Lessons From A Christmas Story

As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, my thoughts went to someone in the Christmas story that gets very little attention. Scripture speaks about Jesus and Mary but we hear so little about Joseph…the earthly father of Jesus.

In much of the study that has been done about Joseph, most researchers agree on several points. Here they are:

Most believe that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry. There are several portions of scripture that would point to this. First, Joseph isn’t mentioned being present at the Wedding in Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine. Yet Mary is mentioned.

Second, the story of the crucifixion provides some interesting details. Joseph is not present at the crucifixion while Mary is mentioned. At the crucifixion, Jesus instructed John to take care of Mary, which would be unusual if Joseph had still been alive. After the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea takes the body of Jesus. This would ordinarily have been a task given to the father.

There is even another hint in scripture that would support the death of Joseph during the lifetime of Jesus. Luke 2:33-35 details a conversation Simeon had with Joseph and Mary. Even though both Joseph and Mary were present, Simeon simply addressed Mary. Simeon says this:

This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but He will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.

Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce your very soul but makes no mention of Joseph. It seems Simeon knew that Joseph would not be alive to see all that would happen to Jesus.

We don’t know for certain that Joseph was dead before Jesus public ministry but the evidence points to that.

Here’s what we do know about Joseph. First, he was alive and a part of the life of Jesus until Jesus was twelve years of age. Luke 2:41-42 speaks about Joseph and Mary attending the Holy Days with Jesus when he was twelve. You may recall that this was the time Mary and Joseph mistakenly left Jesus at the temple. This is the last mention in scripture about Joseph being with Jesus.

So what can we learn from the few verses in scripture that mention Joseph? Here are four things to think about:

God picked Joseph to model for Jesus what earthly fatherhood looked like: We know Joseph had at least twelve years to teach Jesus about life. We know Joseph spent time with Jesus training him to be a carpenter and teaching him about the spiritual issues in life. It is reasonable to believe that Joseph taught a young Jesus how to be a godly man.

Joseph cared about others more than he cared about himself: When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, he certainly could have broken the engagement. In fact, in our world today there are many men who would do just that. Many of us would be upset by the news or just want to save face and end the relationship. We need to be realistic. If our fiancée came to us and said she was pregnant but the father was God that would be hard to believe.

Yet Joseph did believe Mary’s explanation and protected and cared for Mary and Jesus for the remainder of his life.

Joseph did remarkable work and received no recognition: Joseph spent years of his life serving as a faithful husband and father, scripture barely mentions him, and yet he faithfully served his family and the Son of God.

 Joseph believed what God told him and he obeyed: When the angel came to Joseph in the dream and told him it was fine to marry Mary he did it. Joseph obeyed when God told him to flee to Egypt to miss a confrontation with Herod. Joseph obeyed when God told him to return to Israel after the death of Herod.

We have many followers of Christ who either don’t listen when God speaks to them or they hear God but choose not to obey. Joseph listened and obeyed.

As you think about Christmas this year remember these four points. Also remember, that like Joseph, God has placed you where you are for a purpose. Don’t lose sight of God’s purpose for you. You have valuable work that only you can do…just like Joseph. If we could talk with Joseph I bet he wouldn’t regret a day of doing what God asked him to do.

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Are You Stuck In Winter? Here Are Three Ways to Break Free.

Spring is here and most of us are ready for some warm weather and the change from winter to spring. The dogwoods are in bloom, tulips look beautiful, and I’m ready to put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

As I think about the change in seasons and how much enjoyment this brings, I can’t help but think about spiritual seasons. Spiritually, I wonder how many of us are stuck in winter and can’t seem to find the beauty of spring.

In the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis uses this phrase; …always winter but never Christmas. Spiritually, do you ever find yourself in this situation? In other words, do you find yourself locked in the cold of winter but never experiencing the joy of Christmas? Never experiencing the joy of knowing Christ. Never experiencing the fullness in life that only comes from a relationship with God. For some, it’s always just a spiritual winter. I hope this doesn’t describe you because this is certainly a miserable position in life.

