Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas: a Line in Time Defining Life



It was almost as if someone had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said that was then and this is now.  There has never been an event in the history of man that has so defined human history as the birth of Jesus. 
And it began when God interrupted the life of a young lady named Mary.  And now all she could think about was how different the line had made her life.

As she made her way along the road she wondered about the sense of it all.  Although she had agreed she still couldn’t understand why.  She lived in a poor country that was occupied by a foreign army, violence was never far away and often during the night you would hear soldiers entering the home of neighbours looking for the patriots they had called terrorists.  Even as she made the trip with her husband she was shocked with the conditions that lay outside the small village they called home.  The poverty she saw on her travels was an eye opener for a young woman who had never wanted for food. Her family was not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination but her hard working father had always provided the food and shelter the family needed.

Occasionally she would see lepers in the distance, scorned by society and pushed far away from those they loved, and there were the beggars who lined the busier sections of road, men and women who couldn’t see or couldn’t walk, dependent on the kindness or pity of strangers just to survive.

On their journey she even saw a crucifixion, she had heard about the horrors of the executions the Romans performed, but to see those victims left hanging on the primitive crosses was horrible. So much despair and sadness could anything ever change the way her world was. She wished that there was something she could do to make a difference.

It wasn’t that many months ago that her life had been simple, engaged to be married, she dreamt of the life that lay ahead of her, and this wasn’t it.  An angel had appeared to her one night with a story that she couldn’t believe.  She was told that she would have a child, a son.  And she knew that wasn’t to be, after all she had never been with a man, had not even held the hand of her fianc√© because it just wasn’t done.  And now she was being told that she would be a mother. 

The messenger explained that it would be a miracle, that the Father of her child would be God himself and the child would be the Son of God, in fact God himself. What could she do?  She knew that she was a virgin and if she became pregnant then what the angel had said must be true, she believed him, but would anyone believe her?  How could she explain this to her parents, her friends? What would she say to the man she was engaged to?  “Hi Joseph, guess what? I’m pregnant, but don’t worry I’ve been faithful, God’s the Father.” Joseph might just be a carpenter but he certainly wasn’t a stupid carpenter.

Why did God choose her?  Ss a matter of fact why did God have to do this? Come as a child to this cruel and hostile world.  I’m sure that question would surface time and time again as she raised this child she would call Jesus.

The question is still valid 2000 years later, people still ask: Why did he come?  Why bother drawing a line in time?  What difference does it make?  We know that the line that was drawn redefined Mary and Joseph’s lives, but how does that same line that was drawn two thousand years ago define lives today?

Well there are those who would tell you 1) The Line Defines an Eternal Life For some folks that is what it is all about.  The burning question for them is the same as it was for the man who came to Jesus in Luke 18:18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”   And that answer to that is given in by Jesus himself in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Throughout history humans have sought to reconcile themselves with God and they haven’t been able to do it.  I don’t have to go through the plan of salvation here, you already know it.  You understand that we really don’t deserve to go to heaven and that in our own power and through our own efforts there isn’t anything we can do that will make us worthy of eternal life.

And so into the picture steps Jesus Christ, God himself and he offered himself up as a sacrifice, paying a debt that he didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. 

Jesus came to do what we couldn’t do, and that is to obtain eternal life for ourselves. 

You understand at this point in history, December 15th 2013 that everything that has to be done for you to go to heaven has already been done.  All that is missing is for your acceptance of that fact. And so your salvation depends wholly on you because God has already done his part. And all he’s asking of you at this point is for you to respond.

And so most of us, probably not all of us, but most of us have accepted that gift, the gift of eternal life.  But it’s not the only reason he came.  But as important as eternal life is that’s not all the line of Christmas defines. 

