The Original Santa

Much consternation is expressed by 21st-Century Christians over the commercialization of Christmas and rightly so. Part of that commercialization results from the culture’s veneration of Santa Clause, the Father Christmas figure who hands out gifts to all the good little boys and girls in the world. Believe it or not, if we would look at the history of Santa, we actually get back to the real meaning of Christmas. 
 
The story begins in the 4th-Century and involves a wealthy businessman and father of three beautiful daughters. He lost his fortune when Pirates raided his merchant ship, leaving him unable to offer a dowry for his daughters. In those days, young ladies from families too poor to provide a dowry faced the danger of being forced into slavery or prostitution. 
 
The father prayed night and day for a miracle. A young Bishop heard of this man’s plight. The Bishop’s name was Nicholas. Nicholas, a wealthy man himself, thanks to an inheritance he received upon the death of his parents. He determined to be an answer to the troubled man’s prayers.
 
Late at night, Nicholas snuck up to the house and dropped a bag of gold in the window. A while later, he returned and dropped another bag of gold in the window for the second daughter. When Nicholas came the third time, the praying father was waiting and gave chase, hoping to thank his benefactor. That’s when he recognized the young Bishop. The father attempted to thank Nicholas, but Nichols directed him to give thanks to God. Nevertheless, word spread about the generosity of the Bishop, who would later be venerated by the Catholic Church as Saint Nick.
 
Saint Nick was also a participant in one of the Church’s most historic church council, the Council of Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 A.D. by Constantine the Great to address the Arian controversy over the deity and eternality of Christ. The Arians (followers of Arius, an early church theologian and contemporary of Nicholas) taught that the pre-incarnate Christ was a created being and subject of God the Father.
 
History tells that Nicholas fought mightily and vigorously against this heretical doctrine. Some accounts say that Nicholas became so upset with Arius’ claim that Christ was a created being that he actually raised his hand and struck Arius in the face. (This has become my children’s favorite Christmas story. Every year I get asked to tell them about the time Santa smacked Arius for his denial of the deity of Christ, an act that would surely land them on the naughty list.)
 
I cannot think of a better figure to represent Christmas than an ancient Christian Bishop who adamantly held the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the Triune Godhead. That the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem was God in the flesh, come to live and die for His people, is the central message of Christmas. Jesus was God, our creator, who did not stay far off in heaven but drew near to us in love. He died and was raised from the dead so that we could live eternally in relationship with Him for all eternity. 
 
So when did Saint Nick become Santa? Well, shortly after the American Revolution, St. Nicholas was named the patron saint of the city of New York. In 1809, author Washington Irvin published a satirical history of the city of New York that referenced the benevolent jolly old character named St. Nick. Irving’s St. Nick resembled more of a Dutch burgher than the 4th-Century bishop from Turkey. In 1823 a poem was written by Clement Clarke Moore, a Greek and Hebrew professor at a New York seminary, that cemented the jolly old St. Nick in American culture. The original title of the poem was “A Visit from St. Nick,” but we know it today as “The Night Before Christmas.” 
 
As the St. Nick character’s fame spread throughout the 19th-Century, the culture embraced the contracted Dutch translation of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, which was later Americanized as Santa Clause. Santa’s image developed in the late 19th and 20th Centuries when artist Thomas Nast released a series of drawings in Harper’s Weekly titled “Merry old Santa Clause.” Nast’s drawings depicted the black-belted-white-bearded-fuzzy-red-suit-wearing-jolly-old elf who visits our town every year.
 
Has Santa highjacked the celebration of our Saviors birth? Perhaps, but only because we allow him to. Why not try digging a little into history? We will find the benevolent Christian Bishop named St. Nicholas a wonderful reflection of the benevolence of God in sending His son to save us when all hope was lost.

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What do logos have to do with Christmas?

A few years ago, our church’s staff and publicity committee began working on a logo. We wanted to find a symbol that we could put on our stationery, signs, and t-shirts that would graphically represent our mission statement, “Reaching up, reaching out, and reaching in.” I never realized what an arduous task this could be.
 
