Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Three Views of the First Christmas

I live in Taiwan and pastor a church here.  It’s very difficult to get the “Christmas Spirit,” because we don’t see any public Christmas displays, (except a few stores, downtown.)  The radios aren’t playing Christmas music 24/7.  In fact, very few people wish you Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays or anything.  Frankly, it’s because Christmas is not a part of Taiwanese culture.  It isn’t really celebrated.  December 25 is just another workday for most Taiwanese people.  The problem with that, is that it has bled over into the church.  The people in our church don’t celebrate Christmas, either.  I asked several people if they had Christmas plans and only one family, besides mine, even celebrates Christmas. 

If you look at Philippians 3:20:

Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)
3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

 We’re citizens of Heaven, and as citizen’s of Heaven we have a culture of our own that overrides our earthly national culture.  We’re Christians and we should live within the traditions of Christian culture.  Christians celebrate Christmas.

As a result of living within my Christian culture, I preached a Christmas sermon.  This is something I do every year but I took a little different take on it this year.  This year I looked at three people who were affected by the birth of Jesus and their reactions to His birth.

The Innkeeper

Luke 2:1-7 (NKJV)
2:1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

This was a very busy time for the innkeeper.  The census was taking place.  People were traveling to their family homes to be counted.  Bethlehem like many other places was inundated with visitors.  All of them needed a place to stay.  The inn was full.  There’s no room there for Joseph and Mary.

This is a picture for our generation of a man who couldn’t fit Jesus into his life.  “There’s no more room.”  “I have so many other considerations.  I have other guests to be worried about. I can’t make room for even one more person.”

We can be like that, can’t we?  “I don’t have room for all the things that go with having Jesus in my life.  How can I do all the things I’m doing and be art church or Bible study?” 

Christians often think they are too busy to do the things that are a part of serving God.  Some say that they can’t come to church services on Sunday night because they have to work on Monday morning.  Sometimes they say they can’t make it to Bible study on Wednesday because they’re too tired.  They tell me that the reason they can’t come to outreach is that they have to rest up for work.  

That's Innkeeper Thinking!

But this kind of thinking also affects people who haven’t yet made a decision for jesus.  You have no idea how many times after witnessing to someone and inviting them to church I’ve heard these words:  “I’ll try to come to church…if I have time.” 

I was much the same way before I got saved.  I was busy with my career.  I was busy with my social life.  I thought I had no time for Jesus.    In some ways it was just pride talking, “I’m too important to take time out for church.”  It was also a way to tell someone I didn’t want to go without being rude.  I was just like the innkeeper.  “There’s no room in my life for Jesus.

The innkeeper put them in the stable.  He sent them back out of the public places in the inn to the hidden area.  He put them in the background so they weren’t seen.

I’ve seen Christians do that, too.  Jesus doesn’t have a prominent place in their lives.  They don’t want others to know that they’re Christians.  There was a thing going through the church world for a while.  People would say, “Shhhh, I’m a secret agent for Jesus.  I’m God’s James Bond.”  The problem with that is that Jesus doesn’t have secret agents.  His command was, “Go and preach the Gospel.”

But we’re often like those “secret agents” without being cute and saying “I’m a secret agent.”  Instead we just say nothing at all.  I’ve had people in my church profess Christianity, but later tell me, “My friends at work don’t know I’m a Christian.”  Sometimes they say, “I don’t talk about Jesus at work, I don’t want to offend my co-workers.  They don’t want to hear about Him.”  They keep Jesus in the hidden rooms of their hearts.  “He’s in the back room.  He doesn’t come into the main areas of my life.” 

That's Innkeeper Thinking!

I wonder about this innkeeper, sometimes.  How did Jesus wind up in the stable?  Mary was VERY pregnant.  Obviously, the innkeeper could see that.  The best he could do for this woman was a stable?  I think the problem was that he didn’t want to be bothered. 

How do you look at your salvation and involvement in the church?  Do you think that it’s the pastor’s job, or do you think if you don’t do it, someone else will take up the slack?  That’s innkeeper thinking. 

As Christians we’re called to reach people.  We’re all part of the body of Christ.  We were placed into the church we were placed into for a reason.  Your strengths overcome someone else’s weaknesses and their strengths overcome yours.  So we can help each other to build His church.  Not the pastor’s church…Jesus’ church.

King Herod

Matthew 2:1-4 (NKJV)
2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Herod was the king of Israel.  The Romans put him in place as they dominated and oppressed Israel.  His mother was a Jew, his father an Idumean (Edom).  He knew the Jewish prophecies.  He understood the religion.  He was the king. 

When the wise men came and asked about where the new King of the Jews was born, Herod became troubled.  When the king is troubled…everybody under the king is troubled. 

