Preparation for What is to Come

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;

In my next post I will continue talking about the parable of the sower from Mark chapter 4. Today I want to share one more “holiday” post as we enter the new year. When I was pastoring our local church, I always asked God for a theme for the year to come. I am traveling most of the time now and the local duties have fallen to my son, but I still believe God has a plan for each year of my life. I want to share what I feel God is saying to me for 2019. Maybe it will apply in some measure to you as well.

Genesis 14 is a verse that validates the idea of dividing time into years. Some would say that one year is the same as the other in God’s eyes. He has one plan and that plan never changes. We see it in Ephesians 1.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NKJV) 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–in Him.

That is what God has been working towards since the fall of man. In truth, since Jesus was “slain from the foundations of the world”, it has always been God’s plan. There will come a day called the fullness of time when the God of the universe is going to bring all things together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is an inevitability.

That said, it is God who set the lights in the heavens for “signs and seasons, and for days and years.” God lives in an ever-present now. He is the “Great I am”, not the great I will be nor the great I was. It is always today for God. That is not true for us. We were placed in a physical world. God built time into this physical world. He divided time into days, weeks, months and years when he set the heavens in motion the way he did. God is still working toward “the fullness of time.” He has a plan that will accomplish his purpose. I believe that each day, week, month and year has a purpose in God for us and for his plan.

I think our purpose for the “days and weeks” is fulfilled simply by knowing him and walking in harmony with him to the best of our ability. To a degree, the same is true about years, but I am convinced that God has a purpose for me to fulfill in every year that I live. As I have sought to find that purpose, it has helped guide me in my day to day destiny.

2018 was a bit of a mystery to me when it began. My wife and I were beginning the second year of a whole new chapter in life. My wife is fond of saying that it is like the progression of chapters in a good book. A good writer knows how to bring an end to one chapter by building anticipation for the next. You may think you know what comes next, but you are not sure. You cannot wait to find out! That is the way life has been for us the last few years.

The second segment of anything is often difficult. When you launch out, you have certain things you expect will happen. You also know that there are many things you have no idea about, but you look forward to seeing what they may be. The second year, you find out that a good part of what is new you do not like. There are adjustments that must be made. You must reconcile the reality of the new thing with what you thought it would be. This can be a most difficult thing to do. It was for me. Not everything is the way I want it. It is, however, the way it is. This made 2018 a year of stabilization and settling into the reality of what is to come.

2018 was the first year in more than thirty years that I did not have a theme. I think God knew that if he gave me too much information on what 2018 was going to be about, I might have said, “Thanks but no thanks.” That would not have changed God’s mind, but it might have made it even harder for me. At any rate, we are where we need to be.

Whatever your 2018 was like, you are where God needs you to be now. If things were not what you wanted, you cannot change the past. If you made some mistakes, join the club. God is bigger than your mistakes. If you have a bad attitude right now, repent. You cannot change God. You cannot change other people except as you influence them in Christ. Most of the time you cannot change circumstances and certainly not overnight. You are here. 2018 ends today. The question you need to ask is, “What does God want for me in 2019.”

I really had not thought that much about this question until a few days ago. I believe God dropped something into my heart that will help guide me through 2019. As someone who has occupied a leadership position in the church for many years and who has the privilege of speaking to church leaders around the world, I submit it for your consideration. Remember, this is what I believe God is saying for the 2019 division of time. The days, weeks and even months will still flow according to how God unfolds them for you. Each of us must walk in our personal relationship with the Lord daily to get to where we need to go.

So, years were God’s idea. What is his plan for 2019? God said to me that 2018 was a year of stabilization and positioning. Once we are positioned, we go through preparation. We cannot be prepared for something we are not in the position to fulfill. When a person goes into the military he or she is first positioned. What branch will they serve in? They are inducted into that branch. They are now a soldier, sailor, airman or marine. Once positioned, the preparation really begins.

I believe what God is saying to me is that I got settled into my new position in 2018. Not that I fully understand what that position is. It is more that I have come to accept it as the will of God. I am what I am now, not what I was in 2016. Now I am ready to be prepared. The next question is prepared for what?

2019 will be filled with the steps of preparation. My last child to never have been married is getting married in 2019. My oldest son, who has endured the pain of divorce, will probably be moving back to our area from Nashville. All of these things are adjustments and preparations. There are too many more to list here and even more than what I know about, but I believe such family milestones are important indicators. However, that does not answer the question of what are we being prepared for.