We learned that to come up with a strong logo, a leader must have a comprehensive knowledge of their organization’s identity. He or she must then be able to adequately communicate that identity to someone who is even more clever. That gifted person is then able to visualize the organization as a symbol and finally put it on paper. It took a long time, but we finally were able to create our logo, and we learned a lot about ourselves in the process.
 
Why do I tell this story? Well, the word “logo” is a shortening of an older word “logotype,” which has its deepest roots in the Greek word “logos.” To the ancient Greeks, the word logos called to mind the philosophy of the 6th century B.C thinker named Heraclitus. Heraclitus held that there was one formula, one computation, one “word” as it were, that united all other formulas, computations, and words. He hypothesized that there was one overarching principle that explained all the theories of all the thinkers from the ones who wrote poems, to the ones who would later describe the theories of quantum mechanics. Heraclitus’ writings and the writings of his contemporaries shaped the Greek’s understanding of “logos,” which was the Greek word for “word.”
 
Many scholars think that Greek philosophy had shaped John’s understanding when he wrote under divine inspiration, “in the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John could have been borrowing from Heraclitus and acknowledging that there is One that unifies the entire universe and all universal thoughts. If this were the case, then for John, Heraclitus’ logos was not a formula. No, the logos was a person, a person who was with God in the beginning and who by His nature was God.
 
Now the wheels come off in some people’s thinking when they come to that last clause, “and the Word was God.” Some wonder, if the Word (the Logos) is a person and God is a person, then how can the person of the Word be with the person of God and also be God all at the same time. It is not as difficult of a concept as it sounds when you understand that God is not just a person, but three persons in one. The Word is Jesus. He was with God before creation, and He was God in the sense that He was One of the three divine persons that made up the triune God.
 
John goes on to write in chapter 1 verse 14, that “the Word [that is the Logos, that is Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here he implies that the One that unites all the universe together, the One who was with God and who was God in the beginning, did not remain far from us. He took on flesh and dwelt with His people, His creatures. He subjected Himself to the human experience of life on a fallen earth. Why did He do this? The answer is so that they would see His glory, and thus come to know Him, “as the one and only Son of the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
 
Friends, during this advent season, this is what we are celebrating- the Logos becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that we could see His glory and come to know Him as the only Son from God full of grace and truth. We sacrifice to buy gifts for those we love because He sacrificed to give us the greatest gift of all. We gather together with the ones we love because He went to great lengths to gather together with us. We reach out to the poor because He also reached out and rescued us from spiritual poverty. We celebrate because His coming in human flesh was a miracle which has profoundly reshaped our hearts and lives.

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What to do with worry.

I am often asked, “Bro. Robby, is it a sin to worry?”
 
My answer is always, “Well, that depends.” If by worry you mean to feel concerned over an issue, then no, worry is not a sin. Feelings are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Feelings are just feelings. God gives us feelings to help us discern what we need to ask Him for or thank Him for.
 
Your feelings are your emotional senses, not unlike your physical senses. You have the gift of taste to alert you to what is sweet or sour and even to warn you about what might be poisonous. You have the sense of touch that allows you to feel the warm embrace of a friend and also to remind you to remove your hand from a hot stove. The sense of hearing allows you to enjoy the tones and rhythms of your favorite songs on the radio and also alerts you to the ambulance in the next lane, speeding to a 9-1-1 call. Smell enables you to take in the pleasant aroma of your flower garden and helps you to know when your house is on fire.
 
Just as your physical senses help you to navigate the physical realm, your feelings help you in the emotional realm. Do you feel happy? Then you should give thanks to God. Do you feel sad? Then you should ask Him for comfort. If you are afraid, then ask for strength. If you are confused, then ask for wisdom.
 
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). As soon as you have that feeling of concern, you should take that concern, wrap it in thanksgiving, and send it up to the Lord in prayer. Pray some form of, “Lord, I thank you for the privilege of prayer… what you are doing and what I know you will do. I thank you for being the all-powerful God that you are. Here is this thing that I am concerned about. Thank you for hearing my prayer.”
 
