How Does it Look to You Now?

New Year’s Eve, 2010 is the beginning of a new decade. If you are at all like me you may be thinking how quickly the last decade has passed! Like every New Year, it is a new beginning.  How we face that time in our lives has a lot to do with the way we will experience the joy our Lord desires for us. I have chosen an obscure passage from the Old Testament for our study this morning.  It is… "’Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord,’ and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’"(Haggai 2:3-7 NLV) I would like you to notice the question in the middle of the third verse, "How does it look to you now?" That’s the question to ask during the first few weeks of a New Year, "How does it look to you now?" Look back at the past year. It probably looks a little different than it did back at the beginning of 2010. We can look back and see all the pounds we lost and then regained. We can see the promises we broke. We can see all the hopes, dreams, disappointments, and sorrows. It is always easy to look back, isn’t it?  But, the real key to happiness is in looking forward. What do you see? Do you see clouds, or sunshine? Do you see despair, or hope? What do you see as you look forward? Behavioral scientists have discovered that we usually see things that we are prepared to see. All this is centered in a network of nerve cells called the "Reticular Activating System." The Reticular Activating System works like this. Once something has been brought to our attention, we have been prepared to see it, and we’ll see it virtually everywhere we go. For example, if you decide to buy a new car and you make up your mind that you are going to buy a certain brand, a certain body style, and a certain color, all of a sudden you’ll see those cars everywhere. You’ll see them on the roads, in TV advertisements, in newspapers and magazines. They’re suddenly everywhere.  They were always there, but the moment you were prepared to see them, your Reticular Activating System kicked in and suddenly you saw them everywhere. It happens in other areas of life, too. We see what we are prepared to see. If we are prepared to see doom and gloom this year that’s what we’ll see. If, on the other hand, we have prepared ourselves to see sunshine and opportunities, then that is what we are going to see.  Do you remember Flip Wilson on TV? Dressed up as Geraldine, he would say, "Honey, what you see is what you get!" Well, that may not have been exactly true as far as Geraldine went, but psychologists tell us that if we see ourselves as successful, if we see ourselves as strong and healthy, chances are good that that’s what we’ll be. On the other hand, if we see ourselves as failures, if we see ourselves as weak and sickly, chances are pretty good that that’s what we’ll be.  Jesus...

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Where is Your Faith?

There is a season in our faith just as there are seasonsin the year.  During the "spring" of ourfaith, we feel alive and full of growth. Life seems to bloom all around us. During the "summer" of our faith, it is not unusual to feel thepressures and demands of life in such a way as to dry our spirits.  The "fall" of faith is a time when we beginto sense the slowing down of the pace of life. And, of course, there are those "winter" times of our faith when we seemto be lying dormant.  Every believer willpass through these seasons of faith at one time or another.  Whileit is true that we all go through these times, some of them are more difficultto deal with than the others. Especially during the "winter" we need to beencouraged and nurtured with the example of others in the faith.  People of faith are always an encouragementto be around. Through the Scripture God has placed many of these faithful inour path. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Joshua and a host others faith will challenge andencourage our faith. Today, we can look at one of them. Abel is such an exampleto us. Listen to the writer of Hebrews: "By faith Abel offered toGod a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witnessthat he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he beingdead still speaks." (Hebrews 11:4 NIV) Thethought that really speaks to me is "beingdead still speaks."  The book ofJames tells us that faith without works is dead. Abel’s life was full of worksthat gave testimony of his faith even after his death.  This is not to say that somehow Abel earnedhis eternal life through his good works. Eternal life is only possible through the gift of God’s grace in JesusChrist. However his life centered in good works that were a result of hisfaith. These allowed him to live above and beyond the trials he faced. A century ago, Robert Louis Stevenson devised a number ofrules to help people to live happier, more productive lives. These rules may bea century old, but they are still excellent guidelines. They are practical waysto center your life on faithful good works. Make up your mind to be happy. Learn to find pleasure in simple things. Make the best of circumstances. No one has everything, and everyone has something of sorrow. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to relax; it really will be OK. Don’t let criticism worry you. You can’t please everybody. Don’t let your others set your standards. Be the person God wants you to be. Do things you enjoy doing, but stay out of debt. Don’t borrow trouble. Imaginary things are harder to bear than actual ones. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish enmities and grudges. Avoid people who make you unhappy. Have many interests. If you can’t travel read about places. Don’t hold postmortems or spend time brooding over sorrows and mistakes. Don’t be the one who never gets over things. 2011 is but a day away. Make your commitment to theseprinciples for this New...

