What the angel thought

angelYou ever wonder if the angels might have been just a little confused about the Christmas events? Think about the message they were told to proclaim. Perhaps you remember hearing the message spoken by 8 year olds dressed in white with garland halos from Christmases–past. Here’s the angelic proclamation:

Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (Luke 2:10-12).

If you were an angel wouldn’t such a message seem a bit confusing?

Why was God taking such an interest in those from the human race? From the moment they were placed in the Garden of Eden they were succumbing to temptation and seeking ways to rebel. When God gave them His law, they only devised more creative ways to break it. As an angel it sure would be difficult to understand God’s love for these people.

Even more confusing might be the appearance of their Creator. The message they proclaimed is that Jesus had come as a baby. Can you imagine an individual more dependent than a baby? A teenage mom would be caring for Him. An earthly father would be providing for Him. And then there’s the matter of his birthplace. Had they misunderstood the message? He was in a stable? Lying in a common feed trough? The whole ordeal must have certainly confused more than a few angels.

But then again they had spent their entire existence in the presence of their Creator. Perhaps they had seen his love in action before. Perhaps it didn’t surprise them at all that God would go to such extremes to express His love to a people who were in such need of a Savior.

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Seeking Divine Appointments in the Rush of Christmas

Christmas and homelessA friend of mine challenged me with a great question. He asked, “If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday why is it we spend all our time hunting for gifts to give to others?” He paused and added thoughtfully, “It would be a little like your friends insisting they help you celebrate your birthday, and then they bring a bunch of gifts to give to each other while never bringing one for you!” He asked the question sincerely. There wasn’t an ounce of Scrooge in his voice. And I confess the question got me thinking. Had Christmas simply become the greatest retail surge our financial markets feel? Could I find a way to give a gift to the Lord?

I pondered the characters that surround our manger scene. The shepherds didn’t have much, but they gave their worship to the Lord. The three wise-men were certainly busy, but they took years out of their schedules to find the newborn King and give their gifts. And of course the words of Jesus Himself haunted me, “. . . for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in.” (Matthew 25:42) Could it be that we missed the meaning of Christmas because we were too busy preparing to celebrate?

When my daughter was six years old we had a doctor’s appointment in Philadelphia around Christmas time. But the doctor’s appointment was only the event God used to schedule a divine appointment He had for us. As we were returning home, Ashlyn spotted a homeless man sitting on a mattress along the curb. “Daddy, can we help him?” she asked. “No, honey, not today, we’re too busy,” my mind racing through all the things I had to jam into the days before Christmas occurred. “But daddy, it’s Christmas time” the little voice whispered from the back seat.  I looked in the rearview mirror, and saw the tears filling the corners of her eyes. I decided it was an appropriate time to rearrange my busy schedule. A stop at a vendor, a cup of hot coffee, a six-year-olds smile, and a pamphlet sharing how someone could be at peace with God brought a smile to the lips of a man who had no home. I rethought the meaning of Christmas.

Could it be that God has divine appointments for each of us this season? Opportunities for us to give our gifts directly to Him?  I hope this season you’ll be looking for them – those divine appointments with your name attached.

Good questions for a new year

its a brand ne w year is it the same old you_tIn my reading this morning I came upon a startling quote by Jim Elliot, who,  this week in 1956 was killed by the Auca indians when he was attempting to share the gospel with them. Knowing that his venture into the South American jungle was dangerous, he was reported to have said, “When it comes time to die, make sure all you have to do is die.”

Perhaps you, like me, struggle with putting a few things off. Elliot’s 15 words are a wake up call. Would you live this year differently if you knew you didn’t have this entire year to live? Here are  10 questions from Don Whitney to alert you to where some changes need to take place.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?

I’m looking to find some time alone and prayerfully consider these questions. Perhaps you should do so as well.

Tomorrow will be a very special Thanksgiving

I am so thankful for the labor of love from those who make up the church I have the privilege of pastoring. This article was carried in the local paper today.  A vivid reminder that we have a full days work ahead of us tomorrow.

Mantua church saves Thanksgiving

for hundreds recovering

from Hurricane Sandy in Brick Township

MANTUA TWP. — Approximately 600 victims of Hurricane Sandy will have food for Thanksgiving, thanks to a church in Sewell that mobilized to help a coastal town in Ocean County.

Volunteers and pastors from Fellowship Bible Church have been gathering 50 turkeys, 90 pounds of ham, and hundreds of pounds of vegetables and side dishes in anticipation of transporting the feast to Brick Township on Thursday morning, where it will be distributed at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall.

“After Sandy hit, we at Fellowship Bible Church split into six teams — for prayer, collection, distribution, cleanup, rebuilding and Thanksgiving and Christmas teams — and soon we were getting trucks and trailers in donations,” said Pastor Phil Moser.

“Upon our first trip out, we established a connection with a church in Brick, which was pretty severely damaged, with the water coming right over the islands there. We’re working with them to bring all the food up for Thanksgiving.”

