Where does Love Start?

1 John 4:10-11(NKJV)
10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

During this Christmas season we have been focusing on the elements that make Christmas special even to those who, because of political correctness, believe Jesus should not be a part of the public celebration.  We have looked at Joy, the inward sense of wellbeing that surpasses happiness.  We have discovered that happiness is outward and therefore weak.  Joy comes from the spirit of man and is not dependent upon outward things.  It is a real strength for those who have it.

We have also discovered that peace in the context of Christmas has nothing to do with peace between people and nations.  The Christmas proclamation of peace made by the angels to the shepherds in Israel was peace between God and man not peace among men.  The availability of right relationship with God made inward peace available to man as well.  Like joy, this peace is not an outward thing dependent upon the circumstances of life.  It is an inward peace that flows from our relationship with God.  It has the ability to overcome stress of all kinds. 

Finally we have looked at “Christmas love.”  The natural celebration focuses on the love of friends and family.  It includes love to those who may not be lovable.  However it once again falls short of the love celebrated in Christmas.  Christmas love is the love of the Father God who chose to take on the penalty of man’s sin in order to restore man to relationship with Himself.  The birth of the babe in Bethlehem was the physical manifestation of this love.  God the Father took upon himself the form of flesh.  He became a man, born of a virgin human woman.  He was born just as all other men before and after him, but He had no human father.  As such he was not only God in the flesh but he was a sinless human.  He was capable of becoming the sacrifice for all mankind because he was man himself and yet more.  He could pay for all sin because the sin that he died for was not his own.

All three of these elements originate with God and cannot be understood outside of a relationship with God.  The joy of Christmas is the Joy of the Lord.  The peace of Christmas is the the Peace of God which passes all understanding.  The love of Christmas is the Love of God that was given to save the whole world.  This is what we celebrate. 

I want to point out one more thing about this love of God.  As we watch the Christmas specials on TV, the stories often focus on the ability of this “Christmas love” to change the hearts of people.  In the Christian context we often ask the question, “Do we really love God?  Are we expressing the love of God to those around us?”  All of these things are valid.  We should ask these questions of ourselves.  I believe the love of God celebrated at Christmas can change the hearts of men and women.  However, how do we release this love?  What must we do to love God and others the way we should?

Most of the time the burden is put on us.  “You just have to do it.”, we are told.  That is true, but how?  When we look at love in any other contexts do we say, “Just dot it.”?  We talk about “falling in love.”  We talk about parental love.  One person loves sports cars while another loves luxury cars.  On person loves vanilla ice cream while another loves chocolate.  Why?  You just do.  How do you know you love?  You just do.

My point here is that love is an emotional response.  Of course the love of God is much more than that.  It is a motivation and it is a decision.  It is a love not dependent upon emotions, but it is not a love devoid of them.  When it is functioning in us it certainly can reach beyond our feelings.  It is based on a decision and that is how we walk in it.  The question, however, is where does it start.  Do I just decide to love God?  The verse above seems to indicate something else.  Love begins with God. 

You see, although we must choose to act on what the Bible calls love, we really can’t initiate it.  What will cause us to love God and therefore have this love released in us.  It is not an act of our will.  It is not based on our efforts.  This love must start with God not us.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us.”  This a powerful statement.  How than can I love God more.  How can I love my fellow man with the love of God in such a way that it will really change him?  I believe there is only one way.

If I want to love I must start where God starts.  God loves me.  My love for Him and my love for those around me will come to fruition as I meditate on how much God loves me.  Jesus was born for me.  He lived for me.  He took upon himself my sin and died for my freedom.  In all of it God was thinking of me.  This may seem like a selfish point of view.  It would be if this was just natural love, but it is not.  The more we meditate on the love that began with God the more we respond with the same love. 

We cannot work up this love.  It is in us because of salvation.  It is released by our appreciating and receiving the love God has for us.  This Christmas day take some time to meditate on the wonderful love of God for you.  Paul said it was the love of God that constrained him, drove him, to share that love for others.  (2 Cor 5:14)  If we truly understand HIs love for us, the only possible response is to love Him and love those for whom He died.  In the words of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts character Linus, “That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

1 John 4:16(NKJV)
16And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

Even When We Were Enemies

Romans 5:6-11(NKJV)
6For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
10For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.   11And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

We are in the home stretch now for the Christmas holiday.  This week we have been studying the love celebrated during the Christmas season.  Those who would like to eliminate Christ from the celebration still want to emphasize love as a major element of the season.  However they focus on the love of family or the love of our fellow man.  Both are wonderful things and certainly should be part of the celebration of Christmas,  but they are not “Christmas love.”

