Friday, December 28, 2007

New Year Reflections

We can all learn something from King Herod of old about how not to enter a new year.

Granted, in Matthew 2 we don't find this ruler, who was mean and cunning and who loved extravagance and great building projects, necessarily launching into a new calendar period, but we do discover that he is about to experience a profound change in his life. Little baby Jesus has been born in nearby Bethlehem and His arrival will transform everybody's existence. For centuries to come. How Herod dealt with his own personal slice of this change can illustrate for us at this season what attitudes and actions to avoid as we move into 2008.

For starters, we shouldn't take fear into the next twelve months. When this monarch got word from the visiting wise men, who had traveled a great distance in search of this child, that a new king had been born, he became anxious and afraid. Read it for yourself in verse 3. Ultimately Herod's alarm and dread, brought about by what he perceived as a threat to his sovereignty, led him to do some foolish and destructive things. We live in troubled, turbulent times. It is so easy to be apprehensive and even to panic. But Jesus is here! He is at work behind the scenes slowly unfolding His divine plan in all the events of life and history. To spend our days in fear would be to waste valuable time and show irreverent distrust in God's loving providence and maybe even take foolhardy precipitous actions to attempt to preserve our sense of security.

We also must not carry ignorance of scripture into 2008. I find it interesting that Herod, upon hearing news from the inquiring Magi about a royal child's birth in a supposedly nearby area, had to ask somebody else about what the ancient Old Testament texts said about the location of His nativity. Notice verse 4. Yes, the chief priests and scribes were well trained in the Hebrew prophecies, and there was nothing wrong with consulting those experts for advice, but why wasn't the king himself aware of what the scriptures predicted about something so momentous that was coming? God has given His Word to all of us. We should be reading it. Studying it. Memorizing it. Pastors are equipped to help quide us but each of us should be feeding ourselves and soaking up the richness of the Bible.

Let's not allow deception to be part of our trajectory in the new year, either. When Herod learned that the long-promised child was to be born in Bethlehem, he sent the increasingly eager wise men off to that little town and pledged that he would venture there himself to pay tribute to the toddler when it had been authenticated that he was residing there. The King was shrewd and crafty. He was lying! Check out verse 8. He tried to hoodwink a lot of people but his hidden, evil scheme eventually brought disastrous consequences for dozens of innocent persons. Whenever we try to connive and manipulate and twist or shade the truth, we're opening the door to potentially harmful results. And by the way, anger shouldn't journey with us into the upcoming 12 months. Herod's fury is graphically demonstrated in verses 16-18. Any bitterness or resentment left over from this year should be dealt with and eradicated now so as not to poison and cripple our lives and those of the folks close to us as the calendar turns.

And certainly don't step into 2008 without Jesus! Verse 19 tells us that this wicked King Herod finally died. Lost. Never knowing Christ and life's greatest joy and fulfilment. Alienated from God. Avoid that mistake at all cost. If you are not a Christian, receive Jesus today. If you are a believer, make it your aim to draw closer and closer to the Lord in the year fast approaching.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Something About Mary

I've always been impressed with young Mary in the Christmas story.

We Christians are definitely not supposed to worship her or channel her or try to pray to her but she is to be appreciated and respected. She is a good role model. Luke's Gospel reveals lots about her that is worth emulating.

Take her purity, for example. She came to her marriage to Joseph a virgin. Though her carrying and giving birth to God's son created suspicion and scandal on the part of those who didn't understand and couldn't believe her story of a Spirit-conceived pregnancy, we know the facts and believe the biblical record. We know that Christ's nativity was supernatural and miraculous in origin. And we are convinced that this teenager had never had sexual relations before her marriage. In our day, sexual experimentation and promiscuity is commonplace, and is proving physically, emotionally, and relationally damaging to millions of young people. Mary reminds us that it is best to stay morally clean and pure until your wedding day.

I'm fascinated, too, by this girl's sense of wonder at the mystery of God's workings. Luke 1:34-38 demonstrates that. When the announcing angel gave her a revelation that she found hard to grasp, she wasn't afraid to ask honest questions. And she did so respectfully. And when the angel's explanation was itself too incredible to fathom, she believed anyway and submitted herself to the will of God.

