The book of Ecclesiastes points out that there is a time (or season) for everything. In Chapter 3, vs. 1 – 4, it reads’…”to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap (harvest) that which is planted.”
So, what is a season? For our purposes, a season in our life is a time frame that has been allotted for something to happen. God has so arranged it so that things here on earth and in our lives operate in seasons. Seasons are basically divided into two types… seasons of seedtime (preparation) and seasons of harvest (reaping from what has been sewn during the season of seed time). During a season, things around us are orchestrated in such a manner that our efforts are supported. Consider the farmer…. his goal is to produce a large crop of something, sell it, and receive money for it. We see that he cannot however; get to the money until he properly goes through the seasons required to produce a crop to harvest. As he goes through each season, he must do the right things… (cultivate the soil, fertilize etc.) otherwise, he won’t successfully produce a crop that will bring him the reward he desires. So it is in our lives. When we desire to be successful, we must observe the seasons that we are to go through and perform properly (do the right thing) as we pass through each.
What happens when we miss a season? Basically we don’t have the wind at our back, helping to blow us in the direction that we’re trying to go. We are in a particular season of life here at First Baptist Church of Palos Verdes. There were times in our past when the harvest was plentiful, a full sanctuary, a youth program, Pastors who served faithfully for many years. Just like the farmer however, seasons change. There are years when a field must lie fallow, or unplanted, so that the soil can rejuvenate. During that season, that field will produce no crop but the farmer is not worried. Nor is our God. He knows that once the soil has rested for a period, it is ready and able to return to the cycle. Seedtime (preparation) for us is deciding who will be our members going forward, discerning how to reach those people, and preparing our church to be a welcoming place for them. If we cultivate and seed appropriately, nourish with hard work and water with prayer, God will bring the harvest.
What happens when we get ahead of a season of God in life? In the book of Genesis, we find the story of Abraham and Sarah. God promises, in spite of their old age, that Sarah will have a son. They were happy but doubtful. So, they decided to get ahead of God – to get ahead of their season. Of course we know that Sarah gave Abraham her slave girl, who them bore him a son. But then…. the true season of God came to pass and, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. It was through that son, Isaac, that the promised legacy would be fulfilled. However, this getting-ahead-of-God cause great strife between Sarah, Hagar, Abraham and their sons. The sons of Isaac would become the Hebrews, and ultimately lead to Jesus. The sons of Ishmael would ultimately become the Muslims. This has had consequences to this very day. So when we get ahead of seasons of God in our lives we can open ourselves to hurt and permanent damage.
Let’s decide what God wants us to do today, here, now. Let us be faithful in preparation so that we will be blessed in the harvest. Look to our own lives as well and ask ourselves, what season does God have us in? And are we prepared to follow him through the seasons he has set before us in faith?
Did you know the word church is not found in the Old Testament. The first person that I know of that used this term was Jesus himself. He is the one who initiated the concept of church. In the New Testament the word church is used 73 times. It is a New Testament concept.
Before we look at what the church is – let me say what it is not. It is not a social club. It is not a business. It is not a museum. The church is not even a building. Did you know that that the first Christians did not even have the concept of the church as being a building? How could they – they had no buildings – but they still had churches. What is the Church then?
The Bible says the church is a FELLOWSHIP
Fellowship is not just something the church is – it’s something we do. What is fellowship? You’re all headed in the same direction. You get to know each other and associate with one another because you’re going in the same direction. That’s what fellowship is. Fellowship is all of us together heading in the same direction. As Christians, we’re all headed to heaven. God wants us to be in unity with one another. Think of this: We are all going to spend eternity with one another; shouldn’t we get good at getting along?
In First Peter we find: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” 1 Peter 3:8-9
The Bible says the church is a FAMILY Did you know that when you become a Christian some things change? God becomes your Father, Jesus becomes your Savior and other Christians become your brothers and sisters. We are part of God’s family – that is why we can pray together the Lord’s prayer and say, “Out Father who art in Heaven…” How do families operate? They operate on the basis of relationships, like a family – that’s what the Bible says. The Bible says we’re to treat each other like a family because we are children of God. We are to get along like brothers and sisters in Christ. And, yes, brothers and sisters sometimes squabble but in the end, they have each other’s back. We are to treat each other with respect. We are to listen to our Father and obey Him. We’re not a country club. The Bible says we are family.
The Bible also says the church is a FLOCK This was Jesus’ favorite description of the church. He called it “My little flock”. Therefore, the church is cared for and led by shepherds. Shepherds lead, feed and oversee. In a church a pastor is to take care of a flock. My primary job is to lead, feed and oversee. The shepherd is to take care of the flock. I want you to notice something in John 21. Not one time did Jesus ask Peter if he loved sheep. He asked Peter if he loved him. I think what Jesus is saying is if you love me – love my sheep also. In the New Testament we are told to – greet one another – encourage one another – live at peace with one another – build up one another – comfort one another – admonish one another – love one another. A flock is to watch out for one another. So it is in the church. We are to watch out for one another. We are a fellowship, we are a family, we are flock.
