2011 is almost here.
What if you went to a doctor and he told you you have only one year to live?
Would you live your life any differently?
Are there things you would do less of?
Things you would stop altogether or start doing that you have never done?
What about relationships?
Are there people you would talk to and what would you say?
I bring this up because that is the theme for my message this week that I will give at Harvest Orange County on Thursday and Harvest Riverside on Sunday.
I may even use some of your comments.
So, opine away.
“If this were my last year to live I would . . . ”
Tonight at Harvest Orange County we will be having our “Eve before Christmas Eve” service.
There is going to be an amazing concert featuring the outstanding Harvest Worship Band performing all your Christmas favorites, some like you have never heard before.
My message title is “A (Messed up) Family Christmas.”
If you are like me, then you did not come from a ‘perfect family.’ Rather,you might describe yourself as coming from a ‘dysfunctional family’. Despite that, God can put broken things back together, including families.
We will talk about that as well as focus on who I believe is the ‘unsung hero’ of the Christmas story, exempting Jesus Himself.
This person went the extra mile and then some. But they are usually passed over.
Can you guess who that might be?
More on that tonight.
It all starts at 7:00 pm.
For more info,go to www.harvest.org/oc/.
A real war has been raging over Christmas. Many retailers have instructed their employees to no longer say, “Merry Christmas,” but to say, “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” instead. We see this trend being carried through to the public schools and other places. Some school districts in Florida and New Jersey have prohibited the singing of Christmas carols altogether. And in Texas of all places, a school confiscated one child’s gifts for classmates, which were pencils with the inscription, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
A Wisconsin elementary school actually changed the lyrics for “Silent Night” to a secularized version, “Cold in the Night.”
“God Rest You Merry Persons?”
Attempts to create a politically correct version of Christmas are not only happening in the U.S., but abroad as well. Cardiff Cathedral, an Anglican Church in Wales, has made the hymn, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” more gender-friendly by renaming it, “God Rest You Merry Persons.” (That just doesn’t have the same sound.) Some are even suggesting they take it a step further by substituting the words “higher power” for God in the lyrics. Now we are losing the whole point of the song.
Worse than the Grinch
Efforts to stop Christmas have been going on for a very long time. In fact, someone tried to stop the first Christmas, and he wasn’t a fictional character like the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge. He is known as Herod the Great. Herod was born into a politically well-connected family, and at the age of 25, he was named the governor of Galilee – a very high-ranking position for such a young man. The Romans were hoping that Herod would somehow be able to control the Jews who lived in that area. And in 40 B.C., the Roman Senate gave Herod the title of “king of the Jews.” This was a title the Jews especially hated, because Herod was not a religious man. He was not a devout man. He had no regard for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or for the Jewish people. But he loved that title because it spoke of power.
Herod the Great?
And that was Herod’s problem. He was addicted to power. Power has been described as the ultimate human obsession, and that certainly was the case with King Herod. His craftiness knew no barriers, because he had a morbid distrust of anyone who would try to take his reign. He had his spies fan out and constantly look for any potential threats to his throne. Over the years, he killed many people whom he perceived as a threat, including his brother-in-law, mother-in-law, two of his own sons and even his wife. The ancient historian Josephus described Herod as barbaric. Another writer described him as the malevolent maniac.
The real “King of the Jews.”
By the time Jesus was born, Herod’s life was coming to an end. The so-called king of the Jews was slowly dying of a disease, and he was rapidly losing his mind. He had successfully fought off all attempts to take his power away when mysterious visitors from the east suddenly came blowing into town. They were strange men with strange questions. And right off the bat, they pushed Herod’s button when they said they were looking for the one who was born the king of the Jews. That was Herod’s title, but he certainly wasn’t born the king of the Jews. Yet that is who the wise men were looking for.
So Herod called in the members of the local clergy to assist him, scribes who had spent their lives in the study of Scripture. Immediately they pointed to the prophecy of Micah that predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But Herod wasn’t thinking about prophetic significance; he was thinking about the threat to his throne. He secretly called in the wise men and asked them to tell him exactly when the star appeared. Then he told them to search for the child and when they had found him, to report back so that he could go and worship also. But the Bible tells us that after the wise men found Jesus and worshipped him, God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. So the wise men took a different way home.
Herod was so angry these wise men had not reported back to him that he freaked out. All the worst instincts of a lifetime of cruelty came to the surface, and he ordered the cold-blooded murder of all males in Bethlehem and its districts under the age of 2.
Contrast of Kings
We find an interesting contrast of kings in this story. Both possessed immense power, but how they chose to use it revealed the hearts of two radically different men. Herod was a tyrant; Jesus was a servant. One was consumed with self-interest; the other was focused on pleasing God and serving others. One manipulated, slandered, deceived and coerced, while the other healed, touched, taught and loved.