The Love we celebrate at Christmas is the love that caused the Father to leave heaven, take on the form of mankind so that he could bear the penalty for their sin.  In doing this, God chose to pay the price that separated man from Himself.  This act provided the way for man to come back to God if he so chose.  The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was not just a nice story, it was man’s only hope of salvation.  It was the ultimate act of love.  It is why we have given gifts at Christmas throughout the centuries.

I want to point out another thing about the magnitude of this gift.  The Father God did indeed Himself leave heaven, but He did in the form of His only begotten Son.  This is something we cannot fully understand.  How could He be both Father and Son?  He is God.  He is one in three and three in one.  Though the Father and the Son are one and the same, somehow they are also separate and distinct.  This is important in understanding the nature of this gift.  It is one thing for a Father to lay down his life for his children, it is quite another to ask His only child to die in the hopes that others will come.

I hate to watch my children suffer.  I would go through suffering 100 times over if it would ensure my children would not suffer.  Yet God gave his only begotten Son for the purpose of dying a horrible death on the cross.  To me that is almost unfathomable.  Who did He ask this perfect Son to die for?  Who did the Son agree to sacrifice his life for.  We see the answer in the verse above.

I have always considered this one of the most poignant and human verses in the New Testament.  Paul points out that a person might be willing to sacrifice himself for a good person.  It is an extreme thing to ask and many would not do it, but for an exceptionally good person someone might make this ultimate sacrifice.  However this verse then tells us that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, died for us when we were yet sinners.

Let’s look at the adjectives used here in this verse. Jesus died for us when we were without strength.  We could do nothing for ourselves where sin was concerned.  He died for sinners.  We were not living according to God’s nature and His commandments.  We were living according to the nature that came upon mankind at the fall.  In verse 10 it comes out and says we were enemies to God.  Romans 8:7 says our minds were hatred towards God.  Even those who thought they served God did not understand Him.  These were the people for whom this great sacrifice was made.

The love we celebrate at Christmas is not love shared.  It is love extended to those who did not deserve it and who, in a real sense, did not want it.  It is the love of one who is far superior to those who have no hope of reaching Him.  It is the love of one who has everything to lose and only those who do not return his affection to gain.  It is the love of one who takes the initiative to rescue those who do not really deserve rescue.  It is the love of God in it’s highest expression.

During this season one of our responses to that love is to reach out with love to friends and family.  This is a wonderful thing, however don’t forget what kind of love you should be reaching out with.  This wonderful love gift is still being offered to man by the Father who sent it in the first place.  Jesus was sent into the world as a messenger of that love as well as it’s fulfillment.  We cannot do what Jesus did, but in John 17 Jesus says that He sends us into the Word as the Father sent Him.  We don’t have to die to express this love, but we are it’s messengers.  Take time this week to tell someone of this wonderful love gift.

There is a song we sing that starts out, “I found a love beyond all reason.”  That’s the gift we celebrate.  It is an unreasonable, unbelievable, supernatural love that was given to all mankind at Christmas.

The Incarnation

Philippians 2:5-8(NKJV)
5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Yesterday we began our discussion about the last of the elements of Christmas that even those who want Christ removed from the season seem to feel are important.  That element is love.  All three, joy, peace and love, are part and parcel of what Jesus brought to the earth.  To try and celebrate them without celebrating Jesus Himself is impossible.  You may be talking about joy, peace and love but not Christmas joy, peace and love. 

The announcement the angels made to the shepherds the night before Jesus’ birth was centered on the fact that God was doing something that would restore relationship between Himself and man.  The Joy that comes as a result is the inward Joy of that relationship.  The peace is peace between God and man that is then expressed by and inward peace that cannot be shaken.  The love of Christmas is the of the Father who sent His only begotten son to restore His children to relationship with himself.  Anything less than this is to celebrate natural emotions.  While they are  good things, they are not the essence of the Christmas celebration.  Natural joy, peace and love are conditional.  They are present when the conditions are right, but when put under pressure they may or may not hold up.  The joy, peace and love represented by Christmas are different.  They are supernatural and will withstand any test.

Christmas love in particular is a love that, properly understood carries with it the highest implication.  The above scripture describes what this love really is.  The theological term is incarnation.  After the fall of man, God had a major dilemma.  Man had been given free will.  Using that gift he had chosen to sin against God.  This choice separated him from God.  Since he had chosen to obey the devil, God’s enemy, he was now joined to the devil.  Satan had become man’s spiritual father.  The bible tells us that the wages of sin is death.  (Rom. 6:23)

Every man born from that time on would have to pay this wage.  This death did not just mean the end of physical life.  There was another consequence.  Since man would leave this life in a state of separation from God, he would enter the next life in the same condition and would spend eternity in that state of separation.  God’s whole purpose for man in creation was to be His family.  In man’s sin God had lost his family.  God is just.  The penalty for sin had to be paid.  However in paying it human beings become incapable of fulfilling God’s purpose for their existence.  Not only that, but God created them as a Father.  He was eternally separated from His children.  Any parent would find this intolerable and God is no different.