Praying in this way is like planting a seed. Through prayer, you plant your concern into the fertile field of faith. Then, God transforms your worry into something beautiful that bears fruit. I say this because, in the next verse, Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Do you understand? The fruit that grows out of prayer is the peace of God that goes beyond all understanding.
 
The root of the Greek verb in “Guard your hearts and minds,” comes from the word that means “to watch.” An armed security detail assigned to watch over your thoughts and your feelings is what Paul has in mind here. The peace of God will not allow you to think unhelpful thoughts, but will instead lead you to rejoice in the Lord and how He brings glory to Himself through your suffering.
 
I have a friend and a church member who raises sheep. If you ride by his sheep pen, the first thing you notice is not the sheep, but the Great Pyrenes guard dogs there to protect them. These dogs look like monsters compared to the sheep in the field. They are there to eat the predators who would want to eat the sheep. The guard dogs look like they would tear you limb from limb if you hopped over the fence into the pen.
 
The peace of God that results from thankful prayer protects the heart and the mind in the same way the Great Pyrenes protects his sheep. The peace of God is a formidable opponent against the predators of doubts and fears that threaten our faith in Jesus. We are assured beyond all understanding because the peace of God keeps the doubts at bay.
 

So what are you to do with worry? Wrap it in thanksgiving and send it up to the Lord in prayer. To pray with thanksgiving is to plant worry in the fertile field of faith where it can be transformed into something beautiful, which yields the fruit of peace. That peace then stands guard to keep you from further worry and leads you to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of your suffering.


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A New Testament model of a loving church

A short passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians reveals a model for what love looks like in the New Testament church. Paul only devoted a few lines (six verses) to telling the story, but he writes the report in a way that explains so much about the love in the Philippian church. A close study also reveals Paul’s concern for his friends in Philippi. 
 
You need a little background to better understand. The church at Philippi was the strongest and healthiest church in the New Testament known for its devotion to Paul and his mission. In Acts 16, we read how the church was founded upon glorious salvation stories and miracles of God’s deliverance from prison. Everyone from Lydia, a seller of purple goods, to the Philippian jailer and his whole family had witnessed the mighty hand of God on His church. The congregation met at the home of Lydia, the first Philippian convert.
 
The Philippian church was Paul’s favorite place to visit, and Paul was their beloved leader. He stayed in almost constant touch with them. They, in turn, supported Paul in all of his endeavors with their prayers and with financial gifts. The church at Philippi, more than anyone else, loved Paul and kept him encouraged on all his journeys. 
 
The story told in Philippians 2:25-30, had been in the making a few years before Paul’s writing this letter. The Philippians received word that Paul’s ship sank on the way to Rome. One can only imagine their despair upon hearing this news. Soon, though, the church received better news that Paul survived the shipwreck and was alive on the Island of Malta. Imagine their relief upon the reception of another letter from Paul, where He reported that he had arrived safely in Rome. Paul informed his friends that, though detained under house arrest awaiting his day in court, he was allowed to come and go and to receive visitors.
 
Upon learning of relative freedom, the Philippian church made a decision to send Paul a love offering to help support him during his detainment. They sent the gift by a brother named Epaphroditus, whom they intended to stay with Paul and help meet whatever other need he might incur. 
 
The plan to encourage and support their brother Paul began to fall apart shortly after Epaphroditus’ arrival when he fell gravely ill. He became so sick, in fact, that he nearly died. For a time, one would have had a difficult time telling who was taking care of whom as Paul became immensely concerned for Epaphroditus. Further complicating matters, when the Philippians heard about Epaphroditus’ illness, they were moved to despair. Epaphroditus, upon learning of his church’s concern for him, became worried for his friends. The whole ordeal added to Paul’s anxiety over his legal predicament. 
 
