Monday, November 23, 2015

Let Earth Receive Her King

             A Muslim friend sent me a message recently asking why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25, when that likely wasn’t the day Jesus was actually born.  This was a public message on Facebook, by the way, so I’m not sharing any privileged information.  I told him he was correct; we have no idea what day Jesus was born.  There are details about His birth story that indicate it was more likely in the springtime than winter; it almost certainly wasn’t December 25.  But that’s okay.  We aren’t literally celebrating Jesus’ birthday as much as we are celebrating the fact that He came into the world in the first place.  He then said, “His miraculous birth was a blessing to man, and his return shall be even more.”  That surprised me for a moment, and then I remembered that in Islam, they believe--as we do--that Jesus is returning someday.  Unlike us, they believe He was merely a prophet, but they do believe in His return. Still, his comment reminded me of something we tend to forget about Christmas.  
              At Christmas, we tend to get nostalgic.  We watch old movies, listen to songs by artists long dead, and think about things we experienced in our childhood.  This is one reason why Christmastime is especially hard for people who are in grief.  As Christians, we tend to be nostalgic about Christmas, too, but not in a good way.  We focus on the baby in the manger, which is real and something worth celebrating.  But we forget that we have something else to celebrate at Christmas.  Our Christmas story isn’t over; it’s ongoing.  We don’t just celebrate what happened on the day Jesus was born, as wonderful as that was.  We also look forward to the day He will return, and what that will mean for us.  So starting this Sunday (November 29) and continuing until Christmas, I will be preaching on Isaiah 11, a chapter that tells us what we have to look forward to. 
            These words were written 2700 years ago by Isaiah, a prophet who advised four kings of Judah.  In this passage, he foretells a coming King.  These words were written to desperate people, and they were intended to bring them hope.  They should do the same for us.  We’ll be electing a president in about a year.  I have to tell you, none of our candidates fills me with hope for the future.  At best, I look at certain candidates and say, “Well, this one isn’t quite as scary as the others,” or “That one isn’t as much of a train wreck as those would be.”  But here is God saying that a ruler is coming who will literally make everything right.  Who is this King?  What would He accomplish?  And what difference should it make for us today?  Make time to come this Sunday to Westbury, and receive the hope you need.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Gift of Good Counsel

            This Sunday, we’re wrapping up our series called Decision-Making 101.  Our lives are the sum total of the decisions we make.  All of us can look back over the course of our lives and think of very good decisions we made, and see the happiness that we are experiencing because of those decisions.  For me, choosing to follow Christ when I was a young boy, and choosing to marry the person I married, and choosing to go into full-time vocational ministry were all great decisions.  They have set my life on a trajectory that has led to untold joy and purpose.  At the same time, we can all think of decisions we made that we’re still paying the price for, years later.  “Why did I stay so long in that relationship?  Why did I trust that guy with my money?  Why did I quit that job?”  The comedian Jeff Foxworthy talks about how tattoos are bad decisions we can’t hide.  He says the girl with the cute hummingbird on her shoulder doesn’t realize that someday that bird is going to expand and fly south.  Her future grandchildren will ask, “Grandma, why do you have a buzzard on your back?”  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to always make the right decision?  Actually, there is.  The Bible says there is a skill to choosing the right path, and it’s called wisdom.  There is an entire book of the Bible about wisdom, called Proverbs. Near the beginning, it says Wisdom calls out in the street; she raises her voice in the public squares. She cries out above the commotion; she speaks at the entrance of the city gates: “How long, foolish ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge? If you respond to my warning, then I will pour out my spirit on you and teach you my words (Proverbs 1:20-23). 
            The book of Proverbs imagines, “What if wisdom became a person?”  If wisdom took on flesh and bone, she would stand in the streets calling out, practically begging for people to come to her and make the right decisions.  She would call us fools for not listening, because she would rather hurt our feelings than let us keep making bad choices.  Wisdom is there for the taking.  How do we come to her?  That’s what we’ve been talking about in this series.  And here’s what we’ve said so far:  If we want to be wise people who make good decisions, we will seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.  We will study His Word daily.  We will pray, seeking His will, not our own.  We will ask God to help us understand and interpret our circumstances.  And we’ll listen to the counsel of God’s people.  If you’re not currently doing those things, Wisdom is calling you a fool.  If you are doing those things, when you have a decision to make, they will all come together.  The Bible, God’s answers to your prayers, the way God helps you interpret your circumstances, and the counsel you get from God’s people will all agree on what you should do.  Then you’ll know which path to choose.  So this Sunday, we'll talk about that final way God speaks: Through the counsel of His people.
              Proverbs 11:14 says Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.  This is a constant refrain in the book of Proverbs, and we’ll look at several of those verses in this message.  The more wise people you have advising you, the more likely you are to make good decisions.  That’s a truth all of us can agree with.  But there’s a problem.  Most of us can’t afford to employ consultants and life coaches.  So most of us make our decisions all by ourselves.  Or we take the advice of the wrong people.  How can we be sure we’ll be surrounded by wise counsel?  I hope you'll be there this Sunday, to find out!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reading Your Circumstances