In addition to storm victims, volunteers will be serving roughly 140 New Jersey National Guard troops spending the holiday away from their family while helping out in areas damaged by Sandy.

According to Moser, the 50 turkeys were cooked at the Sewell church Tuesday and will be carved today. Also set to make the trek to Brick will be 240 pounds of carrots, 120 cans of turkey broth, 12 five-pound bags of potatoes already boiled and mashed, 70 boxes of stuffing, 40 pounds of elbow macaroni, 67 10-oz. cans of cream of mushroom soup, 140 bags of green beans, 500 cans of turkey gravy, and 250 cans of cranberry sauce.

John Peterson, assistant pastor at New Beginnings Christian Church which has been working with Moser to bring aid to Brick, said the Sewell congregation’s effort reflects “the real meaning of Christianity.”

“Once Hurricane Sandy came, Fellowship Bible Church just began sending us truck-loads of stuff — from water to cleaning supplies,” said Peterson. “There’s a real special relationship that has been built here, and I think they understand part of the real meaning of Christianity — serving the community.

“They didn’t just say that they’d do it,” he emphasized. “They actually went out and did it.”

Jason Laday/South Jersey Times

Remembering

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day. For many that day will be filled with picnics, family, and friends. But for a few who lost a loved-one in the recent war Memorial Day now takes on a different meaning.

I trust as an American, somewhere during the memory-building of your weekend you pause to remember those who gave so much for freedom. Certainly to have had the privilege of giving your life for your country is a great honor.

Jesus spoke of giving up one’s life, but with another motivation.

He said “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13).

Jesus said, it wasn’t for a country that he gave His life, it was for friends. And He wasn’t motivated out of duty; He was motivated out of love.

Isn’t that an incredible thought? The God who created the entire universe, and holds it together (Col. 1:16), is the very one who gave His life for us. Why did He need to die? 

Because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and someone who had never sinned was needed to pay the penalty of the sin for those who had.

This Memorial day, as we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we would do well to remember the Lord’s great sacrifice for those of us who needed a Savior.

Then here’s a question worth considering: For whom are you sacrificing presently? When was the last time you gave up something you really wanted to do for the sake of someone else. Not because they expected it, demanded it, or required it, but just because you loved them more than you loved yourself. That’s one of the lessons we learn from Jesus. No one ever loved more. No one ever gave more. And no one could sacrifice more. He left the glories of heaven to give His life for you and for me.

An interview with Mary Magdalene

Interviewer: Mary Magdalene was a committed follower of Christ. She was at the cross during his crucifixion, visited the tomb that first Sunday morning, and was the first to see Jesus upon the resurrection. Mary welcome. Your friendship with Jesus goes back to the beginning of his ministry. Can you tell me about it?

Mary: I was a resident of the city of Magdala, on the hillside of Galilee. Three years ago Jesus came into those hillsides preaching, healing, and casting out demons. My friends spoke to me about him, because he had the ability to cast out demons. It was public knowledge that I had struggled in this area. I’d sought help again and again but to no avail. The torment was awful. The demons ignited my desires to do shameful things–things that shouldn’t be spoken of. Afterwards the guilt would be unbearable. Sometimes demon possessed people attempted to take their lives. I understood the temptation. You just wanted to live like everybody else, but something else was living in you. I was without hope.

The seven demons in me recognized Jesus. They trembled as he approached me. I could feel their fear. They wanted out. Everyone else looked at Jesus and saw a man, but those spirits recognized him to be something more than that. It was the first time I felt hope. I remember thinking, “They’re going to leave.” And at his words they fled. I became a disciple of Jesus after that. Wherever he went I followed.

Interviewer: I suppose such gratitude makes one a devoted follower.

Mary: I was thankful, but it wasn’t my gratitude that kept me following.

Interviewer: What was it then?

Mary: It was his love. No one loved like Jesus. He especially loved those that no one else would. In a crowd, most looked for those who were important. Jesus looked for those who were forgotten. He had a special interest in the ones who were cast aside. He tenderly touched lepers to heal them. He was patient with the woman caught in adultery. And when he said, “I forgive you,” you knew you were forgiven. Those that others forgot – those were the ones Jesus loved.

Interviewer: And you?

Mary: I was one of the forgotten.

Interviewer: I suppose that made his death especially hard.

Mary: I never left the foot of the cross. I kept praying for a miracle.

Interviewer: Did you see one?

Mary: [Mary nods and smiles knowingly] Three days later.

Interviewer: Can you tell us about it?

Mary: We had prepared the spices and ointments on Friday. I was numb then – still unable to grasp the reality of his death. On Saturday we rested, as was the custom. We all arranged to meet early on Sunday. We left for the tomb while it was still dark.

Interviewer: What did you notice about the garden?

Mary: The stone had been tossed aside. Like someone might flip a coin. The tomb was open. We assumed the body had been taken.

Interviewer: And what did you do?

