Love Changes the World

 

Every person has a story of how the world is not how everyone else sees it. Every generation tells of how the world is completely different from how “it used to be.” What do we mean by this? I think we are all trying to tell how the world is changing, in our own way. Some say it is worse; and some say the world is better. How we view the world is really dependent on where our faith truly lies.

In the time of Jesus, there is Caesar Augustus who has it in his mind he is the true ruler of the world. He has human power, makes decrees and assignments everyone listens to and obeys out of fear, and sees the world as his play area. We have people like this all around us. People who are truly great because they are living out the grace of God through their lives, and people who are only great in their own eyes simply because they have certain titles, material goods, positions, etc.

When God came down in the form of Jesus Christ, the world was and is changed completely. Nothing is the same since God personally intervened. This is the gift we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the gift we open and fully receive at Easter. It was the power of God’s love that completely changed and is changing the world.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

The first thing we should see is that love changes the world and gives us power.

The decree of Caesar to go to your hometown for a census to be taken is a good way for him to assert his power. He did this so he could know how many people are in the empire. Not so he could see how blessed he was to be able to lead that number of people; but so he could know how many people to tax and line his pockets. When Caesars of the world today get in power, it is usually for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people.

But God does something completely different. When the angels gave the proclamation that Jesus was born, the shepherds, and us today, are invited to partake in the presence of God. Caesar’s goal was to increase taxation and he could create laws for this. God is the only One who has the power to break us free from the law of sin and death. This is where the true power lies, and we get to receive this power within us, to go in the power of God to make a difference in the world because of the love He has for us. We get to go in the world and be instruments of guiding people to receive the power of God as well.

Love not only changes the world by giving us power; but now we are given a new pride and purpose for our life and work.

The work leaders do may or may not have a lasting impact in the world. It all depends on who they are doing the work for.

After the shepherds left the scene of baby Jesus, they not only returned to their work (tending the flocks); but they have greater purpose now. No longer where they simply shepherds doing menial tasks and a lowly job. Now they get to do their work for the glory of God because they had been in the presence of God, Jesus Christ. This is true for us too! After we have an encounter with God, we experience His powerful love, and we are changed forever. Everything we do is done to serve Him and give Him all the glory. No one can take away the work we do with God for showing others the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here among us. But when we do things for our own glory and purpose, we seen the work we do does not last beyond our time allotted.

“C.S. Lewis once wrote about the nature of humility in the Christian life, saying something like this: the Christian life is to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. The shepherds’ role was not great by human standards, but it mattered little to them. Serving the Lord with pride and purpose in tending the sheep was a source of joy because they were in God’s presence.” The same is true for you and I. The work we do really matters because we are in the presence of God.

Love changes the world and allows us to ponder and think about all God has done, is doing now and will do in the future.

Not only have we been given great power in the love of God, greater pride and purpose for the work we do, we also get to ponder what it is God is leading us to do and praise Him for all he has done.

After the shepherds left, Mary “pondered” the shepherds visit. The shepherds would have also thought about what the angels told them. They had been given a grand message.

Now that same message is entrusted to us. Think about the things of God and we will see this world not as a place that cannot be redeemed and put right. We will, instead, see the world anew. God allows us to be part of this great work He is doing. The world is not too far gone. The world is ready to be changed and recreated. As we look outside, at the world around us, we should not allow the negativity to steal our joy in Christ. Instead, break through the negativity and show the world the incredible love of God through our actions, our words, and even our thoughts.

It is awesome how communities of faith can gather to worship and demonstrate the love of God in their communities which goes out and changes the world.

