Foundations of Grace

Deuteronomy 7:6-7 (NKJV) 6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 7 The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;

Deuteronomy 9:6 (NKJV) 6 Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.

In our last post said that when we begin a new year, God has a plan and purpose for that year. This applies to the world as a whole and to your life in particular. Although there are probably things that carry over from one year to the next, we need to remember that 2017 is gone. Your successes and your failures are in the past. You can learn from both and build upon both, but you cannot relive them. God’s mercy is new every morning. No matter what happened last year you can start again in the coming year. God’s mercy will wipe the slate clean if you can receive it.

God began last year by highlighting his mercy to me. I have been praying about it and studying it through the year. Mercy is that aspect of God’s love which causes him to withhold things we may deserve. In Jerimiah we find that Israel had disobeyed God. They deserved to be destroyed but Jerimiah remembers something that gives him hope in the face of hopelessness. Since they were still there, God had chosen to extend mercy instead of judgement to his people.

Mercy cannot always hold back consequences. When we put certain things in motion with our choices and our behavior we may face physical and spiritual consequences. However, the mercy of God will cause him to do all that he can to minimize those consequences and he will not bring judgement from his hand upon us. As a Christian we have mercy because of our relationship to Jesus. That relationship itself is a product of the mercy of God.

As I was praying for God’s message to me for this year, I began to think about the progression we looked at in the last post. Compassion causes God to enter in to our situation with understanding. Mercy causes God to withhold what we deserve. The next step in the progression of God’s love is grace. Through Grace, the Lord brings to us what we do not deserve. Last year I felt God led me to concentrate on the fact that his mercies are new every morning. This year I feel the Lord wants me to take another look at grace.

It is always true that when the Lord begins to emphasize a particular bible truth, some will take that truth to the extreme. This will cause some to reject anything to do with that message. When I was a young minister I heard a message that really set me free. The essence of that message was simply that the Word of God was the highest truth in the universe and that anything physical could be changed by faith in God’s Word.

I still believe that to be true. There were many people who took that truth to a place God did not intend for it to go. There were extremes and in some cases abuses. The “faith movement” got a bad name in many circles. I was in a time of transition, so I found myself around people who did not come from where I did. I heard them say things about “those faith people” that were both unkind and not true, at least not about me and what I believed. The whole message got tainted by a few who took it beyond what the bible really said.

The result was that faith, prosperity and many other things became buzzwords both for and against a stream. On the one hand there were many who defended the “word of faith” to the point where they became angry and confrontational. To some degree the rhetoric caused them to reject good counsel and hold on to things they would probably have naturally seen as extreme. They would not accept it because they did not want to give in to the opposition.

On the other side, the rhetoric caused people to reject a truth that they needed. I believe God brought the emphasis on faith and the Word. However, because of the abuse and because we allowed what should have been a healthy dialog become a heated debate, many could not partake of it Something that could have met major needs in their lives was rejected out of hand. We cannot let this happen with the message of grace.

I have been seated across the table from people who said things to me in support of the current message of grace that were not biblical. I do know who they were listening to. It is not my place to judge anyone. I simply know that what they were saying was not right. I have talked to others that have allowed grace to become a dirty word because of its connection to a message with which they disagree. We cannot allow that to happen.

Grace, like faith, is part of the heart of Christianity. In todays scriptures we see that God choose Israel. That choice was not based how worthy they were. It was simply God’s choice. He chose Abraham and made covenant with him. As long as Israel stayed within the boundaries of the covenant they walked in favor. That favor was not what they deserved. By definition, the favor they enjoyed was a form of Grace. We often debate that Israel was under law, but we are under grace. However, as a nation Israel was what they were by grace.

The two verses quoted above point to some things we need to remember. God did not favor Israel because they were great. He did not choose them because they were deserving. He makes it plain to them. They were the least of nations not the greatest. They were small compared to others. They had little to offer. God favored them because he chose them. He chose them because he wanted to. He gave them grace.

