The forces of evil collected themselves for the ultimate conflict. The violence would be indescribable as they collided with absolute holiness. It was the collision that would shake heaven and earth. The Son of God prepared His followers for the traumatic confrontation with unlikely words of peace (John 6:33). Indeed, this world brings trials and troubles. Not to worry, He has conquered it.
News of peace is always welcomed. Wars rage. Terrorists smuggle bombs aboard planes. Radicals shoot up military bases. Gangs bully the streets. Peace is in short supply and high demand. The world has a counterfeit that it offers (John14:27) and finds many takers. Do not be fooled. The Lord has something better. His emanates from a purer source and has eternal qualities. It lasts forever and is ours for the taking.
The treaty is signed in blood and ratified in faith. The conditions were met when Jesus hung on a cross (Colossians 1:20). Never has any individual endured so much to make peace possible for so many. The battle lines were drawn when we chose to sin. We picked our army, and it was the losing one. Only holy blood could reconcile the two warring factions. Jesus paved the way to resolution hanging between to criminals.
The guilty are justified by faith (Romans 5:1), and the consequences echo through the halls of heaven. The justified sinner has peace with God. No longer on the losing side of the conflict, we enjoy harmony with the One who desires it the most. Formerly weak, sinful enemies are reunited with their Creator. There is nothing on earth to compare. The sleep is sweet when we are at one with our Father.
Jesus is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). We need look no further for a solution to human conflict. This world is characterized by division. People segregate themselves by age, gender and race. Soon separation turns into agitation and the war is on. Words fly with guns and knives following close behind. What is the answer? Jesus Christ. He took enemies and brought them together. He made them one new thing; Christians. Peace resulted.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled…(John 14:1).” Those are among the last words that Jesus would say to His apostles as He prepared them for the turbulence ahead. You and I will never know such times. As troublesome as our times may be, they cannot compare with those. The Son of God will never be executed again. If He could offer them peace at such a time, surely He has it for us; peace with the Father, with each other and within our own hearts. Accept no fraud. His is different than any other.
It was an unlikely setting for such a topic. Jesus faced the prospects of imminent crucifixion. He would experience a rupture in His relationship with His Father that would shake the world. The consequences of sin would rip them apart. The suffering would be immeasurable. The nails through His flesh, as agonizing as they would be, could not compare to the spiritual upheaval about to take place. The setting was incredibly grim. Yet, He spoke to His apostles of joy (John 15:11).
An angelic declaration startled the peaceful countryside (Luke 2:8-11). It was night. Calm prevailed. Suddenly a heavenly messenger rattled the shepherds. Information like this does not come everyday, and fear was the last thing the angel wanted to share. Good news was on his script, and it was for everyone. Great joy was making its way into the world, and it was heaven sent. Oh, how God wants you and me to have it. He sent His Son to bring it.
This was no ordinary birth announcement. No, this was a Savior. What a mess sin had made of things. It ruined a perfect paradise. It infiltrated the first family, and turned brother against brother. Even a flood could not wash away the lingering stains. It degrades everything it touches, but God has a plan. A missionary was born among the animals, and joy was embodied in a baby. He came to retrieve us from the ruins. Good news of great joy…Suddenly there was an entire chorus. This was too much for a single angel.
The angels proclaimed it; Jesus delivered it and still most missed it. A few along the way figured it out but mostly there was opposition, rejection and eventually execution. Hardly the type of reception we would expect for someone on such a mission of mercy. Things have not changed. In the hustle of daily existence, people miss it. Joy is right here for the taking, and they do not grab it. They reach for a sedative, instead. Sad, huh?
The Lord put joy high on His list of spiritual benefits (Galatians 5:22). Extending the possibility was no small matter. Satan’s deception had stolen it from us. Sin buried it so deep that most of us could never find it. It took a cross and an empty tomb to salvage it, and Jesus wants us to have it so badly that that is precisely the road He traveled. Surely, none of us will refuse such a high priced gift.
