I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

 

By now, at this time in the Christmas season, I suspect that most of us have seen some form of the Nativity pageant in our church, or at a school performance, or on television. 

a-wise-man-from-childrens-pagent
A wise man at our children’s Christmas nativity scene.

We have been told about the events that first Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds who were tending their sheep in the field.  The angels’ announcement is found in Luke 2:13-14 where we read:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The King James Version of verse 14 says “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”.  

The Jews wanted a prince to restore a peaceful kingdom to Israel, so this angelic hymn was, quite literally, music to their ears!  Even today, many people believe that true religion must bring peace. And, this proposition would be true if the message of Jesus Christ was universally received.  It cannot be argued that any system of laws could be more suited to living peacefully in human society than the Gospel of Christ. 

And he [the man] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:27-28 [See also Matthew 22:37-41] 

But, even a superficial glance at the daily newspaper shows, such love does not reign in our society or our world, and sometimes not even in our churches.  Indeed, the fact of the matter is that love is all too often missing from our interactions with others. Road rage, murders, massacres, vehicles plowing down pedestrians, infants being shot while in a car seat in the family vehicle, people shot while praying in their church, wars and conflicts … and the list goes on.  Hatred is everywhere and peace is hard to find.

Were the angels wrong when they said that this Babe would bring peace to our world?  Absolutely not.

But, Jesus said that He did not come to bring “peace on earth”:

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34 and again,

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12:51

In these verses, Jesus is saying that He did not bring peace to the earth!  This seems to be inconsistent with the angels’ message when He was born!  But, the angels were not wrong or misinformed and Jesus was not ignorant of His mission.  Quite the contrary.  He did bring peace, just not the kind of peace that the people expected.  The fact is that civil peace was not the purpose of the Babe’s birth.

In Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the dedication that following Him requires.  It is not a shallow “liking” nor is it simply a willingness to do good things. He is also forewarning His followers that there would be persecution and that they needed to remain strong in their faith and dedication to Him.  Indeed, following Him requires whole-hearted devotion, no matter what the cost, even if it involves persecution, even if it separates us from our family, even if it separates us from this life.

Matthew Poole, in his Commentary on the Bible, says this about Matthew 10:34-37:

Accidentally, through the corruption of men’s hearts, the consequent [result] of Christ’s coming into the world, and of his gospel coming into and prevailing in any part of the world, is (as Luke phrases it) “rather division”, which is here called a sword. Through men’s fondness of their idolatry, superstition, and lusts, and madness on them, their impatience of being outdone in religion and righteousness of conversation, the event [result] of Christ’s coming was division, wars, variances, … men taking up arms to compel all others to their idolatries and superstitions. And that natural antipathy [hatred] which men have to holiness, setting them at variance with [in opposition to] those who, embracing the gospel, live a life as becometh the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,… 

Jesus did bring peace.  It was His heavenly peace for those who accept Him as their Savior. 

Here are just a few of Jesus words giving His peace to His followers:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

What does this have to do with Christmas?  A great deal!  Civil peace is almost a fiction. Rather, the peace that our Lord brought was His peace, heavenly peace. It is the peace that allowed Jesus to willingly go to the cross, to experience excruciating pain and torture without retaliation, and even to forgive those who were mocking Him while they nailed Him to the cross.

For the believer, His peace is real … it is part of the fabric of our faith and it covers the believer even in times of great distress.  It may appear that Satan and his forces are winning the cosmic battle over the earth.  But this is only an illusion that Satan wants us to believe.  (Remember Job?  Satan had to get God’s permission to hurt him, all for God’s purposes of which Job was unaware.)

God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty Immortal Sovereign Ruler is in control. Make no mistake — God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in control.  He was in control when Satan had to get permission to act and He has not changed.  He sent Christ into this world to exhibit peace and to bring that peace to His people. 

The Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses the despair that the conflict in our world brings but God is neither dead nor sleeping.  He did bring His peace into the world on Christmas Day, and He is still in control even 2,000 years later.  Listen to the carol as sung by the group Casting Crowns on their album Peace on Earth.

Christian, take heart.  Rely on Jesus Christ and His peace this Christmas and all year long.  He will give you grace to endure that which comes your way.  His grace was sufficient for the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) and it is sufficient for us today.

Father, I bow at this time of the year and thank You for the Gift brought to us through Your grace and mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ.  When the sorrows of the world beset me, grant me the grace to rely on You in the sure confidence that even in times of difficulty, You are in control and I am in Your hand!

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 9, JOY, Part Three

 JOY – EFFERVESCENCE EVEN IN CHAOS

PART THREE

Last week we looked at Paul and Silas as they praised the Lord while they were in prison, locked down in stocks.  Then we considered the early Christian church as they experienced joy even in horrific persecution.  Now, let us think about joy, depression and what we have to be joyous about in 2016!

What does Scripture say?

Recall that the basis for our joy is the work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33.

 

Because of His victory, the real basis for our inexpressible joy is that, as believers in Jesus Christ, our names are written in heaven!   For this reason the prophets, apostles and even Christ Himself command us to rejoice and be glad.  

