Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning

Christmas is a time of - well, fill in the blank. For the Christ-follower, it is pregnant with meaning. Our understanding of Christmas takes us far beyond the sentimental, yet, superficial notions of secular thinking at this time of the year. As much as we would love peace and should do all we can to work toward it, Jesus reminded us that there will be wars and rumors of wars until the end of this age.

But, because of what this day represents - the Incarnation, God becoming one of us to ultimately pay the penalty that is demanded of all humans because of sin, yet a penalty that no human is capable/eligible to pay unless He also be God - causes our hearts to soar. Jesus, God in the flesh, died that we might live eternally.

At this time of year, joy is intensified, as is pain. It is thus that our family recognizes all we have lost this year as we buried Linda Faile Talley on March 3, and yet we are equally aware of how very blessed we were (and are!) to have her in our lives for so long. We will see her again - because of Christmas, and, because of Easter!

One of my warm reflections this season is how very well Linda fulfilled her obligation as a godly wife to respect and honor her husband. You cannot imagine how much she positively impacted my life. Well, she would have considered it a privilege rather than an obligation, although there were many times I failed to live up to the level of respect she extended to me. I was so blessed that I feel compelled to write to all the husbands and wives - and, husbands and wives to be - who may read this space. The reason I write is not because we were experts, but because God allowed us (or, caused us) to figure marriage out over the years. So many of our early years were less than pleasant, but when we realized that we were not attacking each other but rather that we were speaking different languages, we began to understand how God had designed us to compliment one another. We had thought that our lives would be spent in a state of controlled conflict, but complimenting, completing one another was a blessed discovery, indeed!

How do you get there? By getting over yourself, first of all! That is the essence of a Christ-follower, isn't it? Death to self in a day when we are encouraged toward everything, but. Husband, your wife is the most beautiful lady on earth! Tell her so, loving her as Christ loved the church, listening, caring deeply about her issues. Quit trying to fix all of her problems - just listen. Just hold her. Find out how she receives love - and love her!

Wife, your husband is the greatest guy on earth. Treat him like he is! NEVER tear him down in public. OK, so you are both kidders. Kidding is one thing, but the line where kidding becomes insult and lack of respect is very thin, indeed, and is easily crossed. Build him up, especially in front of others. What if he is lazy or not as thoughtful as you? I don't think the option of disrespect is to be found in Ephesians 5 or anywhere else in Scripture.

Women need to be loved and men need to be respected. Linda and I were given a gift of being deeply, madly in love with one other. We both recognized it as a gift - from God. He is waiting only for you to look to Him and obey His brief, yet rich and far reaching comments about marriage. Do what you are supposed to do, whether you feel like it or not. And, don't expect results overnight. It may take years, in fact, but it will come if you are both committed. The result will be wonderful beyond anything you can imagine.

So, on this Christmas morning, thank God for the gift of Jesus and the gift of eternal life available to those who will confess their sins and believe Jesus' death on the cross as payment for their sins. Thank God, also, for the loved ones in your life. I have written about marital love, but love for anyone will require the same starting point - death to self and concern for the other. God bless you. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, when hope springs again in our hearts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Encounter Jesus: Hope for the Hopeless

The transcript of the message that follows is part of our Advent Season at Grace Community Church. It is not too long, if you are interested!

Encounter Jesus:
Hope for the Hopeless

Have you ever felt hopeless? I am not talking about getting to the mall and realizing that every store is sold out of the one item you just had to buy for your loved one. I am talking about the kind of hopelessness that finds you three months behind on your mortgage with the bank warning you to either pay your bills or get out of the house. Or, maybe someone you loved very dearly began to change – and then, walked out. Somewhere in the world today there are people who have not eaten in two days and prospects for sufficient nourishment are dim. Somewhere else, a young teenager wanders aimlessly after having watched from a hiding place as her parents and siblings were hacked to death by crazed men. What made the horror even worse is that the men were family friends only a few years ago before war broke out between two tribes.

After that cheery introduction, let’s sing a Christmas Carol. Hey, while pain is relative, it is much more intense for some than for others. Why? Who knows? But, I do know that there are times when we feel hopeless. And the joy of Christmas seems to amplify the hopelessness we feel. Maybe that’s why the suicide rate is higher at Christmas than at other times of the year, right? Well, actually that’s not true. You may have always thought that, but it isn’t true. Suicides actually go down in the winter – the highest rate of suicide is in the spring.

