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Archive for December, 2014

God’s pass/fail exam

More and more professors in college and graduate schools today are giving pass/fail exams. This simply means that a student is not given a letter-grade – an “A” for superior work, an “F” if you failed. Students either pass or fail. They either make it or they don’t make it. Nobody enjoys failing a test, in school or anywhere else. Throughout life we face all kinds of tests.

Several years ago DeKalb County in Georgia had a mock drill as part of the civil defense program. It was their way of testing those who would have to respond in the time of an emergency. In the test there was a fourth grade boy who was chosen to be one of the casualties. According to the mock test, the boy was struck down by glass, debris, and rubble, and an ambulance was to be called to his school. The timing began.

This is when the problems began. The person who was supposed to call for the ambulance forgot to call. Time went by, the boy waited on his stretcher to be rescued, but still no one came to his aid. Someone saw the situation, ran to a phone and called the ambulance, but phoned a unit in the wrong county – so the boy on the stretcher waited, and waited – until someone finally called for the right ambulance to respond.

Again the boy waited, and finally the ambulance arrived, with lights flashing, siren screaming, and brakes screeching. It roared into the school yard, stopped suddenly, civil defense personnel dashed into the school building, ran down the corridor, located and ran into the fourth grade classroom, only to find an empty stretcher lying on the floor near the teacher’s desk. On the stretcher was a note written in the childish scrawl of the fourth grade student they had come to rescue. It contained these words, “I done bled to death and gone home!” It is safe to say that the civil defense unit flunked the test that day. The boy also flunked English.

The comedy of errors in that Georgia civil defense test can serve to remind us that God also tests those who believe in Him. Abraham, one of the patriarchal fathers of the Old Testament, is Exhibit A. God said to him, “Take your son, your only son, and offer him as a sacrifice on top of Mount Moriah.” Child sacrifice was common in Abraham’s day as a way of demonstrating faith to various deities.

Abraham probably said something like this, “Surely, God, you can’t mean Isaac! He is my Miracle Boy! He is the child of my old age. You gave him to me when I was 100 years old, and my wife, Sarah, was 90 years old. You can’t ask me to sacrifice him as a burnt offering! You promised him to me, and now You want me to end his life!” With these thoughts, Abraham continued to Mt. Moriah, prepared to offer his son. At the moment he was ready to do it, God said, “Don’t slay the lad, for now I know that you truly fear God.”

Abraham passed the test and must have gone to the head of the class. This patriarch of faith called the name of the spot where God gave him a pass/fail exam, “Jehovah-Jireh,” which means, “The Lord will provide.” God not only tested Abraham, but Abraham also tested God. God provided a ram with his horns caught in a thick bush. Abraham did not fail, and neither did God. God provided a substitute for Isaac. He has also provided a Lamb for us, the Lamb of God, who died on a Roman cross, taking our penalty for sin upon Himself.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). Do you have faith in that promise? Missing God’s free gift of eternal life would be life’s greatest loss. There is no greater failure than that. In the words of Horatio Bonar,

    “I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad,

     I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.”

 

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A popular Christmas carol contains the words, “We three kings of orient are; bearing gifts we traverse afar.” These three kings are known to us as the Magi – but just who were they?

Herodotus, the Greek historian, said the Magi were originally a tribe from Media that tried to overthrow the Persians and substitute the power of the Medes, but that their attempt failed. From that point on the Magi ceased to have an interest in power and prestige. They became a tribe of priests, thus becoming to Persia what the Levites were to Israel. They became the teachers and instructors of the Persian kings, and were known as men who possessed holiness and wisdom. They were skilled in philosophy, medicine and the natural sciences.

Like most people in their day, the Magi believed in astrology, the belief that a person’s destiny was controlled by the alignment of the stars, rather than by the One who created the stars. The horoscopes appearing daily in America’s newspapers tell us that we haven’t progressed very far. In any event, the New Testament tells us that the Three Wise Men were following a star. But what was that star?

In 11 B.C. Halley’s Comet flashed across the sky, but this could not have been the star they saw. In 7 B.C. there was a brilliant conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, but it was not likely that this was the one either. In the years 5 B.C. to 2 B.C. there was an unusual astronomical phenomenon. In these years on the first day of the Egyptian month Mesori the star called “Sirius” rose at sunrise and could be seen with extraordinary brilliance. The name “Mesori” means “The birth of a prince.” Most scholars believe that the date of Christ’s birth was miscalculated by as much as 6 years, and that the correct year was probably 4 B.C. What this means is that the star the Magi followed could very well have been Sirius.

Dr. William Barclay in his New Testament commentary points out that there was a strong expectation in that day concerning the coming of a great king – thus the coming of the Magi is not just a lovely legend. It is exactly the kind of thing that would have happened. The names of the Three Wise Men, according to legend, were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They laid at Jesus’ feet the noblest gifts they could possibly bring: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was a gift fit for a king; frankincense was a gift fit for a priest; myrrh was a gift appropriate for one who was about to die, as it was used to embalm bodies.

The most important thing we should not miss about the Magi’s coming to Bethlehem was that they came to worship. Worship is the highest and noblest act in which persons can be involved. The challenge for Christians today should be the same as it was for the Magi – to worship the King of Kings. Genuine worship always has a singular focus upon God. The externals of a worship service are not vitally important. The important thing is to worship “in the Spirit and in truth,” which means to have the right attitude toward God.