In the churches my wife and I are blessed to pastor, we have seen awesome things this year and are excited what the next year will bring. Some of the things we have seen happen in our community are:

  • Recovered from a tornado and rebuilt the church building
  • Baptized 6 people this year
  • Restarted Sunday School for children, teens and adults
  • Started young adult Sunday school
  • Impacted 280 children plus adults in our Trunk or Treat
  • Youth mission trip
  • Choir cantata had 175 in attendance plus choir
  • Children’s Christmas program (11 children and adults helping)
  • 31 coats for kids
  • 50+ shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
  • Helped people this year with utilities and other benevolence
  • families receiving Christmas gifts this year
  • Night in Bethlehem community event saw 175 people plus many volunteers
  • Provided food for backpack lunches to those kids who don’t have food on the weekends
  • Provided lunch for the school personal as appreciation before school started
  • Provided school supplies
  • Countless prayers, visitations, and so much more
  • This does not even include all of the missionary, evangelism, and life saving work around the world by the global United Methodist Church
  • When we let the grace of God grow in us and we stop living for ourselves and our comfort, Imagine how much we’ll see and experience God’s grace, mercy and power through us this next year!

To some, this list may not seem like much; but there have been many lives impacted in our community because of the love of God that shines through these churches.

God’s love through us changes things, changes our world, our community, us. His power is the most powerful force in the world.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

 

December 18: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 2:17-20 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

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Yesterday, we talked about how the shepherds went as a group (community) to wear the angels said the baby Jesus would be (God’s calling), and that they moved quickly (our response).

They found the family at the exact place the angels said they would be and saw Jesus. After the shepherds left the manger, they went off telling people about what they had seen. What did they say? They told about how this baby had been born, how they found out and constantly praised God. They kept the message simple and God-focused.

This is how we should tell people about what God has done today: by telling what we heard, what we saw, and then give praise to God. Sometimes people may not understand, nor appreciate, the message at first; but we should still keep the message focused on God. God coming into the world as one of the humans he created. God walking with us. God experiencing life with us.

What a great reason to celebrate and praise God!

I’m sure after the shepherds made their way home, they were different people. How are you different after encountering God?

Gracious God, you have come to us in the form of a human, Jesus the Christ. Change us and allow the time spent in your presence to make us new creations. It’s because of what you have done for us that we are new people and we should allow you to make us whole. Help us remember to praise and glorify you with all of our heart, soul, mind, body, strength. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 17: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Luke 2:15-16 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

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On this journey to Bethlehem, we have just encountered the angels (as the shepherds did). Here’s something to think about, “how do you respond after hearing from God?”

I believe the tendency could be to try to stay right there and internalize it so we could make sense of it. This way when we do tell our friends and those we encounter, we’ll be able to fully explain what we saw and what we heard and we’ll have researched the event and words enough to be able to explain it so our hearers would understand.

What I find interesting is that the text does not say how long the shepherds waited before hey went; but they did go “quickly.” I believe this should be our reaction and response too. God does not ask us to have everything figured out before we step out in faith; he just wants us to step out in faith, trusting him.

Another point this brings up is what to do after we hear from God. Our community (family, friends, trusted acquaintances, etc) is there to be a sounding board so we can have people to confirm/affirm/or maybe even give a new twist on what we heard. We should find ways to confirm what God has spoken. How that looks for you maybe different than me. I personally talk with trusted people to discuss what I felt God say, then we work together to continue listening for God, as we are moving in the direction sensed.

So when you hear from God our challenge is to keep the excitement and move “quickly,” bringing people along with us (the shepherds went as a community) to do the work God calls us to, or even what God calls us to see.

God, you speak to us. Help us hear with excitement what you say and move quickly to where you call us. Also, Lord, guide us to the people you want us to share this calling with. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 16: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Luke 2:11-14 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

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Our journey to the cradle of Christ is not over yet. We still have 9 days until Christmas. How is it with your soul? Do you feel like you are getting your spirit ready for the coming Savior, or is it still focused on getting the material items and gifts ready?

There are some Christmas seasons, I want Jesus to just appear before my eyes and get me into the Christmas spirit. Has this happened to you? I invite you to read again the verses above.

Did you notice that the angels were proclaiming that Jesus was born? He is on the earth when they speak to the shepherds. I find it interesting that the angels did not make Jesus appear right before the shepherds eyes. Instead, they told the shepherds were to go. The shepherds had to take some initiative to go to see and know Jesus!

That is what we are invited to do daily as well. Jesus Christ is here. Jesus Christ is within you and I. We should take the time to see him ourselves and not just wait for him to appear to us.

