A Great Act of Love – Not Complaining

I wonder how many people went around the table to say what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving Thursday, and then complained about the lines at the stores on Black Friday. It seems to me that we have become far too okay with grumbling and complaining about things … ok, maybe that just means I HAVE become far too okay with grumbling and complaining. We think it’s wrong to complain, but feel justified when we have a good reason to complain – “The service was poor, they totally offended me, they should be much more professional than that, those words were so hurtful, etc.” What ever happened to grumbling being a sin? I seem to remember a certain group of people wandering in the wilderness and not too happy with the menu that was being provided for them. They grumbled … and it clearly tells us in Exodus 16:8 that their grumbling was against the LORD. In essence they were saying, “You aren’t giving us what we want, You aren’t enough for us, You don’t give good gifts … we’ll take our business somewhere else Mr. Yahweh God.” It’s called idolatry, and we still do it today … every time we grumble. I think I’ve become too comfortable with grumbling in my heart, it’s one of those “acceptable sins” that everyone can identify with so nobody really thinks is a big deal. I’m just saying – It IS a big deal. It’s unbelief, selfishness, and sin! Philippians 2:14 isn’t a suggestion or helpful piece of advice, it’s a command – “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Yikes! A grumbling heart is not a loving heart, which is not a rescued-from-death heart (1 John 3:14), which is not a Spirit-filled heart, which, yes … is not characteristic of a saved heart. I don’t think that means everyone who complains is going to hell, but I do think it means those who have been loved by God with His great love will work hard at practicing loving others … even the ones who annoy us, don’t love us back, and hurt us. If this non-complaining, agape-loving lifestyle isn’t what the child of God is about, then I think the Bible says, “even unbelievers love those who love them back, what good is that?” Anyone (and everyone) can complain and grumble, shouldn’t it be the case that those of us who have been redeemed by His great love (Ephesians 2:4) love others radically and stop our grumbling? Yes is the right answer to the question. Let’s all get ourselves out of the way this Advent season (and forever), to steadfastly love and patiently endure some minor inconveniences and mildly annoying people. After all, I’m sure I’m sometimes that minor inconvenience and mildly annoying person … so thanks for patiently loving me!

Still Learning to Love,
Pastor Mark

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How To Use Gifts

It’s that time of year where millions of dollars get spent on giving gifts to people we love, sorta like, and feel obligated to buy for.  Other than the obvious excess, and wrong motivations, giving gifts is a good thing.  God did and does it!  He is the ultimate gift giver, but how does He want us to use gifts.  I want to first make ultimate comments about God’s gifts to us.  He never wants us to love the gifts more than the giver (Him).  We aren’t too good at this.  He gives us the gift of sight, smell, touch, and sound, and we trust what we can feel, smell, hear and see rather than living by faith. We use our intellect and the ability to reason that He gave us to trust our own judgments and place greater confidence in the flesh.  We use the skills He gave us to work hard and build bigger barns for ourselves rather than live with risk-taking faith.  Evaluating whether we are doing these things or not requires humility and Biblical, Spirit-filled reflection on the state of our own hearts.  It requires wisdom to not live foolishly here on earth, nor to live arrogantly thinking we have what we have because of our own doing.  So, regarding the gifts God has given you – talk with Him in all you do about being purposeful that every move you make would be done in the Spirit, for His glory, and not for making a name for yourself.

But how does He want us to use gifts … the gifts you’re going to get in the next few weeks?  The cool ones you asked for, and really like?  I’ll suggest 3 ways:

(1) Tell God It’s His – We prize ownership in our country.  To own your own home is having arrived.  Nothing bad about owning something, it just tends to “own” you.  If something is “mine” I can get fairly disappointed or even mad when it breaks, doesn’t do what I want, or someone misuses it.  When I give that gift to God, I’ll use it and enjoy it as a good steward of the King.  No, God doesn’t need your ipad or new pair of shoes, but He does want you to think of even those things as delightful tools of worship.  So start by releasing the stranglehold on stuff you get by a simple prayer of dedication to Him.

(2) Enjoy it Without Obsessing – We teach our kids to take care of stuff, keep it clean, organized, maintained.  If it’s God’s stuff, than you should value what you have as on loan to you.  Don’t obsess over it, and please don’t create a shrine for it, but take good care of it.  Enjoy wearing that new clothing item, and using that new gadget with a heart that is grateful to God for the way He has made life nicer or more efficient.  Now you can focus on Him and His Kingdom without having to keep a paper-calendar (do people still do that?), wear the same clothes for three straight weeks, or send messages by horseback.

