HE WAS FULL OF IT

It is very possible that in the next couple of weeks you will be sitting with family, probably either preparing to eat or after having consumed a great meal.  As you sit and talk, if there are young children running and playing, enjoying every minute of being with cousins and siblings, it may will be that someone will offer the comment about a young boy or girl, “They are sure full of themselves.”  Usually, we mean that are active, alive and running full throttle.  We aren’t surprised for a child to be full of themselves.  As a matter of fact it seems to go with being a two or three years old. It is when one reaches adulthood and is still full of themselves that we become concerned.  It might be worth considering in every life, “What are you full of?”

In John 1:14-18 the apostle John offered his account of Jesus coming into the world.  Matthew and Luke had given versions of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.  But John, who was writing about thirty years later offered a totally different approach.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This is he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has seen God: the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”  John had started his gospel account back in verse one by saying, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.”  He is speaking of Jesus, the Christ who came into this world as deity, sharing the same divine nature as God the Father.  But, he became “FLESH” and dwelt among us.  It is interesting that John, describing Jesus becoming a human, didn’t choose words like, “Man” or “human” but chose the word “flesh”.  As God he was Spirit.  But he took on human flesh and became a man with all the desires and challenges that go with being flesh and blood.  He felt pain, hurts, fears and loneliness like other people living in flesh. The reality that he was sinless demands that flesh not be seen as having sin in its nature.  He was flesh but sinless.

But it is in that flesh, that humanity, that John says that we see his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  Instead of his flesh hiding his glory, John said, it was there that we were able to look at it and be drawn to his glory.  But what was it that demonstrated this glory tied to the divine nature of Jesus?  John points to two things that so characterized Jesus that he could easily be described as FULL of these two virtues.  His glory stood out because it was easy to see his grace and truth, even in the flesh and blood body that he was living in now.  John said we receive from his fullness grace upon grace.  Notice again the point of fullness.  Grace and truth so permeated the heart and nature of Jesus that it was obvious he was full of these things.  When one looks back on Moses the great man of faith in the Old Testament one remembers that he gave us the Law of God centered around the ten commandments.  But when you look closer at Jesus in his flesh and blood body, you see that grace so fills him that it comes out his every pore.  

It seems to me that John has now laid out the theme for this book and what he hopes all of us see in Jesus right here at the beginning and from this point through the rest of the his gospel account he will give story after story and lesson after lesson from Jesus that continues to demonstrate this whole theme.  When he is preparing to bring his book to a close he will say, “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, that are not written in this book, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ and believing you might have life in his name.”

From this beginning in chapter one, you could just about open to any part of John’s gospel account and see grace and truth standing out in the relationships Jesus developed. In chapter two, he, along with his mother and a few of the early disciples were invited to a wedding feast.  When the host ran out of wine, it seemed natural to his mother to ask Jesus to do something about it.  I have no idea what she expected him to do, but he solved the problem by turning water into wine.  You get the feeling in reading the story that most of the guest had no idea that the host had ever run out of wine or if he did what happened to solve the problem.  His grace saved a young bridegroom and his family from ridicule.   His truth was then presented as he went to the temple and saw that they had turned the house of God into a den of thieves and he took it on himself to cleanse the temple of these money changers and sellers inside the temple courts.  He helped a leader among the Pharisees to understand better how one becomes right with God by means of a new birth.  In chapter four he led a Samaritan woman with a spotted background to true worship of the Father.  It led to most of the Samaritan village being brought to faith.  Whether it was a man born blind, an invalid laying beside the pool longing to get in or raising Lazarus from the dead, the stories go on to show his grace and truth for all to recognize.  When John reaches the end of the book he takes lots of space to tell about the last days of his life on earth and his ultimate death on the cross.  He pictured the last supper with the disciples, but instead of focusing on the Lord’s Supper being instituted he pointed to Jesus washing the dirty feet of his disciples.  He declared that even with all their failures and one of them about to betray him for thirty pieces of silver, “Having loved his own who were in the world, beloved them to the very end.”   He challenged them of love each other as he had loved them.  That challenged still stands for every disciple of Jesus. Even as he foretold their failures to stand by him in the end, he told them not to be troubled but to believe in him.

