John is in the desert and is “preaching a baptism of life-change leading to the forgiveness of sins”. I love how scripture describes the process of salvation. It isn’t just about the forgiveness of sin – it is about repentance which is what life-change is all about. Turning around and going the other way. Getting our lives right with God. Putting off the old self and putting on the new God ways. It all boils down to lordship actually. That is what life-change is all about. A new boss in our lives – Jesus Christ. The people were captivated by John’s baptism in the river and it was the popular thing to do so they were coming in droves to him. But John isn’t about counting numbers. He “exploded: Brood of snakes” he said. It isn’t the outward appearances or things we do that matter to God. It is the inside. John says “it’s your life that must change, not your skin”. Guys – we can do the right things on the outside but if our heart is not right with God it is all for naught. It only impresses the people around us who really have no vote about eternity. Pay attention to what scripture says here: “What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire”. Are you “green and blossoming”? What does that mean? It means you are growing. It means your relationship with God is going deeper and deeper and your life and character are moving toward holiness. It means there is change! Far too many of us resist change, even good change. We like the status quo. It is easy to sit where we are and not change things. But God is not into change. He is into growth and moving us toward holiness. That is how we grow – we become more like Jesus. John goes on to say that God is in the business of “changing you from the inside out”. It will never be done. We will never achieve. But we must continue to be open to God’s leading and the change He wants to bring into our lives. Of course the leadership of the day was not open to John’s radical approach. Herod had already had a run in with John’s truthfulness in regard to how he was living, so he decided to shut John up and “put John in jail”. The world won’t always like growth because it resists change too. But God wants us “green and blossoming”. It isn’t an option guys – it is an expectation? How much have you grown this year?
Archive for December, 2007
The second half of Luke 2 is around a couple stories of Jesus growing up. The first occurs just 8 days after his birth as He is taken to the temple. Simeon was an old man who was a prophet and had been told he would see the Messiah. Scripture describes him in a couple ways: “lived in the prayerful expectancy…And the Holy Spirit was on him”. Is your life full of prayer and the Holy Spirit? Anna the prophetess was also there. “She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers”. Here is a pair of people who not only knew their calling but lived it every day all day. They were focused and on target. Clarity in purpose and resolve to fulfill it – that describes Simeon and Anna. Soon after seeing Jesus, Simeon is ready to pass on. The chapter concludes with the journey to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was 12. You remember He stayed behind and worried His parents sick. He really does sound like a normal teenager. Upset parents that are described like this: “they had no idea what he was talking about”. That certainly described me when our kids were teens. Thank goodness they got older so I could begin to have a clue again.
Luke 2 contains one of the most familiar stories in scripture – the birth of Jesus. I am continually amazed at how God chose to send His love to us – through a very simple and uneventful birth in a lowly stable through a young girl. As I read the account from the Message this morning – a couple things jumped out at me. Did you stop to think that He who was born was our “Savior who is Messiah and Master”? Messiah means anointed one – or one who is a deliverer. Jesus certainly fulfilled that role as our atonement for sin. But he is more than that – He also was born to be Master. Now we move past the Savior role to that of Lordship. There is an “and” between those two things guys. Jesus is Savior and Lord. It is not take your pick – you can have salvation but don’t have to sign up for Lordship. When we invite Jesus into our life it is for both roles – to save us from our sin and to take control of our life. Is He lord of your life? Is He driving the bus down the road? The second thing that jumped out was the simple sheepherders and their reaction. For the third time an angel comes along. This angel thing is probably a lot more prevalent than we realize today. I can’t wait to see how many times I missed them when I get to heaven. But for the sheepherders – they didn’t miss it at all. They were told of the birth and then they “talked it over”. They were scared to death but once they gathered their wits – they dealt with the truth and talked it over together. They were used to working as a team to protect and watch their herds. They lived life together. Why did God decide to announce the most important birth in history to a bunch of sheepherders? Have you ever wondered that? They quickly reached a decision together and “they left, running” and went straight to the stable to see the baby. No over analysis here. Talk, decide, and act. They got on with it and after they saw Jesus they went back – scriptures says they “returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God”. Guys – did you “let loose” celebrating the birth of Jesus this week? Same Savior and Lord as our sheepherders celebrated. We know much more of the story than they did. Did you take time to thank God for sending His Son? What a gift – one that we all should “let loose” and celebrate. It is not too late…….get after it. I can see some of you dancing now……….
