Monday, 25 December 2017

Does Christmas Make Jesus Happy?

With another Christmas season in full swing, have you ever wondered if the Christmas holiday actually makes Jesus happy? How can we know for sure?

It’s a time when families come together. Maybe you think of it as a time for hot chocolate, eggnog and ugly sweaters; for sharing meals and making memories; and for trading gifts and spreading joy. There’s no mistaking it: Christmastime is on the mind of a lot of people.
And with the Christmas season come all the popular traditions—the decorated trees, the mistletoe and wreaths, the gingerbread houses and the lights hanging from houses and trees. And at the center of it all, we find the Nativity scene—where wise men, angels and two awestruck parents stand gathered around a swaddled newborn. That newborn, supposedly, is Jesus Christ—the central figure of the Christmas season and, ostensibly, the reason for it all.
But is He really? And is all this what He wants?

Know your roots

These days, it’s not much of a surprise to hear that most modern-day Christian traditions have their roots in very unchristian practices. The trees, the wreaths, the lights, the gifts, the food and even the date of Dec. 25—all stem from pagan traditions that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ. They were incorporated into the celebration hundreds of years after Christ was born to make the transition from paganism to Christianity easier for new converts.
But does it really matter? The logic often goes like this: Sure, these traditions may have their roots in paganism, but that was all hundreds or thousands of years ago. Things are different today. The modern Christmas isn’t about the feasts of ancient pagan gods; it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself.
There’s just one little problem: He doesn’t like any of it.

Standards for worship

It’s easy to assume that if our heart is in the right place, God is happy with whatever worship we offer. And while God does look at the heart (Hebrews 4:12), He also expects to be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23)—and the truth is, there are certain ways He hates to be worshipped.
God expects to be worshipped "in spirit and truth."Thousands of years ago, as God was leading the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, He warned them against borrowing traditions from the pagan nations around them:
“When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).
But Israel didn’t listen. Over the centuries, the nation borrowed from the religions around them, blending pagan traditions together with God’s commands. God was disgusted. He sent a prophet to tell them, “I hate, I despise your feast days” (Amos 5:21). Israel had added to and taken away from God’s Word, and the result was something God found abominable.
More than 2,000 years later, here’s the question we need to be asking ourselves: Has God’s stance on worship changed?

The unchanging God

God answers, “I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). In the New Testament we read, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Either God feels as strongly about blending religions today as He did thousands of years ago or what He says means nothing. Since most who believe in God wouldn’t call Him a liar, then we’re left with an uncomfortable truth:
Christmas is offensive to God.
The Christmas holiday is noticeably absent from the pages of the Bible—because neither God the Father nor Jesus Christ ever commanded or sanctioned it.That’s not the kind of thing that’s easy to hear. There are many people around the world who keep Christmas with the very best of intentions, but if we take the Bible at its word, we have to conclude that the pagan origins of Christmas are still unacceptable to a God who desires to be worshipped in spirit and truth. The Christmas holiday is noticeably absent from the pages of the Bible—because neither God the Father nor Jesus Christ ever commanded or sanctioned it.
That leaves us with another question: If Christmas doesn’t make Jesus happy, what does? How are we supposed to worship God in a way that’s pleasing to Him?

The feasts of the Lord

If we’re willing to dig into the pages of the Bible, we’ll find that God answers that question very clearly. In the book of Leviticus, God reveals “the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (Leviticus 23:2, emphasis added).
God’s feasts. His holy convocations. Not ours. Worshipping God in spirit and truth means worshipping Him on His terms, the way He asks to be worshipped.
In the verses that follow, God explains what some of those terms are: a weekly seventh-day Sabbath observance and seven annual festivals.
These festivals contain the blueprint for the very plan of God—a blueprint explaining who we are, why we’re here and what God has in store for humanity. The more we observe these feasts, the clearer that plan becomes. God’s feasts show us why the world is the way it is—and then they show us how God is going to fix it and how we can be part of the solution. They are filled with meaning and vision; and are designed to remind us of where we’re going and how to get there.
But we can’t have both. We can’t worship God the way He wants and the way we want. We can’t please God by mixing and matching His commands with the practices of other religions. Once we know what God wants from us, it’s up to us whether we’ll do something about it.
Christmas, at its core, is a patchwork of traditions and customs that God says He hates. It’s not a day He ever commanded us to keep—and despite the best intentions of those who keep it, it’s not a day that makes Him happy. If we’re willing to follow God where He leads, then His feast days have so much more to offer us. Jesus Christ told His disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14, New American Standard Bible).

by  Jeremy Lallier

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

God is Our Safety

Psalm 3:4 God is our Safety. “You are a shield around me, O Lord, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head.”

You are a shield around me, O LORD, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head.” Psalm 3:4
We live in a world of great unrest: riots and terrorist attacks in many places, train bombings and shootings in broad daylight…How can we feel safe?
Late in his reign King David, was forced to flee for his life from Jerusalem because of a revolt led by his rebellious and arrogant son Absalom and a host of traitors. He could have trusted his army to protect him and defeat Absalom but instead He trusted God. “You are a shield around me, O LORD, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head,” he wrote.
Even at night, in the wide open desert without concrete walls around him and a comfortable bed, David was able to sleep. In the morning, he may have shaken his head in surprise as he said, “even here I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.”
The fact that God was His protection was very real to King David for he often wrote about it in the Psalms. “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent men you save me. You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great.”
(2 Samuel 22: 3, 36).
Those comforting words are also for us. During times when we feel vulnerable we can say with David, “My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart” (Psalm 7:10). “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge” (Psalm 144:2).
For a shield to do any good we must use it. We must dwell in the fortress (God) and take up His shield. “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one,” Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:16.
Dear Father, we thank you that you are greater than anything that could harm us. We trust in your protection and deliverance.