His grace and truth stand out as he prays the longest recorded prayer from Jesus in John 17.  He prayed for God to keep them, to not take them out of the world but to protect them from the evil one.  He prayed that they would stay in the right way and for every disciple who ultimately followed the teaches of these apostles that they all might be one as he and the Father are one, so the world might believe that God had sent him.  He even prayed that all the disciples might ultimately be with him in heaven.  Grace and truth shined in all aspects of his life and in his death.

Think about it.  What if someone wanted to tell the essence of your life, what would they declare that you were full of?  

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WHAT A TREASURE!

Do You buy lottery tickets?  What about when the power ball contest reaches into the multi-million dollar range, are you tempted to go out and purchase tickets to get in on the possibility of winning?  How far would you be willing to go to obtain some huge treasure in your life?  I see these post on Facebook of some small cabin in the woods somewhere with the caption, “would you live in this cabin for a year for a million dollars?”  When you think of such treasures, one amazing thing is that when studies are done of those who win such huge amounts of money, the results are seldom good.  Most of the people within five years have lost the entire amount or declare that they are miserable and that the whole thing had been more a curse than a blessing.  I wonder why that would be the case.

Perhaps Jesus’ message that we ought not to lay up treasures on this earth but to lay up our treasures in heaven where they can’t be destroyed by the parasites of this world should be kept in mind.  

In Matthew 13 in the middle of several stories Jesus told about the kingdom of God there are two very short stories that tell us a whole lot about treasures and what makes them worth having.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for find pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Both these stories involve the kingdom of God as the great treasure in life.  That kingdom is the whole realm of people who make Jesus the king of their life and live under his standard.  The Bible had been promising the coming of God’s kingdom for a long time when Jesus came on the scene and took up the message of John the Baptist that the kingdom was very near.  He even challenged us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness so that other things we need might be thrown in for us.  But notice in our two stories that some people find the kingdom of God when they aren’t looking for it at all.  Some are like the man who happened upon a treasure hidden in a field.  He wasn’t out searching the field for treasures but simply, by accident, found it.  Many find the kingdom of God who aren’t searching for anything and don’t even realize their need for the kingdom until they happen to find it.  But others are like the man searching for fine pearls.  They are searching for the kingdom, knowing that something vital is missing in their life.  They may not even know about God but they know there is an emptiness in them and are longing to find something or someone who can fill that void.  So, when they find the kingdom, they know what they have found and its tremendous value.

Notice in the two stories Jesus told there is a common thread.  No matter how one finds the kingdom of God, if they are to possess it and become citizens of the the kingdom with Christ as king over them, it requires something from them.  The man who found the treasure in the field, had to go and find out who owned the property and then sell everything he had in order to purchase the field that had the treasure.  In our day the man’s actions would have seemed underhanded and taking advantage of the lack of knowledge of the owner, but in their day when people often hid treasures in fields and then died and no one knew the treasure was there, it was seen as the right thing to do to purchase the field and then own the treasure rather than simply taking it without going through the whole process.  The man who was searching and found the beautiful expensive pearl, had to leave the pearl and go home to sell everything he had to be able to purchase the pearl of great value.  Becoming a part of God’s kingdom demands of us that we be willing to leave our old life and ways behind us to become part of God’s kingdom.  Jesus called it a new birth or being born again to enter his kingdom.

The other thing that stands out in these stories is that after they had paid the price and now owned the field and the pearl they were filled with joy.  It was with joy that they went and sold what they had to purchase the field.  When the thought of entering the kingdom and what is required of me to be part of it, seems like too much to pay for us, we don’t grasp at all the value of the kingdom of the Lord.

This is the one kingdom that goes right on when this world and its wealth, power and treasures are completely wiped away.  In 2 Peter 1 as he described the life of a Christian in adding the graces needed to be like Jesus he said if we did that and made our calling and election sure we would have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 and verse 28 said we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be destroyed so we ought to serve God reverently and with awe.  