Elizabeth gives birth to a son – a miracle by any standard. She was old, well beyond the child bearing years. They began calling her boy Zachariah, named after his father, but Elizabeth “intervened: no, he is to be called John”. Pretty brave move for a woman in those days. Zachariah asks for a tablet so he can write and verifies the name. Check out what happens – I love how scripture in the Message records it – “Surprise followed surprise…Zachariah’s tongue loose and he was…praising God”. Remember he has been unable to speak since he saw the angel Gabriel in the Temple some months ago. But that all changes when John is born and he is obedient to the angel’s directive to call him John. The neighbors who were already blown away by Elizabeth giving birth are now really impacted – “a deep reverential fear settled over the neighborhood”. Obedience does make an impact guys. It touched everyone in the area. They recognized clearly that “God has his hand in this”. Is that true of your life? Can the world see that God has His hand in what you are up to? That is my prayer – that when people look at my life – they will say look at what God is doing through this guy. John is born with a great task on his plate – “Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins”. What a life mission. You know what – we have that same mission. We have the same message to share. We may not be preparing the way for Jesus in the same manner that John did, but we do have the privilege of sharing God’s love in action and the truth of Jesus Christ with those in our circle of influence. I love how the message captures the result of sharing Jesus: “God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace”. The path to salvation is not revealed completely – God’s will is often shared “one foot at a time”. Never forget that. God doesn’t let us see everything in His plan normally. But He does give us enough light for the next step. We just need to be focused on moving forward one step at a time.
Gabriel makes another stop – he goes to see Mary. As you would expect she was “thoroughly shaken” when greeted by the angel. But check out what Gabriel shares with her. The normal angel line – “you have nothing to fear”. But then he says this: “God has a surprise for you”. Wow – that is a bit of an understatement. Mary is going to become mom to the Son of God and Gabriel calls that a surprise? But this truth really is key guys – the description of the Son she will give birth to – “He will rule….forever – no end, ever to His kingdom”. Have you thought about that lately. Jesus will rule forever. Forever. That is not a short stint like the kings we just finished reading about. Jesus will be on the throne for eternity. We serve a Savior that will always be in charge. Check out Mary’s response here. She has just been scared half out of her wits and here is what she said: “I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve….Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled”. She was immediately ready to serve God and fulfill the role He gave her. Is that your response to God’s call on your life? Do you jump up and get right after it? Sometimes I don’t – I sort of wait around and see if it fits my schedule or seems like it really needs to be done. Not Mary – she got her call and took immediate action. And she did it with all her heart. Check out what she says when she sees Elizabeth: “ I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing with the song of my Savior God”. Realize she just found out she is an unwed mother. That was not an acceptable situation in her day. People like her could be stoned for such. Yet she is focused on her call and leaving the details to God. Her heart is lined up with service and obedience to the Father. Oh that I would have that kind of passion to walk where He wants me to go.
Luke records the New Testament through his eyes using eye witness reports and thorough investigation on his part. He is a meticulous writer – very focused on detail. Zachariah and Elizabeth are the opening act of chapter 1. They were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God”. Does that describe you? Are you careful in the ways you keep God’s commandments – how you obey His direction? That is how you get a clear conscience before God. You walk closely in obedience with Him. Zachariah is in the “sanctuary of God” – “his one turn in life” that he is the one whose turn is up to enter the holy of holies and burn incense to God. This is a big day by any accord, but today Zachariah is met by the angel Gabriel who “reassured him” not to be afraid. I don’t know about you, but when an angel shows up from nowhere and wants to talk to me I may be a bit afraid. Gabriel tells Zachariah he will have a son whom he is to call “John” and that this son will do four things:
1. herald God’s arrival
2. soften the hearts of parents to their children
3. kindle devout understanding
4. get the people ready for God
That is some serious impact. Zachariah makes this statement: “Do you expect me to believe this”? Probably not the right response to an angel. Because of his doubt, Zachariah is unable to speak until John is born. He came out and went back home using sign language to communicate. Elizabeth conceives just as the angel Gabriel had said. Doubt can be a serious problem guys. BELIEVE!