Let’s pause now, and attempt to sort out this drama. The Philippians were concerned about Paul, so they sent him Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus fell ill. His illness worried the Philippians, which worried Epaphroditus, which worried Paul. Finally, Paul decided that even though Epaphroditus’ coming was a source of encouragement, the added anxiety of having him in Rome with him was too much, so Paul determined to send Epaphroditus home.
 
Paul sent the letter to the Philippians back with Epaphroditus. In the letter, Paul instructed the church to receive Epaphroditus with joy and to honor him. Paul explained that Epaphroditus put everything on the line for the gospel, even his own life, and for that, he was worthy of honor.
 
If you ever wonder what brotherly love looks like, then look to this story of Paul, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians. This story is a model of what it means to share one another’s burdens. Here in Philippians 2:25-30, we see Christ-like sacrificial love fleshed out in living color. The sweet care shown by everyone involved shines a light on how we should care for one another.
 
I challenge you to care selflessly for someone today. Put everything on the line to demonstrate love to a brother or sister in Christ. Do you know someone under a heavy burden? Pray about how God might use you to help shoulder that burden. This is the kind of love that honors God and the kind of love that God honors. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love, so let’s love with abandon. Let’s love not just in word but also in deed.

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What happens when our love abounds?

The Apostle Paul prayed for his friends in Philippi that their “love would abound more and more…” The church in Philippi was already known for its love. They were staunch supporters of the Apostle Paul and his mission. They possessed a fellowship that was unmatched by any other church in the first century. For Paul, though, the abounding love they shared was still not enough. He prayed for their love to abound even more.  
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No matter how loving your church may be, no church is caring enough. Every body of believers can stand to grow in kindness, just as no individual Christian has arrived at the level of Christ’s compassion. Abounding love transforms the whole church body, and the lost world takes notice.
 
 
How will abounding love transform a church? According to Paul’s prayer, where love is multiplied, so is knowledge, discernment, and wisdom. Think about it, where love is lacking foolishness abounds. People act out on their emotions instead of the Spirit, which shades truth and fractures the fellowship. As love grows, the bond of love that bind us together also grows stronger. And as love abounds even more, we become more and more approving of what is excellent in the eyes of Christ. 
 
 
When abounding love gives way to wisdom and discernment, the church body begins to look more and more like the body of Christ. His word cleanses every spot, softens every rough edge, and removes every wrinkle. The local church is revealed as the pure and blameless and beautifully radiant bride of Christ in the midst of a dark and fallen world. She becomes a beacon of hope, a shining city on a hill that cannot be hidden. 
 
 
As love abounds with wisdom and discernment, leading to the church more accurately reflecting the bride of Christ, something else happens. The church bears fruit that comes through Jesus Christ. Righteousness abounds as more and more come to faith in Christ. The dark, lost, and love-starved world cannot resist true love reflected by the body of Christ. They are drawn by the extraordinarily supernatural love of Christ that shines in His follower’s affection for one another, and they just have to have it. They are won, not only by our love for them but by observing our love for one another. They know, by our love, that we are real.
 
 
What happens when love abounds in the church? Besides growth in knowledge and discernment, besides the body becoming more like Christ, besides a lot of people coming to faith in Christ, God is praised and glorified. He died for this very reason that we might know what love is and that by understanding what love is, we might also love one another. Nothing honors God more, and nothing more effectively brings a smile to his face than when our love abounds for one another. When we, His followers, love one another, we express our understanding of who He is and what He did for us. We show that we “get it.”
 
 
I pray as did the apostle Paul. I pray that “your love would abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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” (Phil 1:9-11). I hope you will make this your prayer as well, for your church and all our churches. The world desperately needs us to love one another more passionately. If we seek the glory of God and His kingdom, then we must all grow in our love for one another. 

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The Philippian Hymn

If you have listened to very many sermons, then you have probably heard a pastor bring the lyrics of a song into his sermon to illustrate his point. Did you know that preachers have been practicing this technique since the earliest days of the church? In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul brought in the lyrics of one of the first hymns of the Christian church to add to his exhortation to the Philippians to be of the same mind.
 
