Christmas Trees and the Cross

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Our family loves Christmas. We love the sight, sounds and smells of this season. We love a candlelight dinner with Christmas music playing in the background. We love hot apple cider and fresh baked cookies. We love the laughter of sharing old Christmas memories. We are traditionalist at heart and the traditions that my wife and I established have carried over to our now grown and married children. When they call about coming home they usually also include some Christmas request. "Dad, have the hot apple cider ready and the Christmas music keyed up on the stereo" they say.
One of our greatest treasurers however, is our Christmas Tree. When our kids were younger we would go to a "Tree Farm" and pick out the perfect tree for Christmas. Some of our favorite memories are of me trying to keep the tree upright after getting it in the house. Or of us stringing the lights (which would invariably go out about half way through the process).  We now have an artificial, 'prelit' tree and my wife and I think it's great. However, it took some time for the kids to appreciate an 'artificial prelit' tree as much as we do. Please understand this is not why the Christmas Tree is a treasure to us. It's not the size or shape of the tree; nor the number and color of the lights that makes it a treasure. No, it's what we hang upon the tree that gives it such prominence.  There is an ornament for "Baby's First Christmas 1979"; one for "Baby's First Christmas 1983"; and "Baby's First Christmas 1987".  These ornaments mark the addition of each child to our family for those respective years. There are other ornaments that mark the passage of time in our family. There are old trucks with "Christmas Trees" in the bed. There is an ornament of an angel playing the flute. There is an ornament of "The Three Stooges" in golf attire. Each of these ornaments were given to our children when they were much younger. One ornament can no longer be placed on the tree since it fell and broke a few years ago. However, we cannot bring ourselves to throw it away because it's the first ornament my wife and I bought when we celebrated our first Christmas together in 1976. There is an ornament from 1978 that says "Every Heart Goes Home For Christmas". That is the year my wife and I spent in Illinois by ourselves and unable to be home with family for Christmas. You probably would look at our tree and not see it as the treasure it is. These sentimental ornaments may mean nothing to you, but to us they are priceless because they 'spark a memory' and they cause us to reflect back over the life God has given us.
This brings me to the real point of these musings. Do you know God has a favorite tree and that He hung the most precious ornament of His Son upon that Tree? The Cross is God's Giving Tree to mankind. Jesus, God's Son was crucified upon that cruel cross and all your sin and my sin was nailed to that cross as well (Col 2:14). He, who knew no sin, became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Hallelujah, What A Savior!
Just one more thing about the ornaments on our tree. Each year, as we open the crates which house our treasured ornaments until its time to bring them out for another Christmas, there is one ornament that I place at the top near the trunk of the tree. It's a six to eight inch replica of a Roman Spike with a red ribbon tied to it. It is discretely placed at the trunk of the tree to remind me and my family of the price Jesus paid for our salvation. May we never take it for granted.
I encourage you to "Deck the Halls", "Bring Out the Holly", enjoy the Hot Apple Cider and Candlelight Dinners! But never forget why He came and why we celebrate Christmas. GOD GAVE HIS ONLY SON so that He may receive MANY SONS!
Rom 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; NASB


And Be Thankful

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Col 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. NASB

Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday. After all it is a time for family, food and football. I mean, what a deal! I remember Thanksgiving Day as a young boy. Our home filled with the aroma of Mama's cooking. She and Daddy preparing the feast while trying to keep four boys out of the kitchen until it is all ready.I remember the smell of the cakes, pies and cookies. And of course there was the turkey with all the 'fixins'. Then after the meal, my brothers and I would join with some of the neighborhood boys for a game of football in the lot beside our home. We were "All Americans" in our eyes on that afternoon. Of course we would then come in for a second round of the Thanksgiving feast. What a day! 
In my adulthood, with my wife and kids in tow, we would make an annual trip to Mama & Daddy's for Thanksgiving and then play football with the kids after the meal. Things have changed drastically over the years. Our family has expanded and our kids are grown and married. Trying to get us all together for this day is a chore within itself. Daddy has been celebrating Thanksgiving in Heaven for the past fifteen years, and I now call my Mama on this day to wish her a happy Thanksgiving. Some of my brothers still make it to her house for the day and she can still put on a Thanksgiving spread. However, the last few years we have created our own Thanksgiving memories with our kids and granddaughters and my sister-in-law. As far as playing football after the meal - well that is completely out of the question. Watching the game is satisfying enough (so satisfying that I find myself snoozing through much of it).
I still love Thanksgiving, even though the way I celebrate it has changed. In fact, Thanksgiving should not be relegated to a season or a special time in the Fall. Thanksgiving should be a way of life. As Christians, we should never forget the tremendous price paid for the peace of Christ that now rules in our hearts. Gratefulness should now flow from us like a mighty river. According to the Apostle Paul, much of the ills of this world can be traced to not giving thanks (See Romans 1:21).
Looking back over my life, I can only pause and give thanks to an amazing God who loves me more than I could ever describe. I am thankful for a Savior, who rescued me from the pits in which I have often found myself. I thank Him for directing my steps, and for the assurance that He does everything well - even if I cannot see the outcome at the moment. I am thankful that His eye is on me and His care is everlasting and secure.
I am thankful for my family - my wife, children, their spouses and grandchildren. I am thankful for Fall evenings and the sound of laughter on the back porch with my family and friends. Life is far too short for us to spend it ungrateful. The world is indeed a rough place but there is always something for which to be thankful. So spend this season Giving Thanks - and make it a habit to be thankful throughout the year.


The Stronghold of Mammon

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Matt 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. NASB

Mammon (Mamonas) the comprehensive word for all kinds of possessions, earnings and gains, a designation of material value. In Luke 16:9, 11 it denotes riches. In Matthew 6:24 and in Luke 16:13, the Lord personifies mammon as a strongman: strong enough to keep you from serving God.

Paul wrote that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12-13 NKJV).
  • One of these principalities is Mammon. It is a ruler of the darkness of this age. This principle power rules from heavenly or high places.
  • I am not saying that money and mammon are the same. Mammon is the stronghold or principality behind money.
1 Tim 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang (emphasis added). NASB
  • Mammon is the stronghold or principality that causes one to fall prey to the “love of money”.
Heb 13:5 Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, NASB
  • One of the traits Paul lifts up for an overseer (leader) in the church was to be “free from the love of money” (1 Tim 3:3) NASB
The Spirit of Mammon is what makes money 'godlike'. How is money godlike you ask? (1) Money outlives you (2) Money's circle of influence is greater (3) Money is mysterious (4) Money lives among the things we are tempted to worship (5) Money mimics everything promised in the New Jerusalem (6) Money is an instrument you wield (7) Everything can be economized (Notes taken from a class taught by Jan Couch).

In the book of Acts we can see the strength and danger of the Spirit of Mammon.

Acts 4:32-37

Luke is recounting the exploits of the Holy Spirit within the infant church. Speaking in other tongues that resulted in the salvation of 3000 from the surrounding countries, the miraculous healing of a lame man and five-thousand more converts because of this miracle, a holy boldness that came upon the apostles, even the foundation of a building shaken in which they were praying.
However, at the end of chapter four Luke might well have lifted up the greatest miracle that was taking place. And it is a miracle that is largely overlooked in the modern church. Luke reveals how the Holy Spirit was breaking off the people the 'stronghold of mammon'.

