Home For Christmas

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Isaiah 52:7-10

Did you ever consider how hassle-free it is to be dead? You wouldn’t have to get up in the morning and shower or brush your teeth, or fight to get that last hair in place. Your suit would be neatly pressed for you and you wouldn’t have to worry about getting it stained or wrinkled by sticky fingered children who are climbing up in your lap after dinner. Everything would be nice and neat and orderly and . . . DEAD! Some homes are like that. You know the kind; there you are afraid to sit on the furniture. Churches can get like that too, nice and neat and dead! Personally, I prefer the controlled chaos of the alive Church. One that is often in disarray because of the life that is happening in it.

Where tattered cocoons lay here and there as evidence of a tremendous struggle, but where a butterfly emerges. I prefer a church home where lots of neighbors and their kids gather in an atmosphere of comfort saying you are welcome here in the name of the Savior who lives and understands life. Lastly, I prefer the Church where the excitement of each new day is to watch in wonder how God takes an impossible problem and resolves it to his glory and my growth. Yeah, I’ve considered the dead church, but it’s DEAD compared to LIFE!

Ever notice how the world comes alive at Christmas time? Victor Hugo once said, “A house is built of logs and stone, but a home is built of loving deeds and will stand a thousand years.” At Christmas one can almost feel the love in the air. It is the one time of the year that even those who are “tightwads” will open their purses and share.

Inter faith ministries has for many years been encouraging people to volunteer to work with people with AIDS in our community. For years I have always found a reason why I could not help. Just not enough time.
– It would be better for a lay person than a minister (we get preachy).
– But there was something inside that kept telling me that I was avoiding the
real issues.
– I don’t want to be around that environment.
– I don’t want to be around death and dying, I have done my time.
– It is preciously because you have walked the path that they need you.
– Death must be prepared for.
– People must be loved.
– God, we are talking AIDS here, and I don’t care whether it came from lifestyle
or drug use, I don’t want to be around it.
– You don’t want to minister to the lepers?
– The ones no one want to be around.
– The ones who’s familes are rejecting them.
– The ones that can’t get insurance or hold a job.
– You know, “the least of these.”

My first meeting with the young man (5 years difference) who had AIDS who I was to minister to was tense at first. It is never easy to learn about new people, especially ones with such great needs. I tried to be as incognito as possible, not telling him I was a minister. After about an hour of conversation he said, “You must be a minister.” “You strike me as a choir boy.” “In one hour you have been only kind and haven’t said a curse word yet.” But you know, my prejudices were there. At one point he told me he smoked. I caught myself saying, “Do you want to die of lung cancer?”

When the visit was over I got in my car and I had a Christian CD in the player.
It was Easter music. It had been a good visit but I was tired, emotionally drained, hurting for him because of his load and his loneliness. Somehow in that car with that music, I was home with God. I could have easily been that young man and made all of the wrong choices in life. But it was my relationship with God that had made the difference.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion,”Your God reigns!”

Learning To Pray: Personal Prayer

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John 17:1-5

Herb Miller wrote in Connecting with God: When a nightclub opened on Main Street, the only church in that small town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes, lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. The owner sued the church, which denied responsibility. After hearing both sides, the judge said, “It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner believes in prayer, while the church doesn’t.”

The Bible teaches us that there are four types of prayer. 1) Personal prayer
2) Intercessory prayer 3) Community prayer 4) And travailing prayer.

The 17th chapter of John is a key point in the life of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room has concluded. Jesus is in the garden and He knows what is about to happen. The Roman soldiers are on their way to arrest Him. The disciples that have gone with Him to the garden are tired and keep falling asleep. Jesus does something very important and very real, He prays.

The first five verses of chapter 17 are very personal words between Jesus and His father. We see the intimacy of a father and son relationship. We see the openness of one talking to God.

Prayer is nothing more than an open and honest conversation with God. Prayer is the only thing that “conquers” God. But Christ has willed that prayer never be used for evil. All the power He has conferred on prayer is for the cause of good. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. So prayer only knows how… to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to free the demon-possessed, to open prison doors and to untie the bonds that bind the innocent.

Furthermore, it washes away faults and repels temptations. It extinguishes persecutions. It consoles the low in spirit and cheers those in good spirits.
It escorts travelers, calms waves, and makes robbers stand aghast. It feeds the poor and governs the rich.

Personal prayer is worship! A lot of people look for a church where “they can get something” out of it. I have to come away “feeling good.” Soren Kierkegaard asked the question, “Who is supposed to get the benefit of worship?” He said that we view church as an audience and want to be entertained. The preacher, the readers, the choir, the soloist are all actors. “No,” Kierkegaard writes, “God is the audience and all of us are there to perform.” That is worship.