The hymn celebrates the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. By studying the lyrics, we learn more about the deity, the humility, and the humanity of our savior. Most importantly, we learn of the mind of Christ that is in us.
 
The first couple of lines in verse 6 represents a celebration of Christ’s deity. He was “in the form of God” and possessed “equality with God.” By existing in the form of God and having equality with God, the pre-incarnate Christ was the same in essence and nature as God the Father. He was the visible representation of all the fullness of God.
 
Jesus was what we all want to be. He was God. Remember, this is why Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. For Adam, equality with God was a “thing to be grasped.” He desired equality with God, so in order to obtain and then exploit his deity to his advantage. Jesus, according to the hymn, however, possessing the deity to which Adam aspired, did not count it “a thing to be grasped.” Other translations say, “He did not count it robbery,” or “He did not count it to His own advantage.”
 
Instead of seizing on His deity for his own advantage, Jesus poured himself out. He spent His deity to save His friends. That “He emptied Himself” does not mean that he became any less God. Rather, He added humanity to His deity. He was God, but He willingly took on the role of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
 
Rather than stand at a distance, He drew close to us. He put on our skin and was “found in human form.” He experienced every aspect of the human experience. He lived the human life of obedience to perfection. “He became obedient to the point of death.” He submitted himself to the Father’s will even up to the point of dying.
Paul, we believe, adds for emphasis “even death on a cross.” Jesus’ obedience was so radical that he chose not only to die but to die the most horrific death possible. The Jews believed that anyone who died on a cross was cursed. Jesus, the God-Man, took on the curse of our sin.
 
Jesus’ reward was that God “highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above all names.” The hymn implies that the latter office he occupied after his resurrection was even more significant than His pre-incarnate status, not in the sense that He was any higher, but in the sense that He became the conqueror of sin and death.
 
Jesus’ life and death were so obedient and perfect, and His reward so highly exalted that the time will come when all will grasp His greatness. On that day, all who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow the knee and proclaim Jesus Christ as the Lord. All of creation will recognize Him as the visible representation of Yahweh. They will proclaim Him as the author and savior of all creation.
 
The hymn celebrates that the proclamation of every tongue confessing Jesus Christ as Lord will bring “glory to God the Father.” Time will reveal that Jesus not only served us. Ultimately He showed Himself to be obedient to God the Father, who is the one who loved us in the first place.
 

Be encouraged today that you have a Savior who is Jesus Christ, and He is Lord. He loves you so much that He chose to come and live in your skin and experience life as a human being. Even though you have not been obedient, He was perfectly obedient on your behalf. He took on your curse and died. God raised Him up and exalted Him. If you have trusted Him and confessed Him as Lord, then there is a place for you in His presence in heaven for all eternity. Not only that, but having His mind in you, you are now free to love like Him, serve like Him, and practice radical obedience like Him.


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Let’s talk about mental health.

On Sunday, September 8 Jarrid Wilson, megachurch associate pastor, and outspoken mental health advocate tweeted a lament of the church’s silence on mental health disorders. On Monday, September 9, the next day, he officiated a funeral for a female suicide victim. On the following day, which happened to be suicide awareness day, we learned that Jarrid had taken his own life.

 

Jarrid correctly pointed out that for too long church culture has shied away from addressing this prevalent problem in our society. I believe he died, at least in part, to bring awareness to this issue. I’m not meaning to say he made the right choice, and I do not want to, in any way, glorify his actions. I do, however, get the altruistic reasoning behind his death. He didn’t feel that he was getting anywhere with his outspokenness on the issue, and he thought by killing himself he would bring attention to mental health problems in the Christian community.
 
 
The fact that Jarrid’s suicide was out of the Christian news media within just a few weeks proves that suicide is not the answer. Some people commit suicide because they just want a way out… a break from the hamster wheel. Others choose to die to bring attention to some problem or injustice whether it be bullying, or abuse, or the apathy of their loved ones who cannot understand their struggle. Most of the time these poor souls are buried, mourned by the ones who loved them the most, but the issues they hope to call attention to by their deaths go largely unaddressed. They die mostly in vain.
 