God did not save you because you were great. He saved you by grace. He did not save you because you were deserving. As a matter of fact, how great or deserving you are is irrelevant to salvation. We are all the same to God. He died for everyone even though no one deserved his sacrifice. That is grace. You cannot earn it. You cannot deserve it. It is a free gift from God according to his will. He paid the price for it. He made the sacrifice because he loved us not because anyone deserved it.

Deuteronomy 9 makes the other truth we must understand clear. God did not give the promised land to Israel because of their righteousness. They were a stiff-necked people. They resisted God continually. They tried their best to get away from God’s mercy and grace. God was too persistent and too loving to let them go, but they tried!

Earlier in the chapter he makes it clear that they were not given the land because they were so good. They were given the land because the sin of the Canaanites was so bad. They did not deserve the land. We might think that God was saying they were not as bad as the Canaanites. That is not really true either. The only reason they were any better than the Canaanites was their covenant with God. It had nothing to do with their behavior. God made it clear that, if anything, their behavior disqualified them.

We cannot earn salvation. We cannot pay for salvation. We simply do not have the price. The only way salvation can work is if it is a free gift that God paid for with the blood of his only begotten son. It cannot come any other way. If it did, some would be excluded. It is ours by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8.) If it comes by works, it is not salvation in Christ. If it can be earned, it is not salvation in Christ. True salvation can only come by grace.

However, Israel did not deserve their covenant “grace.” Their behavior should have excluded them, but Mercy chose to provide grace instead. You cannot be good enough to earn salvation nor bad enough to be excluded. It is God’s gift. You have no reason to boast. You are not better than those in the world who do not know Jesus. You are simply forgiven because you have received grace by faith. Thank God for his goodness.

Advertisements

New Year and New Purpose

Lamentations 3:21-23 (NKJV) 21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

We are approaching the end of one year and the beginning of another. I like to point out at this time that the division of time was God’s idea.

Genesis 1:14 (NKJV) 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;

Like most of you, my 2017 was a year of both good things and bad. For me, I think I will wave goodbye to this year grateful that it is over. Maybe 2017 was a year you will remember with fondness. Maybe you will remember it as one of the worst of your life. Either way it is over! You cannot get it back and you will not relive it.

Having said that, 2018 is a blank page from our perspective. We have no real idea what is coming. The only person who knows exactly what 2018 holds is the Lord. He knows what challenges you will face this year. He knows the blessings he has in store for you. He knows the potential you carry into 2018. The question is will you and I hear his voice and obey him. If we do, we will have a very successful 2018.

That brings us to the question I always ask this time of year. “Father, what is your purpose for 2018 in my life? What do you want to accomplish in the world in 2018? What is my part in that and how can I accomplish it?”

Some 30 years ago I began praying for a theme that would describe what I felt God was saying to me for the current year. When I was the local pastor of our church, that theme often became a guiding principle for us. Now that I am engaged in traveling ministry, I believe it is the message he wants me to carry those I am called to encounter this year.

Last year God led me to the first scripture quoted in this post. Let me share a quick review because it is relevant to what I believe God has called me to share in the coming year. Lamentations was written by the prophet Jerimiah. It is, as the title suggests, a book containing the grief that Jerimiah feels over the behavior that has resulted in the current condition of Israel. In this chapter, the prophet lists all the terrible things he sees and feels because of Israel’s disobedience to God.

In verse 21 he remembers something that gives him hope. He remembers that they have not been consumed and why. God’s compassion never fails, and his mercy has saved Israel. He goes on to say that God’s mercy is new every morning and his faithfulness is very great.

As I read this chapter I saw our day. Because I have had the privilege of traveling to many places I think I see the world from a different perspective than most Americans. If you watch the news you see that the world is in a very difficult place. However, the news makes things appear both worse and better than they really are.

I have seen firsthand what is happening. It is very bad. There is suffering everywhere, much of it extreme. There is tension within nations and between nations. The last war on American soil was the American Civil War. I have been in places where the memories of war are much more current, and the fear of war is there every day. We have hunger and poverty in the USA but as I have often said to our church, many people in the world aspire to what we call poverty. The United States will is not immune. We know that violence has already touched our shores and if things do not change it will get worse.