How could He solve this problem.  Sin must be paid for by man.  Man sinned.  He was deceived by the devil, but it was not the devil who sinned.  Man must pay the price.  Justice demands it.  If an individual paid this price they were lost to God for eternity.  If God simply forgave the sin, His justice would not be satisfied.  He would be compromising the perfection that makes Him God.  This is unacceptable.  There seems to be no way that even God can have both the justice demanded by perfection and the restoration of His family.  God, however, found a way.

We see the solution stated in Phil. 2.  God took upon himself the burden of payment.  God Himself came in the form of flesh, in the likeness of man.  He caused a virgin girl to conceive a child.  One of the old testament prophecies concerning the messiah was that he would be called Emmanuel.  (Is. 7:14)  This is interpreted as God with us, or God tabernacled among us.  The tabernacle was the tent that housed the presence of God in the wilderness.  The implication is that God was going to create a tabernacle of flesh and dwell among us.  God would become “incarnate” or in a body of flesh.

The virgin birth we celebrate at Christmas is not some myth.  It is not a nice story told so that we can think of Jesus as being born without the need for sex.  It is the only solution for mankind.  As a man born without human seed, Jesus was both man and God.  His human mother made him just as human as anyone else.  The male seed, however determines sex, blood type and half of what makes up that individual.  In the spiritual sense it is what passed the death that came from sin to all humans born. 

Since Jesus did not have that “gene” He was human, but also God.  He was human but without sin.  He was human but a fit substitute for all of humanity.  He could die and death would not hold him.  He could pay for sin, but it would not be His sin.  He could then confer upon all men what he purchased with his death, burial and resurrection.  Justice would be satisfied because sin was paid for by a man. However this ma was also God and therefore able to represent all man.  Not only that but a payment was made by one who did not owe it.  Therefore it can be applied for those who do owe it.  Without the virgin birth this would not have been possible.  Without Christmas this could not have happened. 

That is the source of all love we celebrate at Christmas.  That is why we give gifts.  That is why we consider family so important at this time of year.  God gave the gift of himself to save His family.  God, the unlimited God, the holy God, the God of creation veiled Himself in his creation taking on it’s limitations so that He could live, die and be raised from the dead for His family.  That is Christmas love.

Christmas: The Bodily Manifestation or Supernatural Love

John 3:14-16(NKJV)
14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 5that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 6For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In our study of the elements of Christmas we have come to the final one I want to look at.  That is the element of Love.  Many in the world want to take Christ out of Christmas, but they still center on this season as a time to express love. To truly express “Christmas love” we must first understand what it really is.  We have found in our study of joy and peace that neither are outward things based in natural stimuli.  They are both forces of the spirit that are within us because of the new birth.  In the same way the love of Christmas is not just a natural love between people.  The love represented by this season is the love of God for man expressed in the birth of the son of God.

In the verses above, Jesus is answering questions which have been posed by someone he calls a “teacher of Israel.”  In verse 14 Jesus alludes to an incident in the history of Israel that this teacher, Nicodemus by name, would have been familiar with.  It was an incident that occurred during the time when Israel was in the wilderness.  It seems they had once again sinned against God.  As judgment for their sin, poisonous snakes had come among them.  Many were bitten by these snakes and many died. 

God commanded Moses to do something that sounds a little strange at first.  He tells them to make a bronze image of the snakes.  To fully understand the significance of this we need to know that bronze represents sin.  The snake represented the penalty for the sin Israel had committed.  This standard that was to be lifted up was made out of their sin and was in the image of the penalty for that sin.  This is significant.  As the story goes, everyone who looked upon the bronze serpent lived.  Even those who were bitten.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that just as this serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so must he be lifted.  In this statement Jesus is revealing that He was going to fill the same function as this bronze serpent.  He was going to become the sin of mankind.  He was going to take upon himself the penalty for that sin.  He was going to be lifted up on a cross and all who look upon Him to receive His sacrifice as the payment for their sins would live and not die.

In the old Testament story, the people of Israel received physical life when they looked upon the bronze serpent.  For those who look upon Jesus, there is something much greater available.  They will not just receive physical life but Jesus tells Nicodemus that they will receive “everlasting life.”  The sin offering that Jesus became opened the door for man to receive the life that would restore him to relationship with the Father.  It would provide all who come to Him with a life that will last for eternity.

The gift of love that we celebrate at Christmas is not just a good feeling for the present.  The gift that was manifested in that stable and laid in that manger was a gift that will stay with us for all eternity.  It is the love of God the Father manifest in the flesh of a small baby.  What a wonderful gift.