Herod tried to stop Christmas, and more to the point, he tried to stop Christ. But even with all of his wealth and power and influence, he came to ruin.
Like Herod, there are people today who oppose Christmas. They don’t want us to say, “Merry Christmas.” They don’t want us to say that Jesus is the reason for the season. They don’t want us to sing our Christmas carols. They don’t want us to post the Ten Commandments in our classrooms or have prayers in public places. They don’t want any freedom of expression in our culture. They want to impose their values – or lack of values – on us. There are people today who oppose everything about God or about Jesus Christ. And that is what Herod did. He was a man who fought against God and ended up destroying himself.
Don’t forget Jesus at Christmas.
Of course, we can complain about people who are leaving Christ out of Christmas, but let’s not do that ourselves. We can forget to keep Christ in Christmas with all of our busyness at this time of year. The wise men had it right. They wanted to worship Jesus. And that is quite dramatic when you consider these men were like royalty themselves, yet willing to bow before the baby king. Their gifts were an expression of worship from the overflow of adoring and grateful hearts. And right worship is always – and must be – the only basis for right giving and right service. Christmas is all about Christ. It is not about Christmas presents; it is about His Christmas presence in our lives.
Christmas is almost here, and that means getting together with family.
And that is part of the problem! Because we all have pretty messed up families!
The good news is that God can intervene even in the most dysfunctional families.
Jesus Christ Himself came from a very unusual family tree.
He had some rather unsavory characters that made their way into the most exclusive genealogy in human history, I am speaking of course of the family tree of Jesus Christ!
I will be talking about that this Sunday at Harvest in all of our services in my message “A (Messed Up) Family Christmas!”
I will also be joined this Sunday at Harvest by musician extrodinare, Fernando Ortega.
Fernando will be at all four services,which are at 7:45/9:45/11:45 am and 5:00 pm.
There will also be special Christmas music from our own Harvest Worship Band.
So come join us in person or watch it all live at www.harvest.org.
Have you ever had one of those birthdays when you wanted people to throw a party for you?
You wanted them to buy some nice gifts. You hinted at what gifts you wanted and even left maps to the places where you wanted them to shop. You were hoping someone would get the idea of throwing you a surprise party. You were certain that every time you went out to dinner with a friend that people were going to jump out and yell, “Happy Birthday!” You were looking forward to it with great excitement. But nothing happened. The party never took place. In fact, it seemed like people forgot your birthday. Or worse yet, they remembered it but failed to acknowledge it.
Christmas is a Birthday.
In theory, that is what Christmas can be like. It is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In contrast to your birthday or mine, everyone recognizes it. Everywhere we go, there are reminders that Christmas is coming. Merchants want you to shop till you drop and spend money. Shoppers, in turn, can get psycho about getting good deals. Two years ago on Black Friday, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as the crowd rushed into the store to find a few savings. And last year, a woman was trampled at the entrance of a Toys R Us in Tennessee when the store opened its doors. Thankfully, she survived.
The reason for the Season.
We all need to just relax a little bit and remember what this season is about: it is the time when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. In the midst of our activities and preparations to celebrate Christmas, how often do we forget about the honored guest? We string our lights. We trim our trees. We talk about Christmas. We hear recorded songs mentioning the birth of Jesus. But how many people actually take time for him? We run around the malls and buy things for everyone we know – and even some people we wish we didn’t know. But we can forget to make room in our schedules for Jesus.
It happened the first time too.
This is not a 21st-century phenomenon alone. It happened in the first century as well, on the very first Christmas. Mary and Joseph had been biding their time in Nazareth. It was getting closer and closer to the day of her delivery. Then suddenly an announcement was made that everyone had to be taxed, and everyone had to go to their initial hometown for this to take place.
Because Mary and Joseph both were descendants of King David, they made their journey to Bethlehem, David’s hometown. When this announcement was made, they probably thought about it as the greatest interruption, hassle and perhaps a mistake on God’s part. Why would he want Mary to make this long, difficult journey to Bethlehem this late in her pregnancy?
The reason was that God is a stickler for detail. Scripture had said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so that is what Mary and Joseph had to do. They had to go to Bethlehem.
We romanticize Christmas.
As we think about the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we can romanticize this in our minds. We imagine a full moon with the silhouettes of Mary and Joseph against a starlit sky, and soft, angelic music playing in the background.
The fact of the matter is this was a very hard journey. It would have been difficult under any circumstances, but the fact that Mary was so late in her pregnancy made it even more so. It was approximately a 90-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and in those days, people would travel about 20 miles a day. They didn’t travel a flat, paved road, but rugged terrain that would go up and down. It likely would have been in the dead of winter, with temperatures in the 30s. At night, it would have been freezing cold. Add to that the dangers in the forest, with lions, bears and wild boars, not to mention the potential threat of robbers and bandits.