I am a Christian pastor who has struggled with clinical depression. God graciously worked through doctors and counselors and medications to help me. Through His word and His faithfulness, I am being healed and given joy in the midst of my major depressive disorder. The Lord has worked in me a will to live and speak out on this issue. I know that the only way I can make the difference He wants me to make is for me to make choices that reflect His character and love. For me, that takes suicide off the table.
 
Since I opened up about my struggle, so many people have come out of the shadows to let me know that they too wrestle with mental health problems. I have been greatly encouraged to know that I am not alone. I know, however, there are even more people who suffer in silence. I know because I was one of those quietly suffering while thinking that to admit my problem was to admit failure.
 
Studies estimate that 1 in 4 church attendees suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, but few receive treatment. Those who go untreated either try to ignore that they have a problem or they believe with more faith, prayer, and Bible study they can overcome. The enemy will not allow them to consider, and their church leaders sometimes don’t care enough to point out, that God graciously uses doctors, therapists, and medications to help with mental health problems. Yes, only the Lord can HEAL a broken heart, but he does involve other good people in helping His children with all kinds of problems ranging from the common cold to major depressive and bipolar disorder.
 
If you think you may have a problem, then talk to someone. Start by talking with a good pastor who cares. Most formally educated pastors have at least some understanding of the practice of pastoral counseling. He will listen to you, pray for you, and share scripture with you. He will help you with some of your unhelpful thoughts and refer you to a more specialized mental health professional if it turns out that’s what you need.
 

Doctors, therapists, and Christian counselors will also help you. If your pastor recommends any combination of these helping professionals, then I would start with a therapist or a counselor who shares your Christian worldview (they exist). Therapists and counselors will give you tools to cope with the occasional blues and nagging anxiety. You may not even need medication, but if a trusted doctor recommends a medication, then understand that he or she has taken an oath to do you no harm. Good doctors do not prescribe antidepressant or antianxiety meds for frivolous reasons. Consider that this is one way that God helps hurting people. If you need medication and don’t take it, then you are doing yourself harm, and you’ll find other less healthy ways to cope.


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The difference in failing and being a failure.

Everyone has experienced it. You are rocking along, walking with the Lord, doing great, and things could not be better. Then, BAM! Life happens. There is a job change and a relocation, and you get out of fellowship with other believers. Or you discover your spouse has been unfaithful, or you mess up and find your-own-self in an improper relationship with someone. Or you mistreat a person you love. In general, you find that you have failed.
 
Once I heard a preacher say in a sermon, “The devil is the most passionate preacher of grace when he’s tempting one to sin, and he’s the most passionate preacher of condemnation after one falls into sin.” This is so true. We fall into sin believing that we will be okay, that God will understand, that we can be forgiven. Then, after we fall, we condemn ourselves as an irreconcilable, unredeemable, and miserable failure.
 
In the season following a moral failure, it is extremely important to check your thoughts of condemnation with Scripture. Is it fair to label yourself as a failure just because you failed? Is what you did so horrible that you are unredeemable and irreconcilable? Are you really disqualified to be a child of God? Is there another way to think about your situation and what you have done?
 
Scripture teaches us that there was only ever one human being who had the ability to live life flawlessly—Jesus. Jesus was able to live life flawlessly because He was born the son of God and born without sin. All other human beings were born the sons and daughters of Adam with an inherited nature bent toward sin and failure. We were all doomed to sin by the very nature of our birth. (Romans 5:12-14)
 
When you back up and look at scripture, you find that failing doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you a human being. If you could live life flawlessly, there would have been no need for Jesus to come live a perfect life, die on the cross, and be resurrected. He came because God loved you even while knowing that you would fail. (Romans 5:6-11)
 
Scripture teaches that no sin is unforgivable if it is confessed and repented. He cleanses sin, by His grace, through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ as a free gift to those who trust in Him. He casts sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalms 103:12). God has never done wrong. He is completely just and faithful to His promise. As such, His justice and faithfulness call for Him to forgive and cleanse the confessed and repentant (1 John 1:9).
 