Think about it.  When we are willing to risk money and things to try to win a lottery that the actual chances of winning are slight, why would we be hesitant to make the sacrifice necessary to obtain the kingdom of the Lord that is of greatest value and you get the kingdom every time?

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GODLY REBELS

It is so easy to read the Bible regularly and suddenly notice something that really you had seen all along, yet it hits you in a whole new way, than it has before.  Usually when we think of rebels it isn’t with great admiration for their stance.  We can become so accustomed to going along to get along that any one who refuses to do so and takes a firm stand for what is right, seems out of step to us.  

In the first chapter of Exodus, the Israelites have been in Egyptian bondage for a long time.  They have been in Egypt for over 300 years now and we aren’t sure at what point leaders arose who didn’t know Joseph or appreciate what he had done for Egypt.  But somewhere down the line the Israelite nation was growing so rapidly that their numbers frightened the Egyptians and the rulers sought for ways to stop their massive growth.  It started with slavery that turned into brutality to try to wear them down.  When they kept right on growing in the midst of such, the Pharaoh made the decision to murder all the boy babies that were born in the land.  There were two well-known midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah.  The king of Egypt met with them and said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is girl, let her live.”  “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let he boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this?  Why have you let the boys live?’ The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.  So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous” (Exodus 1:15-21)

This story will continue and tell of Moses birth and how his mother hide him for three months before putting him out into the Nile River in a basket where some of the Princess of Egypt’s servants saw him and rescued him.  From the time of the birth of Moses until God delivered them from the Egyptian bondage would be 80 more years.

But I want to focus on the midwives.  We are given their names, but really know very little beyond that about them.  We aren’t even told if they were Hebrew women themselves or if they may have been Egyptian women who had come to know and fear God.  What we know is that they were living very busy lives delivering babies among the Israelites who were growing with God’s blessing all the time.  Imagine being in their shoes for a little while.  They don’t have high standing in the country.  They are great servants but like the doctor who delivers babies today they were not likely well known personally and seldom appreciated for the work they were doing.  It must have been an honor for these working women to be called to come before the king of the whole land.  Under such circumstances most would want to agree with the king and simply honor him by doing whatever he said to do.  However, these women feared God!  That one thing changed their whole outlook on life.  It changed their sense of mission.  It led them to put being obedient to God so far above obeying the king of Egypt that there was no comparison in their minds.

I don’t know if they had to think about it or talked about the whole thing on their way home.  I don’t know if they went home to talk with family and friends about what had been asked of them or if their faith was so secure in God that it didn’t even take any such conversation for them to know what they had to do.  Fearing God and obeying God always go hand in hand.  They knew the Israelites were the people of God and that he was blessing them by the growth in numbers.  So, instead of saying to the king, “Sir, we respect you as king, but we have a higher ruler in our lives.  We worship the God who made the worlds and everything in it and as a result we cannot do that which would be abominable in His sight.”  Instead of making any speech about why or what they would do, they simply went on their way and refused to obey the Egyptian rulers.  They helped mothers give birth and spared the lives of both the little boys and little girls.

I’m sure they knew there was coming a time when they would be called to give an accounting of how they had failed to obey the king.  But they chose to do right and face the consequences later.  Of course the king called them to asked what was going on.  The boy babies were still being born.  Had they not obeyed his command?  They explained that the Hebrew women were different from Egyptian women.  They were vigorous and would often give birth before they could even get there.  SO, God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.”

Focus on the word, “SO”.  So God was kind to the midwives.”  Obviously he was very pleased with their actions.  Yet they had disobeyed the laws of the land.  It illustrates this fact, while obeying the civil laws is important, obeying God is far, far more important.  They didn’t need to carry banners declaring their actions.  They didn’t have to lead any marches against the authorities of the land.  They simply did what God led them to do and didn’t make a big scene out of it.  

Even though they disobeyed the law of the land,  even though they didn’t tell what was exactly true to the king with regard to the women giving birth before they could arrive, God blessed them and appreciated what they had done.  God is concerned about heart, motives and the will to do what He wants us to do.  There may be times in life when it will be necessary to disobey the laws of the land to please God and obey His laws.  There may be a time when it is all right to not tell the whole truth on a matter to show honor to God above all else.    These ladies were truly godly rebels and we are always in great need of more such ladies all the time.