All of that may make me sound like a “gloom and doom” preacher. I am not. On the contrary I have also seen reasons for great hope. God is moving in the midst of all that is happening. It is in times like these that great moves of God begin. I see that happening in the world today. The great needs has created an atmosphere where people want answers. Those answers come from God, his Word and the moving of his spirit in the earth. The church of Jesus Christ is the only vehicle for those answers to come. That puts us in a very important and potentially powerful place.

Let me go back to Jerimiah. His world was much worse than ours. His people were in captivity. His nation was divided. There was no natural hope for him or his people. It is in the middle of this sorry state that Jerimiah remembers that the nation, though divided and scattered, still exists. I have good news for you. You are still here! You are still saved. God has not abandoned our world. The reason we know this is the same as it was in Jerimiah’s day. His mercy and compassion have not failed.

Compassion and Mercy are elements of the love of God. Compassion causes God to see our true condition. Hebrews 4:14 tells us that we have a high priest in Jesus who is “easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Jesus never sinned but he understood the human condition and was moved by it.

That is a good description of God’s compassion. He knows what we are going through and he knows why. He knows how much of it is our fault and how much is not. He knows both our sin and our obedience. He is touched by all of it. Unfortunately, his compassion is not all we need. He is a just God. He knows our sin. Jerimiah understands that there is another aspect of God’s love we need.

Jerimiah finds hope in God’s mercy. God’s mercy causes him to withhold what we deserve. His mercy flows from his sovereignty. He chooses to give it. For their actions, Israel should have been destroyed. They were not. God was not done with them yet. He does not give them what they deserve he gives them mercy.

This is a part of the Gospel that we sometimes do not remember. Mankind had rebelled against God. Sin had become our nature. We did not seek God. Even Israel did not seek God. God sought out a man, Abraham, with whom he could make covenant. God chose to withhold what was deserved and because of his compassion offered mercy in the form of a covenant. Abraham received that mercy by faith.

You have received mercy if you are born again. You deserved eternal separation from God. God sent Jesus to make it possible for you to “not get” what you deserved. We can never forget that nothing we have in Christ is deserved.

When we forget mercy we always misunderstand the final aspect of God’s available to us. That is grace. Where mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we do not deserve. Grace without an understanding of mercy will make us feel that we are entitled to what God has given. Grace in the light of mercy causes us to remember what Paul did in Romans.

Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV) 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

As I close for today, let me bring this back to the New Year we face. You had failures last year. You probably had successes as well. That was last year. You are still here. God’s compassion is still at work. His mercy is new for 2018. You did not get all you deserved. Do not take that for granted.

We have his mercy. It was new this morning and there is a whole new batch ready for 2018. Do not live settling for his mercy in 2018. In our appreciation of mercy let us expect his grace. That is something else entirely. Grace is when we receive what we do not deserve. Mercy is powerful and necessary. It must produce the right attitudes in us or Grace cannot work. When grace begins to work, life can get very interesting indeed.

You Just Have to be Normal to Carry the Extraordinary

Luke 1:30-33 (NKJV) 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

I want to continue looking at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Last week we discussed how important she was and how her willingness to be used of God opened the door to salvation for all of us. I do not believe that Mary was anything more than a normal human woman. I do not believe that she should be venerated in the way some others do. However, I believe we should be grateful for her obedience.

I think it is interesting to note that what Mary brought to the equation required only that she be human and that she be willing. It was the fullness of time as the Father defined it. It was time to put the final phase of the plan to redeem man in motion. The only way that could be possible was for the Father himself to take the form of human flesh. God must become man.

The Father supplied the “God” part of the equation. John 1:1 tells us that the Word of God and God himself are one. Verse 14 tells us that the Word “became flesh.” 1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again of an incorruptible seed, the Word of God. If we put these verses together, we understand how Mary became pregnant with the Son of God.

The angel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. The Word of God became a physical seed that fertilized the egg in Mary’s womb. The child conceived was therefore divine. The Word became flesh. However, to be flesh he must also be human. The human component came from Mary.

