Ephesians 5:15-17 - Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Scripture says we are like vapors which are here today and then, POOF, gone in an instant. Some of us may live to the national average or even past it. Others will not live that long. Whatever the case may be, Scripture reminds us, “man knows not his time.” Therefore, since no one knows when they will be called home, doesn’t it make sense to make the most of every day as though it was our last?
Have you ever been asked what you would do if you only had one week or month left to live? Often, when we’re asked such a question, we offer a sweet, sentimental, or even profound answer that stresses urgency. Yet, few “live out” their answers because they suppress the truth of reality and mistakenly believe they have an infinite supply of time and opportunities before them.
In our Scripture, the Apostle Paul says this is unwise.
Making the Most of Time
Paul instructs us to be careful in how we live. He says we need to be wise, not unwise, and make the most of every opportunity. Many of the great saints of Christian history referred to this as, “redeeming the time.”
Your life is a gift from God. You are called to be a steward of it. In a real sense your life is not your own. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul said followers of Christ must offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. He lived during Israel’s sacrificial system in which the animal “gave up its life” on the altar. If we are called to be living sacrifices, we must daily put ourselves back on the altar before God in dedication to him, because living sacrifices tend to crawl off the altar by the end of each day.
There is cost involved here to be sure. To give ourselves to the Lord in this way will require sacrifice, commitment, and self-discipline. To redeem the time we have been given, to make the most of every opportunity, we must change the way see and think about our daily lives. A change of perspective is required.
An Eternal Perspective Needed
God can be glorified in our most mundane tasks. Whether we are driving to work, mowing the yard, or wrestling with our children, we can do so to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). What matters is the motivation of our heart. Martin Luther is attributed as saying a cobbler who makes excellent shoes on Monday glorifies God as much as the pastor who preaches the Gospel on Sunday. Both require an eternal perspective and motivation that transcends themselves.
Isn’t it a relief to know you can glorify God without necessarily moving to the other side of the world as a missionary or becoming an ordained pastor? You don’t have to be doing something “religious” to redeem your time. The Apostle Paul said whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it for God’s glory. What’s more ordinary than eating and drinking? What you are doing is not as important as why and how you are doing it. Therefore, start praying for ways in which you can redeem your time in 2021.But don't forget to make the most of every opportunity you have today.
· What are some ways you unthinkingly waste your days and miss the opportunities God has for you? What are some reasons you do so?
· How can you change the focus and motivation of your daily life from the temporal minutiae to an eternal perspective that seeks God’s glory?
· What are three ordinary things you do daily that can be transformed by wisely making the most of them?
· Share your ideas with someone you can trust to hold you accountable and will pray for you.
All-wise Father, you have told me in your Word to number my days so I may have a heart of wisdom. You want me to seek wisdom and live my life in such a way that I may make the most of every opportunity. You know better than I how often I have failed in this pursuit. I don’t wake up each day planning to fail at this, and yet by not better preparing I often fail by default. Please forgive me. Fill me with your Spirit of wisdom and give me not only a desire to live each and every day wisely for you, but also the ability to do so. Help me to prepare on the front end so I may be ready to make the most of each opportunity you present me. Most of all, let my thoughts, words, and deeds be done for your glory. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Born for This
A Christmas Baby
On a Christmas day, 55 years ago, I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Two nuns cleaned me up and brought me to my mom and dad in a Christmas stocking.
My birth meant a lot to my mom and dad (or so they have led me to believe). But our country didn’t rejoice at my birth. The state of North Carolina didn’t rejoice at my birth. In fact, the city of Asheville didn’t rejoice at my birth. My birth didn’t make the national papers. It didn’t even make the local paper. There were no geopolitical implications that came from my being born into this world.
But there were huge implications when Princess Lalla Salma gave birth to a daughter named, Lalla Khadija. Her husband, King Mohammed the 6th of Morocco, was so excited when his daughter was born, he wanted to celebrate in a big way. Instead of giving out cigars, he pardoned 8,836 prisoners and reduced the sentences of 24,218 others. The Justice Ministry said the pardons were a humanitarian gesture. (from the Preaching Today website).
Talk about setting the captives free.
What the Birth of Jesus Did Not Mean
Well, the birth of Jesus also had a few implications. A few major implications, in fact. The problem was, it just wasn’t what the people were expecting.
The first part of the beautiful words from Isaiah 9:6 reminds us,
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
You see, the promised Messiah was supposed to ride in on a mighty horse, bearing a sword, to overturn the political and military structures and put Israel back on top. At least that’s how many first century Jews understood that text and others like it.
What the Birth of Jesus Did Mean
Let’s take a look at one verse in Matthew’s Gospel to see what it says about why Jesus was born. Matthew 1:21 says,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (emphases mine)
Joseph’s Marching Orders
The Gospel of Luke records the angel’s announcement and conversation with Mary about giving birth to Jesus. But in Matthew, the angel is addressing Joseph. This is important because it was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be a descendent of King David.
