A SERVING HEART

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12

Epitaphs attempt to reduce somebody’s life to a sentence or two on a slab of stone. If you had the opportunity to create your own epitaph, how would it read? Which words would you use to describe your life? Perhaps you would choose some outstanding achievement for which you would like to be remembered. Maybe you would include some character quality you think is appealing to other people. The thought of creating your own epitaph is a bit morbid, isn’t it?

Let’s change the question a bit. What if you had the chance to create the epitaph for the empty tomb of Jesus Christ? If you had to reduce the Lord’s life down to a sentence or two, how would you describe Him? Perhaps you would choose “King of kings and Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega.”  Maybe you would use a phrase from Colossians 1:16 “AII things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Certainly, each of those phrases denotes something of the majesty of the Second Person of the Godhead. But those words were written by somebody other than Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Jesus were to describe Himself, He would use words similar to those in Mark 10:45, in which He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus says that above all, the thing He wants to be remembered for is not His majesty, and it is not His glory. He wants ro be remembered as the One who came not to be served but to serve other people.

When we cut through all the peripheral issues of Christianity, what is it that God really wants for us? He wants our lives to resemble Jesus Christ in our thoughts, our attitudes, our affections, and our actions. And we are never more like Jesus Christ than when we put the interests of other people above our own interests when we learn to serve others.

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WHAT THE BIBLE CANNOT DO

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

When you receive your mail, I’m sure you open the letters that are addressed to you personally before opening a letter addressed to “Occupant”. The Bible is not like a generic piece of mail addressed to “Occupant.” No, the Bible is a first-class communication from God to you. It is the primary way you and I discover God’s will for our lives.

But as wonderful as the Bible is, there are some things it cannot do for us. In fact, the Bible is helpful only when we use it in the way it was designed to be used.

First, the Bible cannot predict your future. You cannot pick out a random Scripture verse and claim it as the outcome of your particular situation. That is misusing Scripture, an attempt to try to make God do what you want Him to do. Do not try to use the Bible as a sanctified horoscope to tell you what is going to happen in your particular circumstance. It was never meant to predict your future.

Second, the Bible cannot answer every question you have about your life. Some people try to use the Bible as a theological encyclopedia to answer every question about life in general or their life in particular, such as, “Why did God allow my boss to fire me? Why did God take my mate? Why did God allow my child to be killed? Why do ungodly people prosper while godly people suffer?”

God rarely answers our “why” questions, but His Word does remind us that He is in control. That He the sovereign God of the universe Who created us and all we enjoy around us in this present world.

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GOD’S LIVING REVELATION TO US

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

We live in a Christian world today where everybody seems to be always hearing a “word” from the Lord or getting some new revelation from God. Because of those claims, some people wonder, “Does God regularly give additional information about Himself outside the Bible?” The answer to that is very clear in Scripture.

Jude 3 says, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”

Or also in Hebrews 1 verses 1-2 where we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”

Jude says there is a body of true doctrine called “the faith” that has been delivered. The tense of this verb suggests a completed action. It is important to understand that the Bible is God’s living revelation.

Now, I can believe that Webster’s Dictionary is perfect, complete, and accurate. I can believe it contains every word I will ever need in life. But how likely am I to open a copy of Webster’s Dictionary and start reading? Even though it is perfect and complete, the dictionary is not living. That is what distinguishes the Bible from every other book.

For 2,000 years, God’s people have gathered regularly, sometimes under great persecution, for one reason: to listen to the Word of God. Why? It is because God’s Word is living. Hebrews 4: 12 says, “The word of God is living and active.”

That word “active” means it is full of energy. God’s Word is always doing something to people who listen to it or read it. It is God’s living revelation to us.

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WHAT IS THE BIBLE?

No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the  Holy Spirit spoke from God.  -2 Peter 1:21

I know the title seems a bit elementary, but it’s always good to review the basics of our faith. Much of what we need to know about God’s will can be found in the Bible. What is the Bible?

First, the Bible is God’s perfect revelation. Every word in the Bible can be trusted. In 2 Timothy 3: 16 we learn, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”

The word “inspired” means “Godbreathed.” And guess what: God does not suffer from bad breath! Every breath of God is good.