vs. 32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them.
  • The believers were unified as one heart and soul – The Spirit of Divine Unity prevailed
  • Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own...All things were common property to them - This was not a “communism” as we have come to see it in our lifetime. It was not government sanction or enforced. In fact the wealthy did not divest themselves to the point of poverty so the poor could live better. The wealthier members, who owned property, sold it and brought the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute so that no one was in need. This was as “Spirit-Born Stewardship”. The Holy Spirit was releasing the members of this infant church from the stronghold of “Ownership”.
vs.33 And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. NASB
  • This release of ownership – this breaking of the stronghold of mammon brought about a greater anointing of power and an abundance grace.
Vss. 34-35 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, 35 and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. NASB
  • The needy were cared for by the selling of property from those with more wealth.
  • Since these members were just stewards of God's wealth and property; they sold the houses or property and brought the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to those who were in need.
  • Not a needy person among them! What a miracle! A divine plan to take care of the less fortunate or underprivileged.
  • Who better than a Spirit-filled church to take care of the needy?
Vss. 36-37 And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. NASB
  • Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus was renamed, by the Apostles, Barnabas (Son of Encouragement).
  • He also sold a track of land and brought the money to the apostles' feet.
  • He would be used in an even greater way by the Holy Spirit in the future as a traveling companion and mentor to Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul).
  • When you are released from the spirit of mammon; when you are set free from ownership, then God can fulfill greater destinies than you could ever imagine.
(Summation of what we see in these scriptures)
Acts 4:32-37 gives us a glimpse of a church that's had the stronghold of mammon broken off the people. The Holy Spirit was so manifest that the new believers saw everything in light of 'stewardship' and not ownership. They held everything in common – there was no grasping and hoarding – but rather a contentment and a releasing of the things that benefited the Kingdom of God as a whole.
The Holy Spirit was producing a 'new creation' and a new entity called the “ekklesia” – the church or called out ones. This new body of believers were understanding perfectly Jesus teachings that “ones life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
These new “spirit-filled disciples” were being set free from the “stranglehold of mammon”. A principality that manifest itself in:
  1. The worries and cares of this world
  2. The deceitfulness of riches
  3. The pleasures of this life
  4. The lust and desire for other things.
This stronghold 'chokes/strangles the word so that it becomes unfruitful or unproductive' (See Mark 4:18-19).
The Message Bible states it this way: “Overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.”

Acts 5:1-10

From the lofty heights of of this Abundant Grace and Great Power we are introduced to a couple who made a pact with the spirit of mammon.
In the book of Genesis we find a man and a woman listening to the subtle hiss of Satan and disobeying God in the Garden of Eden. The issue was three fold: They fell prey to the Lust of the flesh, The Lust of the Eyes and The Pride of Life and were expelled from the garden and faced death. All of this was transacted in a place where the Divine Presence of God was everywhere. The manifest presence of God came down every day in the cool of the evening to walk with Adam and Eve. However, they still listened and obeyed the tempter.
I find it interesting that Luke writes in the book of Acts a similar story: In the midst of the Divine Presence resting on the Apostles and the new body of believers; Ananias and Sapphira conspire to use the atmosphere created (The marked curve for selling property) for their own purposes. They also had a track of land and used the market that was created by the Holy Spirit, for their own selfish gain. They lied when they brought the money to the Apostles in that they said what they brought was all they got for the property.
  • It is a dangerous thing to use kingdom principles and kingdom blessings to advance personal and fleshly purposes!
In Genesis, Adam and Eve, who were surrounded by the blessings and manifest presence of God, choose to disobey and partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They did so because they listened to the devil, “This will make you like God, knowing good and evil”. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was “good for food – (Lust of the Flesh), and “a delight to the eyes (Lust of the eyes) and desirable to make one wise (Pride of Life). She partook in and cause Adam to partake as well. The result of their disobedience was they were driven from the Garden of Eden and death.
In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira also saw an opportunity to build their own portfolio and still be a part of the “new creation” that Jesus was building. However, Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
  • Death was a result of their decision.
How dangerous is this Stronghold of Mammon? Let's look at some examples of disobedience in the Book of Acts.
  • Earlier in the fourth chapter of Acts, Peter and John are arrested and jailed by the temple guard and brought before the High priests and rulers. They were interrogated and threatened to stop preaching in Jesus name then released. These rulers included Annas and Caiaphas and John and Alexander (vs 6).
  • As far as Luke's account, these temple guards and these high priest lived to tell about this encounter.
  • Yet Ananias and Sapphira died.
  • In Acts 5 the “high priest rose up, along with his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail” (vs 17-18). They later flogged the apostles (vs 40). They, according to Luke lived to tell about it.
  • Yet Ananias and Sapphira died.
  • In Acts 7 the deacon Stephen has his life taken from him through a stoning. One of the ones holding the cloaks of the men that was stoning Stephen was Saul of Tarsus. Saul lived to face another day. He eventually has a divine encounter with God on the road to Damascus.
  • Yet Ananias and Sapphira died.
My point is, this principality of Mammon was so dangerous that Ananias and Sapphira were stricken with death rather than a chance be giving for this spirit to spread to other believers. Those who openly opposed the Gospel and the Apostles live to fight another day. Ananias & Sapphira died.
Just as Adam and Eve were not allowed to return to the Garden of Eden and eat from the Tree of Life, Ananias and Sapphira were cut off from the living. The Spirit of Mammon is dangerous and there needs to be a deliverance in the Body of Christ.

