The Baby is a King

1-1260127732fbCMNativity scenes are a common sight at Christmas time. People set them up in their homes and public places to remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas. Regardless of the size, nativity scenes always include the same characters: Mary, Joseph, the Wisemen, and some shepherds (not a mention a few animals). The focal point of the nativity scene is always baby Jesus lying in a manager.

If you are not careful, you will get the wrong idea about Jesus. Yes, Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. Yes, Jesus was born a real-life, flesh and blood baby boy. Yes, Jesus was born into a Jewish family, but he was also born a king.

Matthew goes into exhaustive detail in his Gospel to emphasize this part of Christ’s character. Jesus was an heir to the royal throne and the promises of God through his connection to Joseph (Matthew 1:1-17). Jesus brought the presence and saving the power of God to earth through his supernatural conception (Matthew 1:18-25). Jesus received immediate attention and respect as the true king of God’s chosen people (Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus experienced unspeakable heartache and endured exile in order to fulfill his mission.

When you see a nativity scene this Christmas don’t forget that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes also wears a crown. He was born in humility but destined for glory. Jesus was and still is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

You Are What You Pray

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We are familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but did you know you are what you pray? Our prayers connect us with God, but they also reveal our priorities. The things we prioritize, we pursue, and the things we purse we become. If you thank God for your food, you become grateful. If you pray for the safety of your friends and family, you become caring. If you pray for unbelievers to come to Christ, you become evangelistic.

Jesus focused on his mission and his followers throughout his earthly ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us that when he prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion, he prayed a selfless, mission-focused prayer. The prayer recorded in John 17:1-26 has been labeled many ways but it was Jesus’ last words before he was taken away and killed. In it, Jesus prayed for three distinct things.

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR HIS MISSION TO BE COMPLETE (v. 1-5).

Jesus came to earth with a mission to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that he could save the world and share his life with his followers. If Jesus didn’t finish his mission his disciples wouldn’t have a mission of their own or a message to share. Jesus knew how important his mission was.

Notice three principles from this section of Jesus’ prayer that helped Him finish. First, Jesus was God-centered (v. 1). Prayer is more than a task, it is a relationship. Second, Jesus has an eternal focus. Eternity begins at conversion, progresses with Christian growth and discipleship, and continues on into heaven. Third, Jesus was totally surrendered. Jesus gave us his own will so that He could accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father.

2. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-17).

Jesus prayed for three things in regards to the character of his followers. First, he prayed that they would be kept in God’s name (v. 1). Someone’s name usually represents their character in the bible. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept close and their character would mirror his own.

Second, Jesus also prayed that his followers would be kept from the evil one (v. 15). Jesus acknowledged that Satan’s destructive influence in the world. Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from that influence. Satan may be a bully, but he should not be feared.

Third, Jesus prayed that his followers be set apart in the truth of God (v. 17). God’s Word should have a prominent place in the lives of Christ’s followers. There are five practices today that allow God’s Word to permeate your life: hearing the bible, reading the bible, studying the bible, memorizing the bible, and meditating on the bible.

3. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE MISSION OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-26).

Unfortunately, there are many people today who do not finish their God-given mission. The average church loses 3% of its membership each year. Thousands of pastors leave the ministry each year before retirement.

Jesus prayed that his follower would all be one (v. 11). Solidarity is just as important for individual local churches as it is for the Church as a whole. Unity is more than just doing stuff together, its “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

Jesus also prayed that his follower would be with him where he was (v. 24). He has just announced that he would be leaving his disciples behind while he went to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14). Even though he would be leaving, he wanted his followers to be with him eventually so they would see his glory.

Jesus prayed for himself and his followers because you are what you pray. His prayer flowed from his priorities and passions. What do your prayers say about your priorities and passions? Are you working to complete your God-given mission? Are you developing a Christ-like character? Are you contributing to the oneness of your church?

Like in many other area of life, you and I have good intentions. But if you genuinely want to make good on of those good intentions, start with prayer.