Consider what Peter said about Scripture: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

The Apostle Paul was not sitting around in his jail cell one day when he said, “To pass the time, I think I will write some Scripture.” All Scripture was initiated by God, not by men. God used men to communicate His message without error.

Second, the Bible is God’s complete revelation.

You may say, “How do I know the Bible is all of God’s Word? What if God is still giving new information about Himself?” I believe God can do anything He wants to within the confines of His Word. In Hebrews 1:1 we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

Everything you need to know about God, Jesus, Heaven, Hell, and salvation is contained in the Bible. The Bible is God’s complete revelation. This begs the question…are you reading it?

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Never Forget True North

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former
ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

A story is told about a sailor hundreds of years ago who was given charge of a ship overnight while the captain slept. It was his first time to have full command of the ship, and the only directive he was given was to sail due north, toward the North Star. “Okay, Captain,” the young sailor said. “So should I just come wake you when we sail past that star?” The captain looked at him and said, “Son, we will never sail past the North Star. It will always be our guide to true north. It never changes!”

In much the same way, the statutes and ways of God are our true north. They’re our guide in life as we pursue holy living. And while we’ll never pass them, we can look to them and know the direction to go that will lead us down the path of godly living.

Never forget your true north… it’s the very character of Christ Himself. Pursue godly living by following your North Star: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. As long as you are heading in the right direction, you can be sure you’ll stay on the path toward Christlike living!

STAY ON THE PATH TO LIVING A LIFE LIKE JESUS BY KEEPING YOUR
FOCUS ON THE HOLY CHARACTER OF GOD.

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The Danger of Drifting

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard,
lest we drift away from it.” –
Hebrews 2:1

Life is like an ocean…a trackless ocean with winds, currents and waves. We’ll meet ships we never knew were on that ocean and we’ll have all kinds of opportunities, heartaches, tears and fears as we sail into a new year on an uncharted sea.

Scholars tell us Hebrews 2:1 refers to the sea–the writer is using a nautical term. He must have spent time at sea, because the phrase “pay much closer attention” and the word “drift” refer to bringing a ship into the harbor, a difficult and sometimes dangerous task.

A ship never just drifts into the harbor. The most skillful part of being a sea pilot is bringing the ship into the harbor. “Lest we drift away“ literally means to slip away. You have to be careful when you enter the harbor that you don’t end up on the rocks or drift past the harbor.

The worst thing that could happen to us this year is that we just drift through it–live an aimless life–letting this year “happen” to us rather than charting a course and getting into God’s appointed harbor. The winds of worldliness, the tides of circumstance, and the currents of the old nature are determined to cause you to drift.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1–2

You will drift unless you decide not to drift. You must have an anchor. You need a fixed direction. It’s important, because drifting is one of the easiest things in the world to do.

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OUR ONLY HOPE

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. —Psalm 31:24

I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, and no I haven’t seen the new release yet, but I have have seen most of the movies, thanks to my grandchildren. Do you remember these epic words spoken by Princess Leia via a hologram message in Star Wars?

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

In the midst of a hopeless situation, the princess of the Rebellion sends a desperate message. As she is about to be captured by the ruler of darkness, Darth Vader, she places a plea inside R2-D2, not knowing whether it will ever be seen or heard.

Do you ever feel like you’ve sent out your last desperate plea and now you wait and wonder if help will ever come? The good news of Christmas is that help has arrived. Jesus is our only hope. There is nothing or no one else in this world that can win against the powers of evil and darkness—but Jesus has come and is coming again.

To a world bound by sin and suffering, God sent His Son as a Savior. By God’s perfect design, He showed up in Bethlehem as the fulfillment of the hope for a Messiah, and He will come again to complete the work He began, redeeming the world to Himself, setting everything right, and turning hope into reality once and for all.

Let your steadfast love, O LORD,
be upon us, even as we HOPE in you.
Psalm 33:22

For now, in this Christmas season, we can take heart and draw strength from the knowledge that our only hope has heard our plea and has come to rescue and redeem us.

Have you reached the point in life where you realize God is your only hope? As you embrace this new year, think about what it looks like to cry out to Him and then to be strong and take heart.