Mary: I ran to tell the disciples. They were locked in a room, afraid of what might happen to them. John and Peter took off running for the tomb, and I followed behind. They desired to see the scene for themselves. But I followed for another reason.

Interviewer: Which was?

Mary: I just wanted to be where he’d been. I knew the body wasn’t there, but somehow the garden made me feel closer. By the time I reached the tomb, John and Peter were there and gone. I was breathing heavy and my head was spinning. The tears flowed freely then. I could not contain them. I summoned the courage to look into the tomb, and saw two angels. I turned to leave and realized I was not alone. There was a man there. I had not heard him approach.

The tears came in great sobs then. I had hoped to find solace in just being near his resting place. I had planned on anointing his body with the spices as my final act of thankfulness. Now that opportunity was gone too.

I heard the man’s voice: “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

I replied, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Interviewer: And what did he say?

Mary: He said my name. Mary. And that’s when I knew. He wasn’t dead. He was alive.

Interviewer: Wow. That must have been a surprise.

Mary: My tears  of pain turned to tears of joy. I fell to my knees and worshipped him. I thought I’d lost him once, I didn’t want to lose him again so I clung to him.

Interviewer: For how long?

Mary: I lost track of time. His voice interrupted my sobs of joy. “Mary, go tell my brothers I am going to my Father and yours. My God and yours.”

As I returned to the disciples, I just kept hearing his voice running through my head: Mary. My father and yours. My God and yours.  

Jesus had made a way.

He had made a way for his God to become my God and yours.

The trials of Jesus – part 3: An interview with Pilate

Pontius Pilate was the appointed governor over the southern portion of Israel during the time of Jesus. While declaring Jesus innocent 7 times, he still gave the release for his execution. If Larry King could have interviewed him a few years later, perhaps it would have sounded like this.

Interviewer: My guest tonight is Pontius Pilate—the governor of Judah during the time of Christ. Pilate, tell us about yourself and your terms of service in the land of the Jews.

Pilate: I was appointed by Rome to oversee Jerusalem in 26 AD. My term lasted approximately 10 years. When you’re 1500 miles away from Caesar, you’re given some liberties, and I took them. Governors were appointed after all to make decisions, not get Rome’s permission on everything. We were usually sent out with a sufficient army to enforce the peace. But Caesar’s idea of sufficient was pretty optimistic. You had to be fast learner on the job, and, well, let’s just say you learned to be politically expedient.

Interviewer: Meaning?

Pilate: Meaning your 1500 miles away from Rome’s support. You had to be willing to do what it takes to keep the peace.

Interviewer: If you could do it over again would you change anything?

Pilate: I think I initially underestimated the Jewish commitment when it was something they really wanted.

Interviewer: Can you give an example of that?

Pilate: I was serving in Caesarea, the city up on the coast of the Mediterranean. And I ordered some banners be taken into Jerusalem bearing Caesar’s image. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the Jews went ballistic, something about violating their religious laws. Before I knew it a large constituency had gathered outside of my palace. It was my first lesson on Jewish resolve. They were willing to die rather than endure Caesar’s image in their city.

Interviewer: And what did you learn from that?

Pilate: I learned that you couldn’t cross the Jewish leaders. They had an amazing ability to manipulate the multitude. And once the multitude got out of control, everything was in jeopardy, including my position.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you regretted?

Pilate: [Pause] There was the matter of Jesus.

Interviewer: Can you tell us about it?

Pilate: What’s to tell? The Sanhedrin brought him to me at 6:00 AM. Because I was a Roman they wouldn’t even cross the threshold of my house. “Didn’t want to become impure,” they said.  Hypocrites. Like you can keep your purity when you demand the execution of an innocent man?

Interviewer: Did you believe Jesus was innocent?

Pilate: Without question he was. I told them that seven times, but they wouldn’t listen. I had underestimated their resolve again. Then they brought up Caesar and they left me no choice.

Interviewer: So what did you do?

Pilate: I appealed to their compassion. I had him scourged – beaten ‘til the blood flowed freely. Stood Jesus before them, and said, “Behold the man.” “Crucify him,” they cried.

So I appealed to their logic. I took the worst prisoner I could think of: Barabbas – his crimes were vile. He deserved to die. I stood the two of them side by side, and said you choose. The moment the words left my lips, I knew what was coming. “We choose Barabbas,” they said. What about Jesus? “Crucify him!” they cried.

So I appealed to their responsibility. “You take him and do with him what you want.” They just threw that back in my face. “We don’t have permission to execute. You Romans took that from us. Where’s your courage, Pilate? Do what you should do.”

Interviewer: So you washed your hands of it?

Pilate: Washed my hands? You ever kill an innocent man? You can claim you’re not responsible, but in your heart you know you are. Ironic. My wife was sleepless that first night—bad dreams, she said.  She sleeps fine now. But I’ve been sleepless nearly every night since. You can wash the dirt off your hands, but you can’t wash the dirt off your past.