I think it is important to know as much as we can about what we are preparing for so that we will cooperate with the preparation. However, we never fully understand until the preparation is done. That means that 2019 will still be filled with as many questions as answers. Nevertheless, the key to preparation is to trust the one preparing you. He knows where you are going. He will tell you what you need to know. Just understand that everything he is doing has a purpose. This is always true, I just believe it is more true this year, at least for my wife and me.

So, what is 2019 preparation for? 2020! If each year has a purpose, each decade also has a purpose. If you look at history, the change of decades almost always signals significant change. I believe that is true for the church as well. 2019, like every year you have lived, will have ups and downs. It will have great times and difficult times. There will be some significant changes and a lot of “boot camp” experiences. Boot camp changes a civilian into a soldier. God is always changing us. I believe we are going to mature and change this year to an even greater degree. What does 2020 hold. I do not know. I believe it will hold great things in God. I do know that we will have to cooperate with the preparation of 2019 to be fully affective in the next decade. I want to hit the ground running. How about you?

Christmas Love

1 John 4:10 (NKJV) 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This week we have been looking at three things the world tries to incorporate into the “Holiday Celebration” while minimizing the celebration of the birth of Christ. The first is joy. While gifts and parties give both pleasure and happiness, joy is something far deeper. The joy spoken of by the angels in their announcement to the shepherds has nothing to do with worldly happiness. It is the inward, abiding sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing relationship with the heavenly Father. The joy of Christmas is the joy of knowing that the birth of this baby was the beginning of the process that made that relationship possible.

The second is peace. The world concentrates on the holidays as a time when we practice peace between groups in the world. However, the peace of Christmas is the peace God made available to man through the birth and eventual resurrection of Jesus. There was a gulf between God and man because of sin. The birth of Jesus is the entry of the God of the universe into our world to put an end to the war between God and man making it possible for peace between them.

The final element that we hear about during the holidays is love. We know that love of family is an important factor in our celebrations. This is as season where the expression of the love we have for our friends is foremost in our thinking. Love is the motivation for the giving of gifts. All of these things are worthy parts of the Christmas season. However, they are only reflections of the real love of Christmas.

It is almost cliché to say that the gift of the babe in the manger is one of the ultimate expressions of the love of God yet it must be said. God created man as his family. Man rebelled against God resulting in a spiritual union between God’s children and the God of this world, Satan.

Man was the one who rebelled. God had given clear instructions to man about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable. God had provided all man could ever need. Man lived in a paradise provided by his Father. Nevertheless, man chose to follow the woman into sin. The bible says the woman was deceived but Adam was not. (1 Timothy 2:14) He sinned by willful choice. God had no obligation to save him. He had effectively become an enemy to God.

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV) 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For 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.

Christmas love is not about love of family. It is not about brotherly love or romantic love. It is the love of God that chose to reach into our sinful condition that he might buy back his children.

It is hard to imagine the price paid by Almighty God when he was born in that manger. Philippians 2 tells us that God laid aside his limitlessness to take on the form of man. The creator of the universe became a baby. He was just as helpless and physically vulnerable as any baby ever born.

By design, he was born into the humblest of circumstances. He was not raised in privilege but experienced every temptation and hardship that man can face. (Hebrews 4:15) What must it have been like for the holy God to live in the midst of the sin and depravation into which humanity had fallen?

I love today’s scripture. Many times we teach on the need to love God. I believe that is true. We do need to cultivate and express our love for God. Yet this verse tells us the key to that love. It is not in our repentance. It is not in our works. It is not in anything we can work up in our emotions. Our love for God does not originate with us. Our love for God is a response to his love for us.

In this verse, there are two ways in which that love is expressed. The second is the one we usually focus upon. God sent Jesus to be the payment for our sins. He died for us. In truth, this is the love of Jesus for us. I believe he made a choice to die for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the Father to let that bitter cup pass from him. He did not want to do it. In the midst of his torment he uttered those powerful words, “Not my will but your will be done!” He chose to die for us. There is no greater expression of love than that. (John 15:13)

The first statement in this verse is often overlooked. God the Father sent his son. That was the expression of the Father’s love for you and me. I have six children. I would far rather experience hardship than have them experience hardship. I would sacrifice myself for my children with little thought. That is what it means to be a father.

A much more difficult choice is to sacrifice one child for many children. Jesus was the only begotten of the Father. He was the only son who walked in true love and fellowship with the Father. Even those with the greatest revelation of who God is did not understand him. They saw him as the hard and harsh giver of the Law of Moses who would gladly punish the smallest transgression. That is not the nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus knew the Father for who he really was. Jesus spent three and one half years trying to show him to the world, yet they did not see him. Jesus was the only one who walked as a true son of God in the way God wanted for Adam. He was the last Adam. (1 Cor. 15:45)

The love of Christmas is the love of the Father God for all his children. It is the love which would sacrifice his only true son so that he might win many sons. He had no guarantee that anyone would accept what he was offering. He gave Jesus to the world anyway.

