never be a big-league player. I just don’t have it! All my life I’ve dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but I know I’ll never make it.” Lucy turns to console him. “Charlie Brown, you’re thinking too far ahead. What you need to do is set yourself more immediate goals.” He looks up. “Immediate goals?” Lucy says, “Yes. Start with this next inning when you go out to pitch. See if you can walk out to the mound without falling down!’

Joel says, `In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.’

Not What We Expected

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Titus 2:11-14

A few years ago Garrison Keillor had a Christmas special where he told this story about a Christmas gift. A few years ago, someone near and dear gave me a Polo shirt for Christmas and I said thank you, of course, and put it on and tried to look pleased, but what I was thinking was, “Burgundy?” In my experience, burgundy shirts are worn by guys who smoke cigarillos, drive Buick LeSabres, sit in the dark corners of cocktail lounges and place large wagers on basketball games. I’m more of a wheat type of person. Wheat or antique blue. But did I turn to the giver and say, “Sorry, I’m an English major and we don’t wear this color”? No. I put it in a special section of my closet where I keep never-to-be-worn clothes. After the three-month-Christmas-gift cooling-off period required by law, I gave the shirt to a shelter for the homeless. I hope it’s being worn by someone, and yet I can imagine a homeless person being offered this shirt and saying to the volunteer, You wouldn’t have something in a pale green or aqua would you? Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you look good in burgundy.

Thus, Garrison Keillor begins a fun essay on the perils of Christmas getting.
I didn’t say Christmas giving. At this time of year, some of us think the toughest job ahead of us is to go out and find the perfect gift – the perils of Christmas giving. But, if we are honest, we must admit there are also perils of Christmas getting. Much is required to be the sort of person who is able to give the right gift. It also takes a great deal to be a person who is able to receive Christmas gifts in just the right way.

As Keillor goes on to say, “A Christmas gift represents somebody’s theory of who you are, or who they wish you were.” We know how to handle the wildly inappropriate gift from a stranger, but what if you see yourself as a suave dude wish a swift intellect and then one year your wife – your wife – gives you a pair of singing undershorts that perform “O Tannen-baum” when you sit down and a battery-powered coin bank in which a little farmer picks up the coin in his pitchfork and hoists it into the silo? That’s when you go through a sort of identity crisis. You’d like to get a gift that aims high – Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a ticket to Nepal…instead here is a pair of bedroom slippers with lights in the toes so you can see your way to the bathroom at night, or a rubber ball on a paddle. Not the thing an inquiring mind would spend a lot of time with.

Like Keillor says, a Christmas gift often tells us very little about who we are,
but it tells a great deal about who others think we are or want us to be. A man was telling me the other day that he was the oldest in his family and his sister was the youngest. Every Christmas, he would receive clothes that were a size or two too big. His sister would receive clothes that were a size or two too small. What does that tell you? It told him that his parents were always pushing him, wishing that he was older and more mature, while they were always holding his sister back, hoping she was just a bit younger. In a way, the gift told us much more about the parents, the givers of the gifts, than it did about the children, the receivers of the gifts.

And how many children have unwrapped a package that appeared to be a boxed set of CDs – they were excited, imagining it was a new Screaming Meemies Set or Road Kill…And they got the paper off, and found Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos? With a picture of a geeky guy in a tux, holding a stick in his hand, and they looked at their parents with a pitiful wan smile and thought, “Why are you giving me this? Do you want me to be a hopeless nerd? Do you want me to never be invited to parties?”

I guess we could say that Christmas is “a holiday fraught with peril.” Again, part of the peril of all this gift giving and gift receiving is that we are stunned when we realize somebody whom we love and who apparently loves us, perceives us in a way different from our own perception. One of the toughest parts about Christmas is on Christmas morning, opening up gifts in front of the giver, and you are shocked, stunned by what you receive. What can you say? All you can do is sit there and exclaim, “Oh! Look at this! How interesting! Who would’ve thought!” You can’t tell them what you’re really thinking. Namely, “What on earth have you done? Who do you think I am? Are you crazy?” You take that gift, you put it wherever you put such gifts, and then, in the spring when the Seekers Class has its annual churchwide garage sale, you are able to offer a superb piece of merchandise, still in the box was unwrapped so leave off. Of course, you need to be careful. If the person who gave you the gift comes to the rummage sale, you’re in big trouble.