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JUST A CHRISTIAN

Take a trip with me for a few minutes.  Let’s travel back in our minds to the middle of the first century.  Jesus had died on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day.  Following His resurrection he spent 40 days teaching, preaching and telling about the coming kingdom.  Then he ascended back to the Father in heaven.  On the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 the church was established in Jerusalem.  3,000 people were added to the number that first day.  Then the church grew in leaps and bounds for the next few years.  To begin with it was just among the Jews and especially in Jerusalem.  But persecution arose against the early Christians and they were scattered about.  When they were scattered instead of being quiet about the gospel of Jesus they began to spread the message wherever they went.  Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them and many became disciples of Jesus.  He was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch who was treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia.  He was a worshiper of God but didn’t know Jesus.  Philip went to him, taught him more of the truth of God’s word and informed him of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  He was baptized out there in the desert.

In time the church spread even to Gentiles, with Peter first being sent to the home of Cornelius a centurion in the Roman army who was a devout man who prayed to God daily and gave liberally to the people in need.  He and his family became followers of Christ.  From there some of the disciples went to Antioch where they preached to the Gentiles about Christ and many were converted to him.  The first predominantly Gentile church was established.  Barnabas was sent to minister to them and he invited Saul who had been converted to Christ to join him in the work.  It was there that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).  Many believe that it was first a name given out of derision to the people.  The Bible never says that.  It simply notes that this was the first place the followers of Christ were given that name.  Later king Agrippa would say to Paul, “Do you believe you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Paul responded that he would to God that not only Agrippa but all others also were like him except for these bonds.  Later in I Peter 4:16 Peter would say, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

What intrigues me is that here in this time, when the Bible was being completed, every time the word Christian was used it was used to describe one’s relationship with Jesus the Lord, Savior and Master of their lives.  They were disciples of Jesus.  They had accepted the challenge to follow him.  But, it is obvious from these uses of the word, “Christian” it wasn’t ever used in the way we tend to use it today.  In our time if one says, “I’m a Christian” they normally feel they must go ahead and describe what kind of Christian they are.  I don’t mean the kind in the sense of a good one or bad one, but in the brand of Christian.  I hear people say, “I’m a Baptist Christian”, “I’m a Catholic Christian”, “I’m a Mormon Christian”, or “I’m a Chuch of Christ Christian.”  Every such use of the word is a pathetic, unscriptural, divisive and ungodly use of the word.  When we put some other word with the word Christian we are declaring that we follow Christ only in the way this particular group teaches us to follow him.  By putting the group name ahead of His we indicate it is more important to be right with the church group than with Jesus whom we are to follow.

What if we actually went back to use the word the way it is used in the New Testament and in the way it was used in the first century?  What if those who are trying to follow Jesus dropped all their brand names and simply committed to following Jesus and declaring to the world that we are all Christians and let the message stop there?  It would mean we needed to spend more time learning what Jesus tells us to do and following His example than trying to learn what our church group thinks, believes or teaches.  We would really go back to Scripture to learn God’s will for us.  It would mean that the dividing lines between people that claim to follow Christ would fade away and become meaningless.  By the way, isn’t that exactly what Paul was pleading for in I Corinthians 1:10-17 when he reprimanded them for their division and declaring “I follow Paul”,”I follow Apollos”, or “I follow Peter.”  Some were even using the name Christ in the same divisive way by saying, “I follow Christ” as if to say that none of the others really did.  Paul’s challenge was, “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  The answer to each of the questions was to be, “Absolutely not!”

The problem so often is that we have too many people who are trying their very best to get on the throne with Christ to reign alongside him and not nearly enough people who are ready to recognize that Jesus is king of kings and Lord of Lords.  He is seated now on David’s throne and is reigning over his kingdom. Remember Paul’s plea in Ephesians 3:21, “Unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”

I want to ask you today to prayerfully consider going back to the language of the first century and being just a Christian.  Not a particular brand of Christian, but just a Christian who is devoted to following Jesus in every part of life.  It will be different for sure.  It may even be revolutionary.  But one thing is certain, it will fit what the Bible teaches and the will of God a million times better than the notion of a hyphenated Christian of some sort.  

