Christmas 2015: Star of Wonder
2015 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
2015 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
2013 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
We’re all familiar with weather warning systems. When a hurricane or tornado appears to be approaching a community, the National Weather Service will issue a warning for residents to evacuate or to take cover. Early warning systems save lives. God has an early warning system as well. Sometimes a believer gets involved in dangerous behavior or starts down a spiritually unhealthy pathway. At that point God activates His early warning system. Guess who that is? According to the Bible we are to be the early warning system to help a Christian veering off track from God’s will.
Laziness is contagious. Part of human nature is that if you do nothing, you’ll always drift in the wrong direction. You have to actively drive in the right direction. I call this phenomenon the gravity of depravity. If you find a friend chilling out on the sofa eating Cheetos and drinking a Coke, you might have the thought that you need to pull them up to their feet and go work out. But if they decide to pull you down to their level it’s a lot easier for them—they have gravity working with them—that’s the gravity of depravity. That’s why you soon find yourself chilling on the sofa with orange lips.
Through the years I’ve had people say that they just don’t have faith. But people exercise faith every day. When you sit down and eat a meal you didn’t prepare, you’re trusting that the cook didn’t put poison in it. When you get on a plane, you’re trusting the aircraft manufacturer and the skill of the pilot. Every time you send an email, you trust it will be delivered. When you sit in a chair, you trust it to hold you up. That’s what it means to believe in Jesus. It doesn’t mean just believing the facts about Jesus. You can give mental affirmation to the fact that there was a historical character named Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and was crucified in Jerusalem. But you must be willing to trust him just as you trust a chair that you sit.
Some people pray in generalities. They may say, “I’m praying for you.” Or, “God bless my family.” Some people pray so generally that they never know if God answers their prayer. But there is a kind of intercessory prayer that employs laser-guided prayer requests. It sends God coordinates for very specific requests. In this passage Paul designates four laser targets for our prayers.
You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t just STAND there, DO something.” But we can turn that around when it comes to the Christian life. “Don’t just DO something; STAND there.” Because the Christian life doesn’t start with action, it starts with conviction and belief—standing on truth. That truth always leads to action, but first we must stand firm on what we believe. As Martin Luther said when he was charged as a heretic by the Catholic Church, “Here we stand. We do no other. God help us.” Someone said that if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
The most powerful weapon in the universe is the Word of God. Paul said the breath of Jesus will defeat the Antichrist. Now, maybe you’ve knocked people over with your breath after you’ve eaten garlic and onions, but Paul is referring to the spoken Word of Jesus. The Antichrist might have a massive armament of nuclear and biological weapons, but they will be useless against the Word that Jesus speaks.
We live in a wicked world today. But can you imagine how wicked this world would be if suddenly there were no churches? There is moral corruption everywhere, but we’re the salt of the earth. Salt was used to preserve fish and to slow down decay. Our presence in the world today is slowing down the process of moral decay. There is spiritual darkness everywhere, but we’re the light of the world. Imagine the chaos and wickedness when the light is turned off.
So what does God want with us? He wants to make us worthy of His calling. He wants to empower us to bear His fruit. He wants to glorify the name of Jesus in our lives. Many people believe that this life is all there is, so their goal is to live it up, because they think they’ll only have about 70 to 80 years to stuff in as much fun as possible. But this life isn’t all there is.
Three of the most valuable Christian virtues are faith, hope, and love. You can see all three here in this passage. Faith reaches upward to God in response to His grace; Love reaches outward to others in response to God’s grace; Hope reaches forward into the future to trust God regardless of the circumstances. Perseverance is another word for spiritual stamina. Stamina is the ability to keep on going even when you’re tired.
We’re all in the process of being changed. None of us are there yet. That’s why we should be patient with each other. But when God looks at you and me, He sees not what we are now, but what we will be when He’s finished with us. That’s the power of an artist. They can look at an empty canvas and see a picture. An architect can look at a piece of property and see a building.
Buddhism won’t get you to heaven. There isn’t even any doctrine of heaven in Buddhism. Nirvana is reaching a state of blissful nothingness, whatever that means. Buddha couldn’t even explain it. With that introduction, I want to expose you to a much better eightfold path given in the Bible. This path won’t take you heaven. Jesus is the only way, or path, to heaven. He’s the one-way path to heaven. But once you’re on that path, this eightfold path of attitudes and actions will lead to a blessed life.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the “stand your ground” law. The Bible isn’t talking about a legal term; it’s talking standing firm spiritually. Notice Paul says there is going to be a day of evil that will come. I was reading this passage not long ago and the Lord impressed on my heart that every one of us are going to have a day that will be the worst day of our lives. It will be THE day of evil for you. Some people have already had the worst day they’ll ever live. Did you stand firm? For others, that day hasn’t come yet. So stay dress up in God’s armor so you can stand your ground when your world falls apart.
Imagine you were leaving for a trip and you posted on your Facebook page that you’re going to be gone for two weeks on vacation and your alarm system is broken, and nobody is staying in your home. And then you post, “I hope nobody takes the $50,000 cash I have hidden in my freezer.” Now, if you return home, you shouldn’t be surprised if that money was gone. Jesus is coming suddenly, and without warning. He’s coming like a thief in the night. But we have been warned in scripture, so we should not be surprised.
