Monday, December 14, 2020

Biblical Narrative of Christmas

 A brief look: 

One of the things that makes the Biblical Narrative of Christmas so special that it includes:

1)  Messianic Expectations - promised deliverer of Israel from Rome,  restorer of Israel back to the time of David.  These expectations extremely high when Christ did come.

2)  Angels appearing - these were not just dreams but appearances
      to Joseph - Matt. 1:20-21 - Divine, miraculous Savior
      to Mary - Luke 1:31-33 - will reign forever
      to Shepherds - Luke 2:9-14 - (not to priests, courts!)

3)  Visit of the Magi - Matt. 2:1-2 - as much as 2 years later, mystical as well as scholarly

Coupled with
4) Fulfilled prophecy
- Isa. 7:14, Matt. 2:6 (from prophet Micah)

So.... what started as a largely overlooked (unknown) local event ... has become a 

(A)  World-Wide Celebration!!

Some statistics just for the US.  (averaging out Pew Research and Gallup Polls)

96% of Americans celebrate Christmas
81% of Non-Christian Americans celebrate Christmas!!

88% of households put up a Christmas tree
90% buy gifts and gather with friends and family Christmas day or Christmas Eve, during the season

54% attend religious services (Christmas day, Christmas eve?)

65% display decorations with a religious meaning

73% claim to believe in the Virgin Birth (which = in essence the Christmas Story)

78% of American adults say they take time at Christmas to "reflect" on the Birth of Christ

(B)  the Universal measure of time - example:  BC/AD  BC = before Christ  AD = Anno Domini Latin for the year of our Lord.
Now are trying to establish BCE - CE   BCE = Before the Common Era  and CE = Common Era.
But, common era = birth of Christ!

Yet this only = a part of the story.  Four events give us the true picture:

His Birth
His Life (ministry as an adult)
His Death
His Resurrection

With His Birth comes wonder (awe)

With His Life (and ministry) come Knowledge (understanding) of who He is, what He's done, why it's necessary - John 1:18

thru His death come access - John 14:6

in Resurrection we gain Confidence (certainty, faith) - ("all authority is given Me...")

See how they are all necessary and how they complement one another...

What would the wonder of birth be without His Life and Ministry
answer:  Forgotten!  (or mythical bedtime story)

What would His imparted Knowledge be without His death?  (cross) -
answer:  we'd be aware of our fate!! doomed without hope!

What would access be without the Resurrection
answer:  uncertainty ... we couldn't be sure He was right!! (example: the state of the disciples after the cross, before the Resurrection!)

Point:   See how these 4 events work together to establish the Christian Hope!!!

All together = Christian Hope!

The Christmas story = wondrous thing!!  But.... you want your HOPE to be based on more than just that narrative!!!

3 types of HOPE  (concerning the afterlife)

#1.  NO HOPE (after death - nothing) - example:  atheist (Christmas story - just a story)

#2.  HEART HOPE ... based on...
      A.)  inherent knowledge (Eccles. 3:11)
      B)  personal desire  (longing) we long for our life not to end for nothing
and, maybe  C.)  Select portions of Scripture (example = Christmas story!)
This view ... Embraces the pleasant  (God's love)
               ....Rejects the offensive  (sin, judgment)
Therefore is generally optimistic, but = shallow, incomplete, NOT based on Scripture

#3)  CHRISTIAN HOPE which...
          A)  recognizes inherent knowledge
          B)  Admits personal desire (heart longing, sentiment)
BUT  C)  Builds on the full Revelation
And   D) Recognizes the Revelation as the final authority

POINT:  The Christmas story = a Wondrous thing!!
AND = a key element in the establishment of Christian Hope!