This week, meditate on the gift of eternal life.  If Jesus had not been born it would not have been possible.  However He was born and it is possible.  If you have never received the gift of eternal life, you can do so today.  Jesus became sin for you.  He paid the price for your sin and he opened the door of relationship for you with the Father.  Receive that wonderful gift today. 

If you have already received it, make it available to someone else.  What better gift could you give at Christmas than the one made possible by that baby so long ago.  It is our privilege and our responsibility to offer this eternal gift to the whole world.  That’s what God was doing at Christmas time.  That is “Christmas Love.”

Releasing the Peace of God 2

Philippians 4:6-8(NKJV)
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As I was writing yesterday it seems that I somehow lost a day.  I thought it was Wednesday and it was actually Thursday.  (Could that be a senior moment?  I don’t think so!))  Anyway, that leaves me only one more post to finish up our study of peace at Christmas soooo…..Here we go.

Is. 26:3 tells us that God will keep us in perfect peace if our minds are stayed on him.  This is the second way peace is released into our lives.  We need to keep our minds on God.  How do we do that?  There are a number of ways.  First we need to keep our minds in the Word of God. That means that we need to meditate in the Word.  Just hearing the message on Sunday morning is not enough.  We need to listen to it via whatever audio method w might choose.  We need to have notes that we can look back on.  We also need to read the bible for ourselves.  This will go a long way to releasing the peace of God into your life.

Another aspect of keeping our minds stayed on God is to talk to Him.  We often think of prayer in terms of regular times we set aside to pray.  I think that is a good practice, however Paul said we should pray without ceasing.  I don’t know about you but I do have a life with responsibilities.  I can’t spend every minute in my “prayer closet.”  How can we pray without ceasing?  I keep a running dialog with God at all times.  I simply assume He is there and I talk to Him.  I talk to Him about simple things and important things.  I talk to Him in my car like I might talk to a friend riding with me.  I talk to Him while I work around the house.  I ask His opinion, I ask for insight and I even vent my emotions sometimes.

You might ask, “Does He Talk back?”  Not always in the way we might expect a conversation to go, but yes He does.  More important this keeps me aware that He is always there.  He is always with me and that keeps my mind stayed on Him.  To the degree I manage to really do that, I have His peace.

Finally let’s look at this verse in Phil. 4.  If we want God’s peace we need to learn to bring all our requests to Him.  I think it is interesting that Paul tells us to be anxious for nothing.  In other words have stress about nothing.  Remember that peace is the opposite of stress.  It is actually God’s remedy for stress.  Paul indicates it is possible to live a life completely free of stress.  He said be anxious for nothing.  How can that be possible?

It is possible if we bring everything to God.  Many times we think we should only bring the big things to God.  It’s as if we think He is too busy for the small things.  Sometimes we simply assume we are supposed to handle all we can and when all else fails we should pray.  That is not the picture here and it is not how to live a stress free life.  We need to bring everything to Him in prayer.  We are to make requests for everything we may need to God.  This is necessary if we want a stress free life of peace.

That is not the end of the sentence, however.  He says we must not only make our requests but we must make them known unto God with thanksgiving.  When we couple thanksgiving to our requests we are leaving them in God’s hands with assurance that He will take care of them.  Every time stress or fear tries to rise we reinforce our thanksgiving for the answer.  We tell the devil or our own emotions, “I have placed this in Gods hands and I am thankful that He will take care of it.  Thank you Lord for hearing and answering my prayer!”

A promise is attached to this action.  The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  If we don’t make our requests known to God with thanksgiving this peace will not be there.  If we make some requests known with thanksgiving and some we don’t, we will have some peace.  If we choose to bring all things to God and do it with thanksgiving we have the promise that God’s peace, which passes all understanding, will guard our emotions and keep us in peace.

Christmas is indeed a celebration of peace.  First it is a celebration of the peace that Jesus bought between God and mankind.  It is not a peace among men.  Second it is the extension of that peace into our personal, daily living.  This is what we celebrate and it is also what we need to communicate to the world around us as we celebrate the birth of the great peacemaker, Jesus Christ.

How to Release the Peace of Christmas

Isaiah 32:17(NKJV)
17    The work of righteousness will be peace,     And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.

This week we have been studying the peace that Christmas promises.  The world emphasizes peace at Christmas because of the announcement at the birth of Jesus, “On earth peace, and good will toward men.”  This announcement found in Luke 2:14 is not what the world seems to think it is.  It is not an announcement of peace between nations or people but a declaration that a way for peace between God and man was to be realized.  The world cannot understand this peace, but we who are born again live in the result of it.