There is for each person a perfect gift – your heart’s desire – and nobody can give it to you except yourself. I’ve written a great deal about getting gifts from people, gifts that we didn’t expect, and certainly don’t want. Sometimes this can be a real pain. But at other times, such gifts can be a real blessing. Think of the gifts that you’ve received over the years that you did not want, would not have dreamed of asking for, but turned out to be just the right gift. Sometimes others are much better suited than you, to know the gifts that are really your heart’s desire. Sometimes, what you think is your heart’s desire really isn’t. I think that’s what happened to us at Bethlehem in the gift of the Christ child. We got our hearts’ desire. But we got our hearts’ desire not in the form in which we expected, or even wanted. We got a baby.

In this world that worships power, success, prestige, and raw force, we received a baby. Vulnerable, gentle, meek, and mild. And when that baby grew up, he became for many even less of what they wanted. He spoke biting, challenging words to the establishment. He challenged many of our conventional notions about who God was and what God wanted. He called us forth from our smug securities toward a life of high adventure and rebellion. Even at the end, particularly at the end, even after he had been with us for a number of years and we’d heard his teaching and seen his work, we rejected this gift. We took God’s most precious gift and nailed it to a cross, rejecting the gift. Still, God kept on giving, and keeps on giving even today.

We need to expect that God will send gifts our way that we did not ask for or expect, gifts that perhaps we did not want, but gifts that we really need. I know that this past year some of you have received many challenges and difficulties that you did not desire. Some of you have had health crises.
Some of you have gone through a period of great distress or trauma. Now, in many of these cases, I would be the last person to speak of such difficulties as “a gift.”

However, by the grace of God (the word grace means “gift”), even some of our worst difficulties can be transformed and seen as gifts. Having received the gift of the babe at Bethlehem, a gift we did not ask for or expect, but yet a gift that changed the world and us, we live in the expectation that God will bring things into our lives that at first may seem like great burdens, but by the grace of God become deep blessings. So, I don’t think that we are the only ones who can give us gifts we really want. I believe that the gifts we really need come from a loving God. This day has been born to us a child, a Savior, whose name is Jesus. He is God’s greatest gift. He is the one who, though we did not desire him, is a sign of God’s great desire for us. And that’s why we say, confronted with this gift, Merry Christmas!

And so we received an unsought, unexpected gift named Jesus. Thanks be to God!

Jubilee At Bethesda

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John 5:1-15

A woman from West Texas went to see the governor and begged for her husband’s release from prison. After a long wait, she was ushered into the governor’s office and proceeded to tell her story. The governor asked, “What’s he in for?” “Stealing a dozen hams,” said his wife. “Well that doesn’t sound too bad,” said the governor. “Was he a good husband?” “Matter of fact, he never said a kind word to me in all the years we’ve been married,” said the woman. “Was he a good worker?” the governor asked. “No, I wouldn’t say that. He’s pretty lazy. I can’t remember him ever having a steady job,” she said. “Well, was he a good father to the kids?”, he asked. “Well, the truth is, he’s pretty mean to the kids. Never pays any attention to them until he’s drunk. Then he’s mean to them.” “Ma’am,” said the governor, “I have to ask you, why do you want a man like that out of prison?” “Well governor,” she said, “we’re about outta ham.”

We cry out to demand justice, but justice is not what we want, we want mercy.
There is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate, a pool which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and it is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Bethesda, means “house of mercy.” Bethesda was a spring fed pool in the market place but not a pool the animals would drink from. Here a great number of disabled people used to lay. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Tradition said that an angel would come and stir the waters and the first person into the water would be healed of whatever was wrong with them. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

It is clear that the issue is mercy because the religious leaders have a problem with Jesus’ healing the man. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, `Pick up your mat and walk.'” Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Do we understand what mercy is all about? We throw around terms like “mercy killing.” “Mercy is a form of love determined by the condition of the one receiving mercy. Their state is one of need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is at once the kindly ministry of love. Mercy is a Christian grace and is very strongly urged toward all.

James the brother of Jesus wrote, But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17). Dr. H. A. Ironside in his book, in the Heavenlies, tells the story of an attempted assassination of the first Queen of England, Elizabeth. The woman who sought to do so dressed as a male page and secreted herself in the queen’s boudoir, awaiting the convenient moment to stab the queen to death. She did not realize that the queen’s attendants would be very careful to search the rooms before Her Majesty was permitted to retire. They found the woman hidden there among the gowns and brought her into the presence of the queen, after confiscating the poniard that she had hoped to plant into the heart of the sovereign. The would-be assassin realized that her case, humanly speaking, was hopeless. She threw herself down on her knees and pleaded and begged the queen as a woman to have compassion on her, a woman, and to show her grace. Queen Elizabeth looked at her coldly and quietly said, “If I show you grace, what promise will you make for the future?” The woman looked up and said, “Grace that hath conditions, grace that is fettered by precautions, is not grace at all.” Queen Elizabeth caught the idea in a moment and said, “You are right; I pardon you with my grace.” And they led her away, a free woman. History tells us that from that moment Queen Elizabeth had no other more faithful, devoted servant than that woman who had intended to take her life.