2) The Line Defines An Abundant Life  You see, Jesus didn’t just come so we could have eternal life.  If the only reason we get saved is to gain eternity then the day we embraced that salvation we would go to heaven.  Think how much easier that would be, saved would mean safe.  Once we accepted Christ as our Saviour all of our troubles would be over.  One minute we’d be on earth with all of its problems and all of its pain and the next minute we’d be in heaven with no pain no sorrow and no loss.  But that wasn’t the plan.  Jesus didn’t just come and live and die so we could live in heaven he came so we could live on earth, part of the promise is revealed in John 10:10 when Jesus told his disciples John 10:10 Jesus said “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”   Maybe you know it better from some of the old translations where it says,  John 10:10 Jesus said I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV) And that promise is as real today as it was when Jesus made it 2000 years ago. And it wasn’t just a promise for those listening to his words that day; it was a promise for every person who has ever called upon his name.

The word that is used for abundantly here literally means full to the point of overflowing.   That’s the life that Jesus wants us to have, a life full of living.   Life is meant to be lived to the full, to be enjoyed and to make an impact.  It was Helen Keller who said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

And the life that Jesus offers will make a difference not only to us but to those around us.  When Jesus was searching for similes to describe what our lives were to be like he said that we would be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Both are elements that change their environment.  Once you’ve added salt to something you know there is salt in it.  And if you’ve ever been on a sodium reduced diet you know how bland food can be without salt.  Jesus left us here to flavour the world to make a difference with our lives.

And throughout history Christians have done exactly that.  I’m not saying that all the positive contributions made to society in the past 2000 years have been made by Christians but a good majority of them have.  We hear people talk about the crusades and abuses that have happened in the name of Christ but very seldom do we hear society as a whole acknowledge the contributions that the church has made.  It was the church who established hospitals, and orphanages, it was the church that reached out to the outcasts of society with shelters for lepers and the poor.  It was the church that started schools and universities. 

Every Christmas it seems that you will hear a complaint from someone about their children are asked to take part in Operation Christmas Child, in a school or daycare, because it was a Christian organization that was blatantly sponsoring the program.  Duhh.  Of course it was a Christian organization nobody else does that type of thing. When was the last time you saw Muslim or Buddhist organizations raising funds to help children around the world? 

Where would the hungry of the world be without groups like World Vision, World Hope, Compassion International and Samaritan’s Purse? Dead! Because for all of the criticism of the church we are making a difference. Or at least we should be.

The second thing that Christ told believers that they ought to be is light.  And light is provided for two reasons 1) for illumination and 2) for direction.  The life that we are living is supposed to illuminate this world and point people to Jesus. And if we are being light then we will annoy some people because the dark doesn’t look to bad until a little light disturbs it. And have you noticed just how little light it takes to chase away the darkness?  A single candle can destroy the darkness in the darkest room.

And Christ came that we could live a life that makes a difference.  But there’s still a third thing that is defined by the line of Christmas.  Now some folks have experienced the first two and they are content, they aren’t really interested in going any further.  I think that’s because they know what’s down that road, and they’d just as soon not go there.

3) The Line Defines a Holy Life Now up to this point everyone has been with me because those are nice things.  Everyone one wants to have eternal life and most of us like the concept of making a difference in the world around us but how many of us want to live a Holy Life?  As a matter of fact what images come to mind when I use the word holy, do you immediately think of Mother Theresa or John Wesley or one of the writers of the Gospels?

When I say holy do “you” come to mind? You should because we are called to live a holy life listen to 2 Timothy 1:9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
And in Colossians  3:12 Paul writes Colossians 3:12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
But what does it mean to be holy?  The Wesleyan Church, which we are a part of, has historically and traditionally been called a holiness church, but does that mean anything?  When I tell you that you are supposed to be “holy people” do you cringe or bristle? Do you wonder how you can live an abundant life and at the same time live a holy life? Does your definition of holiness automatically eliminate any enjoyment you might get out of life, does it mean you can’t have any fun?   Some people think you can tell who is holy by the dour look on their face. To them holiness means that you look like you’ve been sucking sour lemons.  But is that what leading a holy life is about?  Does it mean that we dress in dark clothes, and never smile?

When I pastored the Wesleyan Church in Truro I was fresh out of Bible College and one of my best friends in the church was a man in his late sixties, which seemed quite old then but doesn’t seem all that old now. And Don would ask me “When are you going to preach about not going to movies or dances or playing cards?” Is that what leading a holy life is about? What we don’t do?