Her obedience changed the world. What did she actually have to do to change the world? She had to do what multiplied millions of other human women had done. She had to carry a baby, give birth to that child and be a mother to him. She did not have to lead an army, participate in a revolution or be a political leader. She just had to be a normal woman willing to obey God!

This gives me great hope that I can change my world. I do not have to be something more than what I am. I just have to be a normal person willing to obey God. I do not have to be exceptionally gifted or talented. I do not have to travel the world. I do not have to have any special education. God may use any or all of these things. I just have to be willing to allow God to live through my humanity.

To an observer it did not look like anything supernatural or extraordinary was happening to Mary. For 9 months, she was a pregnant woman just like every pregnant woman before her. I believe she probably got morning sickness. I think she was just as uncomfortable at 8 ½ months as my wife was with our six children. Everything on the outside looked completely ordinary. However, the extraordinary was growing in her.

As we approach a new year, I believe we need to realize that the same Word that was in Mary is in us. She carried the Word as a physical mother. We carry the Word as a vessel for the supernatural God to change our world. Our “pregnancy” does not result in a physical baby. Our “pregnancy” can bring forth the power of God in our everyday situations.

Many Christians think they have to be something more than what they are to be used of God. The lesson we should learn from Mary is that God needs what we are. We are human beings. We live in the human world. God wants access to that world. His chosen method of gaining that access is through human vessels. In Mary’s case, he needed someone who would carry his human form and bring it to birth so that he could redeem man. Our job is different.

Redemption has already been accomplished. Jesus carried his blood to the heavenly holy of holies and sat down at the right hand of God. He does not need to be born into the world again. We received the same seed that produced Jesus and were born again in our spirit. He needs those who will take the seed of his Word to those who do not know him so that they can be born again as well.

He needs a people who will carry the word of reconciliation to the world.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that 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. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Mary had to be a normal human being to fulfill her calling. She had to be willing to allow the Spirit of God to move upon her and she had to be willing to receive the seed of God’s word. She did this at great risk. She could have been stoned for fornication. She could have been forced to live as an outcast. There were all kinds of bad things that could have happened to her because of her obedience. She chose to obey anyway and the world was never the same.

God always has leaders. God gives gifts to all people. Each one of us carries a touch from the supernatural hand of God. We are capable of being a channel for his power to the earth. However, I think it is important that we understand that God needs us to be real human beings. He needs us to be factory workers and teachers. He needs us to work in stores and even in government. He needs us to raise families and live normal lives. He needs us to do these things because it is normal people we must reach.

At the same time, we must remember that although we are normal on the outside the supernatural is growing within us. We are flesh and blood just like our neighbors but we are also vitally joined to the supernatural God. While Mary’s job was to produce a baby, ours is to produce disciples. He gave Mary what she needed to do her job and he gives us what we need to do ours.

Mark 16:15-18 (NKJV) 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mary was called to produce one birth. We are called to produce many births. She just had to be a mother willing to obey God. We just have to be normal people willing to obey God. He took care of the supernatural part in Mary’s pregnancy. He will take care of the supernatural part in ours as well, if we cooperate with him as she did.

The Handmaiden of the Lord

Luke 1:38(NKJV) 38Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

This week we have taken a different look at the Christmas story from the perspective of Mary. Here is a teenage girl confronted with a promise given by the Lord. The promise is not for healing or prosperity. It is not for success in her future life. Instead, she is given the opportunity to carry the Messiah of the whole world in her body. She must risk her future and her life to receive this promise.

The weight of the plan of God to save all of humanity rests upon her shoulders. If she says no, God will find another way to do what he plans to do. However, we see in Isaiah 7:14 that this is her destiny.

Isaiah 7:14(NKJV) 14Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

Note in this verse that it does not say “a virgin shall conceive” but it says, “the virgin shall conceive.” It is as if the light of eternity is shining upon Mary as this moment. What will she say?