If you are spiritually stuck in winter, here are three ways to get to a joyous spring:

Release control of your life to God: Recognize that if you try to keep the control of your life you set yourself up for a life of spiritual winter.

Spend time reading the Bible: You can’t move into a new season if you have no way to listen to God.

Cultivate your prayer time: Communication is a two-way street. Just as you need to listen to God, you need to spend time talking with Him. Tell God how you’re feeling and ask for spiritual direction. Prayer is powerful.

As spring is upon us, will you consider your spiritual season today? As the flowers bloom this spring I am reminded of the verse in Luke chapter 12 that says this:

And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

Knowing that God cares even for the flowers, won’t you allow Him to direct your life? Develop your relationship with God and watch your spiritual life move from a cold, drab winter to a warm and exciting spring.

What Do People Do More Than Read Their Bible? They Do This.

https://vimeo.com/87894128

In 2006, CBS News conducted an interesting poll.  They found that about 40 million people in the United States and Canada read the Bible every day.  However, the poll also found that 143 million people in the United States and Canada are doing something else.  What is it?  They are actively using Facebook.

Let’s fast forward to 2014.  Facebook just celebrated their ten-year anniversary and reported that they now have 757 million daily active users.  I realize that this figure includes folks from around the world but I wonder what the world would be like today if 757 million people read the Bible every day.

The Associated Press recently reported that about 400 billion photos have been shared on Facebook.  If you printed out the pictures four to a page on regular-sized sheets of paper and put the paper end to end, it would stretch for about 17 million miles. That’s enough paper to reach to the moon and back 34 times.

Based upon some of these survey numbers it is highly probable that many followers of Christ today reach for Facebook before they reach for their Bible.

Now before you tell me that Facebook and social media are wonderful tools for reaching people for Christ, let me say I understand that.  I like social media and am an active part of this myself.  However, I really like what Jennifer LeClair wrote in an article for Charisma News. She said this:

Somehow, even if Facebook were a part of mainstream Galilean culture, I don’t think Jesus would give up fellowship with the Father to check Facebook. It’s become a near addiction for some people.

Have you sacrificed fellowship with God to play Candy Crush or look at pictures on Facebook? Have you been neglecting Bible reading and now wonder why you don’t hear God speaking to you anymore?

Maybe it’s time for all of us to get our priorities straight.  Next time you reach for Facebook ask yourself if you have had your time in the Bible yet that day.  If you haven’t, put Facebook away and pick up your Bible.  It’s probably time for you and God to exchange some status updates.

How Much Do You Value This?

https://vimeo.com/85293086

I recently watched a video of Christians living in China who were given their first Bible. Let me set the stage for this.  In a room full of Chinese Christians, two suitcases full of Bibles were placed on the floor and opened.  These folks made a rush to the suitcases to get their own Bible.  There were squeals of delight and great big smiles. The folks in this video were opening their new Bibles with reverence. They smelled the pages, rubbed the Bibles against their faces, and one even began to cry.  I could just sense the gratitude in the hearts of these folks to finally get a Bible of their own. In a world where we are used to seeing people stampede to get into the doors at a Wal-Mart sale, this video really made me think about the value we place on our Bible.

Most of us take our Bible for granted.  We have Bibles everywhere. I have a Bible on my nightstand, one on my iPad, one on my iPhone, and several on the bookshelf in my office. We have Bibles in different translations.  In fact, we often argue about which translation is most accurate. We have Bibles with different decorator covers, large print editions, the words of Jesus in red, study Bibles, Bibles endorsed by famous authors and speakers, and I could go on describing our Bibles but I’ll stop.

So here is the question.  How often to you open your Bible and do some serious reading? I don’t mean rushing through one chapter so you can check this task off your list and say you read your Bible today.  I’m talking about sitting down, reading, studying, and actually letting God speak to you through His word.  When is the last time you actually used your Bible so much that it fell apart and you had to go and replace it? I can almost assure you that our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ will cherish their Bibles and eventually wear them out.