Oh God, help us today to realize our divisions, separations and efforts to grow by tearing down others who are trying to follow you as much as we are is doing all kinds of harm in the world.  Help us Lord to be simply Christians who are totally committed to following Jesus in every part of our lives.  I pray for your guidance and the help of the Holy Spirit to convict us and lead us in following Christ and serving You our Father in heaven.  Through Jesus we pray, amen.

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WRITING PRAYERS

Do you write out your prayers to God at times?  It intrigues me to notice how different my prayers are that are spoken to the Father and the ones that I write out.  In spoken prayers it is very easy to run down the same road over and over again every time we pray.  But in written prayers we tend to go in very different directions from one time to the next and they don’t tend to fit some mold.

It always amazes me to read the prayers of Paul for the different churches that he wrote.  Almost every letter will contain at least one prayer and most of them have more than one.  Sometimes the prayers are quite extended but in most cases the prayers will only cover two to three verses and get to the point quickly.  Such is the case in Philippians 1:9-11.  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”  Notice it isn’t pictured as though Paul stopped at this very moment to pray this prayer for them.  Instead it seems he is simply revealing to them the kinds of things he prays for them on a regular basis.  It would be like us telling our grown children or grandchildren, “These are the things I pray about on your behalf on a regular basis.  It wouldn’t mean that he used the same words every time.  But he wanted them to know the things that were on his heart when he prayed for the church in Philippi.

Haven’t you ever had someone say to you that they pray for you on a regular basis, perhaps even daily?  Have you ever wondered when you hear that message, what they pray on your behalf every day?  I suspect the church in Philippi that was very close to Paul’s heart, knew he prayed for them regularly.  But it made a difference for them to know what kinds of things he was praying for them.

He prayed that their love would just keep on growing all the time.  I’m certain he was praying that their love for God, for each other and for their neighbors in the world to keep multiplying.  He may even have thought of their love for each other in the church or in their families.  But he was praying that love would be growing constantly more dominant in their lives.  But notice he is specific about the kind of love he longs to grow in their lives.  It is a love that will bring knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best.  Let’s face it, most of the time when we talk about love it wouldn’t fit these parameters.  We tend to think of love as the mushy feeling that is better felt than told.  Paul prayed for a love that will abound to knowledge.  This is a love that is thinking, planning and leads to action.  It is a love that will develop in us depth of insight.    We might well use the word “wisdom” for this point.  It is that ability to take what we know and understand and use it to make the best decisions in our life.  So, what is the great purpose of this depth of insight in our life?

It is that we might have the discernment to know what is best.  Some of the older translations have, “to approve the things that are excellent.”  Don’t you love to be around people that have the gift of wisdom?  They just seem to be able to look at all the options in life and choose the best way to go.  Surely every parent wants to pray this prayer for their children.  It isn’t just that they make good decisions.  We want them to have the discernment to determine what is best and follow that route.  Notice he ties that discernment to being pure and blameless in the day of Christ.  Normally, the day of Christ refers to the time when the Lord comes again to receive his own.  The only way anyone can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ is if they have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus from their sins and are walking in the flow of Christ blood that constantly keeps us clean.

But notice that his prayer isn’t just for them to be clean in the day of Christ, forgiven of their sins and pure in God’s sight.  He also prays for them to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.  It is certainly our prayer for anyone we love that they will be pure and clean before God when they leave this world or when the Lord returns to judge his own.  But we also want them to be effective servants for God that are bearing fruit to His glory and praise all the time.  In John 15:1-8 Jesus described Christians as the branches that produce good fruit in the vine.  It isn’t the rotten fruit that comes when lack of attention or failure to keep the relationship tight with the vine.  It is the fruit that comes naturally in a life connected to Christ all the time. Our calling is to abide in him so his word can abide in us and we, like the tree planted in the best soil for the particular tree it is and that is pruned and cared for by the master regularly.  This kind of fruitfulness brings glory and praise to God.