Luke gives us Mary’s genealogy to show us she was a biological descendant of David. But there’s something a little different going on in Matthew’s Gospel. In that Gospel, Joseph is never called Jesus’ father. Joseph is his adoptive father, so to speak. Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus was a great miracle of the Holy Spirit. And so, God was the Father of Jesus.
But the key to this part of verse 21 is this - by giving Jesus his name, Joseph was accepting responsibility for raising Jesus as his own. “YOU shall call his name Jesus…” In that culture, the act of naming a baby gave the child legal status in the family. And so, Jesus was biologically linked to King David through Mary and legally related to David through Joseph.
Name Him “Jesus”
Now here’s what didn’t happen: God didn’t say to Mary and Joseph, “Go down to the Bethlehem Barnes and Noble and pick up a baby name book. The couple didn’t consult Great Baby Names of Hebrew History, 3rd Edition.
God, through the angel said, You shall, you will, you must, you are to call this baby boy, “Jesus.” And so, God told Mary and Joseph what to name their son.
Something About That Name
In a recent children’s Christmas Eve service at the church I serve, the service featured a story called, “Operation: No More Tears!” It began with Isaiah foretelling God’s “rescue plan” to save his people. Well, we find the fulfillment of that prophecy in the birth and naming of Jesus.
The name, “Jesus,” was the Greek form of the name, “Joshua.” It was a common name in Israel. It literally means, “Jehovah is salvation” or “God saves.” The angel told Joseph the baby boy was to be named “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins.
Again, however, the salvation most of the first century Jews had in mind was a national liberation. They wanted to be freed from those who oppressed them. In this case, it was the Romans. They wanted a kingly figure in the style of King David to ride into town, with sword drawn, and take out their enemies.
But the prophecy that best points to the kind of salvation Jesus would bring is found in Psalm 130:8, which says,
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The salvation Jesus would bring would primarily be spiritual, though it would certainly have implications for every sphere of life. As the words to an old hymn remind us, there is something powerful indeed about the name of Jesus.
The name, “Jesus” represents our deliverance from sin and our reconciliation with God. Acts 4:12 says this about the name of Jesus,
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:10, puts it this way,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (emphasis mine)
And who did Jesus come to save? “His people.” “His people” certainly meant Israel. We know he came first to “his own” as John 1:11 puts it. “His own” meant the Jews.
But we also know there’s a wider context. Undoubtedly Matthew, the same Gospel writer who gave us the Great Commission, which commands us to go into all the world to make disciples of every nation, understood it was not only Israel Jesus came to save.
The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came for Jew and Gentile. Paul writes this in Romans 1:16,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
For a Jew, the word “Gentile” or “Greek” simply meant everyone else… everyone who’s not Jewish. In other words, Jesus came to save everyone who would believe… Jew and Gentile alike.
Now think about that - Jesus came to save his people from their sins. “His people” would have included a lot of very, so-called, “religious” people, not just those who were described as “sinners.” Jesus came to say that no one can be delivered from their sin by their own religious works, no matter how good. We’re all born in sin and our sins can never be atoned for by our religious works, whether they’re Jewish or Gentile good works.
So, here’s the question for us. Maybe you’ve asked this yourself. Why couldn’t Jesus just parachute out of heaven as an adult and go straight to the Cross. The answer: because he had to be truly God and truly human.
As God, he would be able to atone for the infinite transgression of sin and bridge the infinite gulf between God and us. As human, he would live a life, be tempted just like the rest of us, yet remain without sin.
And as a sinless human, a lamb without blemish, as John the Baptist called him, he could die in our place and take the punishment we deserved. You see, his life of perfect righteousness was just as important as his sacrificial death. Because if he were a sinner like the rest of us, then his death would not have even saved his life, much less ours.
By taking on human flesh and living among us, God revealed just how much he loves those he came to save. In one of my favorite hymns, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley reminds us of this piercing truth,
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we may no more may die,
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Read Matthew 1:21 again,
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus was born for this. Talk about implications!
The birth of Jesus has eternal implications. It has temporal implications. It has implications for every sphere of your life.
Have you called out to Jesus to save you from your sins? And have you entrusted your life – given your whole existence to him? If not, let today be the day.
Thanks be to God for his holy and sacrificial love.
The Devoted Life
The church I serve has been focusing on the following spiritual habits as a way of helping our congregation grow in Christ –
I want to summarize this series by looking at a snapshot of the early church in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts provides us with many snapshots of the early church – who they were, what they were doing, where they were going, and so much more.