Happy New Year!

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HOPE SHINES IN THE DARKNESS

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” —Matthew 4:16

We typically think that light helps us see better, but sometimes we need the darkness in order to better see the light. When it comes to seeing the night sky, light is actually pollution. National Geographic reports that while about 2,500 individual stars are usually visible to the naked eye in the night sky, we can only see about 200 to 300 in a typical city today. Our city lights get in the way of us seeing the light of the stars. We have to go where it is dark to get a clearer vision of the light.

Hope works the same way. Only when we face the true darkness of our world, and of our own hearts, can we see the light of hope clearly. Jesus was born into a dark world full of hatred and fear. That same hatred and fear are present in countries, cities, churches, and families today.

But our hope lies in the fact that God showed up unexpectedly in the midst of the darkest night. He shone His light into the world through a baby, and He invites us into that light.

Do you feel like you are living in darkness? Do the news headlines make you feel like you are living in the land of the shadow of death? Holiday glitz can artificially light our lives, but stepping into and facing the darkness allow us to see the true light of Christmas.

Darkness can feel all consuming, but the darker it is, the brighter the smallest light seems to shine. Even in your deepest darkness, the light of hope shines, revealing the love of God, who is the source of all light.

What causes you to feel overwhelmed with darkness? What in your life might be causing spiritual light pollution and keeping you from seeing the light of Jesus? Won’t you step
toward the light? Turn from your sin to the Savior.

Merry Christmas!

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WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

Nothing can capture for me the mystery and the beauty of Christmas better than the carols we sing. They have the power to recreate in my imagination the scenes of the first Christmas. They seem to be able to set the atmosphere — the crowded inn, the smelly stable, the sleeping city, the great star spilling its beauty down over the waiting earth, the lonely shepherds in the field, the blazing, sudden glory of the heavenly hosts breaking through the darkness, then the contrast of the stable in a cave with the sleeping babe and the wondering hearts that come to worship and kneel before this amazing wonder, Jesus Christ born on earth.

One carol we sing at Christmas asks the question,
“What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?”

And the chorus answers,
“This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the son of Mary.”

I am sure the shepherds asked the same question when they went into the stable on that first Christmas Day: “What Child is this?” But no one had an adequate answer. Mary, you remember, “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” Luke 2:19. She did not know what the answer was. You never can answer that question until you have the full record unfolded in the Gospel accounts of the silent years in Nazareth and the coming of age of Jesus, His baptism by John, the trudging up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea with His disciples, the teaching, the miracles, and finally, the last crowded dramatic week in Jerusalem that culminated in the cross and the blazing glory of resurrection.

And then it still was not over. There was the moment in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out upon the waiting disciples. The whole city was gathered to hear the great sound of a rushing wind in the wonder of Pentecost.

It is only then you begin to get a full answer to this question, “What Child is this?”
How do you answer this question?

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HOPE’S LONG JOURNEY

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope. —Psalm 130:5

In an age when drone delivery is a reality and information is constantly at our fingertips, we’ve become accustomed to immediate gratification. We get impatient with slow Internet connections and microwave ovens. So the idea of a long wait or a lengthy journey doesn’t hold much appeal on the surface.

As I was waiting in a line which wasn’t moving at the airport recently the Lord reminded me of the importance of waiting and having patience in just circumstances. But perhaps it is the journey, the process of the long wait, that is exactly what we need. We need time to recognize the depth of our need and to allow hope to build in our hearts. We need space to block out the many distractions of our lives. We need to quiet ourselves in the darkness so that we won’t miss the arrival of the light of the world.

We need to wait and watch for the miracle of the birth of Jesus—when the God of the universe entered our world in order to transform us through His love.

Advent is just that—a long period of waiting, expecting, and looking forward to the coming of Jesus. In a rushed world, Advent is a deep breath that allows us to pause and then take each purposeful step on the journey as we follow the star toward Bethlehem. So we begin this season of waiting with hope in our hearts. Maybe your sense of hope is only the faintest glimmer right now or a mere spark. It’s okay. Allow the long wait to be a place where hope grows—where it can build with each passing day and create space in your heart to receive the light of the world.

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