Loving my little flock, my church family
I was reading some of Billy Graham’s thoughts about Easter and I wanted to share this question and answer exchange with you.
Question: I have a friend who doesn’t bother with God or church most of the year, but as Easter approaches she suddenly gets religious—goes to church, observes Lent and so forth. Do you think she’s a real Christian, or is it all fake?
Answer: Only God knows your friend’s heart, and whether or not she sincerely wants to follow Jesus and has committed her life to Him. Perhaps a seed of faith was planted in her heart as a child, and as Easter approaches she senses a need to have it grow.
However, the Bible does warn us against simply going through the motions, but not allowing God to touch our hearts and lives. In other words, if Christ means nothing to us most of the year, it may well mean that our faith is not real, and our sudden burst of religious activity isn’t genuine. The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). After all, if we truly understand who Jesus is—the divine Son of God who died for our sins and rose again by the power of God for our salvation—how can we treat Him casually? How can we live as if He were unimportant? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Pray for your friend, that during this Easter season she may come to understand how great God’s love is for her, and respond by giving her life without reserve to Jesus Christ. Pray, too, that as we approach Easter this year you also may see Jesus in a deeper way, and commit your life more fully to Him.
Clearly Dr. Graham’s advice to pray for the friend is critical. Notice also though, his admonition to commit our own lives more deeply to Jesus. We talk a lot about those who “only come at Christmas and Easter”. Do we have some responsibility in that? I know we often reach out to friends and family to come on the big holidays but what about all those other Sundays? Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. WE are the heralds of God’s Word and are called upon to speak it everywhere.
Jesus is not a guest speaker that comes through twice a year, he is here EVERY Sunday. Consider your own dedication to the church. Are you there every Sunday? Are there other things ‘more important’ that come up that takes you away on Sunday morning? Don’t forget that this issue is bigger even than your own personal walk with the
Lord. When your seat in the pew is empty, newcomers that may visit see a church that is weak and anemic. Its own people don’t show up so why would I want to come here?
This Eastern season let’s get started early on those ‘come to Easter Sunday’ invitations but commit to make that same kind of outreach through the year. And don’t forget that there is Bible Study on Wednesday and teaching classes on Thursday nights. Don’t just tell people about these things, come and bring them with you!
We are working through the book of Nehemiah this month with an eye towards the idea of “A time to build”. Of course, we want to build the church and we want to do so to the glory of God. Nehemiah wanted to rebuild the home of the Hebrews, the city of Jerusalem. To do this, the people made four vows, or promises, that they put in writing and sealed it. Putting a seal on a document is a serious matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the Lord. Those who agreed to this covenant are listed in Nehemiah 10:1-27.
The law governing oaths and vows is found in Numbers 30:2: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” That leads to a question. Are vows of any use today? I think they are for at least two reasons. First, they help us focus. When you make a vow, you are saying that you are going to do something specific. Second, vows allow us to express our love. That’s why couples make vows during a marriage ceremony. Love is more than just a feeling, it’s a commitment or promise to be married until death do us part. Third, God is a covenant-keeping God, even when we don’t keep our end of the deal. You may have made some promises to God in the past that you haven’t kept. You may have broken some vows. If you have, you’re not alone. Jeremiah 31:32 says that God’s people broke the covenant on a regular basis.
So let’s consider making a few vows to build (or re-build) First Baptist Church of Palos Verdes. Remember, however, we don’t succeed as Christians because we make promises to God, but because we believe the promises of God and act upon them. Having said that, many of us never come to the point of getting serious with God simply because we never get specific with Him. We hear sermons and sense the Spirit’s tug at our heart, but until we decide to be completely committed to Him, we won’t be. Perhaps the idea of re-building the church has challenged or convicted you before the Lord. Listen to Him and decide to put into practice what you know you need to do. Here are a few things we can vow to do for God’s church:
- Vow #1: Submission to God’s Word – As a result of hearing God’s Word, the Israelites made four decisions. The “bound themselves with an oath to follow the law” (Nehemiah 10:29) The people were saying that they are so seriously submitted to God and His Word that they are willing for God’s displeasure to fall on them if they do not carefully obey what He says. I wonder if we have that same submission and dangerous devotion today? Does God have all of you?
- Vow #2: Separation from the World – After submitting themselves to God and His Word, the believers make a second vow to separate themselves from worldliness. When you think about it, separation is simply total devotion to God, no matter what the cost. The Israelites separated from the peoples around them and to God and His Word.
