Category: Pastor Tim’s Blog

Christmas and Family

Christmas is a word, in our culture at least, that is synonymous with family. You will find very few Christmas carols sung this time of year that don’t deal with getting with family around the Christmas tree, seeing family together for a meal, enjoying the festivities of Christmas together, coming home after being gone a long time, etc. etc.

You know what I’m talking about: The subject of EVERY Hallmark movie ever made!

But family can also be stressful at Christmas. The celebrations can push us into close proximity with family members that may be estranged. Every family has a crazy uncle or aunt who always manage to say just the WRONG thing to make everything more tense and awkward.

And Christmas can… and does… push families apart sometimes. The business and distractions of the holidays, meals to shop and prepare for, decorations to untangle, parties to attend, one more gift we have to buy. And family can take the brunt of that stress, pressing us almost to the breaking point.

The Christmas season, at least from a Christian perspective, is a time to wait… not rush. Advent allows us to treasure time together, waiting again for the coming of the Savior. Stress does not have to rule your home this Christmas. Break the family cycle; be an outlier. Refuse to allow it!
We want to make a resource available to you to help you use Christmas for its original intent: to draw your family together. To intentionally focus on the significance of Christ’s coming. To rejoice in Emmanuel’s birth. The resource is available as you leave today in the Pavilion and online at our website. It is a resource that will help bring back the meaning of Christmas to each member of your family. The devotional book titled, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” has contributions made by several members of our staff team. You’ll want to have your own copy and maybe share one with others!

Let’s come back to the stillness of the manger again this year. There, rather than the stress and business we will find joy and peace that will truly bless your family and home this year!

Merry Christmas!

Waiting for Jesus

Many hundreds of years before Jesus was born, a prophet in the Old Testament named Micah made an amazing prediction. He wrote what we just read. This prophecy predicted the exact place where the Messiah (Jesus) would be born. It was not a large city. In fact, Micah told us Bethlehem was the SMALLEST of all the families and tribes of Israel.

One of the things we may not always understand is that, while we singsongs about this place where Christ came to Earth as a baby, it was not a nice place. It was a place where shepherds would come to town for a night to take a break from keeping sheep in the fields. It was not a large village, since it only had one inn, which was already filled with travelers who came to be counted for the Roman government.

In fact, the only place left where Mary and Joseph could stay while she gave birth to the baby Jesus was a cattle shed behind the inn. There, in a place where animals would stay and be fed, Jesus came into the world to be our Savior.

Sometimes we sing or hear the song at Christmas, which says, Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head. Jesus was rejected from the first moments of His life. He was forced to sleep with animals on His first night on the Earth. No room was found for Him with the people He had come to save.

So, as we look at our nativity scenes and particularly at the manger, let’s remember that Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin did not begin when He went to the cross. It began when He cried His first breath on the Earth, and inhaled the smell of cattle and sheep. The Father sent His Son to this place, to show us that no one was too unimportant or too sinful for God to love.

He was born in “the little town of Bethlehem,” just as the prophet Micah said. Knowing the place of His birth “from ancient days,” Jesus came anyway because of His love for us a

Be Thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer—being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

*Be thankful*

The third component of a powerful prayer life is this: We pray with gratitude. This seems to be the missing element in many of our prayers. Gratitude should saturate everything we pray about. Paul has mentioned gratitude several times in Colossians. It was a word never far from the tip of his tongue or his pen. Be thankful. Be grateful. We are remembering the goodness of God, and His greatness as we pray. We are thankful when our prayers are answered, but we are to be also thankful when our answers are delayed, or the circumstances have shown we will not get what we asked.

I read an article recently that reminded me of something and I remind you of the same. The article pointed to our propensity to celebrate the goodness of God when we get what we were asking for and our circumstances turned out well.

