Those following or interested in following God,
For most of my life I believed that being close to God was only for the spiritual-elite. It was for people like my pastor, the elderly women who were always baking me brownies when they could barely care for themselves, and those well-dressed evangelists on tv, not someone like me. Knowing God personally was out of my reach.
Since then, God has shown me that Jesus' message was not only meant to be understood or received by the spiritual elite. It is for everybody and can be understood by all, even a child! The Gospel of John that we are studying in our current Sunday series is by a common man and written to common man. Maybe you have known Jesus for decades: there is so much still to uncover in John's gospel for you. More than likely though, you are like me and you need someone to speak plainly and simply to you. John was a fisherman before he met Jesus, but became part of Jesus inner circle, even closer than many of the other 12 disciples. John was close to God and he didn't have to become a priest to do it.
God has a place in his kingdom and a work that only a common man or woman like you can do!
Before you created your facebook profile, before you ever had a name, God knew you. He was the very first person to be invested in our identity as he formed us in our mother's womb. God's mission is deeply tied to this identity. He has endowed each of us with unique abilities that allow us to contribute to the world, but more importantly, to serve Him. No one person has every gift and no one person has no gift. We each have a role to play in God's family and no one person is more important than the other.
If you have never considered how God has gifted you, then you should not go another step without finding out. Earnestly ask God to reveal your role in his family, then search His Word as you take an assessment in your life. You can also take a spiritual gifts assessment like this one online (click here). God's mission and spiritual gifts start with your identity. "Who are you because of Jesus?" This is the foundation that God uses to change the world!
Ref: Psalm 139:13-16;1 Corinthians 12:12-31; 1 Peter 2:9 and 4:10-11
Whether by circumstance or by our own doing, it does not seem like Christmas brings with it the time of peace. The coming of the promised Savior, the fulfillment of God's Promise, the birth of the one who will usher in eternal peace all seems to be drowned out by the chaos of Christmas shopping, planning trips, and trying to take care of our regular needs. Peace is the last thing on our mind when our heads finally hit the pillow at night.
Luke 2 tells us the familiar story of Jesus' birth. When we reenact this nativity scenes in plays, movies, and even as decorations around the house we show a scene of peace, but we should also remember that even Jesus' birth was amidst the same chaos we face today. Mary and Joseph didn't birth their son at home, or even in a bed. They gave birth in a stable, with livestock neighing one stall over, and instead of a cute sanitary crib they laid their newborn in a feeding trough! All of this occurred away from Mary and Joseph's home, in the middle of a census, and to a family that was just making ends meet. The prince of peace was born in a kingdom of chaos!
We all want peace this holiday season and just because there is chaos in our world, it doesn't mean that we can't have peace for ourselves. There will always be storms coming and going in the world, but we can lay hold of one consistent anchor, God is able to bring those who trust and follow him through it unscathed!
It's hard to believe that only a short while ago our community was boarding up its windows in preparation for Hurricane Irma. Months ago billboards were blown over, but now they are decorated with Christmas lights and announcements about the holidays. As our city grows busier, there is a kind of beauty to seeing streets that were recently full of debris now full of holiday shoppers. It gives me hope.
Inside, we are a lot like this city. Hurricanes have swept through our lives and left a damage everywhere. We have a choice to make. We can wallow in our misfortune and retreat into ourselves, OR, we can reprioritize and continue moving forward in God's mission. 2 Corinthians 5 says, "…we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight." (ESV) It is a reminder of the different perspective we hold as Jesus followers. Our hope is not found in staying dry or keeping our houses full of stuff. It is in the life we can already live right now in Christ! Do you believe that Jesus Christ has paid for your sins and that your faith in him will save you? If you do, then proudly decorate your damaged roof for Christmas! You may even find yourself bringing hope for those searching for it this season!
Have you ever entered a store just to browse but end up coming out with a bag full of new stuff? Somehow between the front door and the checkout counter you found one (or five) things you couldn't live without. Are stores really that in tune with our needs or is something else going on?
For a short time I worked at a retail chain as a salesman. During my time there I learned that we could sell items on a rack in the checkout line for sometimes three or four times what it was listed for elsewhere in the store (disclaimer: I did not personally set these prices or come up with the idea. I was only responsible for selling items). A printer cable would be listed for $5 in the back of the store, but at the front it would list for $20. We called this front rack the "impulse rack". I wish I could tell you that this tactic did not work, but the truth is that it did, and it did very well.
Impulse racks came about through market research into how people think. By understanding how a customer thinks they found that they could sell more, thereby making their business more profitable. Learning of this made me consider how well I know my thinking habits. Am I being watchful as the Bible charges me to be (1 Peter 5:8), or am I blind and becoming a victim of all of life's impulse racks around me?
In Galatians 5:1 we are reminded not to submit again to the burdens of sin. This also includes our way of thinking. We have been set free from the impulses that imprisoned us, literally and spiritually, because of Jesus' gift of his life on the cross. As we stand in checkout lines throughout this season, let us not just be watchful for God to move, but also guard our minds from the impulses of this world.