One day as Jesus was teaching a religious leader came to him and asked what the greatest commandment was in Jesus opinion. Jesus’ reply is given in Mark 12:30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’
You see holiness isn’t about rules it’s about relationship, our relationship with God.  Are there things in your life that stand in the way of your relationship with God?  Chuck Colson in his book Loving God makes this statement “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and the things we do, hour by hour, day by day.”  Or simply put, holiness is wholeness, the whole of Christ in the whole of your life.  But how do we know what decisions to make, what things to do? Well we do have the book. And the short answer is to ask ourselves: would what I’m doing honour God?
When I became a Christian my Dad offered me a couple of pieces of advice, one of them was this, “All kinds of people will have all kinds of suggestions for what you can do and can’t do as a Christian.  Here’s a simple guideline, ask yourself: would I do this with Jesus?”
Have you ever been watching a television program or a video and one of your kids walked in and you felt a little bit ashamed or embarrassed by what you were watching?
Have you ever done anything that if I happened along you wouldn’t want your pastor to see what it was that you were doing? Would you mind if I happened by and joined you watching whatever it is you are watching?  What if Jesus called and said he was coming to your house for a couple of days?  Would you have to scurry about checking to see what magazines were on the coffee table, what videos were next to the television? If he asked to use your computer and internet to go on line to check his email would you worry that he’d look in your history folder?   Would he appreciate the joke that you told the other day, you know that funny slightly off colour story your friends laughed at?
There was a time not that long ago, that the church frowned on people going to movies, and then we kind of relented because after all what was wrong with being able to go to a G or PG movie. Probably nothing, but that isn’t what we limit ourselves to is it.  I know I’ve gone from preaching to meddling, oh well.
I’m not positive it was Billy Graham but I think it was Billy Graham who said “I watch programs on television now that I wouldn’t have dreamed of watching 20 years ago.”  And I would suspect that Billy is not alone.  Here’s a helpful hint, if you are wondering whether or not a movie or a video is fit to watch go online, Focus on the Family has a great website that tells you about the content of movies, music and videos.  So before you catch that movie everyone is talking about go to www.pluggedin.ca  and check out their movie reviews, there’s even an app for that.  You won’t always agree with them but you will go see the movies knowing what you are going to see. 
And if you still want to go see a movie filled with vulgarities and debauchery, well then that’s your choice. And some people say, “Well if I’m going to relate to the unchurched I have to know what they are watching.” Stop it.  There is a term in computer usage that is GIGO, Garbage in, Garbage out.
I’m preaching to Denn right now because all too often I find myself justifying what I’m watching on television or a movie I’m at, and I know that deep down in my heart that I wouldn’t watch it with Jesus and I know it’s wrong.  I read once that the last part of your body that got saved was your right foot, which of course was in reference to our driving habits.  I think the last thing that gets saved in our house is the remote control for our TVs and PVR.  When something comes on that you ought not be watching, change the channel, or if it’s on a disc hit the button that says stop eject.
You might be saying “Denn, Holiness is not externals, let’s not become legalists” I’m not talking about become legalists I’m talking about pleasing God. Because we never want to lose sight of Hebrews 12:14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
Socrates wasn’t a preacher but he hit the nail on the head when he said “It is not living that is important, but living rightly”And no, it’s not easy to lead a holy life, if it was everybody would be doing it.  But it is what God is looking for his children to do. And a holy life style isn’t cultivated by what you don’t do it’s cultivated by what you do.  It’s as you spend more time with God in prayer, and spend more time reading his word that you know what pleases him and what doesn’t, as you become more like Christ you won’t have to ask yourself “what would Jesus do?” because you’ll just know.
So where are you at?  I hope everyone here has stepped over the line that defines their eternal life.  But that isn’t enough, when Jesus is offering you an abundant life and make a difference in the world around you. And finally don’t forget to go a little further and embrace a holy life a life that glorifies and brings pleasure to God.

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