That is exactly the way the grace of God works in the life of an individual once he or she becomes a faithful servant of God.

My best friend from high school and I went to two different colleges. During his first semester he dropped out and got married. I was a part of that wedding. After a year, his wife decided that she loved someone else and left him. All of us hurt for him and supported him. Then he started dating another lady. I went over to his house one day and caught him in bed with her. I went “ballistic” because I was the moral watch keeper of all of my friends. He had made enough mistakes and this was just another one.

It is easy to demand justice, it is difficult to give mercy. Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

God’s judgment reveals who we are. God’s mercy reveals who God is. If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to Him, for only He knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ who bids us follow Him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy.

The Church is a type of Bethesda. In the place where God’s people gather, He has chosen to pour out His benefits of grace and mercy. Every Church that lifts Jesus’ name should proclaim and show God’s mercy. It is not right that we come week after week and never change. We come and go still sick, hurting, weak and blind. How can we come to the place of mercy and anointing and never be changed? It is beyond reason! Jesus says to you and to me, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Were You There When Jesus Talked About Marriage?

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Mark 10:1-12

A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office. After the examination, the doctor took the wife aside and said, “Unless you do the following things, your husband will surely die. Here’s what you need to do: Every morning make sure he gets a good healthy breakfast. Have him come home for lunch each day so you can feed him a well-balanced meal. Make sure you feed him a good, hot dinner every night and don’t overburden him with any household chores. Also, keep the house spotless and clean so he doesn’t get exposed to any unnecessary germs.” On the way home, the husband asked his wife what the doctor had told her. She replied, “You’re going to die.”

A man inserted an ‘ad’ in the classifieds: “Wife wanted.” A few days later he received several letters that all said the same thing: “You can have mine.”
Marriage is not dead. Nine out of ten Americans still get to wear a wedding band at some point in their lives. Cohabitation may be a seemingly sensible step prior to marriage, but it is not a viable protection against divorce. Nonetheless, the U.S. Census Bureau says 6,085,284 unmarried, opposite sex partners live together. Some call it cohabitation while others just say living together. Advocates of this set-up think it is wise to “test drive” the compatibility of a relationship before embarking on marriage. It is proposed as nothing more than a “trial run.” “If magazine subscriptions come with trial periods, why shouldn’t potential marriage relationships?” The logic can seem convincing to a couple not yet sure about marriage, but it just doesn’t hold up to hard core facts. Jeffrey Larson recently completed his research on 50 years of data to arrive at the conclusion: “couples who live together before marriage have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don’t.” He went on to say, “Psychologically, marriage seems to be a significantly different type of relationship. Commitment changes the dynamics of any relationship.
Cohabitation is not a trial marriage.”

Marriage is a divine institution designed to form a permanent union between man and woman that they might be helpful to one another (Gen 2:18). Moses presents it as the deepest corporeal and spiritual unity of man and woman, and monogamy as the form of marriage ordained by God. Parents do not credit themselves with having the greatest impact on their own children. We do not develop habits of genuine love automatically. We learn by watching effective role models – most specifically by observing how our parents express love for each other day in and day out. That is very different from what we find in the Bible.

In scripture, marriage is based on commitment, not love. In the Bible, most marriages were arranged. Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for Isaac – Rebekah. Jacob worked 7 years for one woman and ended up married to her sister.

Too often we change jobs, friends, or spouses instead of changing ourselves.
The grass on the other side of the fence may start off green but it usually ends up brown. 75-85% of all men who have had an affair end up staying with or returning to their wives. Of those who do divorce, only 15% marry the woman with whom they had the marriage-wrecking affair. Affairs are destructive and do not deliver what they seem to promise.

Commitment has always been the key to a good and long marriage. Do we hear the vows clearly? Will you commit yourself to her happiness and her self-fulfilment as a person, and to her usefulness in God’s kingdom; and will you promise to love, honor, and trust her in sickness and in health, in adversity and prosperity, and to be true and loyal to her, so long as you both shall live?

The issue of divorce in scripture is very difficult for many to understand. This is probably because I don’t think that the writers really understood. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” The burden is on the guilty party.

(1 Cor 7:15) But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

The issue always comes down to commitment! We are permitted to get a divorce if there has been an unfaithful spouse. The widow/widower is free to marry again, why, the commitment has been broken.

We forget, marriage is an earthly issue that was instituted for our benefit.
At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.