Of course, we know what she says because we can read it. However, try to think in terms of not knowing her answer. Imagine how she must have felt at this time. She did not understand all the ramifications of what the Lord was asking of her, but she did know that it would not be easy. She knew that the Messiah was coming soon. In addition, she knew that his coming was a pivotal event in the history of her nation. This is a tremendous burden for a simple girl.

In today’s scripture, we read her answer. “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen just as you say it should.” Mary says yes, to whatever God needs her to do. She says she will carry the promise of God into a world that, for the most part, did not want that promise. She will risk her reputation and her body to carry salvation for the world.

We know the price that Jesus paid. He allowed himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified so that all humanity could accept his sacrifice and be “born again.” Any who choose to can become a child of God free from sin and with heaven as their eternal home. It is impossible to minimize this sacrifice and it is impossible for any of us to pay it. That is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin and then die for us. However, what of Mary’s sacrifice.

Mary’s sacrifice was not to pay for salvation. Her sacrifice was to carry salvation to the world. If she had not been willing to do what the angel had asked, it would have been impossible for anyone to be born again. We can assume that God would have found another way, but we have no idea what that would have been. It was all upon Mary and her willingness to obey.

As I thought about this aspect of the Christmas story, I realized why the Lord led me to think about Mary. We cannot pay Jesus sacrifice but we can receive the promise the Lord gave to Mary. We cannot die for the sins of the world. We cannot even pay the price for our own sins. We can carry salvation to the world just as Mary carried it for the world.

Mary’s story begins with the angel telling her that she was highly favored by the Lord. She is called blessed more than all women and told that the Lord is with her in a special way. I believe the Lord is saying the same thing to us and our generation. We are favored by God and he is with us is a very special way.

We live in a world that is full of trouble. A great portion of this world has rejected God and religion in general. Many of those who embrace religion and the reality of the existence of God, serve a religious system that does not stand for the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They fight to remove Jesus’ influence from the world and enslave it in a system of religious legalism that threatens to return everyone to the dark ages.

We have been favored to live in this day. We have the answer to every problem the world faces. More important, we have access to the only name by which salvation can come to individuals in this troubled world.

Acts 4:12(NKJV) 12Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

We carry the promise of God for salvation to the world. The bible tells us that God is with us in a special way to enable us to carry out this mission.

Mark 16:15-20(NKJV) 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  17And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;  18they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.  20And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

These are the words of Jesus to each of us today. The scriptural record tells us that when the first disciples took up this challenge, the Lord did exactly what he said he would do. This is our promise that God is with us to do what he asks us to do.

God will not force you and me to obey any more than he would force Mary. Mary said, “Let it be to me as you say.” It was a choice. She risked everything from ridicule to death in order to carry out the assignment the Lord offered her. She did not have to do it but everything depended upon her obedience. I believe we are in the very same position.

If we choose to spread the gospel to those around us, we may be ridiculed. We may find that our reputations will suffer. There are places where those who preach the gospel lose their jobs, their families and even their lives. In the USA today, that is not the case. Our risk is far less than that; however, the responsibility is no less.

If Mary did not carry the promise of salvation, who would? If you and I do not carry the promise of salvation who will? If Mary had said no in her day of visitation, how would the God of the universe come to occupy the body of a human being? If we will not declare the message of salvation, how will anyone receive their own visitation and salvation?

I think that we sometimes pray for a visitation of God and an outpouring of his power so that the world will know that we were right all along. This is not the reason to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit. The reason we should pray for God to move is the same reason Mary agreed to carry a supernatural baby into the world. We should pray for God to move because all of humanity needs to receive the promised salvation.

We are in the same position Mary was in on that fateful day. The same spotlight of eternity that was on her then is on us today. The question is will we have the same courage that she had. Will we respond to God’s invitation the way she did? I pray we do. The future of the world and its people depends upon our answer.

“Behold the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Weight of Responsibility

Luke 1:30-34(NKJV) 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Yesterday we spent some time thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, as part of our Christmas celebration. We learned that Mary was an ordinary teenage girl who experienced and extraordinary supernatural visitation. God gave her a promise that she would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. This child will be called the son of God and take the throne of his “father” David. The problem is that Mary is engaged but not yet married. Any pregnancy will ruin her marriage, her reputation, any hope at a normal life and endanger her physical life. This is not the kind of promise most of us would want.

