Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Message of the Christmas Event


22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b]

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then
Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[d] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.


How wonderfully odd that God would choose a humble family with little means to raise the Savior of the world! This passage shows how God chose such a family to raise Jesus, our Lord. We know their economic plight because the aforementioned passage states that when they went to honor the purification rites, which are required by the Law of Moses, they presented a pair of doves as their sacrifice. For those who couldn’t afford a lamb, a pair of doves could be substituted in its place. They took their small means to honor God the best they could.

There were some other humble people who were waiting for years to see the Messiah. Hanna and Simeon waited faithfully and were finally rewarded with seeing Christ. Both affirmed who he was and the prophecy about him. For both of them, to see Jesus was to see God’s salvation. Simeon revealed a key truth regarding God’s plan for man through Christ. He stated, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

People now would be divided into two categories – saved and lost – predicated on whether they had received Christ’s provision of salvation or not. The Bible says that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Because of sin, man was separated from God. Jesus now had come to bridge that separation by being born into the world, and then dying on the cross for our sins. At the cross economic power and status mean nothing to God. He only wants to know your standing with Jesus Christ.

As JJ Packer says, “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.” This is the true meaning of Christmas and the message we all must share!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mary's Longing for the Christmas Event

Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

The earlier verses in this chapter show Mary welcoming Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. John is the yet to be born child who moves inside Elizabeth's womb when she hears Mary’s greeting. Elizabeth responds by praising Mary for her faith telling her, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Mary reacts to this response by singing a delightful song that many may know as the Magnificat, which is the Scripture that has already been recited. This song teaches us many things about Mary, but most important is that it teaches that she spoke of a Savior and that she rejoiced in Him. Young Mary would be the channel that God would use to bring the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

Mary knew intuitively, because of her great calling that was revealed to her earlier, that she would be used greatly of God. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she had found favor in the eyes of God, and she would conceive and give birth to a son and name Him Jesus. Gabriel went on to tell her that her son would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. He would reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Indeed, he still resigns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords today and will for eternity. He was God in the flesh.

Because of Jesus Christ, Christianity is separated from all other religions. You see you can have Confucianism without Confucius. You can have Islam without Muhammad. You can have Buddhism without Buddha. What sets Christianity apart from the other religions is that you cannot have Christianity without Jesus. The other religions falsely offer a way. Jesus said that he was the way. In Christianity, one enters into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mary's Great Expectation

Luke 1:39-44

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.


After Mary received the news from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the Mother of God she departed from Nazareth and began a four day journey towards the hill country of Judea. With this news freshly in her mind, I’m sure that new revelation went from simple anticipation of the fulfillment of her new found role, to an ever increasing feeling of excitement.

Given that the journey to Judea would have been a dangerous one, she was probably accompanied by others in a caravan. However, it is certain that she would need to keep this news to herself. No one was to know. How would she explain her pregnancy given that she was not married? She could never tell them what Gabriel told her, that the Holy Spirit had caused her to be pregnant! This news was too wonderful and amazing to share!

By the time that she arrived at Elizabeth’s house, Mary must have been bubbling with excitement. Yet, before she was able to tell Elizabeth the good news something happened which served as a prophetic first. John the Baptist, who we later find out is the forerunner of Jesus, fulfills that calling even while in his mother’s womb by leaping with joy confirming that Jesus was the Messiah to come. This experience confirmed the message that was given by Gabriel to Mary.

While the aforementioned story tells about Mary’s excitement regarding the first coming of the Messiah, believers today should also have a similar anticipation and excitement for Jesus’ second coming. Many times in the New Testament, Scripture exhorts us to look for His coming. This coming will be sudden and unexpected, but when it happens it will be most glorious. However, it is important to understand that the second coming will be much different than the first. In His first coming He came as a poor person unknown to many people. But when Jesus comes back he will be "coming in clouds with great power and glory.” This should fill our hearts with anticipation and excitement that Christ is coming back soon.
Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How a Church can Help their people Cultivate a Biblical Worldview Part #2

This is the second part of a two part series on cultivating biblical worldviews in the church. Below are five suggestions on how to do just that.

The first way to assist people in establishing biblical worldview is for a church to fast and pray for faithfulness of God’s Word among the people. The discipline of fasting is commanded by God. To be sure, the Bible has a lot to say about fasting. For instance, on one occasion someone posed the question to Jesus as to why he and his disciples didn’t fast. After all, fasting was done in the Old Testament so shouldn’t Jesus and his disciples do the same? Jesus replied to that question stating, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast” (Matt. 9:15). This statement by Jesus seems to suggest that the time for fasting wasn’t to be done during his earthly ministry, but the time for fasting is now. Therefore, to fast on behalf of the people to honor God with a biblical worldview is in fact honoring that command.