What steps are you taking / can you take this day to see Jesus personally? I pray we all have open eyes to see Jesus in every person we encounter and do for them as we would do for Jesus, serve and love them.

Almighty God, you sent your angels to proclaim the birth of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Guide us to show us where we can see Jesus and bring others to him as well. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen

December 15: Prepare

2014 Advent Devotional

Luke 2:8-10 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.

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Now we get to an interesting part of our journey toward Christmas and celebrating Jesus’ coming into the world. God sent angels to the nobodies of society – the shepherds.

This is really awesome for us today. When you and I do not feel like God would make himself (or his plans) known to us because of our past or because we do not feel like we matter; just remember that God sent his angelic messengers to the lowly, smelly, outcasted shepherds in the field. God does this today too!

What an incredible gift it was for the grungy shepherds to be the first people to see the newborn baby Jesus. This shows that the King of Glory is interested in and invites those the world looks down upon. So if you do not feel like you matter, just remember that Jesus is inviting you to witness his birth and entry into the world. AND Jesus is inviting you and I to be in his presence.

You matter to God and he comes to you!

Gracious and Holy God, thank you for coming to earth and for inviting us to be with you all the time. We do not always feel like we’re worthy. Help us to see you and experience your presence daily. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 13: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Matthew 1:20-25 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

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How do you make decisions? Do you only look at the facts, or so you allow God the opportunity to speak to you? I tend to have quick reactions, but then I try to take time to think about and assess the situation from different angels.

Joseph was about to dismiss Mary from the marriage contract, but I imagine there was still something in his heart that was questioning the decision. This is where God had an opening to prepare Joseph for what was about to happen in the birth of Jesus. After he heard from God, he obeyed and was confident he had an encounter with an angel of God.

I hope we all take time to think and pray about our decisions. God is preparing each one of us for something bigger than ourselves and we should allow him the opportunity to speak, and then obey.

Joseph knew the community would probably not understand his decision or even stand behind him to give him support. But he knew God was there and in that event. May we know, believe and live like this too!

Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

December 3: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Luke 1:8-13 One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John.

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Zechariah is afraid, at first, of the angel! If you haven’t been able to relate personally to the Advent/Christmas story, this is where we all should see ourselves.

Zechariah was performing his duties and prayer, as he was supposed to do. Many people today think that God will reveal himself in extraordinary ways and in extraordinary circumstances. This passage today reminds me that God is showing us, he is even in the ordinary aspects of life.

This is incredible! We do not have to go very far or really even change our work routine to be in God’s presence or even hear a word from him. Here’s the catch: we should not be so engrossed in what we’re doing that we miss seeing and hearing from God. Even when we’re working, we still should have our hearts prepared to listen and see the Living God.

How will you live differently in your everyday life today? What will you do to prepare your heart to hear from God? When you do hear God’s voice, don’t be afraid. Trust the God loves you and has something to reveal to you that will help you on your path in life.

Thank you Lord for your presence even in the ordinary parts of life. May we remember you this day in all we do and not be afraid when you speak to us. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Hardened Heart

As I was traveling to a meeting this afternoon, I passed several people on the side of the road asking for money or in need of some kind of help. To confess, I have to admit that I was thinking negative thoughts about them and tried not to look at them directly.

As a person who works in a church, I felt convicted, as I passed the people, that I should have stopped to help, or at the very least, acknowledge their presence.
That’s when I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me. It wasn’t an audible voice; but I clearly heard him say, “These are real people made in the image of God just like you. Why are you hesitant to even acknowledge their presence?” That convicted me and has given me something to keep in my heart.
I tell this not for any personal reason, except it seems like this is how most of us tend to go through our lives. While I was driving to my next destination, my single focus was where I was heading and what would be discussed. I believe if we are open to including more people from all over the human spectrum, we will be able to see God clearer in our day to day lives.
Even the writer of Hebrews, in the Bible, says “they entertained angels unaware.” Imagine what would happen and imagine how kinder the world would be if we noticed and showed hospitality to those people we feel are beneath us. So, as we go about the day ahead, the invitation is to look at people with non-judgmental eyes and see the person inside…the person that God created and loves. Just like you and I!
Lord, may our hearts become soft toward all you love.
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