As we approach the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born in the world, remember the love of the Father for you. Let that love wash over you and respond to that love. No one has given more for you. If you are a parent, think about sacrificing your child for others who do not deserve the sacrifice. That is the love of Christmas.

In this is love. God the Father gave his son for us. Can I do anything less than give him my life?

Peace on Earth

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

As we approach the Christmas holiday, we are looking at the attempt of the world to co-opt certain elements of Christmas while trying to eliminate or minimize others. All over the United States for the last decade or so repeated challenges have been made against nativity scenes in public places. The term “Happy Holidays” has been promoted over “Merry Christmas” as the greeting of the season.

An attempt has been made to replace the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ with an economic holiday which tries to include all religions while effectively excluding all. The gods these people celebrate at Christmas are the gods of mammon and political correctness. Those of us who understand that the birth of Christ is the most important event in history will continue to fight against this kind of thinking.

What I find interesting is the attempt to keep key elements of the celebration of Christ’s birth in the current celebration. The announcement made by the angels to the shepherds includes two things that remain in the secularized celebration of Christmas. Yesterday we looked at Joy. In the current holiday, we mistake happiness and pleasure for joy.

We give and receive gifts and we are told by advertising that the greater the gift the more joy we will have. We enjoy holiday parties where we engage in behavior that would not be acceptable at other times of the year with the excuse that “it’s Christmas!” We enjoy the company of family and friends, which is a good thing but not the joy that Christmas really represents.

The joy the bible connects to the celebration of the birth of Christ is the deeper inner sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing that the Father loves us. It is a force that flows from our spirit man because of the reality of salvation in Christ. This joy is felt at Christmas because without the birth of Christ there could be no salvation.

Today I want to talk a little about the second thing that the secular “Holiday Season” has tried to incorporate with little success. That is the power of peace. I hear today’s scripture quoted during the this time of year perhaps more than any other verse. The idea of peace on earth is desirable to any rational human being. War is terrible even when it may be necessary. No one wants war. We all desire to live in peace with those around us so that we may carry on life.

Using the “Holiday Season” to speak about peace on earth is noble. Using this time as an opportunity to practice peace with our neighbor is something to be emulated and admired. However, that is not the peace the angels speak of in Luke 2:4.

We think that the problems that lead to war and conflict can be solved if we simply decide to treat one another better. If I am nice to the warlike person, surely he will be nice to me. That depends on his reason for aggression. The truth is that the reason for conflict between people is that there is conflict between God and man. In the Garden of Eden, a conflict began that changed man’s nature.

According to Ephesians 2:3, humanity became by nature a child of wrath or the devil. Man was not created to be a child of wrath but a child the love of God. This nature change caused a gulf between God and man. Man’s new nature inevitably led him into contact with each other. We see this continuing until this very day.

I have heard the term “brotherhood of man” used to describe how we should act towards one another. The problem is that we are all brothers by the same Father. When we reject the Father, we reject the brothers as well. We will come together with those who have the same goals as we do. We will come together with those who think and act as we do or who have the same beliefs and culture. Man is at war with his Father. That is the real problem in the earth.

When the angels made their wonderful announcement to the shepherds, they were not talking about governments or even better relations between people. The announcement was about an end to the war between God and man. The angels did not speak of good will among men. They spoke of good will toward men.

Good will among men is how we tend to interpret their words. That is why we think that a celebration every December 25 can somehow make a difference in how people relate to each other. I do not say we should not treat people nicely during the Christmas holiday, but if that is all we do, we are missing the power of the angels announcement.

Good will toward men is something else entirely. Who has good will toward men? The answer is that God does. The angels are declaring that something has happened that will enable God to have relationship with his children the way he always intended to have relationship. God was never at war with man. It has always been man at war with God. God has always been at war with the devil and the fall of man aligned him with the devil.

God never stopped loving man, but he needed a way to separate man from the devil. The birth of Christ was the beginning of a process that would accomplish this for any person who desired it. Peace could be achieved on earth because God’s “good will toward” men could finally be realized.

There is only one hope of ultimate peace and the manifestation of the brotherhood of man. That hope is the birth of Christ in a simple manger in the town of Bethlehem of Judea. That birth opened a door that the devil cannot close. Peace among men will come because of the goodwill offered toward man in Christ.