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Increased Faith

One of the most perplexing problems every Christian faces at one time or another is that of maintaining a steady faith.  It reminds me of a little story.  It seems a man fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. He believed in God and it was natural to cry out for help. "Is anyone up there?" "I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe me?" "Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer." "That’s all right, if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch." There was a long moment of pause, then the man said: "Is anyone else up there?" The writer of Hebrews poses the question rhetorically in chapter eleven: "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." (Hebrews 11:1 NLV) For the very reason that faith provides proof of those unseen things, it is also is the most intangible of all things in our life.  For most of us, believing is seeing and seeing is believing.  Our culture has so conditioned us to that kind of scientific behavior. Perhaps you have heard of the story of the young college student who was asked to prepare a lesson to teach his speech class. He was to be graded on his creativity and ability to drive home a point in a memorable way. The title of the talk was "The Law of the Pendulum." He spent 20 minutes carefully teaching the physical principle that governs a swinging pendulum. The law of the pendulum is: A pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns, it will fall short of its original release point. Each time it swings it makes less and less of an arc, until finally it is at rest. This point of rest is called the state of equilibrium, where all forces acting on the pendulum are equal. He attached a 3-foot string to a child’s toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard with a thumbtack. He pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where he let it go. Each time it swung back I made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. When he finished the demonstration, the markings on the blackboard proved his thesis. He then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of his classmates raised their hands, so did the teacher. He started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun.  Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large, crude but functional pendulum (250 pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of 500-pound test parachute cord). He invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then he brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, he once again explained the law of the pendulum he had demonstrated only moments before. The student said, "If the law of the...

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The Floodlight on Christ

"If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you." (John 14:15-17 NLV) These words were spoken to comfort and encourage the disciples in the face of Jesus’ imminent death.  It was a promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.  There are many things that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the world today. He convicts unbelievers of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). He regenerates or causes us to become believers (John 3:1-8; Titus 3:5, I Peter 1:23-25; James 1:18). He indwells and baptizes the believer (I Corinthians 6:19; Romans 8:9; John 14:16; I Corinthians 12:13). He seals us (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30). He imparts gifts (I Corinthians 12:7-11). He fills the believer (Ephesians 5:15-21; Galatians 5:16). And, He causes us to bear fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), which are the characteristics of Jesus Christ. However, the Holy Spirit’s distinctive role is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as this role was concerned, the Spirit "was not yet" while Jesus was on earth. It would be only when the Father had glorified him (John 17:1, 5) that the Spirit’s work of making men aware of Jesus’ glory could begin. In the courtyard of the last church I pastored, there is a seventy-foot tall white cross that serves both as a steeple and landmark. I was once asked why the cross was so tall.  The answer seemed so evident that I hardly knew what to say.  It needed to be seen by everyone, since it was the central focus of our message and ministry.  And, yet without light, at night it would nearly be invisible. Of course we had floodlights placed so that it would continuously be lit in the dark hours of the night. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you can see it properly. It also struck me that this perfectly illustrates the Holy Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior. Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder on to Jesus who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never, "Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me," but always, "Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him and hear his word; go to him and have life; get to know him and taste his gift of joy and peace." The Spirit is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring Christ and us together and ensure that we stay together. It is so tragic that so few believers accept the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  Sometime back the Associated Press carried this dispatch: "Glasgow, Ky.—Leslie Puckett, after struggling to start his car, lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor." Are you trying to start your "car" without your "engine"?  Let Him light up your life...