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

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D. L. Moody was a shoe salesman turned international evangelist near the end of the 19thcentury. He had a huge impact on the Kingdom of God, holding crusades & other meetings across America & Europe.  His influence is still felt today through the institutions that he left behind: Moody Bible Institute, Moody Publishers, & the Moody Church.  While preparing for a crusade in England, a local pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated & inexperienced.  Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” Another wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the HS has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.”

The Holy Spirit can have a big effect on the life of a believer. The third person of the Trinity makes the presence of God personal. He also demonstrates the power of God in the life of the believer.

In his Farewell Discourse in John 16:5-15, Jesus revealed that the Holy Spirit has a dynamic ministry to unbelievers in the world as well as the believers. If you miss out on both sides of the Holy Spirit’s ministry you might find it hard to make sense of Jesus’ instruction in this passage where he says, “it is to your advantage that I go away” (v. 7)

In John 16:5-15, Jesus describes four things that the Holy Spirit does in the world and in the believer. The Holy Spirit is still alive and well today. As we understand his work among us we are better prepared to cooperate with the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Sin (v. 9).

To understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we must understand sin. Sin is missing the mark – any thought or action that falls short of God’s perfect will. Like an arrow that misses the target, we have all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

It is in our human nature to sin. It is not just some isolated event that happens once in awhile. Sin leads us to rebel against the righteous expectations of God and to reject his gracious offer of salvation.

The Holy Spirit works in the world like a prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. The prosecuting attorney does everything in his or her power to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of the charges that have been presented against them.

2. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Righteousness (v. 10).

Righteous describes someone who has a right to stand before God and has a right to be in a relationship with Him. God is the one who gets to decide what is right. God is our standard of righteousness.

Let’s return to the same courtroom scene we imagined earlier. While pursuing a conviction, the prosecutor appeals to the moral standards that have established through the law.  A criminal is guilty, not just of committing a crime, but failing to live up to the legal standards of the law.

3. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Judgment (v. 11).

Jesus knew that sin is inspired by Satan, “the ruler of this world.” In this verse, Jesus said that Satan “has been judged.” The term is in the perfect tense, meaning that it has already happened, and we are living out the continued effects. Those who side with the ruler of this world over the Savior of the world will be judged for all eternity when Christ comes back.

Let’s return one more time to the courtroom scene. After the prosecutor presents all of evidence and references all of the legal standards that are relevant to the case, he urges the jury to come back with a “guilty” verdict, so that the criminal can be sentenced for his crime.

4. The Holy Spirit Guides Believers in the Truth (v. 12-15).

Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit to his disciples as “the Spirit of Truth,” or The Teacher. The disciples couldn’t take it all in as they were walking with JC, but the Holy Spirit inspired some of them to complete God’s authoritative Word. The same Spirit that inspired the Bible guides people to the truth today.

There are all kinds of helpful nuggets, helps, and tips in the Bible about all kinds of things in life. But the Bible and the ministry of the Holy Spirit isn’t focused on you, it’s focused on Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of truth.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living & active & sharper than any two-edged sword, & piercing as far as the division of soul & spirit, of both joints & marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as a surgeon’s scalpel in our lives.  No one that I know enjoys surgery, but we submit to it when we know there is no other way to get healthy.

The Holy Spirit has a dynamic work to the church and the world. He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He also guides the believers to the truth. The question is, will you cooperate with him?

Headlights and floodlights alert us of danger and highlight things of beauty. The headlights in your car illuminate the road at night and the floodlights around your home light up the architectural features of your home. When lighting is well done, you don’t see the lights themselves, but the hazards or the buildings the lights are trained on. The Holy Spirit lights up the dark places in our lives as well and he also lights up Jesus Christ so we can see our need for Savior.

 

Serving the Undeserving​

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Eating a meal together is a relationship-building event. When we gather around a table we gather in a specific place and build memories, if only for a little while. Whether it’s causal of fancy, we experience meals together.