Every day, we make an average of 35,000 decisions.  That’s kind of a terrifying thought, isn’t it?  There have been some really bad decisions made over the years.  Once the executives at the Kodak company had to make a decision about a new product one of their engineers had invented: a digital camera.  They were afraid if they marketed this camera, it would hurt their business, selling camera film.  Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2011.  In 1965, producers at Decca Records rejected a new rock band because they believed guitar music was on its way out.  We know those guys today as the Beatles.  In 1976, 20th Century Fox had signed a young director to make a science fiction movie that none of them thought would make money.  The filmmaker asked if he could have all merchandising rights.  They said he could, if he took a pay cut.  He agreed.  His name was George Lucas, and he has earned an estimated $7 billion from all those Star Wars action figures, video games, and Halloween costumes.  History is filled with stories of bad decisions, like the Trojans opening the gates to that big wooden horse, or Napoleon deciding to invade Russia, or the builders of the Titanic deciding “who needs lifeboats?”

We’re in a series now called Decision-Making 101.  We’ve talked about how God wants to teach us to be people of wisdom.  Wisdom is what the Bible calls the art of making good decisions.  We’ve said that wisdom comes as we walk with God and focus our lives on becoming the people He created us to be, and on helping others know Him.  And we’ve said that God still speaks today, primarily in four ways: The Bible, prayer, circumstances, and through His people, the Church.  This Sunday, we’re going to look at that third way God speaks.  How do we read our circumstances?  Sometimes Christians talk about looking for “an open door” from God.  But how do we know if an open door is one God opened?  Before my wife and I were a couple, she had more than one sincere, devout young Christian man say that God had told him that she was meant to be his wife.  Was that God opening a door, or just those boys’ hormones?  (You probably know my answer to that one.) What about when you have to choose between two options that seem morally equivalent: Like taking a job that pays more, but would require you to drive further than your current job?  What about when all your options seem bad?  How do we know what God is saying to us in our circumstances?  I hope you decide to come this Sunday!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Key Connection

Have you ever done something you regretted?  We all have.  But people of wisdom manage to make good decisions consistently.  They live without regrets because they choose the right path.  In our series, Decision-Making 101, we’ve talked about how seeking God’s Kingdom and Righteousness above everything else helps us become wise people.  We’ve also talked about how God speaks to us through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church. Last week, we saw how we can hear God’s voice through Scripture.  This Sunday, we'll look at how we hear God when we pray. 

In order to be able to hear God’s voice, most of us have to revise the way we think of prayer.  We tend to think it’s presenting petitions to God for Him to consider.  We’re informing Him of our needs, and if we do it often enough, long enough, and in the right way, we can talk Him into giving us what we want.  But that’s not what Scripture teaches.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:8, your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.  Does that mean prayer doesn’t change anything?  No.  Jesus’ brother James said in James 4:2, You do not have because you do not ask.  The Bible has many stories of people crying out to God for healing, for victory over enemies, for answers to difficult questions, for wisdom to choose the right path, and God answers.  So what does this mean?  Henry Blackaby says “Prayer is not designed to change God; it’s designed to change us.”  We don’t pray to convince God to do our will; we pray to prepare us to do God’s will.  He tells the story of a time he bought his son a bicycle for his birthday, then hid it in the garage until the big day.  Then, he had to convince his son to ask for a bicycle.  Blackaby says that God has things stored up for us in His garage, so to speak.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to convince us to ask for the things He already wants to give us.  As Paul says in Romans 8:26-27, we don’t know what to pray for.  We ask for things we think are right, but the Holy Spirit knows better than we do.  This is also why Paul said in Ephesians 6:18, Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request.  When he says “pray at all times in the Spirit,” I believe he is saying, “Don’t just ask God for the stuff you want.  Try to find out through prayer what He wants to give you.”  How do we do that?  This Sunday, I'll offer two suggestions to use when you pray, to help you know God’s will.