- Vow #3: Sabbath for God’s People – After pledging themselves to submit to the Word of God and to live separated lives, the believers renew the covenant with a third vow: the Sabbath for God’s people. This was a day to be dedicated to the Lord. Do we make that commitment? Does anything else take precedence on your Sunday?
- Vow #4: Support For God’s Work -That leads to their fourth pledge: support for God’s work in verses 10:32-39. The phrase “house of our God” is used nine times in this section and refers to the restored temple. Verse 39 sums up their commitment: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
To God be the glory!
As 2015 comes to an end and we launch into 2016, it’s useful for us to take time to both reflect on what God has done and allow him to prepare us for what’s to come. A new year marks a fresh opportunity to center our lives around the goodness of God. I pray that as you begin looking toward what is to come you will make space to gain God’s perspective, ground your hopes and pursuits on his grace and celebrate all that God has done and is doing. May your time with God this coming year be filled with the loving presence of your heavenly Father.
And as we face new or continuing challenges, keep in mind that the same heavenly Father that gave you grace can strengthen you through those challenges. Paul tells us, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Do you know that your God longs to strengthen you? This verse illustrates a powerful spiritual principle that our heavenly Father longs for you to know today. You were never meant to go through this life alone, living in your own strength. The God who formed the mountains, filled the seas, breathed life into dust and sustains every living creature longs to strengthen you for whatever lies ahead.
Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” God can do “far more abundantly” than you could ever dream in your life, “according to the power at work within [you].” The Holy Spirit, the power of God for all the earth dwells within you. Just as he empowered the Apostles for the advance of the gospel through trial and tribulation he will empower you. Just as he spoke to the Apostles, telling them where they should go and what they should do, he longs to lead you.
You can do all that God has called you to. Whether it is freedom from depression, victory over sin, engaging in difficult confession, working biblically rather than worldly, seeking unity and fellowship with those that bother you or simply seeking God with all your heart, the Holy Spirit will strengthen you today if you are willing to receive.
To be strengthened by God begins by declaring our inability. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we try and live in our own strength, we become unable to receive the grace of God. God’s grace is never forced on us, but rather, readily available to all those who acknowledge their need of it. God cannot empower you to experience unity with a fellow believer if you try and engage in relationship apart from the inner work of the Holy Spirit. He cannot empower you to experience victory from sin if you don’t take time to receive his love and follow his leadership moment by moment.
To be strengthened by the mighty hand of God is to stop living in your own strength and instead wholly rely on his. God longs to “do far more abundantly than all [you] ask or think” if you will lean into him for his love, power and guidance. He has plans far above anything you could ever dream of, and the path to those plans begins with following him moment by moment today. He will faithfully guide you into all the abundant life he has for you, but you must be willing to follow him and live by his strength.
In the context of Philippians 4:13, Paul describes an important spiritual principle. Scripture says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Trust God in whatever season he’s leading you through. Whether you find yourself with plenty or little, difficulties or ease, you can find your contentment in the gift of abundant relationship with your heavenly Father. All that is good comes from his hands alone.
This coming year, we must seek and save the lost just as Jesus did. We need to actively think of ways that we, as individuals, can extend the hand of fellowship that will bring people to our church. Let’s start with those we know, perhaps even Christians we know, to get the ball rolling. By the end of the year we need to be reaching out to those who don’t know the love of Christ and will come to accept him. We may think that we don’t have what it takes to evangelize our world. Truth is, we don’t. But He does. Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Do you realize that most of our mental images about Christmas come from medieval art and Christmas cards? Often showing three wise men coming to the Christ child just minutes after His birth. If you read the biblical account carefully, it could have been up to two years after Jesus was born before the Magi showed up. We don’t know how many wise men actually came. The biblical account does not give a number. We know it was more than one because the Bible talks about men – plural. The story in Matthew doesn’t tell us and the number three is not even mentioned in the text.
If we’re confused about the magi, then we may misinterpret the shepherds as well. The picture of shepherds in the field evokes a positive, pastoral image for us. It reminds us of Jesus’ association with the line of David. We have sentimentalized them so on our Christmas cards and art that they look like gentle folk waiting to go to a homecoming celebration. Why the shepherds? I want the angels to go to the Temple to tell the religious leaders what God was doing! They should have gone to the governor and let him know that something awesome was happening in Bethlehem! They should have gone to Herod and told him that God was doing a great thing in Bethlehem, and that the King of kings had been born! Instead of telling somebody important, the angles told a rag-tag bunch of shepherds. That’s not what we would have done. But, that is the way God wanted it. Perhaps there are three reasons;
I. He came because of them
Here we discover the heart of God and the meaning of the birth of this child. In this picture, we are reminded that Jesus came for people like the shepherds, not the religious elite, the politically savvy, or the rulers of the people. They are a metaphor for the kind of people Jesus came to save. People who were doing what they did every day and every night. People going through the routines of life. Isn’t that what the birth of Jesus is all about? It’s about God meeting us, not on high holy days, but on ordinary days, in ordinary places, in an extraordinary way. The birth of this child is about God coming to us in our everyday lives and saying to us, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news.” I think that’s why God sent the angels to the shepherds – to let us know that this child was for all people, even the most ordinary.