Jesus’ most famous meal with his disciples was his last meal with them. The Sedar meal was an important part of Passover in the first century. Jewish family groups would eat a meal of roasted lamb and bitter herbs and remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

We read about the Last Supper in John 13:1-30. In this passage, John describes the meal from a different angle than the other Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the emphasis on the ceremonial elements of the meal itself. John places the emphasis on a surprising event at the start of the meal.

As the meal was about to start, Jesus got up, took off his out garment, wrapped a towel around himself, and began washing the disciples’ feet. With this one act, Jesus made this a meal that could never be forgotten. With this one act, Jesus signaled that things were about to change. With this one act, Jesus served the undeserving in three distinct ways.

1. Jesus Served in Ways No One Else Wanted to Serve (13:1-11).

Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew his earthly ministry was about to end. He knew Judas was about to betray him. He knew why the Heavenly Father had sent him.

People in the first century walked almost everywhere they went and while wearing open-toed sandals. Foot washing was reserved for the lowest of the servants, usually a Gentile or a woman. Jesus intentionally took on this role to serve his disciples.

The disciples were shocked by Jesus’ undignified actions. Peter went so far as to refuse Jesus. It’s significant, however, that none of the disciples volunteer to wash feet Christ’s place.

It’s probably not service if everyone is eager to do it. Service requires a certain amount of humility and sacrifice. Service means putting someone else’s comfort and desires above your own.

2. Jesus Served Out of Love for Others (13:12-20).

Jesus explained that those who wished to call him their Teacher or Master must also follow his example. To avoid service is to place oneself  “above” Jesus. If he can humble himself to serve others, so must his followers.

Jesus clarified his motivation for service in his closing summary (John 13:34-35). Service and sacrifice are born out of genuine love for other people. This “command” is built on the first and second Greatest Commandments in the Old Testament: to love God and love others.

There are lots of reasons to serve, but only love is inspired by the gospel. Compassion is important, but it withers without the gospel. Some people serve because it’s their job or because they need community service hours. You can serve out of pride to show how “humble” you are.

3. Jesus Even Served Those Who Didn’t Like Him (13:21-30).

Jesus finally came out and said what he knew all along – one of them was about to betray him. The disciples all questioned each other as Jesus took a morsel of food and gave it to Judas along with his “permission.” For some reason, the disciples all missed this sign.

The most amazing part of this story is that Jesus washed Judas’ feet right along with the rest of the disciples. He didn’t leave him out or single him out. True service views everyone the same, regardless of how they treat us.

Jesus gave us a picture of the gospel by serving the underserving. He served others who weren’t willing or able to return the favor. He sacrificed himself out of love for those who were more interested in status than sacrifice (see Luke’s account in Luke 22:24-27). He humbled himself in front of someone who was working against him and waiting for an opportune moment to stab him in the back.

Like the Bread and fruit of the vine of the Lord’s Supper, the basin and the towel teach us that we are undeserving of God’s grace. They also invite us in at least three ways. The first is to lead through service, not a title. Positions and titles are important, but not as important as servant leadership. Second, is to look for ways to express genuine love for others. It may be through washing someone’s feet or washing their car, but the goal is the same – to show God’s love through tangible acts of service. Third, is to lean on God for the grace to serve the undeserving. Serving is complicated when you are working with someone who doesn’t appreciate your gesture. That takes an extra dose of God’s supernatural power.

Jesus served the undeserving so that we could have a clearing picture of the gospel. He also gave us an example to follow as we share the gospel with others and expand his kingdom on earth.

 

A Test of Faith

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Fathers can be excellent examples of faith. Martin Luther King Jr. father, a pastor, and a civil rights activist. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This fits very well with the Bible’s definition of faith found in the book of Hebrews 11:1: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB).

Abraham is a father in Scripture that stands out as an example of faith. Abraham stepped out in faith when God called him to leave his homeland and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-3). That blessing included a new land and family to pass that land to (Genesis 13:14-18, 15:1-4). Abraham’s faith was tested many times as he and Sarah passed out the childbearing years without an heir. When the finally had a son of their own, Isaac, it was a confirmation of their faith in God.