As with our discussion of joy, peace must also be considered in the context of salvation. The birth of Christ was the beginning. The resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of what began in the manger. The salvation the Father offered to his children did not mean a change in religion or philosophy. That would not produce peace. The salvation the birth of Christ initiated was far more than that. It was the change of his nature from a “child of wrath” to a child of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (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,

The real message of Christmas is that we can be new creatures in Christ. The old nature passes away when we receive the sacrifice of Christ as the payment for our personal sin nature. When we receive him as the Lord of our lives, we become fully reconciled to God. With this reconciliation, we have the power to be at peace in our own hearts. Inward peace can enable us to be at peace with those around us.

The other message of the angel’s announcement is echoed in verse 18 above. We have been given the same message the angels gave to those simple shepherds. We now carry the message of peace on earth due to goodwill toward men. Paul calls this message the message of reconciliation. It is the message that tells the world, “There is no more need for war amongst you! God has made a way for you to have true peace. Peace with him!”

Tell someone what the birth of this baby in a manger really made available. Tell them the war is over!

Joy to the World

Luke 2:10 (NKJV) 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

The Christmas season is the most important time of the year for many in the world today. It is not important because of the religious significance of the holiday. If anything, the religion of Christmas gets in the way of the real impact of the season for many. Christmas is important because stores and other businesses may lose money all year but if they do well at Christmas, they will prosper. Christmas for many is an economic holiday.

For those of us who understand what the focus of the Christmas celebration is supposed to be, this is something of a tragedy. In my last post, I spoke of the significance of the gift given at Christmas. In my family, it was the one time that I got whatever I wanted. I continued that when I was the parent and did my best to give the best gift possible to my children. My son preached in our church this week and told our church that he did the same with his children.

I was blessed to hear him say that this practice contributed to the fact that even through some difficult times, the one thing he knew was that he was always loved. Giving the best possible gift at Christmas was not the only thing we did to prove this to him. It was one thing we did. I believe the gift given by our Heavenly Father at Christmas is one thing that we can look to as proof of the Father’s love for his children.

I believe it is important to understand what these gifts represent. What is the gift the Father gave to his children in the event celebrated at Christmas? It was first and foremost a gift of himself. He came to the earth on that day. He became what we are. He entered into our reality in a way that is hard to imagine. Look at this verse in Philippians.

Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT) 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,

We focus on the baby in the manger at Christmas. Indeed, he was born as a baby. This is important so that we understand that he made himself human in every way. Every way that is but one. This baby was born without the sin nature that came upon all people because of the fall of man. It was not just a babe that was given at Christmas. The gift was the Father himself in human form who would grow up to be the savior of humanity.

I want to point to three other aspects of this gift that the world has tried to co-opt with little success. In their attempt to keep some of the significance of why we celebrate December 25, the world has emphasized three ideas that are a part of the real celebration. Those things are joy, peace and love. We sing songs of joy. Some even include the joy surrounding the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. Somehow, I believe that they miss the point.

The “holiday” season is a time when people speak of peace on earth. Yet there is no peace. In truth, the holidays are one of the most stress-filled times of the year. Of course, the love of friends and family has become one of the focuses of the season. Yet even in this, we often feel pressed by the obligations of this “love” and unable to enjoy the love itself.

I believe that if we want to partake of these three wonderful holiday gifts we must understand them in the context of the true gift. We have joy, peace and love because of what God gave at Christmas. Natural joy, peace and love are severely limited. The joy, peace and love of Christmas are not natural at all. They are parts of the Father’s nature that he made available to us by the gift of himself. Only in receiving that gift can we understand the other three.

Let us begin with joy. The angels told the shepherds that the news they brought was news of great joy. It is interesting that Christmas has become a time when we focus on pleasure and happiness instead of joy. We get pleasure from both giving and receiving gifts. The gifts and the process have the ability to make us happy. We have parties that have nothing to do with the Father’s gift and everything to do with pleasure. It seems that the “Christmas party” often becomes an excuse for behavior we would not engage in at any other time of year. None of this has anything to do with the joy of which the angels spoke.

Happiness and pleasure are desirable things in a person’s life. Everyone wants to be happy and pleasure is the channel that brings happiness to us. However, pleasure and happiness are fragile things. They are dependent upon outward things. We are happy when we have good things. Pleasure comes when we are doing things we like to do. When we do not have good things in life and when we must do things we do not like, happiness and pleasure flee like birds. The joy spoken of in the bible is different. The joy of Christmas is the joy of the bible.

Bible joy is not an emotion alone. Bible joy is an inward sense of wellbeing based in the knowledge that God loves us. According to Holman’s Bible Dictionary, joy is the fruit of a right relation with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts.