Christmas usually does brighten my spirits. One of my favorite secular Christmas songs is a Dave Koz number that is sung by Kenny Loggins – December Makes Me Feel This Way. The chorus goes like this:

The world is new and precious as a baby,
Life is sweet as children at play.
Love is truly there in every heart.
December makes me feel this way.

You know what? Even though that is a secular song, there is something about the spirit of Christmas that caught Dave Koz’s attention. He may not know that it is Jesus that causes hope to stir in our hearts, but he recognizes that there is something about this time of year that brings hope in spite of our circumstances.

I know that some of you feel as down as you have ever felt in your lives. I am sorry this is such a difficult time for you. My heart’s desire is that you will find a measure of hope this morning that will lift your spirits considerably. The shepherds were some of the most hopeless people in all of Israel. They were despised by most, not allowed to participate in polite society, banned even from giving testimony in a court of law because they were so distrusted – their word was considered unreliable. If ever there were losers in the first century, it was them – yet, lowly, common, hopeless shepherds were the first to be told about Jesus’ birth. And they were told by the angel of the Lord! Hope for the hopeless!

Jesus’ appearance on the scene and His profound ministry to the hopeless had been foretold some 700 years before by the prophet Isaiah. Let’s read those words of hope in the 61st chapter of the book that bears the prophet’s name. Isaiah 61:1-3. Would you please stand as we read God’s word together?

1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

During Linda’s illness, there were a few books that ministered deeply to me. One was a book by Mark Buchanan titled Things Unseen. In this excellent book, Buchanan reminds us that nobody anticipated the coming of Jesus more than John the Baptist! In fact, before John was even born, he leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary, who was bearing Jesus, came to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Years later when John was quite popular as a preacher, the instant he spotted Jesus he said with a loud voice, “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” When Jesus came to have John baptize Him, John told Him, “I need You to baptize me, and do You come to me?” John had already told his disciples that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoes. When some of John’s disciples got jealous because people were beginning to follow Jesus instead of John, the prophet put everything in perspective for them. “This was the plan all along,” John said. “In fact, He must increase from this point forward and I must decrease.”

John got it! Jesus was the hope of the nation – He was, in fact, hope for the hopeless. But, just like the Pharisees we talked about last week, John the Baptist expected Jesus to throw off the yoke of Rome and establish a world-wide Kingdom that would be centered in Jerusalem. Hey, the disciples thought the same thing even after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, so don’t chide John for thinking otherwise.

What a shock it must have been to John the Baptist when he was arrested by Herod for preaching things Herod didn’t want to hear. John was not in prison because of His stand for Jesus, but the way John preached had everything to do with Who Jesus was. Yet, John was in prison. And, his faith wavered. He was on the verge of losing hope when he decided to send some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He was really the Messiah, or had John somehow been confused and gotten the wrong guy – because circumstances argued against Jesus being the One.

After his messengers left, John waited. Waiting is often the most difficult thing, isn’t it? The doctor says the tests will not be back until next month. The calendar cannot move fast enough when your loved one is with the Army in Afghanistan. The job search goes on and on and – nothing. Does God even care anymore? What must it have been like for John in Herod’s prison cell, waiting for his disciples to get back and report from Jesus? Listen to Buchanan’s speculation about those difficult days and see if you identify. Quote:

“They (John’s disciples) leave. He waits. The waiting is terrible. A waiting like that is an unfortified city, begging for vandals, plunderers, ghosts. John tries to sleep, but he is too anxious and too weary for it. So he waits.”

Matthew 11:4-6 records Jesus’ answer.

4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see;
5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

Do you recognize those verses? Jesus was sending the message that He was, indeed, the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah 61, the text we read at the first of the message. That should do it. That would be all that John needed to hear, right? I suppose it could be that John said, “Well then, that settles that!” But then, Jesus did not tell John that He would get Him out of prison. In fact, all indicators would now point toward John’s execution. I have all ideas, though, that Jesus’ words comforted John and helped Him to rest in spite of his circumstances.

That’s our need, isn’t it? Rest in Jesus. Some of you may as well be in prison with John, emotionally, awaiting the executioner. And, all that Jesus says to you in your pain is, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” Hope of the hopeless? Really? Yes! Because what we see in this world is not all there is to life. But in order for Jesus’ words to mean anything to you, you are going to have to believe Jesus. You are going to have to rest in Him.