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested one last time. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son on an altar. As we follow Abraham along this particularly hard part of his faith journey there are three lessons we must learn if we are going to walk by faith.

Genesis 22:1-6 describe the toughest test as Abraham’s faith was tested by God. A test is simply a way for God to reveal obedience, produce reverence, and discover authenticity. For Abraham, it looked back to the way His relationship with God began, and it looked forward to the way his family would relate to God in the future.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.  The next morning, Abraham rose early and made preparations for the trip. After three days, Abraham arrived at this destination and left his helpers at the base of the mountain. As he climbed to the place of sacrifice, Abraham carried the torch and the knife and Isaac carried the wood for the fire.

God tests us for our benefit. Sometimes our faith is strengthened like a muscle under pressure. Sometimes, we reconnect with the purpose for which we were made: to listen to and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.to enjoy Him forever. Tests aren’t always pleasant, but they are effective.

Genesis 22:7-8 describes the longest walk as Abraham and Isaac approach the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw the wood and the fire, but he asked where the offering was. Abraham responds with a tremendous amount of faith explaining that the Lord would provide the offering. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham trusted God to work out the details of the sacrifice and to raise his son from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises.

God wants us to trust Him in spite of the benefits we may experience. I wonder if some people would trust God if heaven or hell wasn’t hanging in the balance. I wonder if some people would still pray if their prayers weren’t answered. I wonder if some people still give to the Church if there were no tax incentives.

Genesis 22:9-14 describes a last-minute pardon as the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham at the last minute. Abraham had built the altar, arranged the wood for a fire, and tied Isaac up on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife high over his head to kill his son, the Angel of the Lord cried out, “Stop, now I know that you fear me!”

As Abraham caught his breath, he noticed a ram caught in a nearby thicket. He took the ram and offered it up in place of his son. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, or “the Lord Will Provide.”

God cares for the long-term and day-to-day issues of life. God provides an eternal home in heaven for his children when they graduate from this earthly life (John 14:3). God also provides for the ongoing needs of our current reality (John 10:10). I like to think about it as the “here and the hereafter.”

Father Abraham’s test of faith teaches us about our faith as well. I hope it encourages the fathers to be men of deep faith and conviction. I also help it encourages others to pay attention to their examples of faith.

Are You a Stray Sheep?

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Yesterday, I published a post about how to tell the difference between a good shepherd-leader in the church and bad-shepherd. You can check that our here.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus described the final judgment as a time when the sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep are those whose faith in Jesus Christ produced a caring lifestyle. They are welcomed into God’s presence for eternity. The goats are those whose lack of faith produced the opposite – a selfish and uncaring lifestyle. Eternal punishment in the final destination for goats.

Once someone becomes a sheep in God’s flock they cannot be lost, but they can stray. In John 10, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Shepherd. The parable applications for shepherds, but it also has applications for sheep. How can you tell if you are stray sheep according to this chapter?

1. How familiar are you with God’s voice?

God’s sheep know Him by His voice and follow accordingly (v. 27). Today, God speaks primarily through the Bible. If you don’t read the Bible or you rarely read the Bible it could mean you are not hearing from God.

2. Do you follow God’s direction?

Shepherds lead their sheep from the sheepfold to the pasture and back again. This journey requires guidance and direction. If you haven’t changed the direction of your life in a while at God’s request it could mean you are not following very closely.

3. Do you “flock” with other sheep?

Sheep are herd animals by nature. They gather in groups for encouragement, companionship, and protection. It’s no surprise that Jesus told His followers to gather believers together in churches for the same reasons. If you are meeting with Gospel-centered church on a regular it could mean you are trouble.

Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Shepherd to help us find our place in His flock. If you have truly become one of His sheep you can never go back, but you can miss out on His best for you. God loves you too much to let you stray.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

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If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.