The joy we can feel at Christmas has nothing to do with what we give or receive. It is not dependent upon the getting together of friends and family. It is not even dependent on our physical circumstances. Christmas joy can only be understood and released in our lives if we understand the true gift of Christmas. I have joy because God reached down and came to me when I needed him most.

When I do not have all that I want in life, I remember that God loved me to the degree that he came to earth to rescue me. When I receive the gift of salvation, I receive a joy that is deeper than anything life can give or take away. My joy is centered in the fact that I have relationship with God the Father. The joy of Christmas comes from remembering that this relationship was made possible by the birth of a baby who would become a man, who would become my savior.

As you go about your holiday business, enjoy the season. Derive pleasure from the giving and receiving of Gifts. Enjoy the time spent with friends and family. However, remember that you have access to something much deeper than these temporary pleasures. Christmas made salvation possible. Salvation makes true bible joy available to us.

As you celebrate Christmas, remember to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice at the real gift of Christmas. As a Christian, this is one of the greatest gifts you have in your life. The joy of the Lord is your strength. This joy is also the greatest gift you have to give.

There are those around you who do not know joy. They may have momentary happiness, but joy is far from them. You can make it available to them by telling them that the baby born at Christmas became the savior of the world. Find someone you can give that gift to before the season is over.

If you are the one who has never received the salvation joy made available by Christmas, you can receive forgiveness and a new life by accepting Jesus as your personal savior and Lord. Just say, “Jesus, I don’t understand all of this, but I choose to receive you as my savior. Make this Christmas different. I accept that you died for me. I give you my life. Help me live for you.” I pray you find someone who can explain this to you in a more personal way. Have a joyful Christmas!

Good Tidings of Great Joy

Luke 2:10-11 (NKJV) 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

(We will get back to the Parable of the sower next week. This week let me share so Christmas thoughts from 2014)

We find ourselves once again in the last month of another year. I confess that the Christmas season tends to be a little difficult for me. I am the youngest of seven children. The brother who was closest to me was 15 years old when I was born. The rest went up from there. When my father heard that my mother was pregnant at 41 his first comment was, “Oh boy! Now we can have Christmas again.”

My parents did not have much money but Christmas was the one time of year where they would do anything in their power to get me whatever I really wanted. Once I had children, I wanted to do for them what my Dad had done for me.

For the first few years, that was really no problem. We went into the ministry when my two oldest were 3 and 4 years old. We did not have a great deal of money but I managed to make sure we got our kids what they wanted for Christmas. As the years went by, they got older and we kept adding to the number. By the time I was 36 years old we had six and some of them were teenagers. The number and cost of the gifts had increased significantly. We were doing better but we still were not rich and the pressure began to mount.

Now I know what some of you are going to say. I should not have given into the commercial aspects of the season. It is not the size of the gift but the thought that counts. We should teach our children responsibility and not that they can have whatever they want. I agree with that sentiment 364 days of the year but not on Christmas! That is my curse.

As the years went by, I began to dread Christmas earlier and earlier. Now I have 6 children 3 spouses (with one to be added in March) and 14 grandchildren. These days I just leave the shopping to my wife.

Please pray that the Lord helps me with my “Scrooge” spirit, but let me also make something of a defense. It is not really commercialism that is at the heart of my problem. You see my father was a very good man but also a disappointed man. He was very talented in many ways. In some ways, I believe he was a genius.

He was a musician who as a young man formed a band that played at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. He was a natural engineer who created a prototype of an automatic transmission just before one was introduced. (Timing is everything.) He was gifted with all things mechanical. He functioned as a carpenter, electrician and machinist. He was a master auto mechanic. The one thing he did not have was an education.

My father and mother married when he was 17 and she was 16. My oldest brother was born in 1929. The last child before me was born in 1939. They raised six children through the heart of the depression and through World War II. They were forced to move to follow jobs because his education did not afford him a career. He did everything he could to provide for them.

My mother did not work. It just was not done in those days at least not in my family. She kept the family fed and together. She made the house a home but it was a very hard life with no time for further education. Through all the difficulties, they provided Christmas.

When I came along they were still not rich, but there was only one of me. As I said, Christmas was the time that my Mom and especially my Dad did all the things they could not do the rest of the year. Sometimes I am sure they did things they could not afford but they gave the best gift they possibly could. I remember many of those precious gifts to this day. It made Christmas magical and special.

I know they should have been concentrating on Jesus. They were Catholics and there was no doubt that the holiday was about the birth of Christ, but giving those special gifts to their last-born son was at the heart of it for them.