By Helen Lescheid

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

7 Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

Pride is universal—something we all deal with, as ancient as Adam and as relevant as the morning news. Yet we don’t always see our own pride, which weaves like weeds around our lives.
Oh, we see it in the obvious ways, but we can be blind to its deceptive, subversive way in our hearts. We know the disease, but we don’t recognize the symptoms. And that’s why we need the insight of our spiritual Great Physician to reveal symptoms of pride and rescue us from it.

Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

Here are seven symptoms of pride I’ve been seeing in God’s Word as his Spirit works in my own life:
1. Fear
Pride is at the root of fear and anxiety, when we refuse to humbly rest in God’s sovereign care. Fear simultaneously reveals our lack of trust and our poisonous self-reliance. We fear because we don’t have faith in the Lord, we are enormously preoccupied with ourselves, and we don’t have control. When Peter stepped out on the stormy sea to come to Jesus, he was walking in humble faith. But when his gaze shifted to his circumstances and self-preservation, he trusted in himself, became afraid, and began to sink. It was Jesus who saved him, while admonishing him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
2. Entitlement
Self-sacrifice stems from a humble heart. Entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart. The core of the gospel is that we are not entitled to anything, except just punishment for our sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Yet we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are, so we deserve better than we have. We think we deserve God’s mercy. We think we deserve people’s praise. We think we deserve love, success, comfort, accolades. We certainly don’t think we deserve suffering, heartbreak, or discipline.
But when we do experience these things, we grow bitter, frustrated, and disturbed because we believe we’re entitled to more. We forget that apart from Jesus Christ we are sinners who deserve condemnation.
The disciples wrestled with entitlement many times. On one occasion, they were arguing about who was the greatest. They selfishly thought they deserved honor and glory. But Jesus’ response to them was a rebuke: “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
3. Ingratitude
Our proud hearts say we are good, that we should get what we want, and if we don’t, we’re justified in our ingratitude. If we’re uncomfortable or inconvenienced in any way, we can complain. It’s our right. Humility recognizes that God is good, that he gives us what he knows we need, so we have no reason to be ungrateful. There is nothing we lack (Deuteronomy 2:7; Psalm 34:9).
The Israelites’ grumbled in the wilderness, though God fed, clothed, and led them through it (Exodus 16:2; Deuteronomy 8:2). Their stubborn hearts rejected God’s daily mercies out of a foundation of self-idolization. But God’s Word rebukes our proud grumbling with this command: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).
4. People-Pleasing
Pride is self-worship and self-preservation at all costs—and people-pleasing is the direct result of pride. Some think people-pleasing is a positive trait because they’re so clearly concerned with serving others. But that belief is nothing more than a sneaky sheepskin we put over a wolfish habit. People-pleasing is all about self-satisfaction—fearing man more than God—and seeking the fleeting happiness that comes from man’s approval.
Jesus’ humility means forgiveness of our pride. That’s the sting and joy of the gospel. 
The apostle Paul knew human approval was a pointless and prideful pursuit. Because of that, he could say, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
5. Prayerlessness
Pride deceives us into thinking we can “do life” on our own—that we’re capable, independent, unstoppable, and self-reliant. We think we don’t need God every hour, that we don’t need his help, grace, mercy, courage, and hope. So, surely, we don’t need to pray.
But a humble heart submits itself to God in prayer because it knows it can do nothing without him.
When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah’s response was not to go to God in prayer. Instead, he fled, his heart furiously and arrogantly silent (Jonah 1:3). When God humbled him in the belly of a great fish, Jonah finally cried out in prayer (2:1).
6. Hypocrisy
When you’re proud, you elevate your status, forgetting the mercy God has shown you. You think you’re better and holier than everyone else, and you easily find fault with others. Pride produces a hypocritical spirit.
The Pharisees’ hypocritical pride blinded them to their sin and to God’s mercy—which made them cold-hearted and cruel toward others. Jesus had harsh words for them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
7. Rebellion
Rebellion against God manifests itself in resistance toward the Word and the spiritual leaders he has placed in our lives. It is the reflex of a prideful heart. It also shows itself in a lack of submission—wives, to your husbands; children, to your parents; employees, to your bosses; citizens, to your government. Rebellion says, “I know better than you, God,” when you don’t.
We see rebellion in the first people God created: Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Even though they had all they needed for life and joy, out of pride they rebelled against God’s good decree, thinking they knew better than him. And this rebellion brought pain, suffering, and death—for them and for us.

The Humble Servant

Yet there is hope for the proud heart in the incarnation of humility, Jesus Christ. Immanuel—God with us—condescended to live among us, die for us, and raise us to new life. He never owned a shred of sinful pride—no fear, entitlement, ingratitude, people-pleasing, prayerlessness, hypocrisy, or rebellion.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Jesus is God, and yet emptied himself of all he deserved to save us from our pride. He who was entitled to the highest honor forfeited it for our redemption.
It’s because of Jesus’ humility that we can be forgiven of our pride. That’s both the sting and joy of the gospel. It deals with our pride by destroying it, reminding us that life is not about us, and that we deserve only the wrath of God for our sin. Jesus Christ also deals with our pride by taking the just punishment for it upon himself at the cross, that we might be renewed in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10) and made humble like our Savior.
Being humbled is not smooth or painless, but it’s our rescue.
Jesus is our rescue from pride.

by Jaquelle Crowe

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