Christmas, the rest of the story


When I think of the humble birth of Jesus the first Bible verse that comes to mind is this one from Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:5
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,but a body have you prepared for me”.

The “consequently” in that verse refers to the prior verses that explain that offerings, sacrifices, and religious ritual, and law keeping can never take away sin. Only the once for all, once for all time offering of the body of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, can take away sin forever.

It is good and right to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and just as important, we celebrate his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. Each time we share together in communion, eating the bread and drinking the cup, we declare the Lord’s death ’til He comes. And, each time a new believer is immersed in water, the gospel is acted out, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is proclaimed.

The Christ child did not come into the world just to be imitated. He came to pay the awful price of the wrath of God against sin and to show the love of God for sinners. The innocent babe of Bethlehem was just as innocent before His crucifixion until…., until the sins of the world were laid upon him. He suffered the shame, torture, and abandonment of God the Father and friends, and He did it for the ungodly, you and me.

Hebrews 10:10
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Never again would it be necessary for a priest to go daily offering sacrifices. The one offering of Jesus of his own body satisfied completely the justice and righteousness of God so that based on that once for all, once for all time offering, God can declare an ungodly sinner “not guilty”. Those who are in Christ by faith need not try to appease God about their sins or do anything to attempt to gain His favor. His awful punishment of the Christ is His definitive statement on His love for sinners.

The coming of the baby Jesus was marked by people coming from afar to see him and by a bright star that lit the night sky over Bethlehem. He died alone, his friends had forsaken him, even the Father God turned away for a time, and light left the sky. But He rose from death victor over death, hell, and the grave.

Today the gracious offer of Christmas is Jesus Christ who himself is life everlasting, peace, and righteousness. Those who trust Him alone and forsake all to follow Him have newness of life, the forgiveness of all sins, and the promise of a heavenly inheritance reserved for them.

Peace on earth and goodwill toward men is only possible because the One who would suffer and die for us, and now lives for us, was born. “God with us” is the blessing of Christmas. From my home and heart to yours, may you know the true blessing of the Christ whose birth we joyfully celebrate.

Royce Ogle

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What does God want from you?


In my world, here in the Bible belt, a Christian is a moral man who takes his family to Sunday School every week. He says a prayer of thanks before meals, even in a busy restaurant. He gives 10% off the top, serves on committees at church, and is overall a good man.

He might drive a current year model SUV with a nav system and a back up camera, or he might drive a 20-year-old Mercury with a tattered KJV Bible on the dash and a Honk if you love Jesus bumper sticker on the back.

He might be Baptist, Church of God, Catholic, or Pentecostal Holiness. For the most part, his brand is incidental. It usually only differentiates him from others like him on Sunday for several minutes. Oh, by the way, this generic Christian is taught by his spiritual mentors to avoid sinners. And he is taught that good people go to heaven and bad people don’t. Be careful that you avoid strong drink, look at a beautiful woman with only a quick glance, be honest in your business dealings, and don’t miss church.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the one where hurting people are waiting to be loved, there is a remnant of Christians who are different. Yes, they do fit the template described above, but they also are bigger than the template, or much smaller. They are learning discipline, becoming disciples of Jesus, becoming familiar with the cross. They are saying NO to self interests in order to serve others. They are not as interested in what the folks in the church community think about them as the first group. They are loving sinful, ungodly people, on purpose. They are engaging the world about them with acts of kindness, sacrifice, and unconditional love. They are world changers.

There is a watching and waiting world assessing those who are self-described Christians. They are somewhat able to sort out those who know about Jesus from those who actually know Jesus. Even when they are treated badly they keep on loving, they only ignore harsh words or crass humor at their expense. They are not imitating Jesus, they are living His life day by day. They are salt and light. They are content with whatever life, or lifestyle, God gives. They are faith followers of Jesus.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)

Deny himself? A cross? Lord I prefer a bumper sticker, or a sign of the fish emblem, or a Bible on my dash. I do pray in public you know. Deny himself? Oh, you didn’t mean that literally did you? ….Really? A cross? What does that mean? I have this prolonged illness… People at work don’t like me because I am not a drinker and don’t appreciate their filthy talk. That’s what you mean, right?