It is one thing to get praise from others who love us about how well we are doing.  It is a totally different thing to have the praise and glory that comes from God for a life of faith and service to him that will not quit.  Would you join me in praying this prayer for some special people in our lives over the next couple of weeks?  As we enjoy the Thanksgiving season, what a special blessing it would be to pray this prayer for family, friends, children, grandchildren, fellow followers of Christ and even for those we don’t know as well in the world.  I believe it will make a difference for good.

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GREAT IN GOD’S SIGHT

I dearly love hearing a father or mother talk about their children and what they are doing in life, when they are excited and almost in awe of how much their children are accomplishing.  I had lunch today with a friend who talked about his son and how proud he was of him and his life for God.  

It caused me to think of the time when the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah as he ministered in the temple.  Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth were older and had been married for a long time but had never been able to have children.  Now Gabriel explained to him that things were about to change drastically for them.  His wife was going to have a son.  “You are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13b-17)

Zechariah and Elizabeth are a godly couple who have devoted their lives to serving God.  But, until now, something was missing.  They wanted children and things had seemed somewhat empty when she wasn’t able to give birth to a child.  But now, that was all to change.  Wouldn’t it be something amazing to have an angel of God tell you that your child was going to be a joy and delight.  Most of the time when we anticipate the birth of a child it is with joy and delight.  But, as years pass, and challenges arise, it often seems that the joy and delight is fading.

But what is so amazing to me is the promise that their son that was still only a promise, was to be great in the sight of the Lord.  It is entirely possible for a child to be great in the eyes of the parents when they aren’t great at all in God’s sight.  It is also possible for one to be great in God’s sight and a huge disappointment to their parents.  For parents to both be filled with Joy and delight about the life of their child and God to see them as great is extremely powerful.  Surely that is what every Christian parent longs for as they look at their children.  

It draws us to ask the question, what makes a person great in God’s sight?  If it were being great in people’s eyes we might think of things like making lots of money, being a great athlete, getting higher degrees of education, or starting a business that is successful.  But, in God’s sight, none of those things would carry much weight.  Look at the things that Luke tells us would make John great in God’s sight.

Notice Luke says Gabriel demanded that they bring him up as a Nazarite who wouldn’t drink any wine or fermented drink.  Instead of his being filled with wine he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  Later when Mary, the mother to be of Jesus came for a visit, John leaped in his mother’s womb due to her presence and the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  He will filled with the Spirit in the womb of Elizabeth.  From the beginning of his life he was devoted to God and was guided by the Holy Spirit in everything.  Notice that today God calls upon every follower of Christ to be filled with the Holy Spirit instead of being drunk with wine wherein is excess (Ephesians 5:18).  When we allow the Spirit to control us and guide us we live the life that God calls us to live in the world.

But there were three other significant reasons why John was great in God’s sight.  First, he would go in the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet.  Second he would turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to to wisdom of the righteous and third he would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  These are things that can make anyone great in God’s sight.  Going in the power and spirit of Elijah involves living under the Holy Spirit’s guide in life, of marching to his orders and listening for his lead.  It is great in God’s sight when we can somehow turn the hearts of parents back to their children.  It is terribly easy as parents to become so involved in our adult world that we turn the training and discipline of our children over to other people.  But no one can take the place of a loving father and mother who love their child so deeply they are ready to sacrifice many of the blessings and opportunities of their lives for the benefit of their children.  I wonder how many promotions we would turn down in life or how many opportunities we would skip if our hearts were set on our children and their good rather than on us.  Notice he tied with the turning of the hearts of parents to their children, turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.  So, our focus can’t be just on our own children but of striving to take the people we know and love in life to God and his will for them.  When we can turn anyone away from Sin to God we change the whole world for them.

Finally, he said he would be great in God’s sight because he would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  Here is the challenge for everyone of us.  If I want to be seen as Great in God’s view, I need to start with me, then my wife or husband to make certain we are committed to God fully.  Then we  need to focus on our children to make certain they learn the will of God and are encouraged to live the life of a follower of Christ.  In the process we will strive to witness for God to all those who our children are around from day to day.  Ultimately, that interest and turning people to God reaches out to people I meet, those in the area, ones who work with me or just people we know from some aspect of life.  Our longing is to be that witness for God to everyone we can to turn their hearts to God rather than to sin.