And finally, that became Christmas to me. It was not really about quantity, although we always had lots of presents under our tree. It was about getting each one the special gift, the one thing that I knew they wanted. I would go to every store in the area to find that gift at the best price. I would do everything in my power to get the guitar, car or latest electronics. There were GI Joe planes and forts. There were Barbie cars and houses. There were a few “Easy Bake Ovens” over the years and more than one “Lite Brite.”

My youngest, a daughter, always wanted the latest doll. She got the one that did somersaults, the one that burped, and many more. The thing is she hardly ever played with dolls! Still, they were the one gift she wanted so I got them for her. (Logic should have no place in such things!)

I will confess that sometimes I went into debt. I do not endorse that practice. I also confess that I have let the pressure of it get to me. More than the pressure of the expense, I have allowed my inability to continue giving them that one thing they want ruin Christmas for me a bit. Just because the oldest is 40 does not change the fact that, for me Christmas is about giving the best gift, the one gift that your child really wants. I know! That is unrealistic and not necessary. Even my children tell me so.

Although I freely admit to getting out of balance, I am not sure I am all wrong. What is Christmas really about after all? Is it not that our great Father God, in a fit of excess, gave the one gift to his children that they really needed; that they really wanted? Most of them do not know that to be true, but it is.

Christmas is about the babe in the manger of course. Christmas is about the God of the universe becoming man so that he could set us free from sin and death. Christmas is about many things that have nothing to do with malls and Santa Clause and all the cultural things that we enjoy. In essence, Christmas is about the gift!

Today’s scripture reminds me of how excited my Mom and Dad would get because of the gifts they were giving to me. It reminds me of how excited I would get when the kids would open that last gift which was always “the big gift.” Read what the verse says. The Father is excited about this wonderful gift he is giving his family!

I am just going to say it. I hate gift cards. I think that after reading this, maybe you can understand why. As you go through the Christmas season, do not allow yourself to give into the pressure that I did. Do not be caught up in the commercialism and overspending. On the other hand, you might remember that Christmas is about the best gift the Father could possibly give. Maybe you could find something, one thing that takes a little more thought than a gift card.

Do not misunderstand me. I use them too sometimes. (Well my wife does. I refuse!) That seems to be what the grandchildren want. Maybe, just for me, you could take the time to find one special thing. It does not have to be expensive it just has to be from the heart.

With that in mind, be as extravagant as you can be. Let that extravagance remind what Christmas is all about. It is about the most extravagant gift ever given.

The Parable of the Sower and the Seed

Mark 4:13-14 (NKJV) Mk 13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word

In our last post we looked at the nature of the power in the written Word of God. We found that it is the power of a seed. Seeds are amazing bits of supernatural engineering. They contain within them the whole blueprint of the life they were made to produce. When the seed for a plant species enters good ground and is properly cultivated, it will inevitably produce what it was designed to produce. Nothing can stop the process if the conditions necessary for life are met. However, if there is no water and if the ground is not good ground, the life in the seed will not be released. The same is true of the Word of God.

In this parable, Jesus unlocks a mystery that reveals how God’s life is released in us by his Word. He makes it clear what the variables are in the equation. He shows us what will keep the life of God encoded in the seed of his Word from producing. We might be talking about seeds of holiness, which will produce the power to overcome sin. We could be talking about the seeds of healing, prosperity, destiny, love or any other promise or characteristic in the Word. If we make sure the seed has good ground and proper cultivation, we will see what God wants to produce in and through us come to fruition.

In verse 13, Jesus makes a very bold statement. He had spoken a parable about seeds and farmers. The disciples did not understand what this had to do with the Kingdom of God. Jesus says to them, “If you don’t understand this parable, how are you going to understand the rest of them?” Jesus stated this in the negative but what if we look at what he said from the positive point of view. “If you understand this parable, you can understand everything else I am trying to teach you.”

Obviously, this is my paraphrase of what Jesus said, but I think it is faithful to what he is revealing here. No less an authority than Jesus says that this parable is a key to understanding how the kingdom of God works. In our last post we looked at verse 26. Again, I believe this is a simple statement with sweeping significance.

Mark 4:26 (KJV) Mk 26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;

I like the way the original King James expresses this thought. So is the Kingdom of God. In other words, this is how the Kingdom of God works. It works in the same way a seed interacts with the ground to produce a plant. There is a growing season. The plant takes time to mature and when the plant begins to produce fruit, the fruit takes time to ripen. If the conditions are met, the fruit will manifest. We do not understand how it works. It just works.

Comparing verses 26-29 with verses 13-15, I think we get a clear picture of how important the principles in this chapter are to our ability to walk in the spirit. If I understand what he is saying in Mark 4, I understand what I must do to cooperate with the Lord and his Word so my spirit can be developed and grow to the kind of maturity that will produce both godly living and faith for the promises without the bondage of the law.