Sooner or later, all believers have to realize that there is much about the Lord and His dealings that we just can't figure out. He is so big. He is so great. It bothers me when I'm around Christians who act and talk like they know everything there is to know about the Almighty and spiritual things. With their charts and memorized verses and strong acquiantance with Bible facts they come across as armed to logically pontificate on all matters divine. They assume that God does everything the same way everytime. They put God in a box, perhaps unconsciously feeling that He can be controlled that way and they can be safe. Mary's experience suggests that our God is a mysterious being, far beyond the ability of our limited minds to completely understand. Certainly we should always be reaching out for more light about Him but never thinking that we've arrived and have all the truth neatly arranged and packaged and manageable. God will inevitably surprise us! Our proper response is to live on tiptoe and by faith and in submission to His leading. Having a lot of doctrine stored up in our heads or having a powerful testimony of something God did in our lives in the past doesn't necessarily make us experts in what God is up to right now.

It is true, though, that this young girl marvelously used by the Lord did benefit from having scripture stockpiled in her heart. In Luke 1:46-55, she draws upon Old Testament texts memorized to craft her own personal, straight-from-the-soul song of praise to God for His blessing in her life. That's one more thing I like about her. She read, listened to, and reflected on God's Word and it shaped her thinking and her conversation. It gave her hope for the future. A worthy goal for us in the new year about to dawn would be to spend more time in The Book, soaking up its treasures.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

' Tis The Season

Advent is all about waiting.

These weeks leading up to Christmas are designed to foster expectancy and anticipation as we look forward to the celebration of the coming of Jesus into our world. Of course we know that He has already arrived, 2000 years ago in fact, but nevertheless this is not some religious game we play each December. We need these days.

We are given the chance to slow down just a bit. To catch our breath. To reflect and meditate and self-examine and repent and prepare our hearts to welcome Christ just as John the Baptist encouraged the Jews to do centuries ago. For us, now, Advent has the dual purpose of getting us ready not only for Christmas but for our Lord's second coming, which could occur at any time.

I guess you could say that while this season closing in on December 25 is a period of waiting it is also a time of working. This stretch on the calendar is not really for inactivity but for labors of the soul that deepen and expand us and get us in position for something wonderful just up ahead.

It seems to me that our Peninsula Baptist Association is now experiencing an Advent of sorts. These are days of waiting. Of transition. Of imagining and envisioning the future that God has next for our fellowship of churches. Our beloved Director of Missions, Jim Ailor, has moved on and away to another field of ministry and so now we find ourselves pondering what the Lord has in store for us in the years approaching. It's a time to slacken the pace just for a bit, just long enough to do some serious evaluation and contemplation and decisionmaking. But it's also a time for great hope and excitement because who knows what incredibly awesome things God has for us just around the corner?

Associationally, this is a season for work, though. While we wait for and eagerly anticipate the next phase of our journey together as a loving partnership of congregations, there's stuff to be done. This is an era of unprecedented change and challenge in our world, our nation, our denomination, and even our local churches and we simply have to gear up and be ready to offer the greatest possible impact. As a body of cooperating congregations we must continue to shape up and become fitter and stronger and more and more poised to make a real difference in Kingdom pursuits.

These next several months, then, ought to be times of earnest prayer in our midst for God to clearly show us what direction we should take. This ought to be a year of dreaming, too. Of seeking a fresh vision. Of determining God's way for us to carve out our unique niche of involvement in fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation, in this time period that the Lord has given us.

More tangibly, now is a crucial point for our churches to make stronger financial commitments to the work of our association. Stepping up to the plate and providing greater resources for our shared ministry in this part of Hampton Roads will help ensure a brighter future. Will help shape that future, in fact. To put it bluntly, this is not a time to cut back!

Beyond that, this is a pivotal moment for continuing the good work of bridgebuilding among us. Our older saints and our younger people reaching out to one another. Larger churches and smaller ones joining together in ministry. BGAV and SBCV congregations realizing that Kingdom concerns should far outweigh any minor differences between us and shouldn't hinder us in the least from joyfully partnering with each other in the task of taking Christ to this needy Peninsula. The time is too short and the days too dark for Southern Baptists in this area not to unite and put their hands to the plow in a massive effort to reach people.

I'm encouraged this Advent. Any way you look at it something good is about to happen.

It's a privilege to have the chance to help out during this season. Feel free to call on me at any time. And by the way...Merry Christmas!