Today I want to look at the burden the angel is asking her to carry for all of humanity. The virgin birth, along with the resurrection of Jesus Christ are often viewed as Christian mythology. They are nice stories that could not have actually happened. It is acceptable to live according to the philosophy of Christianity, but we must be realistic and reject such myths. The truth is very different. Without the virgin birth and the resurrection, Christianity as a religion is unworkable.

God created man for a purpose. That purpose was to be his family. God wanted beings that were like him with whom he could fellowship. To accomplish this he created a being that was spirit like him, but placed this being in a limited physical body and a limited physical environment. God is spirit and is unlimited. There could only be one God so man could not be unlimited. This compromise created a being that was made of the same spiritual substance as God, without being an unlimited being.

Because of man’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, he was separated from God. Sin became a part of man’s nature and God’s pure holiness could not come in contact with that sin without destroying both the sin and the vessel carrying it. It is the same principle as light and darkness. Light always destroys darkness no matter how dim the light or dark the darkness may be.

This means that man cannot fulfill his purpose as the child of God. There cannot be intimate fellowship between them because man is now a child of wrath, or the devil, by nature. (Eph 2:3) Someone must defeat man’s overlord, Satan, and free him from the nature of sin. The problem is twofold. Only God is strong enough to defeat the devil. However, the crime is man’s crime so he must be the one to pay the price. God is absolutely just and will do nothing outside the boundaries of justice.

Man can pay the price for sin but the price is death. Once that price is paid, man is eternally separated from God. Since everything produces after its own kind, man will produce the same kind of being that he is. Man’s seed carries the death, so every human who is born of human seed will carry the sin nature that came upon Adam in the Garden. (Romans 5) God cannot simply forgive it because of his own nature. Man cannot pay the price because of his nature.

God can simply destroy the creation and start again. However, God is absolute love as well as absolute justice. Justice will not allow him to overlook sin, but love will not allow him to abandon his family. God is left with an impossible situation. Of course, with God all things are possible.

What is the solution? God must become man, pay the price for sin and defeat the devil so man can be free. Then man can choose to receive this sacrifice and be “born again” as a new creature no longer bound by the “nature of wrath” that came upon Adam. The being that can accomplish this must be God but he must also be a part of Adam’s race. God cannot simply create a new body from the dust of the earth because then the result would not be truly human. He cannot be conceived in the natural way because all creatures produce after their own kind and the result would carry the curse of sin. God could not inhabit such a body without destroying it.

There is only one answer. He must be born just as all other people are born. However, he cannot have a human father. If he is conceived in a real human female without the human seed, he will carry her humanity but not the curse of sin carried by man’s seed. The only kind of being that can do all that is required is one who is conceived in a virgin. The seed that creates him must be the Word of God. He will be human because of his mother. He will be divine because of his real father. He will be both God and man. (1 Peter 1:17-25)

This virgin born man will have the right to pay the price for humanity but the power to defeat the devil. He can choose to take upon himself the sin of man, but since he will have no sin to pay for, the payment will be for all who choose to take it as their own. This is the only way to meet the requirements of both love and justice.

Obviously, this is a short explanation of a long subject, but think about Mary for a moment. Not only is she being asked to do something that could ruin her own life, but she is now the focal point of thousands of years of God’s dealing with man. All God has done to this point, including creating the nation of Israel rests upon the decision of this young girl. The future of humanity rests upon her answer to the angel.

I do not believe God would have forced her to accept this role. God does not work that way. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus praying to his father. His request is simple. “Father, I do not want to do this.” If he had no choice, he would not have prayed the second half of his prayer. “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

I believe Mary has a choice. I believe she could say, “This is too much for a young girl to bear. I have my life to live. You will have to find someone else to carry this promise.” Her answer will determine the future of man. What will she say to this promise?

Think About Mary

Luke 1:26-33(NKJV) 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary 28And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Greetings again in the name of Jesus. I trust you will all have a wonderful Christmas day with friends and family.