Verse 14 is very short but very important. The sower Jesus is talking about sows the Word. Jesus is not talking about just any word here. He is talking about the Word of God. The only seed that is relevant to what we need to know is the Word of God. He is not sowing good philosophy. He is not sowing our culture. He is not sowing the words of men. He is sowing the Word of God.

God has placed teachers in the Body of Christ. Therefore, we must conclude that the words of men can be filled with the seed of God’s Word. Nevertheless, we must be discerning. I tell those who listen to me preach, “Don’t take what I say as final. You go to the Word and find out for yourself.” Even when we are listening to good bible teaching, it is the Word of God that is the supernatural seed that produces Godly fruit.

There are other seeds in the world. The world has “word seeds” that it is constantly sowing into our minds. We need to realize that the type of seed we put into our “ground” in abundance is the crop we will produce. There is something about us that tends to rebel against what I am about to say. We need to give more attention to the Word of God than to any other kind of seed. This is not easy. There are so many other sources of seed. There are media and entertainment seeds. There are secular educational and political seeds. There are seeds of experiences. None are necessarily bad in themselves. We must understand that they are competing for our planting time.

Most of the things that bring worldly seeds to us are more fun than the things that bring Godly seed. Today more than at any time in history this is true, especially in developed countries. Of course, these are the ones with the resources to finance and expedite the preaching of the Gospel around the world. I do not think this is a coincidence. I believe we can enjoy all that modern life has to offer as long as it is not sin as defined by the bible. If we give most of our time and attention to world seeds, we are going to produce a flesh harvest.

Here is how Jesus says the same thing as part of this parable.

Mark 4:24 (AMP) Mk 24 And He said to them, Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you—and more [besides] will be given to you who hear.

I particularly like how this comes out in the Amplified Bible. In the NKJV it says we should be careful what we hear. In the Amplified it puts it into a continual light. We need to be careful about what we are hearing. It is not just what we hear once. It is what we are continually hearing. Then he says, “The thought and study or the attention and focus you give to the word you hear will determine what you get out of it. If it is the Word of God you will get more life, blessing and virtue. If you give more attention to the seeds that come from the world, the flesh and the devil, you will get the world the flesh and the devil. It is our choice.

Some will say, “You are being too extreme. You don’t have to spend all your time reading the Bible and praying.” That is true. However, farming is a pretty extreme lifestyle. Everything depends on the crop. Whatever it takes to guarantee the health and abundance of the crop must be done. If you ignore your crop in the spring and summer, you will have no harvest. If you have no harvest, you will be destitute in the winter. You can complain about it if you want, but that does not help. If you are a farmer you accept that your life revolves around the seed, the ground and what those two things produce when they work together.

In the natural you can choose not to be a farmer. I am not. I am convinced that meat comes from the meat department, vegetables come from the vegetable department and so on. I can just go and buy what I need. However, someone raised the cow or chicken. Someone planted and grew the wheat in my bread. Someone planted, cared for and harvested the fruits and vegetables I eat. It just was not me.

In spiritual things, we do not have the same choice. There is nowhere to go to buy holiness. We cannot go to the healing aisle and pick up a pound of healing. There is no victory counter or prosperity display we can run to and pick up supplies. The whole Kingdom of God works like planting seed in the ground. Nobody can do my spiritual farming. I must do it for myself.

Just as a farmer’s life revolves around the time and effort that goes into the planting, growing and harvesting of a crop, so does the life of a Christian revolve around the planting, growing and harvesting the seed of God’s Word in my life. It may not always be fun. I may have to put aside other things. In the end, the harvest I reap in the spirit will be more than worth the effort.

The Power in the Word is the Power of the Seed

Mark 4:26-29 (NKJV) 26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

In our last few posts we have been talking about the need for us to renew our minds if we are going to walk in the spirit. The soul, which includes our intellect, emotions and will, is the part of us that links the spirit and the body. The spirit is the deepest part of us. The body is the part that interacts with the world in which we live. Anything which comes from the spirit that is going to affect our outward life, must go through the soul. Romans 12:2 says we are transformed by the renewing of our mind, our soul. This creates a clear path between the spirit and the body.

The way this is accomplished is by changing how we think. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is alive. It is not just a book. It has the power to change our soul. Our job is to get the Word into our minds and yield to it. The actual change is a supernatural process that is produced by the word itself, not by our efforts.

How does the Word work in us? What is the nature of its power? One of the most significant teachings Jesus gave us is in Mark chapter 4. He tells us that the nature of the power of the Word of God is that of a seed. In today’s verse he makes a very important statement. The King James Version says it this way.