Herod had the power.  He didn’t want to lose the power.  It’s almost as if he’s saying, “This is my life.  I’m the king and there won’t be any other kings.”  You can see his fear of losing control, because of the way he reacted when the wise men came to him.  As soon as they left him he began to plot how to get rid of Jesus:

Matthew 2:16 (NKJV)
2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

We’re like King Herod, when we don’t want to be committed to the will of God for our lives.  When we want to jealously hang onto the power we have over our own lives. 

I was a lot like Herod.  I was a mover and a shaker.  I thought I was in control over my own life.  I had all the power over my own decisions.  Nobody was going to tell me how to live, especially not Jesus.  People would talk to me about Jesus and I would cut them off and drive them away.  I was the king of my life…then I got saved.  There was a dramatic change in my thinking.  I gave control over my life to the will of God.  If you look at my life it’s looks like I don’t have any control over it.  I’m out of the business that made me a great living and gave me power.  I’m not a hotshot executive any more.  I don’t even live in my country anymore.  I have a new king.

We’re like Herod when we don’t want to live the will of God for our lives.  We say things like, “I know what the Bible says, but this is what I’m doing.”  “The Bible says that behavior is sin, but it’s I think it’s all in how you interpret it.”  “I can be a Christian and sleep with my girlfriend, too.”  “I control my own life.”  These are examples of King Herod thinking.  We all want a savior, but we don’t want a KING.

If we allow Jesus to be king then we have to admit that as king He has a right to have expectations.  The problem with letting Him be king is that sometimes He expects us to do things that are difficult. 

Remember He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son to test his faith.  He sent Joseph into slavery and prison to prepare him to lead Egypt.  He asked Moses to risk his life and go before pharaoh to demand God’s people be released so that he could lead them to the Promised Land.   Jesus interrupts lives and we don’t want interruptions. We want to be in control over what happens in our lives.  

That’s King Herod Thinking!

We hate authority.  We’re not going to let the preaching affect us.  “I hear what’s being preached, I even know that what’s being said is right, but I’m going to continue to do what I have always done.  I don’t care if it’s right or wrong.”  That’s King Herod thinking.  You’re thinking like Herod, “I don’t want another king in my life.”


Luke 2:25-30 (NKJV)
2:25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: 29 "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation

Simeon was an old man.  He was looking for the “consolation of Israel.”  He was waiting for the one who would redeem Israel.  He was looking for the Christ, the Messiah: The salvation of mankind.  His life was given over to the will of God.  He knew Jesus had come to a savior.  He knew that His salvation would change lives.

Do you know why I became a pastor?  I remember what my life was like before salvation.  I had given up hope.  I was lonely and isolated.  I drank myself to sleep every night.  I suffered from severe depression and wanted to kill myself.  But Jesus saved my life.  He changed me.  The Gospel ignited hope in my life.  I was transformed by it.  I became a pastor because I wanted to see that same hope change other people’s lives. 

It has been a powerful thing to look at people in my congregation and see the change in them.  It’s amazing to look at how they’re living and know that Jesus has changed their lives.  Some of them are grasping the life-changing power of the Gospel.  That’s why I became a pastor to see that miracle take place in people’s lives. 

These are people who’ve stopped thinking like the innkeeper.  These are people who’ve stopped thinking like Herod.   They’ve begun to think like Simeon. 

Simeon didn’t have any doubts that Jesus was the answer.  He made room for Him in his life. He put Him in the main rooms of his heart. You could see Jesus in him.

He made Jesus the king over his life, even though Jesus had just been born.  Simeon’s whole life had been given over to seeing the salvation that Jesus brought into the world. He saw the hope and promise contained in Him.  

That’s Simeon Thinking!

When you look forward to being in the House of God:  When you look forward to being in the presence of God.  When you have desire to be abut the business of God:  When you want to see others receive the hope that you've received, then you've begun to think like Simeon. 

Simeon thinking is when you’ve turned your will over to His will, “God I want what you want.”

Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane saying, “Not my will but yours.”  John, while standing at the foot of the cross and accepting Mary to care for as his own mother.  Ananias taking the risk in going to visit Paul after all of his persecution of the church, and Paul after praying three times to have the thorn removed from his flesh accepting the words, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  These are examples of Simeon thinking.

Are you looking for Jesus’ influence in your life?  Are you looking for His will for your life?  Do you have room for Him in your life? Are you looking for a Savior AND a king?  If the answer to these questions is yes, then that’s Simeon thinking. 

One final thought: 

It’s Christmas time and all over the world people are preparing gifts for their loved ones, but I want you to see something.  This is the real gift of Christmas:

Romans 5:16-18 (NKJV)
5:16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

Through one man’s righteous act the free gift came.  That one righteous act is Jesus obedience and death on the cross.  The free gift that came through is salvation:  Eternal Life.

“The very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was that He might offer up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of men.  HE CAME TO DIE.”
– Billy Graham.

Take some time and read the Christmas Carols like God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.  Those carols are about Jesus defeat of sin and Satan on the cross.  They’re about Him coming to set us free of sin.  That’s the real gift of Christmas.