(3) Bless Others With It – The surest sign that you aren’t using your gifts well is hoarding, or not sharing.  If it’s God’s, and you aren’t worshipping it, then figure out how that gift you have can bless others.  Can it help make someone else’s life sweeter?  Can you share it with someone who would never be able to enjoy it?  Are you willing to part with it?  I suppose this takes us right back to where we started – you were given something … are you willing to give it away?  Isn’t this the Gospel principle of mission?  You were given the great gift of grace in salvation not to keep it to yourself, but to share with others so they too might know God’s love.  Maybe we should think about how that gets practiced with all the “stuff” we have.  What a great gift we have.  Enjoy Christ so you can enjoy everything you have as an act of worship!

Thank you God for your indescribable gift,

Mark

Thoughts on the Christmas Star

I always find the events surrounding the most important birth in the world fascinating.  And it seems as if each Advent season, something new captures my attention.  Just what was the deal with the star the wise men saw that drew them to Jerusalem to speak with king Herod?  I certainly don’t offer anything conclusive, I’m no astronomer, nor do I have some secret knowledge that scholars through the centuries have lacked, but some textual observations to bring perhaps a bit more clarity …

1- Matthew is the only Gospel writer that records the piece of the story including the wise men from the east and the star (Matthew 2:1-12).  Remember Matthew was written for a Jewish audience, an audience well acquainted with the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures.  It appears the idea of the star being connected to the Star Prophecy of Numbers 24:17 may have been in Matthew’s mind and a detail he felt important to his audience.  This Star Prophecy came to represent the coming of a great deliverer for the nation of Israel.  The “War Scroll” found at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) as well as its role in the Jewish holdout at Masada give ample historical evidence that the Jewish people zealously held to the star prophecy and the “star that would come out of Jacob”.  Of course they understood it to be a King, and in the Christmas story it represents the symbol of a King or the announcement of a King.  So I believe we could conclude that it was an important part of the story for the Jewish readers in proving that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah – Star.

2- Wise men in the east (astronomers) knew what to look for, they were studying the heavens.  Hmm … Lots of celestial occurrences have been identified to try and attach a reasonable explanation to the physical event of the Christmas star.  And in each case the timing, location in the sky, or plausibility seems rather forced, or at best a guess.  Here’s what we do know, these non-Jews were directed by some occurrence in the heavens to pack up and head a great distance to Jerusalem.  They recognized something unique was happening, but not everyone could observe it.  Contrary to popular Christmas pictures there was most likely not a huge star with its tail pointing like an arrow down to the Bethlehem location.  It took a trained eye and mind to observe this celestial anomaly, one that even Herod’s wise men had no knowledge of.  If everyone could have seen this like a neon sign in the sky, would not there have been huge crowds lined up to see what the strobe light was advertising?  At least a few months had passed since the birth of Jesus and it still appeared to be relatively unknown to many (2:3-4), but not to the wise men.

3-  When the wise men got to Jerusalem, had their visit with Herod, and were sent off to Bethlehem, the text says the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was”.  Even if Matthew doesn’t have the proper astronomical vocabulary to scientifically describe what is happening, it still seems quite clear that something unique (dare I say supernatural) is going on.  But again, only to the trained eye, otherwise why wouldn’t Herod’s soldiers just have followed the star also and killed baby Jesus?  So, God directs these wise men to the new King and they worship with great joy.  Angels announced the birth to shepherds, and the heavens announced the birth to the wise men, it’s not like this was a normal natural birth in the first place.  So, I’d propose this is one of those events in Scripture where science and faith appear together – wise trained scientists who exercised faith and embraced the supernatural.

4- What to make of all of this?  I offer two conclusions.  First, this was yet another picture of the divine invading the human.  God entered the realm of man.  Heaven came down to earth.  The supernatural broke through the natural.  And God included the wise men of the east to validate this occurrence.  Second, this event marked to the Jewish readers that the “Star Prophecy” was not just for the nation of Israel, but for the world.  Worshippers come from outside of Israel to bring gifts to this unique King, and the heavens declare that this king is for the whole world, announced in the heavens not only to Jewish shepherds but for all peoples.  A divine announcement that a Savior has come to redeem mankind from every tribe and tongue!

So friends, let’s be people of great joy, like the wise men.  Let’s fix our minds on the God who created the universe and can use every part of it to declare His glory.  Let’s be people who care about the nations, all of them, and capture God’s heart for the world at Christmas time.  A Savior indeed has come who alone takes away the sin of the world.  Rejoice with exceedingly great joy (2:10)!

Looking to the Star,

Pastor Mark