Scripture also teaches that those who receive Jesus as Savior are born again as children of God and by the will of God (John 1:12-13). They are adopted into His household with the legal rights of inheritance to His Kingdom (Romans 8:16-17). Nothing can undo what He has accomplished by His great love for those who trust in Him (Romans 8:31-39). Certain failure may disqualify a person from certain areas of service in the kingdom, but no failure disqualifies a true Christian from receiving His love. No Christian is ever disqualified from being a child of God.
 
When Jesus is a priest whose holiness, and unstained innocence allows Him to save “to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him… He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:24-26). By his great mercy, they are “born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
 
If you have failed, then the point is to acknowledge your failure, but don’t beat yourself up. Take your failure to the foot of the cross and leave it there. The cross of Christ is where Christian failures die and are forgotten. Then go pay a visit to the empty tomb. The empty tomb is the place were believers are assured that they have life. Understand that God is a master at taking the mess we make and turning it around for His glory honor and praise.
 

All that is required for His redemption is repentance. What does it mean to repent? To repent is to ask for forgiveness and determine to do your best, in the strength He provides, not to make the same mistake again. To be sure, you will fail again, but prayerfully you won’t fail in the same way twice.


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Let Go and Grow Old

Most people dread the thought of growing older. We resist it. We do everything we can to feel young, look young, act young, and stay young. Women keep their age a secret. Men style their hair to cover their bald spots. People spend millions on cosmetics and procedures to cover up the effects of aging on their faces. 
 
We fear growing older for a couple of reasons. First, we fear that when we become old we won’t matter anymore. Our culture marginalizes the aged, and there is nothing a human being fears more than being marginalized and unknown. Second, we fear growing old because we fear death.  Each year that passes is one more that we will never get back, and no one knows when their years will run out. 
 
For Christians, these fears are irrational. There never comes a time when children of God cease to matter or be useful in the eyes of their Heavenly Father. They never cease to be useful in His hands. Also, death does not exist for those who have trusted their lives to Jesus. For Christians, death is just a gateway into a new and glorious state of being that lasts for the rest of eternity. 
 
For too long people have minimized the benefits of growing older. A survey of elderly characters in the Bible teaches God’s people that age should be embraced by God’s people. Let me give you a few examples.
 

1. People get smarter as they grow older.

A common objection to the flood narrative in Genesis arises when skeptics question how Noah was able to build this huge boat according to the exact plans of the Lord. However, when you think about the length of human life at that time in history, you can imagine how technology could advance so dramatically. Genesis 5:22 tells us that Noah was 500 years old before he ever fathered any children. Imagine how much a man could learn in 500 years. Think of the modern-day genius, Steve Jobs, and imagine what he could have accomplished if he were given upwards of 800 years to learn and advance in his understanding.

 
Not everyone is a genius, but the longer we live the more we learn. The more we learn, the more intelligent we become. I recently read one author who declared this truth, “young people learn new things faster, but old people know more.” For this reason, aging is a process to be embraced, not avoided.
 

2. God affords the aged an opportunity to invest the next generation.

In Numbers 20:12, God revealed to Moses that he was barred from entering into the promise land because he failed to follow the Lord’s clear instruction at the waters of Meribah. Moses, however, was not left without a legacy. He did not cease to matter just because he would not live to see the promise land dispossessed from the Canaanites. God simply modified His mission for Moses’ life. In Deuteronomy 3:28, we learn that God immediately tasked him with preparing Joshua, his assistant, to lead the people after him.
 
The Bible teaches that all are bound to die because of sin (Romans 5:14-18), but this does not mean that we will ever cease to matter or be useful to the Lord. We, like Moses, were commissioned to invest our lives in the future of God’s people. We leave a legacy by making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to be obedient to Christ. The more time the Lord gives us on this earth the more opportunities He affords to invest in a legacy that stands to live for all eternity.
 