What we must not miss in this story is that they were the first Gentiles to worship Christ. They did not have the scriptures, and knew little about spiritual things, but they knew enough to come a great distance – probably from as far as Afghanistan, the center of astrology at the time.

They bowed low before Bethlehem’s manger to worship the King of Kings. That manger, out of which animals were fed, became what might be called history’s first authentic king-sized bed. They first gave themselves to Jesus. Then they gave Him the finest gifts they possessed. We can do the same!

 

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Will Christmas this year be all that God wants it to be in your life? Or will you be satisfied with the meaninglessness of celebrating it with the “TRIPLE – X” of EXTRAVAGANCE, EXCITEMENT, and EXHAUSTION? Why settle for X-Mas when you can have Christ-Mas? Everything associated with this season can be filled with joy and meaning if Christ is kept at the center.

That which took place in Bethlehem of Judea two thousand years ago has both historical significance and eternal significance. Here is why: “And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child lay” (Matthew 2:9). Heaven invaded earth that day! Immortality became mortality! And because that is true, we who are profane can be made holy by worshiping Him! We who are sinful can be made pure!

On that first Christmas there was a STAR . . . a STABLE . . . and God’s SON:

God placed the STAR in the heavens that all might see it. Those who lift their eyes above the tinsel on the Christmas tree, and beyond the sights in the store windows, will be able to see and follow that star to Bethlehem as surely as did those Wise Men of long ago. It needs to be said that people can see that star and ignore it, and they often do. But the light of God’s love does not shine only upon the wise, or only upon the good, or only upon those who are worthy. God loves every single person in the entire world.

Jeanbon St. Andre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, said to a group of French peasants: “I will have your steeples all pulled down so you may no longer have any object which will remind you of your religious superstition.” The peasant replied: “But you cannot help leaving us the stars.” The star above Bethlehem’s stable was, and is, God’s way of pointing a lost world to the only One about whom it can be accurately said is “the light of the world.”

It is strange that history’s most famous baby should be born in a common STABLE. Even the animals from out in the field were blessed by Christ’s coming. Especially was Mary blessed, and so can every mother today. Joseph was blessed, and he wielded in the home and carpenter shop so much positive influence that the child, when He became a man, would call God by the name of Father. The shepherds and the astrologers from afar were also blessed, for they followed the star to the stable and saw the Son of God.

The apostle Paul said: “In the fullness of time God sent forth His SON (Galatians 4:4).” In other words, when history was ready, Jesus was born. There were Roman roads throughout the Roman Empire – thus, accessibility to the world. Roman citizenship made all persons fellow citizens. The Greek language was spoken throughout the Mediterranean world, which meant that literally everyone could hear the good news of God’s love in a universally spoken language. The world was ripe spiritually: the Middle Eastern religions were empty and devoid of power. The longing for a Messiah had reached a fever pitch.

When all these things happened at one time, God sent forth His Son. Conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit as prophesied by the prophets and heralded by the angels, the Son was born in a Stable underneath the light of a special Star. Those who came from afar “fell down and worshiped Him.” And so might every person today who will look with the eyes of faith.

 

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Raymond Edmon, in The Disciplines of Life, says that “Ours is an undisciplined age. The old disciplines are breaking down . . . We need the rugged strength of Christian character that can come only from discipline.” I believe he is right. Discipline in every area of our lives is the only way we will ever be able to reach our potential as Christians.

We must first understand what it is that God wants us to become. The apostle Paul said of God’s elect in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Thus, the goal of every Christian is to grow in Christlikeness. That requires a commitment to a life of discipline. We will be finally and totally changed “when He (Christ) appears” so that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).

If we are predestined to grow in Christlikeness, where does discipline fit into the picture? Although God will grant Christlikeness to us when Jesus returns, He intends for us to begin that growth in the here and now. It is God’s will that we pursue godliness. This is clearly taught in 1 Timothy 4:7: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Spiritual disciplines are the personal and corporate attitudes and activities that promote spiritual growth.

What are these spiritual disciplines? They begin with Bible study, prayer, worship, evangelism, service in Christ’s name, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, learning, etc. This, by no means, however, is an exhaustive list of the disciplines involved in spiritual growth and Christian living. A survey of other literature on this subject would reveal that confession, accountability, simplicity, submission, spiritual direction, celebration, affirmation, sacrifice and other things also qualify as spiritual disciplines.

Whatever the discipline, its most important feature is its purpose. Just as there is little value in practicing the scales on a piano apart from the purpose of playing music, there is little value in practicing any spiritual discipline apart from the single purpose of seeking to grow in Christlikeness. Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 4:7 that all Christians are to discipline themselves “for the purpose of godliness.”

God uses three primary catalysts for developing Christlikeness within our lives, but only one of these is largely under our control:

  • “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I am grateful to God for those who have aided me throughout my Christian pilgrimage – parents, teachers, friends, etc. I would be far less than I am without their influence and instruction. Think of all those who have made spiritual investments in your life. Thank God for them.
  • There is the classic text in Romans 8:28 – “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Financial pressures, physical conditions, and many other things are used by a provident God to help us to grow in Christlikeness.
  • SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES. When God changes us by using people and circumstances, the process works from the outside in. Spiritual disciplines differ from the other two methods of change in that God grants us a measure of choice regarding involvement with them. We often have little choice regarding the people and circumstances God brings into our lives, but we can decide, for example, whether we will read the Bible and spend time in prayer each day.

Think of the spiritual disciplines as ways you can place yourself in the path of God’s grace, and as a way of becoming a channel of God’s grace to others.

 

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