Whether we think about it or not, we all leave a legacy behind us as a result of our life and experience. Sometimes that legacy can be rich with wisdom, accomplishment and example, and other times our legacy can be a sad tale of unfulfilled potential, broken dreams and a trail of “if only” and “why didn’t I?” The thing is, we choose much of what our legacy will look like! What if you thought about your legacy in the context of leaving something behind of great value to your grandkids? Aside from material things to give them physical comfort in life, what would you want them to learn? What would you want them to know so that their lives could blossom with fulfilled potential and with true contentment? Even if you don’t have grandchildren, let’s suppose that you do and are writing them a letter with words of wisdom…what will you say?
It is the Christmas season. It is a time for happiness, giving, receiving and appreciating. There was a time not so very long ago when the main focus of the Christmas season was the birth of Jesus as the world’s Savior. We are past that now, thanks to our political correctness, and Jesus is very much an afterthought of the holidays. Well, here today Jesus is NOT an afterthought. He is NOT a divisive figure who offends people by his mere existence. No, here today Jesus is recognized as the Savior of humanity, the centerpiece of God’s plan and the King of Kings. As we honor the birth and life of Jesus today, we will do so by highlighting some personal conversations he had with various people he encountered throughout his three-and-a-half year ministry. In so doing, we will tell a story that is rarely told. Merry Christmas!
Last week we began talking about what it takes to actually change the world around you – what it takes to not only have a dream for change but to begin that process of change. We talked about Nehemiah, a little known figure in the Old Testament, who not only had a ridiculously big dream for change, he worked the idea and recruited the masses to help him progress towards making that dream a reality. Today we finish the story as we catalogue the principles and techniques Nehemiah used to accomplish what seemed impossible. Not only did Nehemiah achieve something magnificent, he also left clues and tools along the way for us to pick up on and use to apply to the changes we want to effect in our own lives.
Everyone wants their world to be better. Everyone has dreams and ideas they see as transformative - even innovative - yet the vast majority of us never do anything about those dreams and ideas to bring them to reality. Why the lack of effort? Because it is hard, because it takes thought, energy and determination and most of us are not convicted enough by our dreams and ideas to be willing to commit all of that effort. Occasionally someone stands apart from this typical reaction and actually thinks, acts, leads and accomplishes their dream or idea. Today we will talk about a little known man in the Old Testament who did just that. His dream was laughable, his mission was ridiculous and his enemies were determined to stop him, yet he focused and fought with all of his being and changed his world in the process!
Human nature is a funny thing. We live in an age of instant gratification, an age of virtually no waiting for anything. We send a text, a tweet, a message or we post, and our expectation is for an almost instant answer or follow or response or reaction. What we want we not only assume we can get, we assume we can get it immediately in just the right color, brand and style. Getting and having have become so easy and expected that we have begun to overlook the value of patience, waiting and doing without. Human nature IS a funny thing. In this age of abundance, we are experiencing a very high rate of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Why? One reason is that we have all but forgotten the preserving and healing power of gratitude. It’s really simple - for happiness and contentment to flourish, they require gratitude to be their constant companion. Let’s take a look and see how it all works…
Every so often someone comes along who stands out from the crowd, someone who distinguishes themselves from their peers by their manner, their motivation and their mission. They don’t seem to fit into any comfortable category, for theirs is a mission that has world-changing implications and such missions are not common and least of all comfortable. With such a description we would typically and rightfully envision Jesus as its object, but today we will focus on another. Today we focus on John the Baptist, the man who prepared the people for Jesus, the man who stood alone as a powerful voice that pointed to the Redeemer of all men. John the Baptist uniquely epitomized greatness – where did he come from, what did he do and how did he do it?
241 years ago the course of world history changed, for on July 4th, 1776, the 13 colonies adopted “The Declaration of Independence” and proclaimed themselves to be The United States of America. Since then these United States have risen to become a world power and have been the source of many amazing world innovations. One innovation that seems to never be talked about or even noticed is this country's profound contribution to recognizing, appreciating and preserving the wonders of the natural landscape. Nature. It covers the world with its intricate complexity, its unfathomable beauty and its breathtaking majesty. For most of us, our park system doesn’t feel like an innovation; rather it feels like a common, scarcely noticed commodity – yeah, we have National Parks – cool! Today we stop for a moment and ask how did these National Parks come to be, what was the motivation for their existence and what does all of this have to do with Almighty God?
After the greatest act of love ever committed, Jesus lay dead in a donated tomb. His loyal companions and followers were stunned, sickened by what they had witnessed. But beyond the gory details of this death, they were hit with the uncomfortable thought that perhaps all they had known the past 3 ½ years was a lie, fake, delusional. This man Jesus they had trusted and loved was dead. He died like everyone else. There was no last minute fire from heaven to kill the Roman soldiers or the angry mob of his own brethren demanding his death. There was no angelic rescue team to pull him off that dreaded piece of wood. He was dead. For real. No one was coming to save them from the Roman rule. They would not be sitting on anyone’s right hand in the new government. They had seemingly been duped. Now what? Well, three days later, it was imperative that the risen Jesus convince them beyond a shadow of doubt that all he had promised was REAL and was happening. His followers needed to be 100% convinced and energized to tell the Good News at any cost to all who would listen. The man Jesus was gone forever, but the spirit Jesus would have life within himself, and power to restore all of mankind back to his Father. They needed to urgently tell that story to you and me. How did they go from feeling ultimate betrayal and grief to absolute certainty and joy?
Christmas has come - the hustle and the bustle, the lights, the music, the trees, the ornaments and the garland. Christmas has come – Santa and reindeer and elves and Frosty and movies and presents and gift wrap and cards. Christmas has come – whether you feel you can say “Merry Christmas” or just “Happy Holidays,” we are wishing well to those around us, for it is the season of good cheer and smiles. Christmas has come – family and dinner and cakes and pies and cookies and giving and receiving and football and dressing in new clothes. Yes, Christmas has come. It has certainly made its indelible mark on us yet again…. You know Christ has come – the prophecies said that he would and God’s plan said it was time. Christ has come – he was born to live so that he could die and redeem all of humanity. Christ has come – his gift was simple, yet it was the greatest and most powerful gift that could ever, that would ever be given to this world. Christ has come – and as a result, all of the human race has the opportunity for eternal life. Christ has come – has he made his indelible mark on you?
Here’s a question...what do the 4th of July and Thanksgiving have in common? The most obvious answer is these two celebrations are uniquely American in that their very founding was undeniably linked to the founding of the United States. The less obvious answer is that these two holidays were also founded in humble recognition of God Almighty. Just read the first and last parts of the Declaration of Independence and the first declarations for Thanksgiving and you will see that God was first and foremost. Here we are about 240 years later and God is no longer first and he certainly is no longer "for most." So, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday what can we do to relight our own fire of gratitude towards God and towards one another? Let’s start by talking about it!