We come home and we say, “That special music sounded wonderful this morning.” Rather than, “I met God on His mountain today.” Jesus said, “And 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. That is the difference between entertainment and worship. 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

Our greatest handicap in prayer is that we view prayer as one-way when the reality is that prayer is a two-way street of communication. A Christian lady once dreamed that she died and went to heaven. As an angel was showing her around, she saw a stack of boxes in the corner of a room–and they had her name on them. She asked the angel what they were–and he told her to take a look in them. They were filled with many of the things she had prayed for during her lifetime, but hadn’t received. Seeing her perplexity, the angel explained: “When any of God’s children make requests of Him, preparations are made to give the answer. But we angels are told that if the petitioner is not waiting on the answer–if they give up too soon–we are to return with it and store it here.”

We often knock on the door like a mischievous boy knocks on a door and then runs away! Jesus said “Keep knocking.” He never promised to answer runaway knocks. We need to pray and wait, pray and wait. Have we learned to wait in patience and persistence, faithfully trusting God to answer in His time? I don’t mean just the everyday kind of waiting we all have to do: standing in line at the grocery checkout counter, being put on hold when we phone for information, facing another delay in an already backlogged day. What I’m talking about is the soul-searching, heartbreaking, my-future-hangs-in-the-balance kind of waiting that few of us escape during our lifetime. You see this kind of waiting on the face of the aging wife who wonders if maybe this time the doctor will give her good news about the baby they so desperately long for. You see this kind of waiting in the eyes of a father who searches the streets for his runaway daughter, hoping to find a clue to her whereabouts. You see this kind of waiting in the slumped shoulders of the man who’s spent months looking for a job that pays enough to support his family. Waiting hurts. It frustrates. It can drive people to do crazy things.

Take Abraham. Here was a true man of God who believed God’s promises.
By faith, he left his comfortable home and became a desert wanderer. He waited for years for God to give him a son. But he got tired of waiting. The result was a liaison with Hagar, the birth of Ishmael, and centuries of fighting between Ishmael’s descendants and the descendants of the rightful heir, Isaac.
Not waiting causes us problems. So why won’t we wait for God’s perfect timing? Because waiting doesn’t come naturally. Moreover, the nature of waiting is misunderstood. Waiting is not passive. Scripture says waiting should be active. To understand what this means, let’s look at the lives of saints who truly waited for the Lord.

Hannah is one example. How she longed to be able to have and hold her own baby! But she couldn’t. To make matters worse, she suffered the ridicule of her husband’s other wife who had borne him several children. Yet, throughout all this, Hannah continued in fellowship with God. She didn’t pretend that a baby didn’t matter and she never stopped petitioning the Lord. Her faith did not diminish, despite the delay. Finally, she received the promise through the birth of Samuel.

Another example is the prophetess Anna. She had been widowed soon after her marriage, and had spent most of her life in the temple, worshiping Jehovah, fasting, praying – and waiting, waiting for the promised Messiah.
How easy it would have been for her to despair wanting to see the one who would redeem Israel. Yet Luke tells us that, even at age 84, Anna was waiting for the Lord. And when Jesus was presented at the temple, Anna was there, giving thanks to God.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised instant answers to our prayers or immediate gratification of our desires. Rather, God expects us to be patient, to wait, and to accept by faith those things that are as yet unseen. …but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Picture yourself unencumbered by fear, failure, and frustration. Waiting doesn’t have to be a downer. Waiting God’s way, through prayer, fasting, serving, studying, trusting Him, and preparing to receive His promises, can be liberating.

The Beatitudes: Peacemaking

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Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Teachers will appreciate this little story that I found. Then Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain, and when they had gathered around him he taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . Then, Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?” And Andrew said “Do we have to write this down?” And James said, “Will we have a test on this?” And Philip said, “I don’t have any paper.” And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?” And John said, “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.” And Matthew said, “May I go to the rest room?” And Judas said, “What does this have to do with real life?” Then, one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plans and inquired of Jesus, “What is your terminal objective? Have you completed a task analysis? What about a diagnostic survey?” And Jesus wept.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. A peacemaker is one who strives to prevent contention, strife, and war. A peacemaker is one who uses their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent hostilities in families and neighborhoods. A peacemaker understands the importance of the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

At no time are we more like God than when we are an instrument of reconciliation. The Devil is the father of friction, discord and strife. The peacemaker is the enemy of the devil. “The beginning of strife,” says Solomon, “is like the letting out of water.” “An ounce of prevention,” says the English proverb, “is worth a pound of cure.”