3. The elderly possesses the aptitude to intimately appreciate the love of God.

 
John 21:22 and the early church tradition leads us to believe that John was the only disciple to survive persecution and die as an old man in exile. Beyond the opportunity to live longer, what was John afforded by surviving into senior adulthood? He grew to understand more intimately the love of God. In the second chapter of his first letter, he wrote: “See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
 
Every day the Lord gives us is another day that we are allowed to experience the love of our Heavenly Father. The more we experience His love, the more we appreciate it. The more we appreciate His love, the better we are able to share it with others.

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What does it take to be a peacemaker?

Our God is a God of peace. He created a world of peace and harmony in the garden of Eden. When man disrupted peace with sin, He sent His Son to be the manifestation of peace on earth. He died on the cross to establish peace, then He sent the Holy Spirit to be the agent of that peace. Through the Holy Spirit residing in the hearts of believers, He wrought in them the fruit of peace, made them the ministers of peace. One day Jesus will return to finally restore creation back to its original peace and tranquility.
 
Jesus calling peacemakers blessed sons of God (Matt 5:9) should not be a surprise. Every family has a heritage and God’s family has a heritage of peace. Much like when people think of the Kennedy’s as a political family, the Rockefellers as an oil family, and Queen Elizabeth’s family as the royal family, the family of God should be known as the family of peace.
 

If we know that Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God,” then a peacemaker is what we should individually strive to be. Let’s spend some time, then, thinking through what it takes to be a peacemaker.

 

1. To be a peacemaker, one must first make peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

 
Apart from Christ, there is no peace with God. Scripture teaches that before we came to faith in Christ, we were enemies of God. We were dead in our trespasses. We were children of wrath like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3) We had gone our own way. The way of peace we had not known. (Roman 3:10-18) We do not find peace with God until our hearts are awakened and we place our faith in what Jesus did to reconcile us to God.
 

Having peace in one’s life does not begin and end with faith in Christ though. Peace comes through living by faith and obedience to God. To be a peacemaker, one must have peace in his or her life, and one cannot have peace if they are living in disobedience. Where willful secret sin is present, even in the life of born again believers, fellowship with God is strained making the enterprise of peacemaking difficult to impossible.

 

2. To be a peacemaker, one must lead others to make peace with God.

 
John Macarthur writes in his commentary on Matthew 5:9, “To preach Christ is to promote peace. To bring a person to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is the most peacemaking act a human being can perform. It is beyond what any diplomat or statesman can accomplish.”
 
To lead others to peace with God, we must humble ourselves. If we look down on others’ weaknesses and are blind to our own… if we discount our faults while elevating the faults of others, then we actually lead people away from the gospel and peace with God.
 
 Peacemakers boast in their absolute inability to save themselves. They glory in the strength and righteousness He gives. They acknowledge Him as the One who keeps them from evil. They make much of the mercy He has shown them and the grace He has gifted to them. Peacemakers speak of the promises He has kept in spite of the promises they have broken and in so doing, show the world the peace of God.
 

3. To be a peacemaker, one must lead others to reconcile conflicts.

 
Peacemaking involves helping conflicting parties see what they have in common. A conflict where no common ground can be identified is a rarity. All people are created in the image of God, valued by Him, and are neighbors at least in that way.
 
Once common ground is identified, the peacemaker must do the dirty work of dealing with sin both in his brother and in the enemy of his brother. At the root of every conflict is a festering cyst of sin that must be identified and mashed out. The process can be painful, so the conflict often gets worse before it gets better.
 

Finally, peacemakers mediate the process of bridge-building. Bridges are built over vast gulfs when hurts on both sides are aired out, acknowledged by the wrongdoers, and forgiveness is offered. Bridges have two sides, the same is so where a conflict exists. Very rarely is a conflict one-sided. Both sides must participate in building their respective side of the bridge.


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