But, the writer asked, is God still good when the unpleasant circumstance doesn’t change? When it seems our prayer is not answered? We do not tweet, text, or post on our social media pages our affirmation of God’s goodness when cancer takes our loved one, or the job we were hoping for falls through, or our son or daughter come home and tell us they are uncertain of their gender.

Is God still good? Well, of course He is. But our enthusiasm in proclaiming this sometimes weakens when our circumstances collapse under us. And it communicates a message that God is good when He “works” for us, but maybe we live in uncertainty about His goodness when He doesn’t seem to work in our favor.

Be thankful. Be “devoted” in prayer, Paul tells us. Our “devotion” time is an affirmation of our faith, our steadfastness in prayer, our eagerness to watch and our determination to be thankful in all things

Be Watchful

“Devote yourselves to prayer-being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

*Be watchful*

Jesus asked His sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night His passion began “could you not watch with Me…?” How often have we fallen asleep on the watch. Our prayers grow lifeless and listless. We lose the urgency and fervency of the early moments of our prayers. It requires effort to continue to “watch and pray” -notice this- WITH Jesus!

Did you know that when YOU pray you are never praying alone?When you are watchful, you are watching WITH the One Who is our High Priest and Who “ever lives to make intercession for us!” I have walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering “would I have fallen to sleep with the rest?”

We sleep on the watch because we don’t really believe we are fighting a battle as we pray… and indeed as we live each day. But as we sleep the bullets fly overhead, taking out fellow soldiers in the war. Watch and pray! You need this. Your fellow soldiers need this. And Jesus is calling you to this. Be watchful. Be vigilant. The enemy prowls like a hungry lion.

The antidote is spiritual watchfulness.

Be Faithful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

Be faithful

Our prayers should be “steadfast.” We are to “continue steadfastly” in prayer. R.E.O. White points out that the reason for this was two-fold in the early Christian church. 1. It was the only resource available to most of them, especially those who find themselves living in a pagan household in the midst of a pagan culture. 2. Devotional aids would be unavailable to these Christians who were poor and illiterate.

This is not to be seen as an admonition to “wear God down” with our words, though we can think almost of that very picture with the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. It’s not the persistence of our words that turn the corner in prayer, however. It is the posture of our hearts!

We are not to “grow weary” in prayer when answers do not come quickly. God’s delays are not always God’s denials. But it pleases God to see His children wait in faith. He doesn’t dangle the answer like a carrot to a horse, but sometimes He allows our heart to be tested as we wait.

This is a call not to quit in our praying; not to be discouraged when answers do not fly our way quickly. Be steadfast. Pray continually. Be devoted in prayer!

Do You Believe in Prayer?

Though we claim to believe in it, prayer sometimes falls to the list of “the last thing we do” when we are facing a crisis or problem in life. That was not Paul’s practice or belief. For Paul, prayer was the first, middle, and final thing to do!

We have already looked in detail at the prayer that Paul prayed for the Colossians in Chapter One. It would be a life-transforming event for us if we began praying for the spiritual issues of life with the same fervor that we pray for physical ones.

When a child has gone missing, or a young person needs a heart transplant, or a financial crisis or a hurricane is looming on someone’s horizon, calls for urgent prayer abound in our mailboxes and on our social media pages. It becomes a matter of desperation for us when we are seeing the problem and feeling the potential impact of an impending disaster.

But when will we learn to pray with that same zeal and devotion and desperation over the spiritual condition of neighbors and the nations? When will our hearts burn and our internet accounts flood with requests of desperation for what we are feeling for a lost sheep in God’s fold? Or a people group without the Gospel or even a Bible in their language?

Now we’re human, I can hear some say. Of course we are. But that doesn’t mean we should pray limited to our humanity! We are human, and frail, and weak and broken. Yet we have been given a “limitless reach” in prayer.

But listening to our prayer requests I wonder if we really believe that. When our prayer lists go no deeper than Aunt Gertie’s upcoming appendectomy, our prayers may as well be written by the folks who write Hallmark get well cards!