But don't build your hope on that alone!  Be sure to combine all 4 components!!  ie:
His Birth, His Life, His Death, His Resurrection - complement each other and = a solid Hope!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Becoming a Blesser

 This month's series = (1) give thanks    (2) give thanks always  (3)  blessings = what we're thankful for  (4)  utilizing your blessings (making use of, putting them to work!) - Blessings are not just for us to enjoy, but to employ

This week: 
Blessing (noun) - an act of God's favor, a free gift bestowed by God (on you)

Blessing (verb) ??  (1)  to speak well of - ie:  "bless the Lord O my soul" - example:  Eulogy
                             (2)  to pray God's favor upon - Mark 10:13-16 - we can do this, can't guarantee the results
                             (3)  to cause to prosper, to do better, to add to sense of well-being - example:  "that _____ really blessed me"

Beyond food and shelter ... people need to know and feel they are:

#1.  Loved (therefore, lovable) - not trash, not beyond redemption)
#2.  Valued (therefore valuable)
#3.  Significant - (therefore they matter - adding to their sense of well-being)
Anything that communicates this = Blessing!!!!  

People need blessing ..... (1) to thrive
Examples:  2/3 of inmates convicted of 1st. degree murder report childhood histories of physical abuse.
                  97% of hard core juvenile delinquents experienced a history of severe physical punishment and assault in their home.
                 80% of prostitutes report histories of child sexual abuse
                 over 60% of runaways grew up in abusive homes
                 90% of girls with anorexia (nervosa) lacked a close relationship with their father.

People need blessing sometimes (2)  to survive - example:  13th. century German King Frederick II experiment:  babies taken at birth and cared for yet without speaking in their presence and without any unnecessary touch (idea = to see what language they would speak.  ALL infants died.

An Italian historian recorded this with "they could not live without petting" - (1248 AD)

Today's term ' failure to thrive" - dozens of studies have shown "expressed love is the chief influence in mental, emotional and even physical health"

AND (3)  people need to know and FEEL Loved, Valued, Significant - head knowledge is not enough

Anything that Communicates to them, they ARE L,V,S constitutes Blessing - has to touch beyond the statement of fact!
Anything that communicates the opposite - Curse!!

Again  (1) people long for (desire blessing
          (2)  people need blessing to thrive and sometimes to survive.  ie:  all people.  nursing home residents, suicide cases
          (3)  It is within your power to Bless  - (or curse!)

Look at 3 forms of blessing ... Formal  -- Informal  -- Non-verbal
but 1st. "power of the spoken word" -
            Prov. 12:18, 15:4, 16:24, 18:21, Matt. 12:36, Eph. 4:29
Point??? it is within our power to bless or curse simply with the spoken word!!!

I)  Formal Blessing - given on special occasions.
Example:  Jewish Sabboth tradition = home, gather, praise wife, bless kids.  Then fill "cup of blessing" and share it around.
Application:  holidays?  birthdays? graduations? weddings?
Note:  formal blessing NOT accompanied by daily evidence of love, concern is not effective!!! 

II.  The Informal Blessing = expressing, communicating L, V, S, in simple, everyday life
Examples:  praise, compliments, encouragements, questions about well-being, a greeting, a call, a text, email, Card
(1)  on one hand, this is not flattery - people recognize sincerity
(2)  however, Mark Twain said, "I can go a week on a good compliment!"
(3)  NOTENames Matter!  because it shows significance!!

III.  The Non-Verbal Blessing - unspoken blessing
Definition:  "to cause to prosper, add to sense of well-being", so... anything beyond words that does this."
(smile, hug, gift, act..... etc.)

So..... Becoming a Blesser

#1.  Decide - intentionally!  (you hit what your aim at)

#2.  Watch for opportunity 

#3.  DO IT - example: at a gathering - "I'm gonna bless _____ people!"  This is easier for some. (gift), however, is the duty of all!! - Prov. 3:27, Heb. 10:24

#4.  Leave the results in God's hands 
a blessing doesn't always lead to transformation.  (blessings are accumulative!)
Your job = bless.  God's job is to transform!!!

#5.  Deal with your past. 
if were blessed - build on it!!!  - Luke 12:48
if not, Deal with it!!  - unpack baggage, break the chain!

#6.  Make Jesus your Savior and Lord 
in Him is the transforming power, new perspective, new Calling!!

What if - the whole community focused on "self"?
What if - the whole community focused on blessing others?

We are called to M.A.D./ M.A.E.D. - (make a difference, make an eternal difference) - Regardless of where you live, work, etc.  Num. 6:24-26