We usually focus on the birth of Jesus during this season and rightly so. However, he was not the only character in the story. What of his mother? What was her story? In today’s scripture, we see the angelic visitation that announces to Mary the role she must play in this drama. Who was Mary anyway?

She was a young girl, probably between the ages of 13 and 16 years old. She was not from a wealthy or influential family. She was related to the family of King David. I have a distant relative who was a Duke in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France but I am hardly considered royalty. I suspect that Mary’s connection to David was something similar. She was an ordinary girl of her day.

Sometimes when we read the bible, we think the people must have lived from one visitation to another. We read of the angel coming to Mary and think this was probably a common occurrence but it was not. Mary had never seen an angel. She probably never met anyone who had seen an angel. She knew they existed because it was part of her religious tradition, but that does not mean she was not shocked by this supernatural visitation.

Therefore, the stage is set for this powerful drama to begin. There is a teenage girl just like all the other teenage girls of her day. She receives a visitation like no other she has ever heard of or seen. The greeting she receives from the angel is, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” That is quite a greeting for a 14-year-old girl. It must mean that something wonderful is going to happen to her. Perhaps she is going to become Queen just as her ancestor became King. A prophet visited him at a similar age. Maybe she will become rich or famous. Surely, it will be some wonderful promise that God will fulfill in her life. She is right, but not in the way we would probably think of a promise.

The angel tells her that she is going to have a baby. She is engaged, but she is not yet married. It is obvious from the description of the baby that this will be no ordinary child. He will be called the son of God and take the thrown of his father David. Her child is given two fathers; God and David. Neither seems to be a very likely candidate to Mary.

Mary understands that the angel is not talking about a child that will come because of her impending marriage to the carpenter Joseph. She is going to have a baby before she is married. All of this had to be quite a blow to a teenage girl.

On a personal level, this is a burden to bear. She must somehow inform her husband that she had not been unfaithful when it becomes obvious that she is pregnant. We know from reading the story that the Lord will protect Mary and let Joseph in on the plan himself. However, at this point Mary does not know what God has in mind. Her marriage is in jeopardy.

In our world, it is no stigma to have a child out of wedlock. In her world, it was a matter of great shame to the whole family. Her reputation would have been ruined. This could have led to very severe consequences including death by stoning. At the very least, she would not have been able to expect a normal life and family after this shameful pregnancy.

Finally consider the fact that death in childbirth was a far more common occurrence in her day than today. Without the aid of friends and family because of the circumstances of her pregnancy and without a husband to care for her it was highly likely that she would not survive this “promised” experience from the Lord. How many of us would simply have told the angel to look elsewhere for someone to be so “favored of God.”

This is what she faces on a personal level. The responsibility she will carry if she accepts this promise is even greater. We will look at that tomorrow.

Stand Therefore

 

Ephesians 6:13-14 (NKJV) 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

This month we have been studying Ephesians 6 and the full armor of God. It has always been God’s desire to give great favor to his people, and favor flows to strength. Ephesians 6 exhorts us to “be strong in the Lord and the power of his might.” Paul tells us we can do that be putting on the full armor of God. This armor will protect us from the “wiles of the devil.” Wiles means plans or strategies. It is very important for us to remember that the devil’s favorite weapons are subtlety and deception. He is very skilled with these weapons.

As I was preparing for a Sunday morning in our church, I felt the Lord spoke something to me that I want to pass along to you. As we go through life, there are many kinds of trials we must face. There are many causes for the trials of life, but in all of them, the devil is an active participant. He will use deception and subtlety to defeat you if possible. Look at what you are dealing with now. Ask the lord about it. Things are not always what they seem to be. If you ask the Lord, he will give you insight so that you will know what is happening and what the real solution to the problem is.

Last week we concentrated on verse 13 that told us the armor of God enables us to withstand or resist the devil. This involves offensive resistance and defensive protection, both of which are provided by the full armor of God. We found that the words withstand and stand do not carry the same meaning. While withstand means resist, stand speaks to the result of our resistance. That result of resisting the devil is that we are left standing intact, in our place and strong.