What if we began to see our requests for prayer differently? I wonder if you really believed that, when you pray for a missionary in another country or for an unreached people group that your prayers literally shake the ground spiritually.

When we see the world in the grip of the evil one, have you seen your prayers as ICBMs dropped behind enemy lines? What if numbers of Christians gathered together in a meeting to pray for the persecuted believers in China, sending “weapons of mass intercession” against the persecutor seeking to keep the Chinese people from the Gospel?

Does Satan dread your prayer life? Or does it really just give him a good laugh? Now don’t misunderstand me. I believe all of life is to be brought under the concern and attention of God in prayer. Nothing is too big, or too small. The problem is, we tend to get stuck on “the small stuff.” We can’t pray beyond Uncle Bob’s hangnail because our faith is small and won’t let us. We can’t imagine the global impact we could have from little Fruit Cove, Florida! Pray large, dangerous, world-changing prayers. Paul did.

And his world was changed for eternity!

What’s keeping you from beginning… today?

Anomie, Anonymity, Alienation

Philosophers and ethicists have offered the theory that every person is affected by “anomie, anonymity, alienation” (Waldo Beach, Christian Ethics).  Cut off from any moral basis, people are “anomie;” they have no “norm” of behavior or moral ground.  They act primarily for themselves and look out for and fight for their own best interests.  Our culture has largely cut itself adrift from moral grounding as we have denied the existence of any being bigger than we are (namely, God).

Secondly, they suggest that we struggle with “anonymity.”  We are not known.  We have no identity, no purpose, no direction.  We are lonely specs in the cosmos.

When I was a little boy and dinosaurs still roamed the earth, we used to go to a stream of runoff water near our house and we’d catch “pollywogs;” baby frogs that still had tails and hadn’t grown legs.  We would keep them in a metal bucket and wait for them to turn into frogs.  They were just specs in that large metal bucket, and they’d squirm back and forth, but everywhere they would swim ended the same.  That’s the way many people feel.  They are aimless, insignificant, meaningless, accidental specs.

And finally, people are alienated.  When you have disconnected yourself by sin from the most fundamental life relationship… with God… you find you can’t really get along with anybody.   The problems of life, everything from sibling rivalry to world-shaking wars, come back to the reality that we are cut off, not only from God, but from each other.

When you come to Christ, you are no longer “without law” but now you have a moral compass and moral code that constrains you.  Living without a moral direction feels like freedom, in the same way escaping the confines of the goldfish bowl feels like freedom to the fish.  But we know that ends in death.

And now that you have been raised with Christ, you have meaning, and a purpose, and a new identity:  you are God’s child, and an heir with Jesus Christ.  You are no longer “anonymous” and unknown.  You are known and beloved by God.

Then the third thing, you are no longer alienated.  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And because we have a reconciled relationship with God, we can begin to see this reality working its way out in our relationships with others as we being to experience the power of “living risen!”

FORGIVEN

Salvation begins at the initiative of God. We don’t just wake up one morning, decide we are terrible people because of our sin, and set out to knock on God’s door. The Holy Spirit “quickens” us (old English word for “make sensitive,” like the “quick” of your fingernail). As we are “quickened” or “made spiritually sensitive” to God we are awakened to the possibility of new life in Jesus.

We were dead… now we have been made alive in Christ! And as we are alive, and know the fullness of God through Christ, we find we are also being set free from the guilt that burdens us.

Being set free from our guilt is like being set free from the pull of gravity! It is elating to know our sin and guilt has been taken out of the way. “He forgave us all our sins….”

While “forgave” is past tense (already done) in English translation, the Greek is more definitive. It says, “God has done something in the past (He forgave you) that is continuing to affect and work itself out in the present (we continue to be forgiven).

Some have mistakenly understood that this verse is teaching that all the sins forgiven at the cross that we had committed up until that time. If you continue to mess up after that, then it’s your problem to fix! Those who believe this way find themselves entering a non-stop treadmill of trying to work for salvation, believing they have “lost” their salvation and need to “find” it again!