2 Chronicles ends with a flurry of bad and evil kings. What a ride it has been. This entire section of scripture is filled with the pendulum of good and bad kings. A generation or two follow God which is quickly turned upside down by generations who change on a dime and move away from their heritage. So sad. Chapter 36 is one of those sad chapters. Josiah had worked hard to get things right with God. He is followed by Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah who all ruled for short periods and all were bad. Jehoahaz was Josiah’s son for crying out loud and he started the departure from God and the rest continued the folly. The kingdom was whacked by Neco king of Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon who both came in and plundered the kingdom. Zedekiah seemed to be the worst of the badness – check out how scripture describes this king:
1. wasn’t a trace of contrition in him
2. never gave GOD a thought; repentance never entered his mind.
3. evil mindset spread to the leaders and priests and filtered down to the people–it kicked off an epidemic of evil
4. mistreated the messengers of God’s Word
a. poked fun
b. despised the message
c. treated the prophets like idiots
Do you see this – pride and self centeredness on the part of the king – and it all rolls down to those who were leaders under him to the point it completely destroys the kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar comes into town and demolishes the Temple and all that are in it totally. It was a “ruthless massacre” of people and a “total plunder” of the things from the Temple. God tried to warn them – over and over He sent messengers and messages telling the people to shape up. Jeremiah was preaching the truth – it wasn’t like they had no chance to hear it. But the evil from the top corrupted the people all the way down and brings God to wrath and the point of allowing total destruction. Cyrus follows and is announces cleanup mode and a desire to rebuild the Temple. So sad a story. God is not mocked guys. He demands obedience and holiness. Don’t mess with any less.
Josiah puts together a Passover like nothing that had occurred since the days of Samuel. He orchestrates the people and has everything “exactly as God commanded”. When people look back at your life – will they say that about you. Phil, Mike, Jim, Jeff, Ryan…..did everthing exactly as God commanded. (Note I did not include my name as I already know the answer here). Get my point. It can be done and we should strive for it. Scripture tells us that Josiah did a couple things. He got his priests focused on the “work of leading worship” and “serving God and the people”. He managed to move the kingdom off the “I” mentality that had been prevelant during the prior years and get people focused on each other. It started with him and then spread to the priests and leaders and then to the people. As much as we want grass roots things to happen in our families or companies guys – the character and focus comes from the top. You set the tone – you set the stage – you are the one who creates the outcomes that will result. Don’t like what you see – start by looking in the mirror. It all starts with YOU. Josiah gets that right. He makes sure everyone is focused on serving God first and then others. He makes sure they all know God’s rules and desires and that they follow them – scripture tells us they “followed the instructions” and did what God expected. Part of that really defines this time of the year – it tells us they “promptly served the people”. Leaders do that. They serve those they lead. It is called servant leadership. Leaders don’t sit in the chair and tell others to serve. They model service and lead their family, their staff, those they influence to serve others. Josiah got that and did it and it made a huge difference in the kingdom and the people. The rest of the story has a bit of a boo boo in it. Josiah doesn’t finish strong. He gets darn close but then goes brain dead. Check out what happens as Neco, king of Egypt just wants to pass through the kingdom. Josiah decides he needs to go make war. Scripture says: “Josiah was spoiling for a fight and wouldn’t listen to a thing Neco said (in actuality it was God who said it)”. He did not listen to God – he wanted it his way. Bad choice. He disguises himself and goes out to war. He is hit by an arrow and dies. All the people come to his funeral but he died because he did not listen to God. Josiah had a great run as king, almost exactly walking with God. But he failed at one point. The end. We’ll see next time that that failure has some long lasting impact beyond his life. Bummer…so close yet so far. We need to focus on finishing strong guys. Too many don’t…..