This leads us to verse 14. The sequence of words in these two verses has always left me with a particular impression of what Paul was telling us. I did not even see the word “withstand” but simply read, “stand.” I was reading verses 13 and 14 this way. “The armor will allow you to hold out (stand) against the devil in the evil day. When you have done everything you can do, you have to keep holding out (standing.) After you held out against the devil for a while longer, you had to hold out (stand) “therefore.”

Many of us feel this way a great deal of the time. We have been standing and believing God to do something about our situation. We feel as though we have been standing forever and yet we must keep standing. There is truth to this. We must be willing to stay in the battle and not quit. We must be willing to trust God as long as we have to in order to see the victory. However, that is not what this verse is saying. If we read this verse the way I have read it in the past, the devil can use it to sap our hope and, if he does not defeat us completely, he can keep us stalemated.

What is this verse telling us? We must understand that Paul is referring to the Roman battle armor. Everything in this scripture relates to the military of that day. I enjoy military history and I have done some reading about the Roman Army. In their day, they were almost invincible. One of their favorite tactics was to form a battle line and let the enemy attack them. They would use their shields hooked together as a wall. They used a short sword that enabled them to stab through their shield wall into the attacking enemy.

They would allow the enemy to attack until they sensed he tired and then they would advance in unison. Once they had taken a certain amount of ground, they would reform the line and the process would begin again. Eventually the Romans would sense that the enemy had broken and would pursue and destroy their foe completely.

That is the picture in Ephesians 6:13-14. We form a line against the devil. When the “evil day” of attack comes, we withstand the attack. We use the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, to stab at our enemy as he tries to overcome us. We use the shield of faith to stop all attacks he brings against us. Eventually we move forward and win the skirmish. At that point, we are “standing” intact, in place and strong.

Verse 14 begins with the word “therefore.” That word ties verse 14 to verse 13. We have won the skirmish but to win the whole battle we must reform. We must not put down our weapons. The enemy is still there. We must stand ready for the next attack. We must stand with our weapons at the ready. We have taken ground but that does not mean we can simply put down our weapons and relax.

This is what often happens to us when we win a skirmish. I have been in ministry for nearly 40 years and I have seen this repeated far too often. A person wins a major skirmish against temptation or trials. They get excited but they think that is the end. They lay down their weapons and relax their defense. Soon the enemy comes again and they are not ready. They are driven back and often their condition is worse than it was before. Paul wants us to be like the Roman army. We must continue to stand in our place in the battle line until the whole battle is won. In truth we must stay ready until we go home to heaven or until the Lord comes.

It may seem that this means we never get to rest. That is not true. There was another aspect of Roman army tactics that also applies to us. The Romans fought in ranks as much as 10 soldiers deep. They never sent all their troops to the front lines at once. Those in the front of the line would fight for about 20 minutes. Then they would peel off and the second rank would take up the battle. The first rank would go to the back of the line to rest. Using this method each soldier only fought about 20 minutes in 3 hours. The enemy was always contending with fresh troops.

If we are going to fight in the style implied by Paul’s illustration, it is very important that we realize we cannot do it alone. We must fight together as the body of Christ. We must know what our unit is and what our place is in that unit. It is not enough to be part of the universal body of Christ any more than it was enough to be part of the universal Roman army. Each unit had a role and a place in the line. They could not use this rotation battle method if they did not know where they belonged.

You are part of the universal church. You must also be part of a local church. As such, we fight together. When one of us is in a battle, we are all in the battle. When one tires there are others that can take his place in the line until he recovers. If we remember this and find our local unit, we will have the rest we need and the help we need to win both the skirmishes and the battles. In the end we will stand victoriously before the Lord.

If we try to fight alone, we will fail. We will tire and there will be no one to stand with us and for us. I encourage you if you are not part of a local church to find your unit. We need you in the battle. We need you in your place. When our unit withstands the enemy and is left standing, we need every soldier to reform the ranks and be found standing with their armor in place ready for the next attack and eventual victory.