You may feel like you are miles away from that right now. You may feel angry – or, you may feel guilty for not resting. We did not finish the story in Matthew 11. After John’s disciples left to take Jesus’ message back to John, the Savior talked to those around Him about John. Instead of rebuking John, Jesus’ praised him. In fact, when John made his worst remarks about Jesus, Jesus made His finest remarks about John. “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (v 11)

Just because you doubt does not mean you are not deeply loved by Jesus. Do not despair, no matter your current situation. Jesus loves you and has not abandoned you. His response to your struggle may not be what you want, but do you really base your relationship with Him on what happens to you? Rest in Jesus. He is, if you will believe, hope for the hopeless.

One last time, let’s look at Isaiah 61:

1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My daughter, Autumn, is pregnant with her first child!  Or, as younger types would say, Brian and Autumn are pregnant with their first child! Either way, Autumn and Brian are quite pleased and it makes this grandpa very, very happy.  I already have the three greatest grandchildren in the world - soon, it will be four.  Autumn is due July 13.  So far so good - please pray for her as you think about it.    

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Reflections

In the form of a sermon! This season has been the oddest mix of sorrow and joy for me, and I know that some (many?) of you experience the same odd juxtaposition of wondrous and joyous truth residing alongside the raw reality of life with its pain. The sermon that I will preach this morning at church addresses the paradox of life for the Christ-follower, so I will share it for those who would like to reflect on these mysteries along with me. Should you decide to take the time to imbibe, I would suggest that you have an open Bible, preferably a Study Bible, and to be more specific (as you will read again), one of the new ESV Study Bibles. May God's richest blessing - Jesus - be yours this season!

Encounter Jesus:
Son of Man
Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:6-9

I had not wanted to use power point this month. There is no way, though, that I would subject you to this morning’s message without power point. One of the reasons I am using it is that I want you to take notes so that you can come back and study our topic more fully on your own. We will just get our toes wet this morning in the ocean of what Jesus meant when He called Himself the Son of Man.

There is not anywhere near enough time to explain that name fully, nor is there time to define all of the terms we will encounter today. In fact, I am going to talk about the first Adam and the last Adam as if you know what I mean, even though I know some of you do not know. So I want to issue a challenge to you this morning. If you are introduced to truths and ideas you have never heard before, or that you have heard but do not understand, write down terms, Scripture references, and questions, then commit to learn this week about the Son of Man. A good place to start would be to purchase the brand new ESV Study Bible, a resource that is most helpful if you want to go further in your understanding of Scripture.

Before we get into our study, I want to tell you that it has been a rough start to the Thanksgiving/Christmas season for me. It is a sad time, I can’t deny that. That is not to say it is a bad time, though. In fact, this Christmas, while quite painful, is also perhaps the richest Christmas I have ever experienced, with deeper meaning than I have grasped to this point in my walk with Jesus. It is not that I have learned more about the facts surrounding the Christmas story, it is just that I get the whole thing more deeply.

Christmas is a time of joy. If you are a Christ-follower, Christmas is a time of joy – period! It does not matter whether or not there is sadness in your life, even sadness at the loss of a loved one. In fact, the loss of a loved one who was a Christ-follower should bring us to a far greater appreciation of Christmas than ever before.

Christmas is such a spiritual time – but it is wrapped in the ugly brown paper of the raw human condition. That’s the way the first Christmas was, right? The rawest conditions possible greeted the Savior at His birth. But, there was rejoicing! Shepherds came to tell Joseph and Mary what the angel had told them and about the angels’ jubilant praise for God because of Jesus’ birth. Joy to the World is, as a Christmas carol, a wonderful expression of the happiness of that night.

Some 40 days after Jesus was born, when Joseph and Mary took Him to the temple in Jerusalem for their purification, as was prescribed in the Law, they were confronted with somewhat of a reality check. A devout man, named Simeon, approached them and took Jesus in his arms. Luke 2 records his prophecy:

28 He (Simeon) took Him (Jesus) up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word;
30 for my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”
33 And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him.
34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed
35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
“A sword will pierce through your own soul, also.” That’s the problem with Christmas, isn’t it? No matter what joy there is, bad news is in every person’s future. But the bad news is mitigated because Jesus has come. Before Jesus, bad news was disastrous. It was final. Now, because of Jesus’ appearance and work among us as the God-man, bad news is only temporary for His followers.

Do you know this Jesus? Our theme this Advent season is “Encounter Jesus.” Today we will do well to encounter Jesus as the Son of Man, Jesus’ favorite name for Himself, one that He used over 80 times. Our initial text does not come from the gospels, though; it comes from 2 short readings in the first and second chapters of Hebrews. Part of the Hebrews 2 text is quoting Psalm 8, bringing light to the prophetic nature of that Psalm. If you will get the ESV Study Bible, it will help you make the connection between Psalm 8, Hebrews, and Jesus. Enough said. I am almost out of time, and we haven’t even read our text, yet. Would you please stand as we read God’s Word.