Many people are confused about the second coming of Christ, because there are passages that speak of Jesus coming as a thief in the night, suddenly and secretively. Then there are other verses that speak of Jesus coming in glory and every eye will see him. So which one is it? Yes. It’s both. When Jesus comes secretively, that’s the rapture—and He only comes in the clouds and we are caught up to be with Him. But seven years later Jesus will return in glory leading a heavenly army to defeat the Antichrist at Jerusalem. Those of us who have been raised from the dead or raptured will return with Jesus as part of His army. But don’t worry; you won’t need to fight. It will be the world’s shortest battle.
If you die in the Lord, the moment you die on planet earth, the angels will escort your soul and spirit to be with the Lord. Your loved ones who died in Christ are already there, and you’ll see them and you’ll know them. But for those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, death is a scary prospect.
I’ve stood at the graves of my mother and father. I’ve stood at the grave of many of my Christian friends. And I’m here to say that because of Jesus Christ, I stood there with a sense of hope. I knew that it wasn’t the last time I would see my parents, or my friends. I knew that I wasn’t saying goodbye forever. I was simply saying, “I’ll see you soon.” For those of us who know Christ, that’s what we have that the world doesn’t have, HOPE at the graveside.
Is your ladder of success leaning against the wrong wall? A selfish ambition is striving to do what YOU want to do and can be unfulfilling. A holy ambition is striving to do what GOD wants you to do. If you strive to BE the person God wants you to be, then you’ll be doing the things He wants you to do. A holy ambition doesn’t mean you grovel in the ashes of obscurity. It means you are productive for God.
“Why should I be sexually pure?” Because it is essential for you to walk in fellowship with a holy and pure God. Sex is like a powerful river. It’s a beautiful thing, when it is kept within the boundaries of marriage. But when it goes beyond God’s barriers, the result is always disaster.
Satan and his demons will try to hinder you, but they can only do what God allows them to do. One of the biggest mistakes Christians make in relation to Satan is that they consider him to have unlimited power. Lucifer is a fallen angel; he isn’t the dark side of the force. He isn’t omnipotent. Only God is omnipotent. Satan doesn’t have unlimited power. God permits Satan to tempt us and to challenge us because He knows when we endure adversity, it builds our character.
According to the world’s standard, Paul was a failure. He was unpopular. There was usually a mob after him. He spent more time in jail than he did in hotels. He was shipwrecked, beaten, and stoned. According to Ignatius, when Nero was Emperor, Paul was locked in the Mamartine prison in Rome. He was taken from the prison and beheaded, which was a benefit afforded him as a Roman citizen. Beheading was quick death, unlike crucifixion. The moment his head was severed from his body, he was absent from the body and present with the Lord. A failure? Think again. Today we name our sons Paul and our dogs Nero. Why? Because God can turn human failure into heavenly favor.
Faith is one step with two consequences. When a person turns to God, they are turning from their sinful past. Take your hand and place it front of your face with the palm facing you. Now, turn your hand around so the palm is facing away from you. The backside of your hand is now facing you, and the palm is facing away. That isn’t two separate actions; it was only one. Even so, you cannot turn to Christ without turning away from your sin. That turning is repentance. Four different ways we should model the Christian life to others.
Are you tempted to give up and quit? Maybe God has given you a dream or a vision and it hasn’t happened yet. You want to give up—but don’t. Hang in there. Maybe you’ve been praying for something to happen for a long time and God hasn’t answered your prayer—don’t give up. Keep on praying. Keep on trusting. You may be in a bad situation, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it. Hang in there and hang on. Don’t give up!
Before you make a trip, helps to know everything you can about your destination. That’s why we have travel guides. They tell you the best places to stay, the best places to eat, and a list of the activities that are available to you. If you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, Heaven isn’t a vacation destination; it’s an eternal destination. It’s the hometown of Jesus and He’s there now. So, what will there be to do in Heaven?
Where will you be five nanoseconds after you die? Some people might answer, “I don’t care.” But you will care five seconds after you die. Others answer, “I don’t know.” How sad not to have assurance of eternal life. But if you have placed your faith in Jesus you can say with assurance, “I’ll be away from this body and at home with the Lord—forever!”
Imagine you are planning an expensive two-week vacation to Costa Rica. The easiest thing to do is use a travel agent and let them plan the trip for you. But most of us want to do some of our own research online. So you go online to learn everything you can about Costa Rica. But when you Google Costa Rica there are only three words on the website. These words are, “Beautiful, Wonderful, Paradise.” You wouldn’t be satisfied. You’d want to know more about the place. You want to know the history, the climate, the language, the currency, the places to eat and the places to stay. Those are some of the details of heaven we’re going to be examining in this series.
A Christian once asked me, “Why should I go to church?” I thought for a moment and said, “You don’t go to church; you ARE the church.” Church is not a place; it’s what exists when believers gather together. A fully devoted follower of Jesus consistently gathers together with other believers.