If this is true, and the time for fasting is now, what then is the rationale for fasting? To answer this question, one has to go no farther than the Book of Isaiah. In this book Isaiah outlines, according to Elmer Towns, nine different kinds of fasting. They are (1) to loose the chains of injustice, (2) untie the cords of the yoke, (3) set the oppressed free, (4) break every yoke (5) share your food with the hungry, (6) provide the poor wanderer with shelter, (7) [allow] light to break forth like the dawn, bring healing quickly, (8) allow righteousness go before you, (9) and allow the glory of the LORD be your rear guard. Towns takes the points that are mentioned in the aforementioned passage and correlates them with other passages in the Bible that coincides with each of the nine themes.

The type of fast that Towns mentions that applies to this type of situation is what he calls the Ezra fast. The Ezra fast correlates with the proposition mentioned in Isaiah that fasting unties the cords of the yoke. Thus, the purpose of this fast is “to solve problems, inviting the Holy Spirit’s aid in lifting loads and overcoming barriers that keep [one’s] self and [one’s] loved ones from walking joyfully with the Lord.” Of course, the reason for the absence of joyfulness in our context is the absence of a Christian worldview. After all, thinking like Jesus leads to all the blessings of a Christ centered life. Therefore, divine intervention is no doubt needed. So the battle to establish a Christian worldview is at its core is not an intellectual one but a spiritual one. This is why Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). This battle must also be fought in prayer, and when fasting is also done, it makes our prayers that much more effective because our hearts are much more apt to be righteous causing us to pray with great faith. When one prays in faith, mountains can be removed.

The reason Ezra proclaimed a fast was to entreat God for an answer to his prayer and God responded. Ezra was in charge of restoring the Law of Moses after the exile. Because of Israel’s rebellion they were eventually driven into exile by the Lord. After a period of seventy years, God allowed a remnant to return and reestablish their homeland. They were to rebuild the city by permission from Artaxerxes. However, despite the permission to do so by the King, Israel still received opposition from other nations. “Burdened with embarrassment about having to ask the Persian king for an army to protect them, Ezra fasted and prayed for an answer.” He needed divine intervention if he hoped to be victorious.

Each church is different and the reasons for people not having a biblical worldview are also different. Therefore, it would behoove a congregation to seek wisdom from above regarding how to handle the problem thereby bringing deliverance to the people. The goal of the Ezra fast is to solve problems, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance is needed to know what to do. Therefore, a congregation should seek to attain, says Towns, problem solving eyes. One must see the problem from the perspective of God if one hopes to bring about a solution. To carry out his mandate Towns calls for the development of three problem-solving eyes, and the first of which is to have eyes that sees the positive. It is important not to start with a problem centered focus. After all, it is the all-powerful God who created the heavens and the earth one is petitioning for an answer to prayer. Therefore, one should approach the situation confident that God can intervene in this situation. However, sometimes people are spiritually blinded and need to have their eyes opened, which fasting helps to accomplish.

One also needs to eyes to see the people. After all, it is the people and their situations for which one is fasting. One is able, as one fasts, to be led by the Spirit regarding how to pray. This means one should pray for specific people and their specific situations, and divine help is needed to do that. Luckily, the Spirit of God grants us wisdom in regards to how to pray. The Apostle Paul affirms this idea when he says, “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Being led by the Spirit leads to answered prayer, and fasting makes being led much easier.

A Church Library
The second way to assist people to cultivate a biblical worldview is to have a church library. God calls His people to love him with not just all of their heart, but their mind as well, and reading is part of loving God with one’s minds. Furthermore, the discipline of reading helps to discipline the mind to think biblically, if one reads the right books. Virtues such as “wisdom, prudence, foresight, understanding, discernment, truthfulness, and studiousness, among others” are cultivated. As one ponders truths that are in the book, one learns the habit of thinking virtuously. One builds character and becomes the kind of person that God intended.

By reading, one cultivates the intellectual life, and, as W. Jay Wood correctly points out, “careful oversight over our intellectual lives is imperative of we are to think well, and thinking well is indispensible to living well.” The plea to cultivate the intellectual life may receive opposition from many in the congregation because some might say that the Christian faith is not about the head, it’s about the heart. This idea must be refuted. Such nonsensical thinking must be overcome if one hopes to cultivate a biblical worldview in the people. “Though not all are called to an intellectual vocation, all are called to pursue intellectual virtues.” Intangibles such as discernment and the wisdom one acquires from reading good books help parishioners to go a long way in developing a biblical worldview.

The goal in getting a congregation to read by having a church library is to get people seek wisdom. The Bible has a lot to say, particularly in Proverbs, about acquiring wisdom. For instance, Proverbs exhorts people to find wisdom because they will be blessed when they do (Prov. 3:13). Not only will wisdom bless it also helps to protect. It helps to save people from the ways of wicked men and women who are driven by perverse ways (Prov. 3:13). This is why Solomon urges the reader not to forsake wisdom because she will protect and watch over the person who seeks godly wisdom. Solomon sums up the pursuit of wisdom stating, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). This is because “wise persons see the world from God’s perspective and are thus able to make the right judgments about matters of eternal significance.” As people seek godly wisdom they will not only acquire a biblical worldview, but will behave biblically as well.