No room in the inn.
Mary and Joseph probably comforted themselves with the thought of a warm bed waiting for them in Bethlehem. But that was not to be the case. When they finally arrived that night, they found that every place was full. The innkeeper told them, “There is no room here,” and he sent them out to a stable, possibly a cave, where the Savior of the world was born.
We hear this story and wonder what the deal was with that innkeeper. How could he have been so indifferent? Where was his heart? But I think that innkeeper was like a lot of people at this particular time of year. They are just too preoccupied. They are interested in the buck – and in the innkeeper’s case, the shekel. He could obviously see that Mary was ready to give birth. He could obviously see she was in discomfort, but there wasn’t enough money in it for him. The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about this innkeeper. We can sort of let our imaginations run a little wild and wonder what really happened on that particular night when he turned them away.
Make Room for Jesus.
This symbolized the entire ministry of Jesus and his life on earth from the cradle to the cross. He could have been born in the most elegant mansion or on the ritziest boulevard in the Roman Empire. He could have come from aristocratic parents, boasting of their pedigree or great learning. He could have had the finest clothes and attended the most exclusive schools. Instead, he was brought to us in a place like a cave and had a manger for his cradle. The fact there was no room for him at the inn was indicative of the treatment that he would receive throughout his entire earthly ministry. One telling passage is found for us in John’s Gospel where it says, “And everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” (John 7:53–8:1). Everyone went home for the night, but Jesus went to sleep out in the open air on the Mount of Olives.
There was never room for Jesus. And today, there is just no room for him in so many situations. Is there room for Jesus in your life right now? As we enter into the Christmas season, and as we prepare to start a new year with new opportunities, will you make room in your life for him?
Some may think that that Jesus ‘began’ at Bethlehem.
While it is true that in that manger is where God entered our world as a man, that is not where Jesus Himself began. Jesus is God; thus He has always existed. In fact, He made many pre-Bethlehem appearances. We call those “Christophanies.”
What is a “Christophany?”
Where are they? Jesus alluded to this in John 8:56 when He said that “Abraham ‘saw’ his day and was glad. Did Jesus and Abraham actually meet? If so, when and where? I will explore some of the pre-Bethlehem appearances of Jesus Christ in my message on Sunday.
Come to one of our services, which are at 7:45/9:45/11:45 am and 5:00 pm.
Or you can watch it all live at www.harvest.org.
They “Why” of Christmas.
Check out my weekend column at Worldnetdaily as I deal with the “Why” of Christmas.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Running the Race of Life
In the ancient Greek games, a judge would stand at the finish line holding, in plain sight, the laurel leaves that would be rewarded to the victor. As runners came down the final stretch, they were exhausted, perhaps in agony, and feeling as though they couldn’t go another step. But suddenly there was the prize in sight, and a new burst of energy would kick in.
This is the picture behind the phrase “looking unto Jesus” in Hebrews 12:2. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. And our prize is the privilege of standing before Him and receiving the crown of righteousness that He will give us.
It’s not for applause.
That is why we try to live godly lives, and why we try to reach people for Him. It isn’t for brownie points. It isn’t for applause. It isn’t for notoriety. It’s so we can hear Jesus say to us on that final day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” No, we can’t earn our salvation, because He has already provided it. But we want to please the One who laid down His life for us. Ultimately, we want to be able to say, “Lord, I took the life You gave me and tried to make a difference. Here it is. I offer it to you.”
The key to running the race of life:
“Looking unto Jesus….” That keeps you going, doesn’t it? After all, you can get discouraged at times. People will let you down. They will disappoint you. They won’t appreciate your hard work or notice your efforts. Not bothering to understand your real motives, they’ll criticize that which they don’t (or won’t) understand. And that is when you need to remind yourself, I am not running my race for this person or that person. I am running for You, Lord. And I will keep running…with my eyes fixed on You.
I will be speaking this Sunday morning at the Core Church in LA. We planted this Church just over six months ago. Steve Wilburn, the pastor, has been doing a wonderful job along with his wife Laurie. The Core Church has been growing steadily every week and if you or anyone you know is in the LA area, let them know about it.
The service will start at 10:30 AM.
For more info, go to http://corechurchla.org/
Sunday Evening at Harvest in Riverside.
This Sunday, December 5, I will be giving a special Christmas message at Harvest Riverside, so come and join us if you can. This special service will feature Christmas music from Raymond Gregory’s new CD. Ray is one of the leaders of our worship team, under the direction of Hanz Ives. So, I hope to see you. The Sunday evening service at Harvest starts at 5:00 PM and will be webcast live. It all happens at www.harvest.org.