That is not what Paul is teaching, and it is not what God is doing. When Jesus died for you, remember, ALL of your sins were future. ALL of your guilt was future.

But when the Bible says, “He forgave us all our sins,” this is a proclamation that the penalty due for every sin we have ever committed or ever WILL commit in the future has already been paid for.

I’ve heard it explained this way. It is as though someone placed a $100,000 check in your bank account. It is there. It is good. But until you start writing checks or using your debit card, you will never receive the benefit of the gift.

We are to continue, if you would, “writing checks” on the forgiveness that God has deposited in our “account.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just (righteous) to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Putting Off the Old: Colossians 3:5-9

There is something wonderful about putting on new clothes, a new shirt or coat or dress or pair of shoes. It makes you FEEL new, at least for a little while. But what we are dealing with in this text is not a temporary feeling, but a new creation from the inside… out!

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “this is the will of God, even your sanctification”. Sanctification, you remember, is the ongoing “dirt road” process of “working out” our salvation. It is the process and progress of our salvation between justification and glorification. While we have nothing we can do to add to our justification or glorification, we have much to do with our sanctification.

It is through sanctification that we begin to look like Jesus in reality. Sadly this aspect of our salvation is the most neglected by many. We so lean into the reality that we are saved by grace (and we are) and that our salvation is secure (it is) that we can almost ask the question, “Why go to the effort?” (We do). However we are reminded also of a promise that “He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) We are not made new by our own strength any more than we are saved or glorified or resurrected by our own strength.

In this section, Paul defines for us what sanctification looks like. It is a process of “taking off” or putting to death actions, attitudes, and behaviors that are part of our life before Christ. And then, it has to do with “putting on” those things that are like Christ.

In our testimony to a dying, lost and confused world, we must send a clear message that “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; old things have passed away and all things become new.”

In addition to being new, let’s LOOK new as well!

Diet and Days

Some Christians designate themselves as the “religious police” whose role is to punish those who get “out of line” in their opinion. Much of legalistic belief today comes not from those things taken from Scripture, but from the opinions and “traditions of man.”

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you…” Paul warns in 2:16. He specifically addresses issues of eating and drinking, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, or Sabbath observances. Basically, his warning addresses “diet and days.”

This clearly contains an obvious reference to the diet taught in the Old Testament and codified by the Jews as “kosher” foods. While few Protestant believers seek to follow Jewish dietary laws, we have our own “legalistic diets” that we’ve created.

If you are serving your family anything but organic, whole grain, farm-fed, free-range, single-origin foods, you are in the eyes of some, poisoning them. Now I agree there are health benefits to food not polluted by antibiotics and hormone fed. I can even get a little misty-eyed over chickens kept and fattened up in cages in which they can barely move! And I like single-origin coffee that can be traced to the point of growth and knowing the coffee farmer is getting paid well for his or her work.

But while that is true, I have never been judgmental about people who don’t pay the exorbitant costs of organic or farm-raised food. And I have been more than a little miffed over fruits and vegetables that go bad before I even have a chance to eat them, since they contain no preservatives.

So I don’t judge you for eating non-specific sourced foods or drinking coffee from a fast food restaurant. More power to you! Enjoy! But please don’t judge me when I occasionally slip in to a burger joint for a preservative-filled hamburger from a hormone-fattened cow on not-quite whole grain bread. Sometimes, you just need a good French fry!

But I visit the fresh food and farm-to-table stores enough to have encountered those who would very quickly look down on me (judge me) for doing what I just confessed to you. And they will judge you as a parent for not feeding your children the very best and healthiest foods possible.

But RIGHT HERE IN THE BIBLE it clearly states you have Paul’s permission NOT to be judged and to reject their judgmental glances or opinions regarding your dietary choices.

And I’ll try really hard not to judge you either!

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