We close out the old and prepare for the new. Reflection is a normal exercise at this time of year. We look back over the past twelve months and ask questions. Did I use my days wisely? Does God approve of my 2009? What did I do poorly? What did I do well? Have I grown? How did I use the resources the Lord placed in my hands? Have I communicated with my Father? Spent time in His word? Honored my Lord? Served my fellow man? Each has his own introspective list to check.
We also look ahead. The New Year is always a time of anticipation, as well. It is a fresh start, and God specializes in that. We resolve to improve in some areas and discontinue others. We promise to pray more and read more. Quit smoking. Lose a few pounds, maybe a lot of them. Move more and eat less. Everyone has areas where they could do better. Some commit themselves to making this the time to do so. It is an optimistic period as we prepare to be better people in 2010. May the Lord help us in our spiritual ambitions.
Westside looks to the New Year with the same fresh enthusiasm. We will begin with our traditional Forty Days of Prayer to help us heighten our awareness of the Lord. A proposed agenda has been set forth. It is only a suggestion. You may have your own plan, and that is perfectly fine. The point is to place our attention on Jesus and regularly talk with our Father about our church family, the individual members of it and the countless blessings God stuffs into everyday. It can be an enriching, encouraging time if we will participate.
We will follow our Forty Days of Prayer with Prodigal Sunday, which happens to fall on Valentine’s Day. It provides us with a perfect opportunity to invite our friends to worship with us. We will focus our attention that day on the greatest love story in history which was written in blood. We are asking everyone to make an extra effort to be here and bring someone. We will share a fellowship meal after morning services and hope that all will stay to solidify their relationship with the church family.
Other special days are sprinkled throughout the year. We will resume our once-a-month Friday night fellowships in January. The month of May brings our yearly cookout and spring singing. Summer focuses on our young people with VBS. Fall is “Share the Son” time the first weekend in October, “A Day Just for Men” is planned for December, and we will engage in our annual mission trip sometime during the year. All of this, of course, is subject to the will of the Lord. 2010 will be as good as we choose to make it. It is our prayer that it will be the best year ever.
Political parties squabble. Networks pump the bad news into our living rooms at our invitation. Heroes let us down. The economy limps along. Jobs are scarce, wallets are empty and anxiety is through the roof. Insomnia. Heartburn. High blood pressure. Everything seems to be in meltdown mode. It was in much worse times than these that Jesus spoke against permitting the external pressures to take an internal toll.
He was hours away from a brutal execution. Not only would He endure the indescribable torture of the crucifixion, but He would also take on the soul-crushing burden of all of the sins of all humanity for all time. How is that for stress? We think our circumstances are difficult, and they may be….but not like that. Yet, in the face of extraordinary turmoil, He gave them orders not to let it trouble their hearts (John 14:1). We do not have to drown in our dilemma.
Faith is the key. Belief in both Father and Son will see us through the hard times. We have something better. No matter what we have here, it does not compare with what we have there. Losing our earthly possessions is tragic, but the sting is removed whenever we remember that Jesus died that horribly painful death to open the door to a house better than any we could ever build. Even Donald Trump could not construct a mansion to compare, and there is a room just for us.
The Lord went to get it ready. He has been there for more than two thousand years preparing our place. Our Father waits. He will dab every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4), whatever their cause, and they will never return. Death, the ultimate cause of pain will be gone. Never again will we mourn, weep or hurt. Pain free living will be ours forever in the presence of the Lord. Now, exactly what is it that we are fretting about?