 

We are not to rejoice in great acts that are accomplished here, even if they are done in the power of the Lord.  See Luke 10 where we read that the disciples returned after going out to minister to others in the power of the Lord, and they did marvelous things.  While they were telling Jesus of the results of their mission, I envision Jesus smiling, perhaps nodding His head, and then He issued this warning:

 

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” 

Luke 10:20

 

We are told to be joyful in both the Old and New Testaments.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 29, that King Hezekiah took action and restored the service of the house of the Lord that had been neglected for many, many years.  In the next chapter, the King sent couriers to all the people inviting them to come to Jerusalem and keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in celebration of the worship of the Lord.  Scripture tells us:

And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with all their might to the LORD. … So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.  

2 Chronicles 30:21, 26.

 

In the Psalms we are repeatedly told to be “joyful in the Lord.”

Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD, exulting in his salvation.

Psalm 35:9

 

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

Psalm 97:12

 

Not just the Psalmist speaks of joy — Isaiah describes joy in Isaiah 61:10:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

 

In the New Testament, in Philippians 4:4, Paul says:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” 

 

Here, joy is so important that Paul repeats himself, in the same sentence!

 

God does not like doubt and dejection.  He hates dreary doctrine, gloomy and melancholy thought.  God likes cheerful hearts; His very work in freeing us from the bondage of sin is evidence that joy is His desire.  Notwithstanding this truth, we need to pause and recognize the reality of depression.  Remember that despondency is not the fruit of the Spirit.  It can come from many things — satanic temptation, unbelief, some harbored sin, or perhaps indigestion or a medical condition.  The fruit of the Spirit is Joy not depression..

 

Beware!  Don’t set too much store by your own feelings as evidence of the grace given to youThe fruit of the Spirit is joy but you may not at this moment be conscious of joy.  We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ through the Word of God which is a sure testimony to the work of Christ for us.  That is what we should trust, not emotions or feelings.

God is sovereign, and He is in control.  He sends both prosperity and adversity, for His purposes which are often unknowable to us.  Don’t let the adversity take way your confidence in God.

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

 Ecclesiastes 7:14.

 

C. H. Spurgeon noted:

Precious as the fruit is, do not put the fruit where the root should be.  Please do remember that joy is not the root of grace in the soul, it is the fruit and must not be put out of its proper position.  “The fruit of the Spirit is … joy” and it is brought forth in believers not alike in all or at all times, but to all believers there is a measure of joy.

 

Spurgeon who himself struggled with depression, also said:

Constantly looking within you own self instead of looking alone to Christ is enough to breed misery in any heart.    Do not covet the counterfeit of earthly joy. … The Spirit of God is not barren … If he be in you, He must and will inevitably produce His own legitimate fruit, and the fruit of the Spirit is … joy.   We experience Heaven’s joy even here, on occasion, … and we can say with David “happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.”  (Psalm 144:15)

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

What prompts this joy in the Christian?

 

The ways that this Joy is touched in your heart are innumerable, but here are just a few suggestions that you might want to consider.  You likely will be able to come up with others and, when you do, praise the Lord for His grace and send a comment letting us know how He brings Joy to you.

 

  • The Christian is joyful because she is certain of her pardon for God has told her that she is not condemned as she is accepted by God for she is justified by faith.

 

  • Joy comes when we hear the Word in worship. See Isaiah 52:7.  Think about Israel and the celebration they had when their worship was restored!  Do you long to worship, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to study and hear the Word?   (Just a note:  the reason people grumble at long sermons is because they do not feed on them.  Very seldom do the hungry gripe at having too big a meal!)

 

  • Joy comes when we think of God Himself.

“More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Romans 5:11.

 

The Psalmist asks in Psalm 8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”  God, Himself, answered that question 2000 years ago when He made it possible for us to spend eternity with Him through Christ our Savior.  That is way more than merely “mindful”!

 

God’s Joy is an abiding sense of happiness – an emotional pattern that enables Nehemiah to write “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10)

 

The musical offering below is from the Silver Anniversary Concert of The Centurymen, Buryl Red, conductor.  Listen to “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” and let the Lord’s joy envelop your heart and mind.  Then let the Holy Spirit fill you with joy as you go through your day.

 

 

Put Jesus first.  Follow His commands.  Rest in the joy of His Word.  Worship Him. Listen to the Helper, the Holy Spirit as you face difficulties, and have confidence in your salvation through Christ’s atoning work on the cross for your sins.  Remember your reconciliation with God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.  His Joy will come!

 

Next week we will begin our study of Peace.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.

FLAT STANLEY

Several years ago we received an envelope in the mail box from our granddaughter who, at the time, lived in Louisiana.  It contained a cut out picture figure of a young boy, smiling and ready for adventure along with a letter advising that we were the ones to provide him with that adventure!  We were told that this was Flat Stanley and she was asking us to take him with us and to take pictures of him as we went about our day.  She then asked that we send the pictures to her for a project at school.