Once we access this wonderful peace through salvation we need to understand what it is and then we need to use this season to lead others into this peace.  We have learned that the peace of God is the opposite of stress.  It is really God’s solution to the problem of stress in modern life.  It is also supernatural in nature.  Jesus says it is His peace that he left with us.  It is a product of our salvation just as joy is.  It is a powerful peace that can enable us to stand through any circumstance until we see victory in our lives.

This peace is no good to us, however if we don’t know how to access it.  There are a number of things the bible has to say about this.  We will look at one today and one each on Thursday and Friday. 

First let’s examine the verse above.  This verse tells us the affect of peace, but it tells us that peace is produced by righteousness.  When we are assured of our righteousness in God we have peace.  Biblical righteousness is not something that is produced by our behavior.  Properly understood, biblical righteousness will produce right behavior.  Although this is a very large subject, let me just say that a born again Christian is right with God on the basis of what Jesus did in His death burial and resurrection not what we do in daily living.  It is a gift from God.  (2 Cor. 5:21)

That is not to say the behavior does not count.  It does.  If we do not allow this gift to control our lifestyle than we will not get it’s result, however we must understand first of all that righteousness comes from God.  When I receive that by faith I will have peace.  This is because I will know that my position with God is secure.  We looked at Paul’s words in Romans 8 yesterday.  He had a revelation of righteousness, or being right with God by faith.  He knew God was for him because of this righteousness and therefore was at peace knowing that nothing could succeed against him because of his right standing with God.

If we want peace to be released in our lives we need to receive the righteousness provided by Jesus at salvation.  We need to believe that this is our spiritual condition by faith no matter how we may feel or even if we may have behavior that indicates otherwise.  If we have such behavior 1 John 1:9 tells us that we must confess our sin and God will forgive our sin and cleanse us of our unrighteousness.  We can’t just use this as an excuse to sin.  That isn’t real confession, but if we do confess our sin, sorry from the heart, the promise is that God will cleanse us and restore the sense of righteousness, and with it peace, to our hearts.

As you go through the week, remember that the promise of peace in God is made possible by this wonderful gift of righteousness.  Jesus was born to die for the sins of all mankind.  That is the sacrifice that made it possible for you and I to be right with God.  Nothing we could do would pay the price for sin.  That was what the angels were really announcing to the shepherds.  There would be peace between God and man because the one who would pay the price for sin had come into the earth.  He would clear the way for each person to be right with God and he would defeat the one who kept us bound by unrighteousness, the devil.

The bible tells us to awake to righteousness and do not sin.  This is a season of peace born of righteousness.  Let’s display both to the world during this season.  Let peace reign around you as righteousness does.  Let you righteous lifestyle display to the world why you are at peace.  Then let them know how they can be right with God as well.  Tell them how the babe that was born became the man who would die for their sins so they could also access the peace of God that comes from being right with Him.

 

The Peace of The Lord

John 14:27(NKJV)
27Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The world wants nothing to do with the Christian Celebration of Christmas.  It s fine for us to keep our ideas in our churches but if we take them into our communities someone will complain about separation of church and state.  Even though these complaints are from a small minority of people, often their rights are protected while the rights of those of us who believe in the true meaning of Christmas are trampled.  I wonder sometimes why some of us don’t proclaim that we are “offended” by the lack of a Nativity Scene in our community? I wonder what would happen if we filed some lawsuits?  That’s probably a bad idea, but it is an interesting thought.

In this space I have been pointing out that the world does want certain elements of the Christian celebration of Christmas even if they don’t want Christ himself.  These elements are joy, peace and love.  This week we are looking at peace.

The angels made a wonderful proclamation in Luke chapter 2.  They declared peace on earth and goodwill toward men.  This is important because most of the world and much of the church think this peace is among men.  They think it is peace between nations or families or even individuals.  That is not what the angels were proclaiming.  It was the ability for there to be peace between God and man that the angels were talking about.  Jesus birth put in motion a process whereby that peace would be possible for the first time since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Yesterday we talked about the nature of this peace.  It is defined as the freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.  Theyer’s bible dictionary defines it as, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.  Both of these things reveal peace as the antidote to one of the major problems of modern life and the Christmas season in particular.  I am speaking of the problem of stress.  Peace is God’s solution for stress.

Today let’s talk about the source of this peace.  In our study of joy we found that the joy of Christmas is not natural joy.  It is not even our joy.  It is the joy of the Lord.  The source of this joy is not in us but in God and in our salvation.  The above scripture points out that peace is the same. 

Jesus tells us here that He is giving His followers His peace.  Furthermore He is leaving that peace with us.  The parallels are interesting.  Speaking of joy Jesus calls it His joy and a joy that would remain.  Here He says that the peace available to us is His peace and He is leaving it with us. 