Josiah takes over at age 8 and immediately goes on a mission to clean up the kingdom once again and restore things to God. Scripture describes him like this: “behaved well…kept straight on the path blazed by his ancestor David… not one step to the left or right… began to seek”. This is a young boy who is following two disasters for kings. Somehow the legacy of David grabs hold of him. Somehow the pendulum is swinging back the other way. Josiah determines to rebuild and restore the Temple as well. During that project they come across the covenant given to Moses and it points out clearly just how far off the mark the people had been. Josiah tears his robe and asks for guidance and prayer. He is told that God was angry and the kingdom would face doom but he would go quietly before that happened “because you responded in humble repentance”. Not terribly consoling this time – God heard but Josiah himself did not pray but asked his priest to pray for him. Not sure of the impact or difference because he himself did not get on his knees like Hezekiah had to gain God’s forgiveness, but it does seem a little strange that Josiah himself is not mentioned here as praying. Scripture records that Josiah “tore his robe and wept” but not really anything direct between him and God. Could be a lesson here on the power of repentance?? But Josiah does understand clearly the obedience to God’s direction. He does these things in response to the message from the priests: He “solemnly committed himself to the covenant” which meant they were to:
1. follow GOD believingly and obediently
2. follow his instructions, heart and soul, on what to believe and do
3. confirm with his life the entire covenant
4. committed themselves to the covenant of God
Once Josiah learned God’s expectations – he acted and led his people to act in obedience. Check out the heritage he left: “All through Josiah’s life the people kept to the straight and narrow, obediently following GOD”. There was a massive change of heart and direction because an 8 year old boy decides to return to the God of his ancestor David. The power of legacy guys….are you creating yours. It may not show itself for generations but scripture is clear that the power of a father spans three or four generations. Scary thought, but unbelievable opportunity to set the course of the future directly on God. Are you focused on that? Are you intentional in your efforts to “train up your child well” and live life in a way that God is front and center. Life matters – let’s get after it!
The yoyo continues as Manasseh takes the throne. He is an evil king. His dad Hezzekiah had worked so hard to rid the kingdom of all the garbage of the past and almost immediately all that hard work is lost because Manasseh takes the throne. The people immediately fall back into their old sinful ways and God is unhappy to say the least. The king of Assyria captures Manasseh and guess what – “Now that he was in trouble, he went to his knees in prayer”. Sound familiar? He had led the people “off the beaten path into practices of evil” and yet when he is down and out and really in trouble, he returns to what his father taught him – that God is in control. God “is touched” by his repentance and he is restored to the kingdom but the damage has been done. He “issued orders” for the people to return to God – to clean up the kingdom from the idols and pagan practices that he himself has brought back. Scripture tells a chilling story of what happened from my perspective – check out what resulted: “But the people didn’t take him seriously”. The king has created an issue where the people are not following what they hear – they are living based on what they have been shown. Manasseh has restored the sinful ways of the past and they saw him right in the middle of it leading the charge to revolt against God. Now he has a change of heart and wants them to turn around but words are not enough. Actions speak louder than words guys. People judge based on what they see us do rather than what we tell them. That is never more true than with our families and coworkers who are with us more of the time. Manasseh repented of his sin and God took him back. Unfortunately the damage done to the kingdom was not turned around – repentance did not happen because of words. So Amon takes over and immediately returns to the evil. He doesn’t last long – only two years before God takes him out – but the cost of sin continues. There is always a price to pay for sin. God can restore us to Himself, but the impact of sin often has far reaching results. Manasseh lives that. He came to his senses and repented but the kingdom he led down the wrong path does not experience that grace and flounders helplessly while he can only sit and watch it spiral out of control. What a sad story for a king with a powerful legacy upon which he should have built – that of his father Hezzekiah. Never stop walking the walk guys. It makes a difference. Life matters!