II. The shepherds in shock
Imagine the first reaction of the shepherds; they were scared to death! They understood the appearance of angels as an omen, as though God were bringing His wrath upon them. Yet the angels said, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy. Today a Savior is born!” With that, the heavens opened with glorious music. The heavenly chorus praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!”. In the midst of an ordinary night, ordinary shepherds encountered an extraordinary God who met them when and where they least expected to be met.
III. Sometimes seeing is believing
After heavenly chorus offers praise, the shepherds had to see for themselves, so they ran off to Bethlehem to experience what the angels had told them. After seeing them, they reported the message about this child, and “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:16-18). When God offers grace, the appropriate response is exuberant joy. Eventually, the whole world would celebrate the coming of this child, but for now, only the shepherds knew what had happened in Bethlehem. The result was the response that should arise from all God’s people: The shepherds returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God” (v. 20).
Reading Luke’s account, are we filled with wonder? Are we expecting something miraculous? Do we expect the amazement to continue? We want the mystery of the moment to continue because we long for something amazing in our lives. Our routines are so predictable and harried, our schedules so frantic and programmed. Our days are so packed with stuff, I wonder if we allow ourselves time to live. Yet, as we hear angels singing and shepherds hurrying and Mary pondering, we feel we may just find a little time for wonder.
No U.S. holiday is as distinctive as Thanksgiving. In our busy, deadline-fixated age, expressing gratitude to our heavenly Father is too easily squeezed out of our lives, but it is important. First, I think human beings are “hardwired” to do this. Even atheists seem to have unsettling moments when they feel an irresistible urge to thank someone “up there.” One of the problems with atheism occurs when pain is avoided or pleasure gained—having no one to give thanks to leaves you with an itch you cannot scratch. But there is more than a primeval urge to justify thanking God. On almost every page of the Bible, we see this as a theme. The Old Testament reverberates with the sound of people praising God; Israel’s history is full of thanksgiving to God for showing them mercy and delivering them from disaster.
In the New Testament, Jesus offers up thanks to God the Father, most importantly at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-27), where the word used for thanksgiving is eucharist, still used in many churches for communion. Paul not only regularly gives thanks; he actually commands it of others. Thanksgiving is giving thanks and that alone. Of all the different types of prayer, this is least likely to be contaminated by our own conscious or subconscious desire to manipulate God.
Today, Thanksgiving is neglected in part because Western culture is so obsessed with the future. But to give thanks to God is to look backward, not forward, and to express gratitude for the good things that have come our way. It’s easy to say, “Thank’s God” for the health and wealth we have. But do we also give God thanks for friends, family, housing, or a hundred other things? Let’s give him thanks for little things in life, too. At least five blessings result from this:
First: thankfulness forces us to focus on what we have had rather than what we want. In our materialistic culture, we can succumb to a consumerism of the soul that reduces our prayers to shopping lists. Thankfulness looks outward, not inward. It realigns our lives so that they revolve around God instead of trying to make God revolve around us.
Second: thankfulness highlights grace. To give thanks is to admit that you are dependent, to say, “I couldn’t have done this on my own, but you helped me.” Thanksgiving removes the temptation to boast and strengthens the only basis on which we can relate to God: that of accepting our own unworthiness and God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.
Third: thankfulness encourages a positive attitude. It forces us to think about what is right with our lives rather than what is wrong. This is important in an age when many feel depressed. Thanking God is a proven way of piercing the gloomiest of clouds.
Fourth: thankfulness develops hope for the future. Looking backwards to the past with thanksgiving actually helps us to look toward the future with anticipation.
Fifth: practicing thankfulness regularly ensures that gratitude spills into all areas of life. We cannot thank God for difficult colleagues, relatives, or neighbors for long before finding that we express a positive attitude toward them. Those who regularly give thanks to God find they are ready to give to others. Gratitude and generosity go hand in hand.
Whether or not we celebrate Thanksgiving, we all need to be reminded to practice thanksgiving on a daily basis. That “attitude of gratitude” is not just a duty to be fulfilled but something that will bless us and others. It’s typical of God’s graciousness that the best gift we can give ourselves and others is to say thanks for what we have already received.