The Ground is the Heart: Pathway Ground

Mark 4:15 (NKJV) 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

In our last post we dealt with the seed we must sow to see the process in Mark 4 work correctly. The sower sows the Word of God. No other seed will produce the fruit we need to see in our lives. The right seed will produce fruit that will result in our lifestyle reflecting both God’s will and his character.

Today I want to look at the other variable in this parable. As long as the seed we sow is the seed of God’s Word, we can be assured that it will produce exactly what it says it will and it will do so every time. However, the ground must also be good, or the seed will not produce even if it is a good seed.

What this parable is really talking about is the quality of the ground. There are two types of ground. There is good ground and there is bad ground. The bad ground is divided into 3 types, but they are all bad. We need to do what it takes to be good ground.

In this verse, Jesus talks about the first kind of bad ground. “These are the ones sown by the wayside.” What is “wayside” ground and what happens to the seed of God’s Word when it is sown on this type of ground? When a farmer was planting the seeds Jesus is referring to here, he would scatter the seed as he planted his field. Some of the seed would go where he wanted it to, onto prepared ground. Some of the seed would land on the path that was between the area to be planted and even on the road itself. Some would be caught by the wind and land wherever the breeze took them. This is the picture Jesus is describing in this parable.

The problem with the pathway ground is that it was hard. People walked on it all the time. As people tread upon it over the years it would become so hard that nothing could penetrate the soil. The seed that landed on the pathway simply stayed on the surface. The birds would watch this pathway ground and as soon as the farmer began to scatter his seed they would swoop down and eat it. There was nothing wrong with this seed, but it never got a chance to produce.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus says that the hearts of some people who hear the Word are like this pathway ground. Their hearts have been hardened by the constant treading of life upon them. They hear the Word but before it has a chance to penetrate their heart, Satan comes immediately and steals the Word.

Just like the birds, Satan is watching. When he knows the Word is coming to a person, he looks to see if that Word is making its way into their heart. If it is not, he will come in and take the Word before it has time to germinate. No fruit can be produced because no plant is produced.

There are many ways that Satan takes the word. There are certain attitudes that we can identify that will cause us to be wayside ground. If we deal with these attitudes our hearts will be able to receive the word and it will produce fruit. These are not all the attitudes nor the only causes for why we may become hard ground, but they are ones that I have often seen in the lives of people who are. Let us look at three of these attitudes.

The first is the unteachable attitude. It may manifest as, “I already know that. I don’t need to hear it again.” Although this may be true, I have found that every time I hear the Word, whether I read it or hear it preached, if I pay attention, I usually learn something. If I do not learn something new, I reinforce what I already know. Real maturity is determined by how much we are open to learn not by how much we think we know.

I raised 6 kids. One of the main characteristics of the teenage years is the tendency to think we know everything when we really do not know anything. Be careful when you hear yourself say, or even think, “I know that.” That is what my kids usually said when I was trying to teach them something during those wonderful years. Sometimes we remain “teenage” Christians for far too long.

Another thing to remember is that the Word of God is food for our spirit as well as a seed sown into our heart. I like a good steak. I am not going to stop eating it because I ate it once. I will eat it every chance I get. Every time I do, my body receives the nutrition in that food. Every time we hear or read the Word of God it is food to our spirit. Even if we do not hear anything new, we still receive the nutrition in the Word. Do not be unteachable ground.

The second pathway attitude is a heart which is closed. We may be closed for many reasons. We might not like the preacher we are listening to. The Word we are hearing may be something that seems to disagree with our group or stream of ministry. We may be closed to specific Bible truths because we have been hurt in that area by something in our lives. I have known people who can receive anything I shared about Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit. If I spoke about the Father, they would shut down. Their experience with their own father would not allow them to hear about the Father God. Satan came and immediately stole the Word that could have saved them.

The third pathway attitude to guard against is the indifferent attitude. Sometimes we just do not care about what is being preached or what we are reading. All like some things more than we like others. My mother did not make me eat vegetables, so I do not like them. We would say, “I don’t care for any vegetables.” I think we need to care about everything that comes from the Word. Remember Jesus was the Word made flesh. If we do not care about the Word of God, what does that say about our love for Jesus.

I am not perfect in this, but I try to pay attention whenever I hear the Word of God. I try not to just read my bible to get in some time or complete a plan. I want to know what God is trying to say to me through his Word. I want every seed in God’s wonderful seed catalog to be fully produced in my life. If we love the Word, we will not find ourselves carrying an “I don’t care attitude” when we hear it or read it.

In Ezekiel 33:30-34, there is an interesting story. God says to the prophet, the people are speaking against you. He says that the way they were doing that was by saying, “Let’s go hear the prophet. We like his voice. It’s like someone who sings really well.” How is that talking against Ezekiel? They were looking at the Word of the Lord as entertainment.

This may be one of the most dangerous kinds of pathway ground in our day. We have made entertainment a god. Sometimes we see the Word that way. I think we should enjoy church. I think we should enjoy the preaching of the Word. I think we should enjoy reading the bible. However, everything is not entertaining. Some things are hard to hear. They are the things that usually help us the most. We need to be careful that we do not reject a Word of God because it is not entertaining. Too many people leave churches because they are not getting fed. Could it be they are not getting entertained?