One of the greatest peacemakers in scripture was Barnabas. Barnabas was gentle, companionable, a nice man. He was pastoral where Paul was militant.
Where Paul would carry a sword, in readiness for an adversary, Barnabas had oil and wine, in readiness for any traveler whom he might find robbed and beaten on the road. He was a peacemaker, and he was great in the ministry of reconciliation.

Barnabas was a native of Cyprus and a Levite by extraction. He was a wealthy man for he possessing land, that he generously disposed of it for the benefit of the Christian community and laid the money at the apostles’ feet . When Paul made his first appearance in Jerusalem, it is Barnabas who brought him to the apostles and attested to his sincerity . Following their First Missionary Journey they returned to Antioch, where they found the peace of the church disturbed by a certain sect from Judea, who insisted upon the Gentile converts being circumcised. Barnabas, with others, were sent to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles.

When preparing for a Second Missionary Journey, a dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas on account of John Mark. Barnabas was determined to take Mark with them. Barnabas is a peacemaker!

In that respect, Barnabas with like Jesus, for Jesus was a peacemaker. He was called the “Prince of Peace.” By His teachings, He taught us “to turn the other cheek.” In the Garden when the servant’s ear is cut off, Jesus restores the ear and tell everyone to put away their swords. But He also reminded us that His peace “passes all human understand.”

We need peacemakers! We need peacemakers in our world to bring an end to war. War is not the answer and never really provides a solution. Peacemakers help us to find compromise. They force us to find acceptance of others.

James, head of the Church in Jerusalem, writes from a hurting congregation.
Hurting because they are being persecuted by everyone. 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. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

The Beatitudes: Spiritually Poor

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Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Some have observed that there may only be eight Beatitudes. Some would even argue that there are really only seven distinct features of character in the Beatitudes. It has been noticed by several critics, who by the sevenfold character thus set forth have rightly observed that a complete character is meant to be depicted in the Beatitudes. Seven means “complete” and by the sevenfold blessedness attached to it, a perfect blessedness is intended.

“Blessed” this word occur at least fifty-five times in the New Testament, it is important to understand its history, which is interesting because it is one of those numerous words which exhibit the influence of Christian association and usage in enlarging and dignifying their meaning. Its root is supposed to be a word meaning “great.” Its earlier meaning appears to be limited to outward prosperity; so that it is used at times as synonymous with rich. Nevertheless, even in its pagan use, the word was not altogether without a moral background. The word “blessed” is exactly represented in the story of Zechariah. In the story of Elizabeth we see the story of Zechariah. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Here, the word has moved to mean more than great, it includes “happy” a “great happiness.”

It is opposed to pride, and vanity, and ambition. Such are happy! Other teachers had taught that happiness was to be found in honor, or riches, or splendor, or sensual pleasure.

Likewise the word “poor” is important to understand. The word expressing poverty is found in the New Testament 34 times. Luke (21:2-3), calls attention to the widow who bestowed her two mites on the poor. She now has nothing to live on! Luke also does a strange thing with the Beatitudes, Luke doesn’t say “poor in spirit” only “poor.” Nevertheless, there is a distinction, one who “earns a scanty pittance,” “to crouch or cringe,” and therefore conveys the idea of utter destitution, Such as one who lives by alms. Hence, it is applied to Lazarus and rendered “beggar.” The gospel by Jesus was preached to the poor. Those who were begging for more of God’s spirit.

This concept of “poor” was not difficult to understand. Riches produce pride, anxiety, and dangers, and not the least is the danger of losing heaven by them.
To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; to be willing to be where God places us, to be willing to be in his hands, and to feel that we deserve no favor from him. The explanation of this lies in the fact that it is generally “the poor of this world” who are “rich in faith” and while it is often “the ungodly” who “prosper in the world”.

Thus this passage becomes very graphic, denoting the utter spiritual destitution, of the believer in the kingdom of God which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts. But only by the free mercy of God. The man who knows his sins is greater than one who raises a dead man by his prayer.

“The kingdom of heaven” here means the reign of God in the heart and life of God’s people. Once more, as “the kingdom of heaven,” which is the first and the last thing here promised, has two stages: 1) A present and a future, 2)An initial and a consummate stage. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit not only shall have the kingdom, they already have the kingdom.

So the poor in spirit are enriched with the fullness of Christ, which is the kingdom in substance. When He shall say to them from His great white throne, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you….” A closed hand cannot receive. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea writes: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.