Peace centered in the world is, like happiness, dependent upon outward things.  When things in life change we find that we no longer have peace.  The peace of the Lord is different.  He says that the world did not give us this peace and therefore the world cannot take it from us.  It is an inward peace that comes from God himself.  It is the peace of knowing that God is in control and therefore you are safe.

Paul made some important statements in Romans 8. 

Romans 8:31(NKJV)
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:35(NKJV)
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

These verses point out the source of our peace.  God is for me.  Why should I not be at peace?  Nothing can separate me from His love.  Why would I give into stress? 

Since we know that the peace we are referring to does not have it’s source within us but comes from God, we also understand that it is a peace that can stand up to anything.  Yesterday I pointed out this peace as it worked in Jesus’ life at the His trial before Pilot.  If this peace is strong enough to handle the stress of crucifixion for the sins of the world, I think it can handle what I face. 

The issue is how can we release God’s peace into our lives?  Jesus gives us a clue.  We must see to it that we don’t allow our hearts to be troubled.  We need to make a decision that we will not allow stress or care or worry to stay in our minds and hearts.  That is our responsibility.  We will look at how to do that tomorrow, but for today we need to realize that the decision to accept God’s peace is ours.

It is usually much easier to give in to the worry and stress.  We need to recognize up front that we don’t have to do that.  I have the peace of God in me.  When I begin to feel the stress, I need to remind myself of this.  I need to call on the peace of God.  I need to remind myself and the devil that I am not being responsible by giving in to stress.  I am being truly responsible by receiving the peace of God and walking in it.  Only then will I have the right frame of mind to see God’s solutions for the problems I face and the inner courage to face whatever I must.

Let this peace of God rise to the surface in your life this week.  Let it take control of the worry and strife.  You will see that the peace that is yours through salvation, which was made possible by the birth of Christ, will affect you, your family and those around you.  That peace can make Christmas a truly blessed season instead of a stressful one that brings more tension than joy to life.

Personal Peace

Isaiah 26:3(NKJV)
3    You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.

As we proceed into the heart of the Christmas season we have been looking at 3 elements of the Christian interpretation of the holiday that even those who want a secular celebration try to include.  Those 3 elements are joy, peace and love.  We know that these three things can never be fully realized unless we know Jesus. This puts us in a position of advantage during this season.  We have what the world is thinking of at this time of year.  We need to use that advantage and share the Gospel.

This week we are studying bible peace.  In Luke 2 we read about the wonderful announcement made to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ Birth. 

Luke 2:14(NKJV)
14    “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Once again this is not an announcement of peace among men as the world would like us to believe.  This is much more important than that.  It is an announcement of peace between God and man.  The angels proclaim “goodwill toward men.”  The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the end of a conflict between God and man that began with Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus was born in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.  In this verse God told Satan that one would come who would be born in a supernatural way.  This person would defeat Satan and take away all that he had gained in the fall of man. 

Jesus was born of a virgin.  His father was God himself.  He was the fulfillment of this prophecy and the one who could and would bring peace between God and man.  That is what we celebrate. The focus on peace between nations or groups is wonderful and to be desired.  It is not the peace celebrated at Christmas. 

The nature of this peace is not corporate but individual.  What Jesus won for us is the right to come to God freely and accept His terms of peace.  Each person can do that now.  Each person must do that for himself.  It does not happen automatically.  Once we accept God’s conditions, we not only have peace with God but the door is opened for us to experience this peace on a personal level.  We need to have this functioning within us if we are going to communicate peace to those around us at Christmas.

What is this perfect peace noted in Isaiah 26?  Let’s look at some definitions.  Webster defines peace as freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.  Thayer’s bible dictionary defines it as , the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ.  Both definitions are opposite of one of the characteristic conditions of this season.  Stress. Our society in general is one in which stress seems to be a part of everyday life.  At Christmas this is often intensified because of the obligations of the season.  Peace is God’s answer to stress.

Stress can produce sickness, high blood pressure and all kinds of emotional issues.  Peace produces a sense of wellbeing and a quietness of mind.  Stress causes everything to feel out of control while peace puts us in control of any and every situation.  Stress will make it difficult to stand in the face of the smallest problem while, if we have peace, we can stand through and gain victory over the hardest trials.  Peace is ours to walk in because of what God set into motion in the birth of Christ. 

Let’s look a little closer at the peace God offers us.  Thayer’s goes on to describe peace as, “fearing nothing from God and therefore being content with our earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.”  When we know that we are right with God we can be content.  Contentment should not be confused with complacency.  On the contrary when we are content in our relationship with God it frees us to believe for major change in our circumstances.  This is because we have what matters most so if things don’t work out as we think they should it does not put us into a position of stress.  We have peace, so we simply continue to trust God and follow His direction until we see the victory. 