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Jesus, the Son

I recently saw a list of headlines that actually appeared in newspapers which were funny, because they were so obvious. Here are a few: Study Finds Sex, Pregnancy Link, Cornell Daily Sun; Survey Finds Dirtier Subways After Cleaning Jobs Were Cut, The New York Times; Larger Kangaroos Leap Farther, Researchers Find, The Los Angeles Times; Alcohol ads promote drinking, The Hartford Courant; Official: Only rain will cure drought, The Herald-News, Westpost, Massachusetts; Teen-age girls often have babies fathered by men, The Sunday Oregonian; Fish lurk in streams, Rochester, New York, Democrat & Chronicle; Tomatoes come in big, little, medium sizes, The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia; Scientists see quakes in L.A. future, The Oregonian; Bible church’s focus is the Bible, Saint Augustine Record; Lack of brains hinders research, The Columbus Dispatch. What a grasp of the obvious! I almost feel as if I am stating the obvious when I say that Jesus is the Son of God.  Yet, there is so much we may learn from this simple statement.  As we continue to examine the Trinity, the second Person is "the Son."  When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was, a very revealing principle of truth was given: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" "Well," they replied, "some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets." Then he asked them, "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. (Matthew 16:13-17 NLV) The truth that Jesus is "the Son of the living God," fully God and fully man, has some wonderful implications for us practically: First, Jesus knows. This text tells us emphatically that Jesus knows our human condition. It is not something that he has heard but something he knows. We may approach him confidently as our High Priest because he knows. He has done and experienced the same kinds of trials and challenges that we have in our lives. Second, Jesus identifies with us. Only the one who resists temptation knows the full strength of it. Some say we need to experience sin in order to know what sin is. How foolish! Only he who does not yield knows the full force of temptation. Every one of the temptations we had ever had or will have, He has already faced and conquered.  He is not a mere observer, but a fellow participant in life.  This makes Him all the more trustworthy. Third, Jesus is the means for our receiving mercy. We can appear before the throne of his grace and receive mercy.  Because of who He is and what He has done, we now may have perfect assurance that mercy is available to us. He has won the victory on our behalf.  Because He was human, He became the perfect sacrifice for our sin. This is how we may receive grace. It was essential that we have a "Son" revealed to us!...

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Like Father, Like God

"Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. You parents, if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matthew 7:7-11 NLV) Someone has said, "Most people spend their lives avoiding God because it is a re-encounter with their own father who was nonbonding and non affirming." One of the main reasons people hold false perceptions of God is our tendency to project onto God the unloving characteristics of the people we look to in our natural lives. One psychologist found that this spiritual development of the God image is more of an emotional process than an intellectual one. She brings out the importance of family and other relationships to the development of what she calls one’s "private God." She says that, "No child arrives at the ‘house of God’ without his pet God under his arm." And for some of us the "pet God" we have tied on a leash to our hearts is not very nice, nor is it biblically accurate. This is because our negative images of God are often rooted in our emotional hurts and destructive patterns of relating to people that we carry with us from our past. In contrast to the negative perceptions many people have about God, let me give you several positive character qualities of our Heavenly Father (which ought to be our goals as earthly fathers as well): First, God is patient. You are the recipient of God’s time and concern. You are important to God and He desires to be personally involved in every aspect of your life. Second, God is kind. God acts kindly and graciously on your behalf. God helps you and intervenes on your behalf. God loves you deeply and He wants to relate to you personally. Third, God is giving. God gives to you. God supports and encourages you. God will give you what is best for you. He never deals in hand-me-downs or leftovers. Fourth, God accepts you, regardless of what you have done or will do. God doesn’t demean you or reject you when you struggle, but understands and encourages you. Even when you completely fail or don’t perform up to your potential, God accepts you. Fifth, God protects. You can be under His care and rest in His security through the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ. The first Person of the Trinity is Father.  When you accept His work of grace on your behalf through faith in Jesus Christ, you are born into a new family with God as your perfect Father. As we approach a New Year, think on this great truth! No matter what your earthly father may have been like; your heavenly Father is perfect in every way. Run to...

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