How Does it Look to You Now?

New Year’s Eve, 2013 is for some a dramatic new beginning. Whether that’s true or not, it certainly is a beginning.  Every New Year 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 is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet 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. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:3-7, ESV). I would like you to notice the question in the middle of the third verse, “How do you see it 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 2013. 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 RAS 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...

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Where is Your Faith?

There is a season in our faith just as there are seasons in the year.  During the “spring” of our faith, 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 the pressures and demands of life in such a way as to dry our spirits.  The “fall” of faith is a time when we begin to sense the slowing down of the pace of life.  And, of course, there are those “winter” times of our faith when we seem to be lying dormant.  Every believer will pass through these seasons of faith at one time or another. While it is true that we all go through these times, some of them are more difficult to deal with than the others. Especially during the “winter” we need to be encouraged and nurtured with the example of others in the faith.  People of faith are always an encouragement to be around. Through the Scripture God has placed many of these faithful in our path. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Joshua and a host others faith will challenge and encourage our faith. Today, we can look at one of them. Abel is such an example to us. Listen to the writer of Hebrews:  By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). The thought that really speaks to me “being dead still speaks.”  The book of James tells us that faith without works is dead. Abel’s life was full of works that gave testimony of his faith even after his death.  This is not to say that somehow Abel earned his eternal life through his good works.  Eternal life is only possible through the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. However his life centered in good works that were a result of his faith. These allowed him to live above and beyond the trials he faced. A century ago, Robert Louis Stevenson devised a number of rules to help people to live happier, more productive lives. These rules may be a century old, but they are still excellent guidelines. They are practical ways to 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. Don’t let criticism worry you. You can’t please everybody. Don’t let your neighbors 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....

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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:  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). 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 their 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 applauded only moments before. The student said, “If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it...

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History in the Making

Certainly no one with any reasonable familiarity of current events could say that we are not living in an historic period.  In almost every area of our lives we seem to make history on a daily basis.  It has not always been history we will be proud of later, but these are singular days. However, it is important for us to realize that as the New Year looms on the horizon, the most important event of history has already occurred.  That is the birth of the Christ.  When Luke wrote his gospel account to Theophilus, he explained it as follows:  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33 ESV). Take the year 1809. The international scene was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births. For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England’s finest statesmen. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. The child would one day greatly affect the literary world in a marked manner. On the American continent, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful, albeit tragic, life. It was also in that same year that a physician named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And that same year produced the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby’s name? Abraham Lincoln. If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: “The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.” But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America. Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news—when Jesus was born. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: the birth of the Savior. And, it is still the biggest news!  As you begin moving toward your celebration of New Year’s Day this year, concentrate on the real meaning of the birth of Jesus in your life.  Today, meditate on this one thought: What difference has the birth of Jesus made in my life?  Then, praise Him for the blessings you have just remembered....

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The Floodlight on Christ

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17, ESV). 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 is 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 in Texas, 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 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 whom 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, we might say, 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 today!...

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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: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17, ESV). 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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