Jesus attached but one condition to anxiety-free living: Believe. That is what it takes. Whenever we find ourselves on the high end of the stress scale, we need to examine our faith. When we lose that much coveted peace that he offers in immeasurable quantities, we should check our belief system. Worry is unnecessary. In fact, Jesus clearly said not to (Matthew 6:25ff). “Let not your heart be troubled; believe…”
Just about everyone longs for significance. We want to matter but do not know how. We are surrounded by models that promise success but fail to deliver. They make a splash for awhile but end up drifting into irrelevance. Movie stars come and go. Athletes rise and fall. Political figures flash and crash. Most end up yesterday’s news. True relevance is rare. Jesus knew and told us how to achieve it.
There are no limits to a Christian’s greatness. That sounds impossible but is not. The Lord gave such an unusual twist to attaining it, that He removed all limitations. Service is the key (Matthew 20:26-28). He demonstrated it and taught it. That is such a contrast to our worldly understanding that it leaves us bewildered and often noncompliant. We fall short of greatness because it makes no sense to us and we pass up the limitless opportunities to serve.
Serving is an expression of our love (Galatians 5:13). Love stands head and shoulders above all of the other Christian virtues that we possess (1 Cor. 13:13) and clearly shows that we are devoted followers of Jesus (John 13:35). It is proof positive that we have made the transition into true life (1 John 3:14) having cultivated a meaningful relationship with the Father (1 John 4:7). Nothing says love more than serving our fellow believers.
God initiated the love movement (1 John 4:19). It all started with Him, and His extraordinary demonstration in a manger opened a whole new chapter of understanding what love is all about. It found its exclamation point on the cross. He showed us. It was no idle statement but a resounding revelation of what fills His heart. Between His birth and death, Jesus lived as a servant (Philippians 2:7). He led the way, leaving us an example to follow (John 13:15).
We yearn to make a mark in this world. We want our lives to count for something. God does, too, and provided the perfect display of how to get it done. The Son of God laid aside His status as Deity, wrapped a towel around Himself and offered cleansing for the filth of sin that had corrupted His beautiful creation. It was true greatness in action. Now, it is up to us.
God is incomparable. The psalmist closed out his songbook with a series of offerings that reverberate with a single idea: Praise the Lord. Today we assemble to acknowledge His greatness; the only appropriate way to begin the week. The knowledge of God will see us through the unknowable days that await us.
Our worship is an acknowledgement of His magnificence. This is our opportunity to show Him how much He means to us. The songs on our lips express the adoration in our hearts, and that is good (Psalm 147:1). What could be a better or more suitable way to start the week?
The Lord promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18), and that construction is still underway. His kingdom is not one that impresses the world, at least not yet. Time will reveal the indestructible nature of it, but now it looks like a bunch of strays that have been brought together (Ps. 147:2). The Jews celebrated their return to Jerusalem, but our assembly is much more significant. Our city is a heavenly one, and that puts an eternal stamp on it. We must never forget.
We come to Him in the worst shape. Hearts are broken. Wounds are festering. Dreams are dashed. The future could not have seemed any worse. With the gentleness of the good shepherd, He takes us in. We are an unlikely group, but that is only the way that we see it. His view of us is quite different. The church is the apple of His eye. He mends hearts and heals hopes (Ps. 147:3). Praise the Lord!
We feel insignificant and unnoticed. We are not. Remember the hair numbering (Luke 12:7)? He does not forget birds or stars. He certainly will not forget you and me. Our society, with a number for this account and for that credit card, makes it easy to feel like nothing more than a collection of digits. We are much more than that to Him. He knows. He sees. He remembers.
When we think that no one could possible comprehend what we are going through, we are wrong. There is no limit to His understanding of our situations (Ps. 147:5). He is intimately acquainted with the problems that we have and has an infinite capacity to solve them. His never-ending resources are for our benefit. Never forget that He is on our side.
His is the hand that is extended to help us along the way. In our weakness and stumbling, He keeps us going (Ps. 147:6). It is the wicked that He opposes, and that is not us. He gathers and comforts His people. He offers a cure for our ills with full knowledge of what they are and how to treat them. We have a book full of remedies. When the world seems gloomy, praise the Lord. It is always a good thing.