The Acts of the Holy Spirit
The full title of Acts is often rendered, The Acts of the Apostles. But many throughout church history remind us a more fitting title would be, The Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Consider these verses…
Acts 1:4-5 - On one occasion, while [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 4:31 - After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
There are many more verses I could cite, but you get the point. If the Holy Spirit was not breathing spiritual life into people, and then moving in and through them, there would be no Acts of the Apostles.
And the good news is this:
The same Holy Spirit who filled the hearts and minds of believers in New Testament times… and animated the early church… is the same Holy Spirit who lives in and through you. The Holy Spirit dwells in every single person who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus Christ.
That is what happened in the largest section of Acts 2, which comes right before our Scripture. The Holy Spirit came and filled the 120 followers of Jesus, which caused quite a stir in Jerusalem.
Peter then preached a mighty sermon to a great crowd of Jews from all over the world. He proclaimed the prophecies of the Old Testament had come to pass, and that the long-awaited Messiah had come.
This Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified on the cross, but whom God raised from the dead. And now this same Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand and God has poured out his Holy Spirit upon his people, as he promised he would.
As I said, it was a mighty sermon. And when the people heard that the crucified and risen Jesus was both Lord and Messiah, they cried out to Peter and the apostles, “What shall we do?” In other words, they were asking, “How do we respond? We don’t know what to do.” And Peter answered them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:38)
Then, in verse 41, right before our Scripture, we read what happened next,
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The existing Church of Jesus Christ grew from 120 to 3,120 – after one sermon. That was not because Peter was so eloquent. It was because the Holy Spirit is so good and powerful.
The Church was Born
What happened to all these new believers? These new followers of Jesus? Well, they were changed! They were no longer the same. The language of the New Testament says they were “born again.” They became new creatures in Christ. How could they possibly go back to old ways of living – old ways of believing.
But they needed to be guided. They needed others to travel this new path with them. Like my favorite movie series, The Lord of the Rings, they needed a fellowship.
And that is what they found.
A Picture of Christian Discipleship & Fellowship
Our Scripture provides for us a one-sentence summary of Christian discipleship and fellowship. Verse 42 says,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Let me draw your attention to the word, “devoted.” Devoted here means, “exerting great effort to persist in doing something… It indicates action that is continuous and habitual.” In other words, they were “all in.” This was not a casual interest. And it was not temporary.
And so, the question is: What were these new followers of Christ devoted to?
The Apostles’ Teaching
Our Scripture says, first of all, they were devoted to the teaching of the apostles. The apostles had spent a little over three years, “Learning Jesus.” Now, they were teaching these new believers the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, stories about the miracles he did, and more.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told the apostles…
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Well, they had been baptized and now the apostles were teaching them “to obey everything [he] had commanded [them].”
Secondly, they were also devoted to fellowship. My church used to have a Sunday School class called, koinonia. That is the Greek word for fellowship in this verse. It means participating and sharing with others in a common goal. One commentator said they shared with one another “in material goods as well as spiritual wealth.”
As the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, might have put it, they watched over one another in love. They were a learning, serving, caring, community. They had a common life.
Breaking of Bread
Third - they also broke bread together. And while that included table fellowship, it meant something more. It also included partaking in the Lord’s Supper together. “Remembering” is a key idea in Judaism. And these early Christians were Jewish.
They now, as a fellowship, remembered Jesus – who he was and what he had done on their behalf. They experienced his presence through his Holy Spirit. And together they remembered they would one day dine with him at a Great Banquet.
The last thing verse 42 tells us is they prayed. The Greek word for prayer in this verse means, “the prayers.” Thus, not only did they pray individually, but they also prayed together, corporately, as a new family of faith.
These prayers would have included their prayers at the Temple, because they still thought of themselves as Jewish. They did not think they were starting a new religion. They thought they were enjoying the fulness of their religion by following their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus.
And so, they were a learning, loving, caring, worshipping, praying fellowship.
Result #1: Favor
What was the result? They grew and matured in their faith. They served others. They gave to others as they had need. The lived joy-filled lives. They lived praise-filled lives. They worshipped.
Verse 47 tells us they enjoyed the favor of all the people who watched their lives. Persecution would soon follow, but for this season, they enjoyed peace and favor.
Result #2: God Produces
What was the result of that favor? Verse 47 tells us the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. These believers were faithful to God’s call in their lives and God produced fruit through them for the sake of his Kingdom.
This is a picture of the church in its purest form. And this is still how it works today. God calls us to be faithful and God will do the heavy lifting. God will bring forth the growth.
Christ himself promised to build his church and declared that not even the gates of hell would prevail against it (Matthew 16:18) That was not just a promise for the first century church. It is as true for us today as it was for them.
And the Holy Spirit was not just living, moving, and ministering through the first century church. The Spirit is just as alive and powerful for us today as then.
And the truth of the Gospel was not just true for the first-century church. It is just as true and transforming today as it was for them.