Being the accommodating grandparents that we are, we took many pictures of Flat Stanley, at home, in the car, at a restaurant, in the RV, at a meeting, at the church soundboard, even at a basketball game and later playing cards with us.  We had a good time thinking about where we could position Flat Stanley for another shot.  When we were done, we emailed the pictures to our daughter‐in-love so she could do whatever next was necessary for our granddaughter to finish her project.

            Ober+Gatlinburg Stanley in VanStanly helping on board  Stanly in truck UT basketball game                                 

When we were done, we were looking at the pictures and chuckling at how we had gotten Flat Stanley in so many different positions, activities, etc.  Then I began actually thinking about Flat Stanley.  Now, I know that this was a school project for our granddaughter.  But, who is Flat Stanley?

I saw Flat Stanley as a cute, paper cut‐out boy who we hand‐positioned in various scenes for use in a school project.  We were careful with Flat Stanley: we did not hurt him or put him in peril.  But we did not really care if he wanted to participate in playing cards or going to the arena for basketball  – we never asked.  (I realize that he could not have responded to our inquiry, but that is beside the point I am trying to make.)  He was someone to be used for a specific purpose, not someone to get to know for his own sake.

Now, it has been awhile since we had children in elementarFlat-Stanley_edited-2y school and I, quite frankly, had not heard of Flat Stanley, at least not to my memory.  So, after the pictures were taken and we had sent them on their merry way, I did some research about just who in the world was Flat Stanley.  It turns out that Flat Stanley is a children’s book written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer in 1964.  The premise of the original storyi is that Stanley Lambchop was flattened during his sleep when a bulletin board that was hung over his bed fell on him.  Thus, he became Flat Stanley.  One of the advantages of being flat is that he can be mailed in an envelope to his friends and so he can share adventures all over the world.  Ultimately Flat Stanley is pumped up back into his original shape but not until he has had quite some exciting times while he was flat.  So, now I know about Flat Stanley.

But this effort involving this little guy prompted me to wonder – do I see other people as Flat Stanleys,  Flat Sandys, Flat Sams or Flat Susans?   Do I see them as two‐dimensional people to be used for my own purpose and nothing more?  What is my first thought when I meet someone new ‐‐ “will this person be of benefit or help to me?” or “how can I make this person’s day brighter?”

Think about our interactions with people in our neighborhood, office, store, school, church.  Are we taking the opportunity and/or making the effort to get behind the surface of Flat Sam or Flat Susan to see the whole person, or at least as much of the whole person that they will allow us to see.  Are we trying to put ourselves in the visitor’s position and welcome them, not only with open arms (of course that is a very good start) but also by missing them if they are absent, and letting them know that they are missed? Or by calling during the week to see how they are doing, or just to lend a friendly ear?  Do we limit our friendship to the two dimensions we see in public or do we make the effort to get behind the façade and so that we can know them personally?  Are we friends‐in‐fact or simply friendly?

Of course, Jesus Christ speaks to our dealings with the Flat Stanleys in our world.   He describes one who learns about others and who helps them even to the detriment of himself in the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10.  The Samaritan stopped and helped a Jew ‐‐ he saw Flat Stanley on the side of the road but he did not leave him there, unlike the two earlier passers‐by.  The Samaritan went out of his way to help, even at his own personal expense, for this complete stranger of a hated people.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  Jesus asked. (Luke 10:36)  The reply was that it was the man who had mercy on the injured traveler, at which point Jesus said “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

The Christians in the early church were described in Acts 9:36 as always doing good and helping the poor.  Apparently, these early Christians did not ignore the Flat Stanleys in their world.  They looked at people, saw the need and responded to it as best they could.

I am quite certain that my granddaughter did not think about Flat Stanley in this light.  But the thought stuck in my head.  Do I see others merely as Flat Stanleys, Flat Sandys, Flat Sams or Flat Susans?   If so, perhaps I should spend time with the Lord and see how He would guide me to open my eyes and see that what appears to be only a two‐dimensional “flat” person actually is someone who has had many experiences that combine to create the individual I see.  The person is someone who has had trials and tribulations, hurts and histories that form a lens through which she views the world, and me.  Quite possibly, those hurts, trials and difficulties are not all in the past, and they are being hidden behind the façade of “okayness” while the individual is aching for someone just to care or show an interest.

In other words, the person I am looking at is just like me.   Do I want to be treated as if I am a Flat Linda, without substance, two‐dimensional who is of no import to anyone?  The answer to that question is a resounding, “No, of course not.”   If that is true, then I am above all a hypocrite if I treat others in such manner.   Each person is important to the Lord – thus, each person should be important to me as a child of His.

Flat Stanley might be out of sight and in his envelope resting at home now (perhaps he is on the floor under the laundry, or maybe even thrown away due to various moves the family has made), but the impression he made on me is much deeper than two‐dimensional.  I am thankful for the way the Holy Spirit used this little paper guy in my own heart and mind.  Now, to put the lessons of Flat Stanley into practice!

Here is where the “rubber meets the road!”

                                                        

i There are multiple books in this series and there are numerous other books being written to chronicle Flat Stanley’s exploits.  See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Stanley