I want to be great in God’s sight and I certainly want my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to be great in His sight.  Isn’t that a noble ambition for us all?

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WHEN ALL FEELS USELESS

I’ve been drawn to the Book of Ecclesiastes lately for some reason.  It has to be one of the oddest books of the Bible and there are times when I wonder why it is in the Bible at all.  But, I suspect there are times in most of our lives when we feel a whole lot like the writer of Ecclesiastes.  It seems to be the case that Solomon is the writer even though he isn’t named in it.  But he does mention his being the king of Israel, the son of David and his great wealth and wisdom, so it fits him.  Looking at Solomon’s life, one would normally think of him as extremely blessed.  This book seems to have been written when he was an old man, has messed up many things in his life and now as he looks back over the horizon it all seems meaningless to him.  The second verse of the Book sets the tone with” Meaningless, Meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

He could have looked back and thought about how God had answered his prayer for wisdom and made him the wisest man alive.  He could have looked back and considered the fact God chose him to build the temple rather than this father David.  He could have looked back and seen how God had blessed the kingdom during his rule and it had become extremely wealthy and powerful.  But those things seemed far away.  It had been a long time since he felt his life really made any difference for good.  This certainly isn’t rare.  Think of the lives of so many who have been in powerful positions in life, then it ends and they have an extremely difficult time not being in the spotlight any longer.  They can’t get over the fact the crowds don’t gather around them now, reporters aren’t at their door and life moves on.  But it isn’t just the powerful.  The truth is when you realize the best days of this life are behind you and that you aren’t able to do many of the things you used to do without even thinking about it.  Sometimes it feels that life has moved on and somehow you got caught in the traffic and missed the parade.

Solomon’s response to those feelings was that he set upon a mission to rebuild the meaning and purpose to his life.  He determined, since he was a wise person, to put all kinds of things to the test to see if they would bring meaning and purpose to his life.  He took the tremendous wealth and opportunities he had to run a scientific test to see what would make one feel loved, important, and useful again.

In chapter 2:1-3 he describes some of his efforts, “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.  But that also proved to be meaningless.  Laughter, I said, is madness.  And what does pleasure accomplish?  I tried cheering myself with wines and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom, I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.” He goes on to talk about buildings he had built, gardens planted and reservoirs to water the groves of flourishing trees.  He bought servants of all kinds, amassed silver and gold, and denied himself nothing his eyes desired.  But he found it all meaningless and chasing after the wind.

He reached the point that he hated life when he thought of all the work he had done and now he was facing death and who would receive all this stuff.  Would they care for it, take care of it or just waste it all?  It just seemed meaningless and chasing the wind.  Strangely, this despair led to one of the greatest statements of the book and from life as a whole.  In chapter 3:1-8 he wrote: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

As one works their way through the book there are both times of constant complaining about life and its circumstances and times when he offers great advise on living.  Near the end of the Book in the last verses of chapter 11 and all of chapter 12 he challenges those who are young to enjoy their youth knowing it doesn’t last and to remember their creator in the days of youth before the evil days come when you will say you have no pleasure in them.  He looked closely at the days before death and the time when death comes and the dust returns to the dust and the spirit unto God who gave it.  Even that brought again the plea, “Meaningless! Meaningless, says the teacher, everything is meaningless.”  He seems frustrated to know that there would always be more books written and the study of them brings weariness to the body.  

By far the greatest message of the book comes with the final words in chapter 12.  “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

It many ways Solomon wasted the huge opportunities God gave him with his pursuit of pleasure, power and pomp.  Yet, as he reached the final days of his life, he realized it was all without meaning and purpose.  If only he had remembered through his whole life that the ultimate purpose of mankind is to fear God and keep his commands.  it would surely have mattered if he had kept in view that God would bring everything into judgement and nothing is hidden from his view.  It is normal to feel like our place, purpose and value is passing.  But it is vital in such times to keep the focus on God and our duty to Him who makes all things have meaning.

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