The United Methodist Church’s mission statement is: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Like those who came before us, we too can make disciples of Jesus Christ as we faithfully…
As we faithfully put these spiritual habits into practice, we can have confidence God will add to our number daily those who are being saved. And that will lead to the transformation of the world for the sake of God’s Glory and Kingdom.
God with Us
46 “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)
That is how Mary responded a few days after she learned she would miraculously become pregnant and give birth to the Savior of the world.
But her impulse was to be troubled and perplexed by her encounter with an angel. In Luke 1:28 we read,
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
How would you respond to an angelic visitation? Terrified? Bewildered? Break into a cold sweat? Faint? I think Mary being “troubled about the angel’s words and wondering about this divine greeting” is pretty rational and normal.
The angel clearly recognized this and quickly added,
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
The angel then proceeded to tell her the following…
Oh, and this will all happen by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. And this baby you will carry for nine months and give birth to… he will be the Son of God.
Mary’s Immediate Reply
Well, we heard Mary’s response after a few days of reflection. But what was her immediate reply to this startling announcement? She said,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Humility. Submission. Faith. Obedience.
Out of the millennia of human history and all the billions of people who have ever lived, God chose this young girl to be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. And even at her young age and compromised situation (she was an unmarried virgin after all), she was able to say,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
How About You?
Would you be able to answer in the same way? If an angel appeared to you and said you would be part of something that was, humanly speaking, impossible – and would likely cost you your reputation and possibly your life – would you be able to say,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Yet the truth is, Mary’s experience is not hers alone. One author put it this way,
For although her role is in one way unique, in that she alone physically nurtures and brings into the world the body and person of Jesus Christ, in another way Mary is the archetype of every Christian soul, and the whole church. (Malcolm Guite)
God desires each of us to answer his call in our lives with Mary’s words,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Now, we will not be called to bear the Lord Jesus, but each of us is called to “treasure his words and the gift of his Spirit in our hearts and… in our daily lives.” (Malcolm Guite)
In this way Mary is our example and encouragement, especially during this Advent season, when we prepare for the arrival of our Savior.
The secret to Mary’s success as well as ours, can be found in the words of the angel, for they are just as true for us as they were for Mary.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v. 28)
Think about that… “The Lord is with you.”
Do you believe that? In the deepest places in your heart, mind, and soul, do you really believe that? What difference would it make in your life if you really, truly believed that God was with you? That, like Mary, you were highly favored?
I reflected on that question and brainstormed a few answers that blessed me. Knowing God is with me gives me…
What would you add to that list? Each of those words and ideas could be sermon unto itself, couldn’t it? What would you add?
When I visit a hospital or hospice room, one of the things I always pray for is for God to be present in that person’s life at that moment. In truth, I am really reminding them that God is already present – fully present – right there, right then, and he has promised to never leave them nor forsake them.
But that is not a comforting word for hospital and hospice rooms only. That is a truth which should impact every single day of each of our lives.
The angel tells Mary she is highly “favored.” The Greek word for “favored” is “charis,” from which we get our word “grace.” Mary was an ordinary girl, whom God favored in a unique and spectacular way.
God Is with You Too
Yet that same favor – that same grace – is offered to each of us. It is available for the taking. Beloved, the good news is that God would not have you walk through the journey of this life alone.
God is with you. During the most turbulent times of your life, God is with you. During the most mundane and boring times in your life, God is with you. When you feel you are at your lowest, God is with you. When you feel most in despair, God is with you. When you are sick and struggling physically, God is with you. When you have lost a loved one and do not know how to face the future, God is with you. When you are confused and do not know which way to turn, God is with you. You too are highly favored by God.
In Matthew 1:23 we read these words,
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s many promises made hundreds of years before his arrival. God is the God who makes and keeps all his promises. And one of those promises is Jesus – Immanuel – God with us.
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was on his deathbed being comforted by those who knew and loved him. And before he died, he “gathered his strength” one last time and “cried out, ‘The best of all, God is with us!’” He died soon after. (Kenneth Collins)
None of us need to wait until our deathbeds to be comforted or strengthened by the truth that God is with us. It can and should be a living reality for each us.
Yet for that good news to impact our lives we must believe it is true. We must place our trust in God and the good news of his Son. We must give our very lives to God and this precious gospel-truth.
A Year with Jesus
This coming new year, which cannot get here fast enough, I am going to provide a weekly biblical title or description of Jesus, accompanied by some Scripture and a question or two for reflection.
It is not homework. Instead, think of it as an opportunity for you to spend time with the God who is with you and to learn more about the Savior he sent into to the world for you.
The reality is, through God’s Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ is with us each and every day. And I think spending a year reflecting on the many facets of the person and work of Jesus will do us all much and lasting good.
Joy of Every Longing Heart
Charles Wesley wrote these beautiful words,
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v. 28)
Thanks be to God.
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