Hebrews 1:1-3

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
2 but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Hebrews 2:6-9

6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the Son of Man, that You care for Him?
7 You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned Him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under His feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control. At present, we do not see everything in subjection to Him.
9 But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Why did Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of Man? His listeners would have been familiar with the term. It was used in the book of Ezekiel over 90 times referring to the prophet Ezekiel. In Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days, however, it clearly refers to a divine being who lived in heaven, though somehow this never crossed the Jews’ minds. Daniel 7:13-14:

13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.
14 And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

In Daniel’s vision, the Son of Man came on the clouds (indicating his home was in the heavens), He was given a kingdom by the Ancient of Days, clearly God the Father – and it was a kingdom that would be absolute and eternal. The Jews expected a Messiah, there is no doubt of this. Their conception of the Messiah of OT Scriptures had really only been worked out during the 100-200 years before Jesus’ birth, and it was done so in the context of the deep sorrow that resulted from their oppression under the rule of one nation after another. They were looking for a military ruler. It never occurred to them that God would come to earth and live as a human. So what did the Jews expect in a Messiah?

For starters, they expected a human being – and a human being only – but one who would be recognizable as a leader who would throw off the yoke of Rome. This individual would likely be someone with great military skills, but would also be imbued with supernatural powers. Those powers, given directly by God, made the hope for Israel’s deliverance plausible in the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees, even though it would be like a country today such as Hungary defeating the United States and then conquering the world. Such a Messiah would surely be recognizable! The Jewish leaders absolutely did not expect the Messiah to come as the son of a poor carpenter from Nazareth! Yet, when Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, the Jewish leaders knew that He was claiming to be the divine one of Daniel’s vision.

In calling Himself Son of Man, Jesus emphasized both His divinity and His humanity. Often when using that term, Jesus claimed to do things that only God can do, as in Luke 5:17-26 when He forgave the paralytic’s sins. The Pharisees who were present were scandalized and said, “Who is this that speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” Jesus replied, in essence, “You need to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then, Jesus healed him and he got up and walked away. The Pharisees, amazingly, were unimpressed.

The Jews were looking for the Messiah to come from the line of David. They were looking for a son of David. Jesus was a son of David, and, if you will read between the lines in John 8, they knew Jesus’ heritage well enough that they should have given Him a closer look. In Matthew 22, Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ contention that the Messiah must be only a human with no divine essence.

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,
42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to Him, “The son of David.”
43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet?’
45 If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his son?”

The Pharisees had no answer. Jesus had the same kind of exchange with the Pharisees in John 8 about His relationship with Abraham. We will not take time to go there, but I would encourage you to study it on your own. Jesus was a son of Abraham – but, greater than Abraham. Jesus was a son of David – yet, greater than David. Over and over, Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, but often claimed divine attributes when calling Himself by that title. Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. He was the Son of Man.

It was necessary for Jesus to come because we messed up in the very beginning of our time. In Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, the Apostle Paul tells his readers that Jesus represents the last Adam, fulfilling the role for humanity that God had intended in the first Adam. We forfeited the place God had designed for us. We were a mess. Perhaps that’s why Jesus’ birth and life were so messy, even though He lived a perfect life. He had to take on human flesh and frailty in order to be a legitimate sacrifice for sin. One of His reasons for coming was to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)

So, where are you in your relation to the Son of Man? When you stand before God, some day, you will either be there as a son of the first Adam or as a child of God, redeemed by the Son of Man. If you have never trusted Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for your sins, please do so today! You can do so at this very moment, or if you need more understanding, please talk with me or with any of our elders or staff or with the person who invited you here today. If they can’t answer your questions, they can get you in touch with someone who can.

As I told you at the beginning of our time together, I am sad this Christmas. It’s OK, though. There is more than enough pain to go around, but Jesus tasted death for us so that we might live! I want us to read the passage in Hebrews 2 one more time. Let’s read it out loud, together. Would you please stand?

6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the Son of Man, that You care for Him?
7 You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned Him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under His feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control. At present, we do not see everything in subjection to Him.
9 But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gratitude on a December Morn

Though it may seem more like a confession (in the contemporary usage of the word): Forgive me, Father, for thinking I am something special when I am nothing.  Forgive me, also, Father, for thinking I am nothing when in reality I am someone very special to You.