Conclusion: The Rest of the Story

Acts 5: 11-16
  • Great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things (vs 11).
  • And at the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; (vs 12)
  • Divine unity was visible to all (vs 12)
  • No common acquaintances; Apostles held in high esteem (vs 13)
  • Many more believers, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number (vs 14)
  • Sick carried into the streets so that when Peter passed by his shadow might fall on them and they be healed (vs 15)
  • The cities surrounding Jerusalem brought their sick or afflicted with unclean spirits; and they were all being healed (vs 16).
I believe these are the results of the spirit of mammon being broken off God's people! I often hear, “What's holding us back?” Could the answer lie in these passages? Could the spirit of Ananias and Sapphira be present in the modern church? Does their spirit rest on you? Instead of giving all, are you holding back something for yourself? Are you in danger of using Kingdom principles for your own personal gain? If so now is the time to repent. Turn from Mammon to serve the One True God. Come to Jesus. Let the righteousness of God fall upon you and let us see what can happen when a body of people have the cares of this life broken off them and live by faith in the God of all creation. 



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sometimes I deal with Vertigo. Yesterday was one of those times. It starts with a mild feeling of dizziness and can become a full blown crisis if not treated in time. I know some who deal with this affliction on a regular basis and they have my deepest feelings of empathy. I have only had this attack a few times. The world spinning when I am standing or sitting upright can make one sick to say the least. Laying down in a dark room with my eyes closed seems to be the best way to combat this attack.
Today I am better and thinking about yesterday's attack. Sometimes it seems this attack can speak to me spiritually. When I am focusing on everything instead of 'one-thing' my spiritual equilibrium gets out of balance. The world around me starts spinning out of my control and I began to stumble in my faith. Sometimes this leads me to dark places where I am unable to move. Closing my eyes to the many 'sights' may seem to help but it leaves me motionless. I need to regain my vision of 'one thing'.
I am told that one of the ways to combat Vertigo is to focus on 'one thing' instead of quickly looking around. This can cause the affliction to escalate. I know in my spiritual journey, looking to the right and the left does indeed cause me to become unbalanced and eventually motionless. God desires that I make progress. I cannot do that effectively if I am constantly looking around or looking back. I must fix my eyes straight ahead and in faith, look to Jesus. He alone must be the object of my attention. Especially when I am stumbling around and disorientated.
That seems to be exactly what the Apostle Peter did when walking on the water to Jesus. He was doing great until he began to look around at the storms and the waves. Then he started sinking into the crisis he was walking on! However, he regained his vision long enough to cry out to Jesus for help and immediately Jesus took him by the hand and they walked together back to the boat (See Mark 14:22-33).
How many times do we see the saints of old say, "This one thing I do", or "One thing have I desired" (See Phil 3:13; Ps 27:4). Are there many things vying for your attention? Focus on the 'one-thing' or the 'ONE' who can truly give you peace and rest.Cry out to Him in your crisis. Let Him refocus your attention on His Divine Presence. Only Jesus can bring His calm to the midst of our chaos.


Jesus Plus Nothing

Monday, March 11, 2013

We must continue encouraging one another to look to Christ alone for salvation. Why do we need to continually hear the gospel? Because unbelief is dangerous and yet very common. We display unbelief in the completed work of Christ when we add to His work. We reveal our doubts by working to insure acceptance rather than resting in the beloved. We view our failures as final. We focus more on our achievements than His achievement. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works. Our unbelief causes us to attempt good works in order to be created in Christ Jesus. Do you see the difference?
The writer to the Hebrews warned them to "take care that there not be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (Heb 3:12). We are 'partakers' of Christ! However, unbelief can cause us to fall from this divine position.
Jesus called out to those trying to please God, "come unto Me all that are laboring and I will give you rest (Matt11:28). Unbelief in His word and work will keep you from this rest. We have been made the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Christ died that He might bring us to God (1 Pe 3:18). He has qualified us to share in the inheritance...He delivered us from the domain of darkness...we have been transferred into the Kingdom of THE SON (Col 1:12-15). Be encouraged. Don't doubt! Look to Him and live!