Easy to Remember Slogans
A third way a church can help parishioners cultivate a biblical worldview is to offer an easy to remember framework for people in the congregation to use. In her book “Nancy Pearcey suggests that believers return to the book of Genesis to construct a Biblical worldview. She believes that a return to the Creation account in particular is essential because that’s where one finds out God’s original purpose for mankind. Here one finds a three part theme that becomes the biblical toolbox to construct a biblical worldview. The theme consists of Creation, The Fall, and Redemption. Ascertaining a proper view of Creation, the initial theme of Pearcey’s biblical toolbox, is vital because the answer to this question determines one’s entire worldview. By using this tool, it helps people see that God has an ideal in mind, but the Fall of man ruined this because of the Fall the mind is in rebellion toward God. “Theologians call this the ‘noetic effect’ of the Fall (the effect on the mind), and it subverts our ability to understand the world apart from God’s regenerating grace.” Sin erodes mankind’s ability to see things as God sees them so mankind needs redemption, which is the final phase of the three pronged approach to achieving a Christian worldview. This redemption is meant not just to function as simply salvation “only [for] our souls, while leaving our minds to function on their own. He redeems the whole person. Conversion is meant to give new direction to [ones] thoughts, emotions, will, and habits.” As one repents of sin, turns toward God, and diligently seeks to renew his mind, a biblical worldview will be cultivated.

To communicate the three pronged worldview to the church, it must be done creatively. One way to communicate this is to preach a series on these three topics and then do a six-week follow up study during small groups. This will ensure that the message will not just be heard, but by doing a six-week follow up study, the likelihood that this message will be internalized by church members will be much greater. It is one thing to hear these ideas in a sermon, but it is quite another thing to study the subject in depth in a small group format. By studying this subject in a venue that allows questions and discussion, the likelihood that the material will be learned is much greater.

A fourth way to is to have discipleship times such as Sunday school, small groups, men’s fellowships and women’s fellowship that are geared towards aggressively discipling people. This can only take place if the leader of each group assumes a shepherding role that focuses on serving as an under shepherd. This role assists the pastoral leadership in overseeing the people they have been entrusted into their care. This means they would be charged to spiritually nurture people in their groups as well as train, feed, and teach them the things of God, and even rebuke if absolutely necessary. To do this requires certain kinds of people to fulfill these roles. Consequently, it is absolutely imperative that these leaders “seek to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3).

Faithfulness to the Process
A fifth and final way to help one’s congregation cultivate a Christian worldview is to simply be faithful to the process one chooses. The mindset for real change should be to think long term because real, lasting change will be a gradual process. Chances are, nine out of ten people in a given congregation don’t have a Christian worldview so one’s goals must be realistic. Consistency is the key here. There are no quick fixes. There are no groundbreaking programs that will bring about instant success. This is a war and it must be fought diligently under a carefully crafted strategy and stick with it. A congregation will become weary if the strategy changes often. This is not to say an occasional tweaking may be in order, buy constant change eventually becomes a detriment to success.

Advent Part #1 - The Anticipation of the Event

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

It is so exciting to begin the season of year we call Advent! At this time of year we begin to sense an expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration that we know as Christmas. Not only do we experience anticipation, excitement, and preparation, but also a distinct longing for the Messiah. In this is the message that Jesus Christ was born to die for the sins of the whole world as our long awaited Messiah.

The story of the Messiah was foretold in the Old Testament which generated much expectation for God’s people over the centuries. Every Israelite from antiquity dreamt of the day when the Messiah would come and emancipate His people. This anticipation fostered an eagerness for a king who would one day rule and reign. He would be One who would salvation to the world.

You can imagine the shock of Mary, when she found out that she would be the one who would be the Mother of the Messiah. The angel Gabriel came to her and explained that she had found favor with God, and she would conceive and give birth to a son. Young Mary was to call him Jesus. She was told that he would be great and would be the Son of the Most High. God would give him the throne of his father David, and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom would never end (Luke 1:31-33).

Generally mothers dream about what their sons would grow up to be like, but Mary already knew. This fact alone would generate tremendous anticipation. Several questions were probably racing through her mind. What would he look like? Would he be tall? What gifts would he have that would allow him to fulfill His great calling? Such questions would fuel the fires of anticipation. Her role as the mother of God was a privileged position. Honor and joy must have filled her heart.
Just as Mary, we anticipate the coming of our Messiah – His second coming! We are privileged to know Him and Joyful in our expectancy of His return!