Those who want to save their lives must lose them. The way up is down in the Kingdom of God. Deny self means put other’s interests ahead of your own. And, a cross is never more nor less than an instrument of death. The cross of Jesus is a daily reminder that I must live as a dead man. That is I must live as one who is dead to bigger barns, fat bank accounts, personal recognition, and all the trappings of worldly success.

What does God want from you? The answer is quite simple. Surrender. That’s right, just give up. Stop trying to act like a Christian. Stop trying to imitate Jesus. Put self in the dust and allow the Holy Spirit to live the life of Jesus out of you to others. Love wins every time. Love them and tell them. Don’t promote you, or your brand of church, just give them Jesus and his story. And keep loving in His stead for His glory.

It all works out when He comes. Life isn’t fair, but He is.

Agape’,

Royce

Thespians or Christians?


The earliest actors would portray different people by switching masks. Since Thespis in the 6th century B.C. people have donned masks or a persona, and pretended to be someone they are really not. Thus, actors today are called thespians, a reference to the man, and later the city named for him.

It appears to me that what many, if not most, of our churches do is make “/Thespians” instead of “Christians”. People are allowed to enter the church community by whatever rite or ritual particular to that group and then at once they are told to do this and don’t do that and in general how to act like a Christian. Some are very quick learners and catch on quickly. Others are not so successful and require more work to get their parts right and too often when the performance isn’t up to par they are simply ignored until they just go away.

For most, once a week, and for others two or three times a week they come with the others to play their parts and then go back home to the reality of destructive behaviors like prescription drugs, too much drinking, etc., etc., trying desperately to fill the void that should contain a jest for life, love, joy, and peace.

Why do we do it? Well, because we have been told that is how it is done. Daddy and momma and grandpa and grandma did it this way so that is the way it should be done. Really?

Jesus encountered the same situation. The most religious folks in town, by community standards, were only actors, they were impostors. They used their masks well saying long public prayers with flowery words meant to be heard and appreciated only by them and the human listeners. They were quick to remind their neighbors of how religious they were, how pious, how carefully they complied with every church rule. Jesus described these religious actors as white washed tombs. They appeared good on the outside but inside they were corrupt and full of decay.

Christ and his followers came offering a better way. Love God and love your neighbor. And, Jesus for 3 1/2 years showed people how to live, and how to love. It was Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his followers, including the one who would soon betray him into the hands of those who would execute him. Why would he wash Judas’ feet you ask? Because that is the way you love people, by serving them, doing what is best for them.

But you say, “I can’t love people like that”. I understand. God does too. I can’t help you to love like that. He can, and He will.

God’s greatest expression of love was Jesus dying on a Roman cross, outside the city, on the wrong side of the tracks, as a common criminal who deserved the death penalty. What crime had he committed? None. He died for your crimes, and mine, and for those of every man. He took upon him all of our moral and ethical failures, all of our assignments for good left undone, our harsh words and evil thoughts….(All of this is called sin and it is against God)

Jesus hung there abandoned by his friends and even by his heavenly Father for a time, in your place, paying the penalty due for your sins and for mine. He was taken down from the cross and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Three days later, just as he had predicted, he rose from the dead and after 40 days with his friends he ascended back to heaven and to the Father.

Here is the good news. You are no longer condemned! You are no longer facing the penalty for the bad things you have done! Jesus paid your debt to God off in full! What should your response be? Just take Him at His word. Believe that Jesus died for you, that he was buried and was raised from the dead and love him back.

He promises not only a new start for those who choose to believe on him but a new heart. He will supernaturally give you the ability to love even the unlovable, even your enemies! He will come in the person of the Holy Spirit to live with you and in you to empower you to say no to things you know you should avoid and to do what you know to be right.

God says to each of us, “Do a U-Turn!”. Give up on your way of living and follow his way. Say it! He wants us to say to others we are now following him. Make it public! In the waters of baptism we reenact Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. Before witness we are saying I am identifying with Jesus and his true followers, I am dying to my old self and way of life and I am rising to follow only Him from this day forward. Start loving and living the new Life!

Love God with everything you are and love your neighbors the best you possibly can. The way you love God or anyone is to do things that you know will please them and stop doing anything that does not please them. Just become a lover!