We need to guard against being pathway ground. We need to deal with these attitudes as soon as we recognize them. If we do not, Satan will come immediately to steal what we have heard. He is watching to see how we receive the Word, no matter how it comes to us. Do not be pathway ground.


The Sower Sows the Word

Mark 4:14-15 (NKJV) 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

Before our holiday break we were looking at one of the most significant parables in the Word of God. This is the parable of the sower from Mark chapter 4. We have learned a few things that are important. Since it has been a while since we began this study, let me list them. Please look back on the posts from December if you need more to get up to speed on what we are talking about.

1. In verse 13, Jesus says that if the disciples cannot understand this parable, they will not be able to understand any of the parables. The converse must also be true. If we do understand this parable it will unlock the main way Jesus taught in the New Testament.

2. Verse 26 says that the whole kingdom works on the seed principle. If we sow the Word, it will produce. Good seed in good ground with proper cultivation will always produce what the seed was designed to produce.

3. A natural seed contains the DNA for the whole plant. Every piece of fruit, grain or whatever the seed is from, is in the seed. The Word of God is the same. Every Word seed contains within itself the spiritual DNA that it is designed by God to produce. There are salvation seeds, healing seeds, holiness seeds, prosperity seeds. Anything the human being needs to be productive in any area of life is contained in the seed.

4. God can do anything he wants to do, and he will move in miraculous ways we may not understand. That happens according to his. He will always honor the seed principle of the Word.

5. Farming, both natural and spiritual, takes time and commitment. The seed, the ground and the cultivation are at the center of the farmers life. Everything revolves around them. Though the natural farmer has other things in his or her life, if he does not take care of the seed, the ground and the cultivation, he will have no crop and he will eventually die. The same is true of the spiritual farmer.

Today we want to focus on one basic truth. The sower sows the Word. We must understand that the seed Jesus is talking about is the Word of God. Those of us who are teachers are called by God to help people understand what the Word of God says. When we are doing our jobs correctly, we give out the fruit that has been produced by the Word in our own lives. That fruit contains the seed of the Word of God. However, as good as our teaching may be, the teaching is not the seed. The sower sows the Word of God.

I remember when we were young during what has been called the “Jesus movement.” I believe millions were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit out of denominational religion or no religion at all. We were filled with excitement and love for the Lord. What we did not have was any idea about what the bible said. We quoted the word this way, “Somewhere in the bible it says something like……..” As excited as we were and as real as our experiences were, that is not sowing the Word. Many of us took the next step and learned what the bible said. We grew and catapulted the Charismatic renewal into a wave of the Spirit of God that changed everything. Those who did not, eventually lost the “fire” and faded back into the world.

We need to know what the bible says. We need to know what is the Word of God and what is not. Paul, in writing to his son in the faith Timothy, says this.

2 Timothy 2:15-16 (NKJV) 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.

In many ways, Timothy lived in a much more dangerous and challenging world than we do. He did not have two thousand plus years of Christian teaching and tradition to look back upon and study. He had the Old Testament. The writings of Paul, Peter and the rest were not yet accepted as the New Testament of the bible. Even so, Paul tells him that the only way he will be successful is to be diligent to study the Word of God that he had. The same is true for you and me.

Every culture and each generation have philosophies and ideas that grow up around the Word of God. Many of them will be the revelation of the day that God fully intends for us to understand. They can be powerful, liberating and lead us into God’s will for our generation. However, as good as they are, they are not, in themselves, the seed known as the Word of God.

Apples can be baked into pies, cobblers and strudels. All are wonderful, and all come from apples. However, without apples there are no wonderful desserts. Without apple seeds, there are no apples. We need to use the teachings, but we also need to know how to break them down to the seed from which they come. If we do not, we will eventually run out of “apples.”

The sower sows the Word. Science cannot create a seed. They can put all the elements together, create the shell and make something that looks like a seed. It would seem that it should work like a seed, but when it is planted it does not grow. The reason is that it does not contain life. Only a seed contains the life that is designed to be released when it is planted. I have heard that seeds found in Egyptian tombs that are thousands of years old have been planted and grew. Why? The reason is that they contain that intangible something called life.

We need to know the difference between a good teaching and the seed itself. Studying a good teaching will lead us to the seeds that produced it. What we need is the seed. I have always told those I taught to never accept what I say as the truth. I encourage them to go to the Bible for themselves. When I was learning, one of the things I did was go back to the bible to see if I could find the same path to that truth that the teacher did. If I could, that truth became deep revelation and the fruit that came from it gave me life personally and more fruit to give to others. This process has produced things that have lasted my whole life.

I love to look at many translations of the bible. We need to be wise in this. Some are not very faithful to the original texts. I am not a King James Version or nothing person. I believe the King James has its own problems. I do believe that some of the older translations came from texts that were closer in understanding than some of the newer ones. On the other hand, sometimes newer translations give us a picture that is more accurate to our understanding than those written in the languages that were modern centuries ago. What is the solution.

I believe we need to do what Paul said. We should study until we are sure we have the real seed. For the older translations, we need to use the tools we have, such as bible dictionaries, to be as sure as possible that the translations are accurate. With newer translations, we need to be sure that the vernacular used does not change the true meaning. God can work with problems in translations if we desire to find the real seed of the Word. If that is our heart, he will make sure we find it.

The sower sows the Word. Nothing else will produce the fruit we are looking for. You can only get apples from live apple seeds. Nothing but the seed found in the Word of God will produce the life of God in us.

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.