stone-manger

Luke 2

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Speaking of the shepherds, how did they know where to find Jesus? The angel tells them, You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What is a manger? It is a stone feed trough used for animals. We saw real mangers from the time of Jesus when we visited Israel. Since I saw a real manger, I still know wooden mangers are here to stay. But there’s nothing like the original.

Last Christmas I talked about this and my friend from church secretly made me a replica stone feed box manger and gave it to me for my birthday!

Anyway, we picture Jesus in the manger, but where is the manger located?

The Bible doesn’t say, only mentions the feed trough. Animals in Bible times either slept in the home along with people or outside in caves. Caves were convenient and made it possible to keep them safe by penning them off. There is no such thing as wooden stables or barns in first century Israel. But, again I still like wooden stable looking buildings in Christmas manger scenes. But, knowing Jesus is born in a cave is another important contrast God gives us.

ME

Does it matter if we authentically represent things from the Bible like a stone feed trough? How about images of Jesus?

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I will answer them before they even call to me.
While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!

Here we see the amazing view of what can happen as we become more and more in synch with God. We are able to share thoughts without consciously thinking about them! This is called having a mutual mindset.

There can come a time in our lives where our minds are so in synch with God that we connect with him beyond our consciousness. This is not called, “sub-conscious,” but rather “supra-conscious.”

Communication faster than words? Yes

ME
When have you sensed God was speaking to you like this?

 

harmonyPsalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

If you want to see shalom in action, think of this most loved passage in the whole Bible.

“The Lord is my shepherd…”

Or, God is my shepherd, I have everything I need. He gives me rest, surrounded by his blessing.”

Who would not be filled with gladness knowing God takes care of everything?

This is why we find joy and shalom in the Bible together as much as joy and shalom are connected in the brain. They work together, but they are not the same.

When we translate the word for shalom into English, we use the word “peace.” It is a good word, but the trouble today is peace has lost this “everything is going to be fine” meaning and has come to mean, “absence of violence.” But, shalom is so much more than that. As we know all too well, you can be in a truce without sharing joy with others.

The word “Harmony” works better for us today.  “Harmony” is what our brains prefer. A sense that everything is going to be alright. With harmony in our lives, this is shalom. Our relationships are right. Who we are makes sense. Our reactions to the world please us and please God. A modern technology term also gives us a deeper sense of what it means to experience shalom. Synchronization.

When we have harmony we are in synch with God. We are in synch with the world around us. When we have harmony we can experience the presence of God.

Without harmony, our world is chaotic and moving too fast. We find it hard to be in synch with God, and we so don’t experience God. Not that he is not there or he doesn’t want us to know he is there, it’s just that we can’t experience this when we are overwhelmed by our problems.

ME

When have you had problems synching something with your computer or smartphone? What were you feeling? Think about that experience in terms of life in general.

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Ephesians 5

3 As for fornication, uncleanness of any kind, or greed: you shouldn’t even mention them! You are, after all, God’s holy people.

In our society- sex, sexuality, sexual identity, romance, anything related to sex- is everywhere. Sex sells.

Sex is used to influence our buying choices, sexual issues raise funds for our political parties, and sexual content entertains us endlessly. It seems like half the news, three quarters of all entertainment, and 90% of all advertising is somehow, someway related to S-E-X.

But the Bible says, hold on a minute. Stop the obsession. What in the world is going on here? This is about porne, the Bible word translated, “fornication.” This is sexual obsession, sexual greed, and it tarnishes our relationship with God and others. As followers of Jesus we are to be “set apart” for God’s way of living.

We are to avoid fornication – the casual sex that demeans and cheapens not only the participants but also the gift of sex itself. But the best way of doing that is to work at taking it out of our mind altogether; and the main way that happens is removing it from our speech.

OK…sure…that’s easy…

ME

In one day, try counting how many times are you exposed to some kind of sexual content/ innuendo/ message. Don’t go looking for it, but just notice:)

angry-driver

Ephesians 4

26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Anger is a potent force. Anger brings tremendous damage in our lives. Anger affects us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Anger damages relationships, anger destroys physical health, and anger separates us from the love of God. Not that God doesn’t love us, but we can’t recognize and receive that love if we are consumed by anger.

Most anger is sin. Most anger comes out of our own sense of pride. Our inflated egos. Want to know when people are the most egotistical and prideful? Watch how they drive.

How dare you cut me off? I will accelerate and cut you off. How dare you go too slow in my lane. I will follow closely, almost touching your bumper. I have somewhere important to go and so I will weave in and out of traffic. That will teach you to get in my way.

You can tell a lot about a person’s overinflated ego by the way they drive. Now if you are that driver I just described, just know God is ready and able to help!

Anger can quickly turn to rage. And rage is the emotional source of so much damage to relationships. So much hate, crime, assault, murder, war, and destruction are committed in a vat of rage.

Dallas Willard said, “There is nothing we can do out of anger, that is not done better without.”

So, is anger always a sin? Not necessarily. There are injustices toward the weak and vulnerable that should make us angry, for example. No, anger doesn’t have to be sinful, but it becomes sinful when we wallow in it for any length of time.

Hence, Paul says here, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry…”

What may start as anger that is understandable, quickly becomes a place where the devil can take up residence.

Martin Luther said it this way.

‘You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Or I recently heard another great phrase for this. “Anger is not necessarily a sin, but it has a short shelf life.”

So, how can I have anger, but not sin?

An example from what we previously talked about will help.

I have anger toward people who use foul and abusive language against others, especially the vulnerable. But, I can’t let that anger take up residence. So, if I hear that kind of language, I will quickly call it out. Even with strangers, but especially if I am in relationship with those who are using speech that may be hurtful.