Mark 4:26 (KJV) 26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;

He is telling how the Kingdom of God works in the earth. We all have heard of miraculous transformations in the lives of people. We know that there have been times when drug addicts were instantly delivered, never to want drugs again. The same can be said for alcohol and many other sinful things. It is also true for physical or emotional healing. God simply touched the person and they were forever free.

I have a friend who has such a testimony. What we find is that after God does such a miracle, there is still the matter of living life. Most often the lasting changes we need do not come by the spectacular miraculous. They may come that way, but they will always come if we allow the miracle of seed life to work in us. In all areas of life, the power of the seed in God’s Word will change us.

Think of what a seed is. Most of the time they seem devoid of any life at all. They are small in comparison to the plant they will produce. Yet when they are planted in the right kind of ground with the right cultivation, they will produce what God encoded them to produce. Every seed contains life. The kind of life it contains is potential life.

Jesus often spoke of mustard seeds. This is one of the smallest seeds in the world. Yet when it is planted and allowed to grow it produces a large tree. How can this be? Every branch, every flower and every bit of fruit that the tree will ever produce is already in the seed. It is the potential for the whole life of the plant.

Seeds cannot produce life alone. That is not the way they were designed. They must interact with soil. In this scripture, Jesus says that the earth yields crops by itself. We do not know how it really works. However, we know that when a good seed interacts with good ground, life is released. The plant will grow if it is cultivated and if it is not negatively interfered with. Nothing can stop the process from working under those conditions.

In the 14th verse of this chapter Jesus says, “The sower sows the Word.” In the scripture we are looking at, the Word is the seed Jesus is referring to. What is the ground? As we read the parable, we understand that the human heart is the ground he is talking about. I believe the heart is the deepest part of the soul. Science might call it the subconscious. When the seed of God’s word works its way into our heart, it has the power to change how we think. As that process works, there is a plant that is produced which affects us both inwardly and outwardly.

Jesus tells us here that the farmer who plants must go to bed by night and get up by day. The picture is that the process cannot be rushed nor helped. We must let the seed and the ground work. This is very similar to Isaiah 55 when the prophet likens the Word of God to rain and snow. There is a process that must work. However, when we let it work, it will produce the results God desires. In the case of the seed, it will produce the plant encoded within.

What is the first think changed by the seed? It germinates under the surface of the ground. We cannot see it. It starts by producing roots. The roots are not visible, but they are working. They are pushing there way through the “dirt” until they find nourishment, especially water. The first thing that is affected is the ground.

When we plant the Word of God, we often see no change for a period of time. We may not feel it working. The last thing we want to do is dig it up and see if it is doing anything. We must trust the process. God put it in motion. It will work.

Once the roots have pushed away the soil and found life they begin to grow upward. They are still working in places we cannot see. Nevertheless, they are doing what needs to be done to bring forth the outward change. What is happening under the surface is so powerful that it can push through almost anything. We have all seen plants that have grown through cracks in a sidewalk. If left alone they will break the concrete.

Eventually we see a small blade. This does not seem like much but once the plant reaches the light it is energized. It will continue to grow. It is important to remember that just because we see a plant does not mean we are ready to produce fruit. We must allow the process to continue. However, a farmer knows that once the plant breaks through the ground, all he has to do is keep it watered and weeded. Fruit is inevitable.

What will a seed produce? It will produce whatever is encoded in the miracle of DNA If it has Apple encoding, you will have apples. If it is encoded with pear life you will have pears. Those seeds look similar, but the life in them is very different. The Bible is a catalog full of seeds. There are healing seeds, holiness seeds, prosperity seeds and much, much more. Whatever we plant we will see produced in our lives. Just remember, trust the process. It takes time, but nothing can stop the seed from producing.

Jesus said that the whole Kingdom of God is like this. When seeds are planted in the hearts of people, they produce the life that is in the seed. This parable is talking about the Word and the heart of man, so that is where we are focused, but the principle extends to all things.

In the natural, it is relatively easy to stop a seed. If it does not get enough water, it will not grow. Storms can cause problems. People can ruin the crop. Many things can happen to keep a harvest from manifesting. That is true of natural seeds but not of the seed of the Word of God. That seed contains the power of God in potential form. Once that power is released, nothing can stop it. The only way the seed of God’s word will not produce God’s results in our lives is if the ground is not good.

I have come to understand that my heart, my soul is the ground. This parable gives us insight into what keeps our ground from being good ground. It also tells us what makes us good ground. That is what we are going to look at for the next few posts.