You might ask “Is is that easy?” It is that easy…but, a word of warning. There will be some people who will not like you very much if you start living a life of love. Unbelievable but true. You might even have close friends or even family who will say you have gone nuts and they will avoid you. And, I promise you this too. Those actors at the church in town might not like you either. If you refuse to play the games, or put on the mask, and just love God and love people you might not be liked by the very people you would think should appreciate you.

What exactly does God require to be a disciple of Jesus? Everything. Yes, everything. God loved you enough to die for you now love him back with everything you have.

You might protest, “But I thought there were those long lists of does and don’ts, or can’s and can’ts. What about those?” Love takes care of all that. If you will choose to love God with your whole person, inside and out, those things will just become as natural as breathing.

Don’t become an actor, hiding behind a mask. Say YES to Jesus’ offer and follow Him. I pray that you will.

Oh, if you are one of the pretenders, drop the role and follow Jesus. Stop pretending and start living the abundant life of Jesus.

for Jesus,

Royce

 

What does love look like?


A couple of weeks ago Carol and I visited with the good folks at the Hemley Road Church of Christ. We are always so encouraged and built up in our faith to just be with them and observe 1st century Christianity up close. One of my experiences was on Thursday morning at the food give away.

I arrived at the Civic Center in Bayou La Batre to find the parking lot full of cars. I drove to the side of the building, found a place and entered through the service entrance. When I entered I saw a long line of people who were waiting to have their ID’s checked and then receive a large box of Hungry Man dinners. The Mobile County Bar Association was present offering pro bono legal work for the citizens. Medical personnel were there checking blood pressure, trying to get a snapshot of the health of those who wanted the service.

Each week a semi trailer of food is distributed. This week about 400 family units received about 1700 meals. They also received tooth brushes, tooth paste, and other essentials most of us take for granted. Perhaps 30 volunteers helped in the effort. The local jail’s trustees, dressed in their horizontal striped black and whites carried cases of food out for people, ladies at a long table checked the necessary paper work so food and other supplies would go to those who most need it.

I studied the faces of those people in line to get food. Most of them entered the line showing no emotion. Their faces were those hardened by days in the sun on shrimp boats, working in ship yards, and a history of fighting for survival in a place where drug abuse and alcoholism is as common as the sun. Their faces did not reflect hope, just a determination to survive. Most would force a faint smile as they said “Thank you” when they received their allotment of food.

A series of storms topped off by Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, and stupid government policy has forced this once thriving fishing community to its knees. Will they ever recover seems to be the question of most people I spoke to. It is difficult to be optimistic when you and most of your friends are unemployed and only a fraction are eligible for any benefits.

When the local network affiliates come from Mobile or Pensacola, or CNN, and PBR come calling to find how and why all this is going on in south Mobile County they find that the Hemley Rd Church of Christ is responsible. It is an amazing story of God’s faithfulness to a hand full of people who believe He can do anything.

Only 4 1/2 years ago they were less than a half-dozen common folks who together decided that they would make a difference in hurting people’s lives. They were distributing what ever they could find that the people needed. They started to repair storm damaged houses and people began to come and help. Soon, they decided they would worship together and they met at Hardees, the Odd Fellows Hall, on the beach, and finally in their own building. They have gone from nothing to being the leading church in the area, touching lives both for time and eternity.

Not only have they fed thousands, repaired almost 500 homes, given tons of bedding, furniture, and large appliances, they have also baptized people regularly who have decided to follow Jesus.  In God’s providence, funds, goods, and volunteers have come to help from all across the U.S. Not only church of Christ people but perhaps a dozen or more other groups continue to be staunch supporters both with funds and people on the ground.

Recently a church gave a 28 passenger people mover, another church purchased a 2010 van, and a local denominational church opened its heart and check book to help them help the community they serve well into the next year. The stories are too numerous for this format. Again and again, when the funds are almost completely gone and bills are due God supplies every need and more. I had not seen this kind of faith first hand in a long time. I’ve read about it, but when you see it up close and personal there is no denying that God is faithful to those who are depending only upon Him.

Carol and I spent a week working, worshiping, laughing, watching, and being amazed at these simple and unlikely hero’s of the faith as they feed the hungry, heal the broken-hearted, love the unlovable, and give out of their poverty in Jesus name.

Want to see some first century Christianity at work in 2010? Drive down to south Mobile County, Alabama and ask someone where the Christians are. They are easy to find.

Agape’

Royce