And I expect my family members and friends to call me out if they think I am being hurtful with what I am saying. To hold on to anger and not call it out gives birth to grudges and negative energy against someone else. That’s always sinful.

We can learn to be the kind of people who don’t easily get angry. The key to not getting angry is to learn not to take offense. When someone attacks us or tries to bring us down, it is usually our own Inflated sense of self that causes us to be hurt in the first place.

If you already realize you are the adored son or daughter of a loving Heavenly Father, nothing someone else does or says can make that any less true.  There is no need to be offended when you know your identity rests in the Father.

And there are times you may have allowed yourself to get offended, when the other person didn’t even mean to bring offense. You may feel slighted or hurt when it is actually you who have misunderstood where someone else was coming from. Again, don’t let the sun go down. Either let your anger disappear or talk about it. The devil loves grudges.

ME

Watch how you drive and when you see someone else drive in an ego-inflated way, pray a prayer of blessing on them.

(Spend 5 minutes before you read thinking about one or two things you appreciate in your life. These appreciation memories will enhance everything that follows)

Ephesians 5 

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.

Last week, I spoke of the brain research that showed we have fast track and slow track processing in our brains. The right brain deals with areas like identity, character, motivation, relationships, emotions and behavior. The right brain processes too quickly for conscious thought. So, how does the right brain learn? Since it works too quick for conscious thought, it doesn’t learn through words and studying, through information, but through imitation. We learn habits that will influence our fast track thinking by watching others.

Paul says, “Imitate God.” How can we do this if we cannot see God? To learn from God is to see God at work and imitate what you see.

Jesus gets the ball rolling. “I only do what I see my Father doing.”

Imitation is how Jesus learned to live his life. Imitation is the core of the way Jesus taught his disciples, his students. They watch him almost daily for three years. Then his students invest in the lives of others, living according to the ways of Jesus and these students begin to learn through imitation. Imitating God is where it starts and continues. This has been passed down from the beginning.

To imitate God is to learn from him through looking at Jesus. For us, to learn from Jesus is to imitate those who have been learning from him.

In another letter in the Bible, Paul says he is learning from Jesus, “Imitate me just as I imitate Christ.” As faith is lived out generation to generation, we learn to imitate God by being connected to Jesus and seeing him at work in other people.

This is why you don’t learn to grow in faith without faithful people to imitate. This is why we live our lives in community with other Christians. Why Jesus created churches. It is not information that brings most of our spiritual growth, it is imitation.

ME

When you understand the church is a community of people who focus on Jesus and his mission together, then it becomes difficult to understand how you can grow in your faith without other Christians to model and be a model yourself.

Ephesians 4

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 

Don’t be like you used to be. Paul seems to be speaking to those who have lived a destructive life and are now following Jesus. The destruction comes when they are not open to the new thinking that Jesus brings and because of this they make choices according to what they think is best for them rather than what God thinks is best. And the thing is, when people wander from God, most of the time God’s ways are already clear to them.

OK, but what about the rest of us? What if we grow up as a Christian? How do we experience life like the Gentiles?

Wandering from the life God gives.

When our lives don’t change for the good of others.

Because you have Jesus in your life, your life is to look different. Think about it. Is the impact that you have for the good of others today greater than it was five years ago? Does your life look any different than it did five years ago?

You see, we are like a plant when we are living as God designs. We are meant to grow and to bear fruit. But, to be honest, maybe your life looks like it always did. Maybe you’re living like most people around you. Then that could be a problem.

Me

How has your influence for good in the lives of others changed from five years ago? If it hasn’t changed, why not? If it has, why?

Ephesians 3

1 I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles . . . 2 assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles.

Paul is succeeding in spreading the Gospel because God is taking advantage of this time in world history. In the first century, the Roman authorities require people of all faiths to pay homage to Rome by offering sacrifice to the Emperor. This religious act is to show allegiance to Rome. Jewish people wouldn’t be able to do this because this would directly violate God’s ways. But for various reasons, Jews are given a special exemption and are not required to sacrifice to the Emperor.

Since the earliest Christians are still considered Jews by the Romans, they can travel and teach without trouble. Therefore the earliest Church blossoms. Then there is trouble.

The Christians are not accepted by the Jewish establishment. The Christians are persecuted by the Jewish authorities to the point that the Romans realize there is a split. If the Christians aren’t Jewish, then there will be no exemption from Emperor worship. The Christian faith is outlawed and leaders, like Paul, are imprisoned. Yet, Paul doesn’t get thrown into prison right away. Because, he is also a Roman citizen, he has rights others do not have. And even in prison he is able to write letters and receive news, unlike other prisoners who aren’t citizens of Rome. This isn’t his first time writing.

ME

What is an advantage you have in how God has wired you or the circumstances you find yourself in that make it more likely for you to be a good influence on others?

 

Ephesians 2

10 This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel. 

 

The future of our country is way more dependent on how joyful, compassionate and humble Christians are than any political party or philosophy. It is God who made us to be like him. As we become more like Jesus, we do what he wants us to do, and in fact he has been preparing us to discover what he wants done to bring his ways of love, joy and compassion in the world all along.

Keeping with the metaphor of traveling on the road of life, how does God use us? I want to offer the picture of a bridge. On the road we travel, quite often Jesus makes us a bridge. Someone who connects Jesus to a friend; to a neighbor. A bridge. Someone who connects people from very different viewpoints to each other. A bridge. Someone who is used by God to be a bridge for the power of God to move from the heavens into the life of those in need.

Christians don’t put up walls to try to separate ourselves from the world. Christians build bridges. And Jesus, the master builder, is with us all the way.

ME

How has God used you to be a bridge lately?