Sometimes as followers of Christ we talk a good game.  We seem to frequently have the Biblical answers for the problems of others.  A recent survey reported in Christianity Today that out of 2,900 Protestant churchgoers only 19% read their Bibles every day. In reality, many Americans read their Bibles so little that they attribute things to the Bible that aren’t even there. Do a simple Internet search and you’ll locate all sorts of examples.

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to read more from God’s word, study what God has really said in scripture, and listen to the message God has for each of us.  We so often miss that last part.  We don’t take time to listen to what God has for us in the Bible.  Let’s treat the Bible with the respect that should be given to the powerful words from our almighty God.

Developing Godly Character: Patience

We live in a world where most people expect things right away. We have microwaves that make our meals in only a few minutes.  We enjoy fast food, express lanes in the grocery store, instant streaming of movies, we have instant foods ranging from instant coffee to instant rice.  We become frustrated when life isn’t so instant and we find ourselves in a traffic jam, delayed by road construction, waiting for a table at a restaurant or waiting in a doctor’s office. I wonder if we have forgotten a very important element of Godly character.  What is it?  It’s patience, which the dictionary defines as, the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

In Acts, chapter 7, we are reminded of the story of Moses.  At one point Moses killed an Egyptian who was mistreating an Israelite.  Moses fled the country and lived in the land of Midian.  Now…watch verse 30.  Here’s the first sentence: Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush.

Most of us focus on that miracle in the burning bush but miss the first part of the sentence.  Moses waited forty years between the time he left Egypt to the time we next learn of God speaking to him.  Don’t you just wonder if Moses questioned for those forty years whether God would ever use him after killing the Egyptian? There was nothing instant in this for Moses.  Even after his experience with the burning bush and being placed in leadership of the Israelites, Moses wandered in the wilderness with his people for another forty years.

Eighty years waiting upon God had to be a refining time for Moses to develop patience.  There is no mention in scripture that Moses tried to hurry God along during these eighty years.  Moses simply did what God asked him to do.  No pushing, no complaining, just dealing with the issues in life as they came up.  Moses had patience that comes only through trusting God.

So what does this mean for us today?  Let’s take some time and simply trust God and by doing so develop patience.  Let’s stop pushing God, begging for an instant answer to our prayers and understand that God doesn’t reveal all things to us instantly. We don’t need to always be in control.  Relax and allow God to develop more patience in you.  You will become a better spouse, employee, church member, friend, and community member.  Enjoy your relationship with God as a home cooked meal…not as a bowl of instant soup.

Trying To Develop Godly Character? How About Some Integrity?

Have you ever thought about what it means to have Godly character?  What are those characteristics that God expects us to posses as His followers? Today let’s talk about one of those characteristics…integrity. Most of us would simply call this honesty.

Let’s look at Acts, Chapter 5 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with the story, Ananias decided to lie to God.  He sold a piece of land, brought part of the money to the disciples, and claimed it was the full amount from the land sale.  Peter confronted Ananias on his lie and said this to Ananias, How could you do a thing like this?  You weren’t lying to us but to God.

Now here is the next sentence from this passage in the Bible, As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died.  Each of us should immediately realize the importance of not lying to God. Was there a warning not to do it again? No.  Was there a small punishment? No.  Did Ananias stop to explain his position on the issue? No.  Ananias instantly fell to the floor and died.

If you don’t yet understand the severity of lying to God, take a look at subsequent verses dealing with the wife of Ananias.  Peter confronted Sapphira about her part in the lie concerning the sale of this land.  Peter said, How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord?  The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door and they will carry you out, too.  What’s the next line in the Bible?  Here it is, Instantly, she fell to the floor and died.

How many times have you heard people say something like this, God, if you will just get me out of this situation I promise I will do (fill in the blank).  Let me say that each of us needs to be very careful about promises made to God and to others.  Ananias and Sapphira paid with their lives for lying to God.  God clearly expects integrity and honesty from his followers.

Let me challenge each of us today.  When you make a promise it is just that…a promise.  Situations don’t change your promise, people don’t change your promise, circumstances don’t change your promise.  Honor God and be a person of your word.

So, start developing a list of Godly characteristics that believers should possess.  The first characteristic for your list? Integrity.