It is disconcerting to our enemy, the devil, when he seems to win but we still have peace in our hearts.  I often think of the trial of Jesus in this light.  The world around him was in complete turmoil.  Even Pontius Pilot, who was the Roman governor feared the crowd.  In the midst of the insanity stood Jesus.  He had the most to lose.  He was facing what looked like the ultimate defeat of God’s plan and yet He was an island of calm in the midst of a storm.  In the end He won the greatest victory ever won.  Peace is the key to ultimate victory in your life as well.

A popular thing to say as we part company today is, “Take care!”  We mean this in a positive way, and I don’t want to get legalistic about not saying this phrase, but if we think of it, it is reflective of the stress we live under.  Care in this context means exactly the opposite of peace.  Where peace is freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, care in this context refers to those very thoughts and emotions.  We think we must take those thoughts upon ourselves if we are going to be responsible and safe.  In bygone days the parting words were “peace to you” or “go in peace.”  Maybe we should make a change to the old way.

Peace was made available to you by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We celebrate this peace at Christmas.  As you go about your day, think about the peace that Jesus provided for us.  Let His peace come into you heart and let that peace be communicated to someone else.  It might be carried in a kind word, a hug or some other gesture.  Look for someone who is full of stress and share the peace of God with them.  The Lord will show you how.  You are a carrier of God’s peace.  Let’s make this Christmas be a season of peace for you all around you.

 

The Great Announcement

was Luke 2:13-14(NKJV)
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

This month we are building our faith for the Christmas celebration.  Over the past years the devil has tried to take back the 25th of December for his own use.  I don’t believe the church has to allow that.  This is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, not a secular holiday season.  We need to stay strong on our projection of that truth by openly using this season as an opportunity to share the truth of the Gospel which the event we now celebrate put into motion.

Although the secular world does not want the Christ of Christmas they do seem to want certain elements of the Christian celebration.  In particular there is much talk about joy, peace and love.  As Christians we have access to these things in a way that those who are not saved cannot have.  We have what the world is buying and we are the only ones who do.  This week let’s look at peace.

Luke 2:13-14 is one of the more well known Christmas verses.  It is often quoted during this season.  It is also generally misrepresented.  The world is fond of pointing to this verse and using it to imply that we should use this season as a time to promote peace among all men.  Although this is certainly a worthy goal, it is not what this verse is talking about.  The announcement the angels made to the shepherds that night had nothing to do with “world peace.”  The proclamation was “on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Not peace among men. 

This was an announcement of the end of hostilities, but not between nations, tribes or clans.  It was an announcement that the hostility that existed between man and God, which began in the Garden of Eden, was finally at an end.  There were a number of battles that would yet be fought, but with the birth of Christ the plan of God to set man free from the bondage of sin was already assured.  Peace between God and man was now possible.

This is the most important message of Christmas.  Sin had created a separation between God and man.  The bible says in Eph. 2:3 that we were all by nature children of wrath.  In other words children of the devil.  In Romans 8:7-8 we read; 7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  These verses clearly show the condition of man’s heart in relation to God.

Before the ministry of Jesus, God had provided a temporary place of refuge from the war in the form of the nation of Israel and their covenant.  Eph. 2:12 tells us that all who were outside of that covenant we without God in the world.  They had no relational rights to Him whatsoever.  God could, if He so chose, bless any man, but man had no right of approach to God outside of the law.  He had no relationship with God.  This was not what God desired.  Before the fall even occurred God had a plan to redeem man.  That plan was stated in Genesis 3:15.  God told the devil that a person called the seed of woman would come who would take away the victory he had won over man.  God told the devil that he was going to lose the war he started and God told him how.

Woman has no seed.  God, in effect, told the devil that a person was going to be born in a supernatural way who would defeat him.  This victory would bring peace between God and man.  What could the term “seed of woman mean?”  In retrospect it is obvious.  Isaiah tells us that “the virgin” will conceive a child and he will be called Emmanuel which means God among us.  The devil did not understand what God had said.  He did not understand the prophetic seeds that God had spoken throughout the centuries, but as we stand with the shepherds to hear this wonderful announcement it is clear to us!

You see the announcement given to those simple men on that hillside was the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.  The one who would defeat the devil had been born.  He was conceived by a virgin.  He had no earthly father.  His father was God himself.  God had taken on the form of human flesh, He had become Emmanuel.  In just over 30 years, he would defeat the devil, take back the keys to the hearts of men and peace would reign between God and man. 

It is important to understand the nature of the peace the angels announced to the shepherds.  It is not a corporate peace.  It is not an end of hostilities between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of light.  That conflict rages on today.  As a matter of fact I think that the greatest battles of that war are about to be fought.  This is an avenue of peace that each individual must take advantage of for himself. If he does, the bible teaches that God will take him out of the kingdom of darkness and bring him into the Kingdom of His dear Son, Jesus.  In this Kingdom there is peace.

This Christmas we need to rightly understand the message of peace the angels proclaimed.  Many will speak of it with no real knowledge of what it means.  If you are a Christian you have experienced it’s true meaning.  It is up to you to explain and introduce this wonderful peace with God to those still caught up on the wrong side of this awful conflict.  In fact 2 Cor. 5:18-19 tell us that is our real ministry.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19(NKJV)
18Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

It is our ministry to tell the world that they can be reconciled to God.  They can be at peace with Him, and once they are they can access an inner peace that will infect their whole life.  Take the opportunity to exercise this wonderful ministry.  Make the announcement to someone that the angels made to the shepherds.  “On earth peace and God’s good will is there for you!”  Then tell them how to get it.  That is a gift truly worth giving!

The Joy of the Lord is My Strength

Nehemiah 8:10(NLT)
10And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” 

This week we have studied the Joy of the Lord in relation to the Christmas season.  While they do not want the Christ of Christmas, they seem to want some of the elements that surround the Christian celebration of Christmas.  Those element are joy, peace and love.  Since those things are impossible to fully experience without a relationship with Jesus, we have an advantage during things season.  We have what the world is looking to buy.  We need to use that as an open door to share the Lord with them.

In our study of joy in this context, we must understand and be functioning in joy in order to communicate it to others.  The first step is to understand that joy is an inward force of our spirit if we have been born again.  Happiness and pleasure are outward.  They are dependent upon the circumstances of life.  Joy is not.  We have joy within us because we have Jesus within us.  It is His joy that we can tap into.  We have joy available to us at all times.

Second we must understand that in order to release the joy that is ours we must learn to rejoice.  Rejoicing is the faith action we take even when we don’t feel joy, in response to the truth that joy is within us.  To rejoice means to act joyful.  It might include shouting, dancing or just being of good cheer around others.  When we do these things by faith in the truth of our salvation, we will release an inner joy that will affect our outward feelings.  This is a powerful truth, but it is sometimes difficult to walk in because it requires that we go against what we initially feel.  If we learn this truth, however, we can walk above outward circumstances and be consistently free from depression and sadness.  Everyone is sad at times.  That is just part of our condition.  However, learning to apply joy will keep sadness from abiding in us and becoming depression.

As we close the week I want to draw attention to the scripture above.  I was struck by how similar the New Living Translation’s description of this time in Israel’s history was to what we are doing in this season.  In the case of Israel they were also in a difficult time.  They had come back to rebuild the Israelite society.  They had just taken a close look at the Law of the Lord and found themselves lacking in keeping it.  They were greatly distressed. 

We live in a difficult day.  We might think that we need to do better in terms of keeping God’s way and having faith to see things change in our world.  God said to Israel, “Go ahead and celebrate.  This is a holy day and it is the joy of the Lord that will strengthen you to have victory in this situation.”  I understand that’s a paraphrase of a paraphrase, but you get the idea.  Sometimes we feel that if we are not sad we are not truly repentant.  It’s a little like worry.  Jesus told us not to do it.  To worry is the opposite of trusting God, but we feel we are not being responsible if we don’t worry. 

The same is true of rejoicing in the midst of trial.  We feel if we are not “concerned” we are somehow irresponsible.  If we rejoice in the midst of a grave situation we are not showing enough respect to the situation.  We must be grave and serious to show we understand the problem.  I am not in favor of being silly or irresponsible.  I am not in favor of an “escapist” mentality that just ignores the problem and hopes it will go away.  I am in favor of tapping into the joy of the Lord in the midst of the circumstance because we learn here that the Joy of the Lord gives us strength.

Joy and faith are related forces in the spirit.  You cannot defeat a joyful person.  Even when the pressure is on, Joy will keep you strong.  If you learn to look inside and find the joy of the Lord, circumstances will not look so difficult.  You will have the strength and focus to trust God in the middle of the problem.  Rejoicing in the Lord releases the Joy of the Lord which strengthens the truth of the Word in our lives.  When we do that, the faith that comes from the word rises in us and we cannot be defeated.

As we approach the pressures of this season let’s remember where our strength comes from.  It does not come from worry about paying the bills.  It does not come from the stress of getting everything done.  It comes from being joyful with the Joy of the Lord.  It comes from rejoicing over what the Lord has done in our lives.  It comes from allowing the Joy that is within us come to the surface and spill over on those around us.  As we do this we will find that others are drawn to this strength and we will have the opportunity to share the joy of knowing the one for whom this season is still named.