From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Season of Christmas approaching Epiphany, January 6th
"..now the Lord is the Spirit...and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom...and we, who
with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory are being transformed into His likeness with every
increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit..." 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
"...to bestow upon them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes...the oil of gladness, instead of mourning...
and a garment of praise, instead of a spirit of despair...they will be called oaks of righteousness...
a planting of the Lord...for the display of His splendor..." Isaiah 61:3
"...trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...in all of your ways
acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight...don't be wise in your own eyes,
revere the Lord and shun evil...this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones..." Proverbs 3:5-8
"...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...they will soar on wings like eagles...
they will run and not grow weary...they will walk and not faint..." Isaiah 40:31
"...I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts..." Jeremiah 31:33b
"...delight yourself in the Lord...and He will give you the desire of your heart...commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this...He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn...the justice of your
cause like the noonday sun...be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him..." Psalm 37:4-7a
"...forget the former things, don't dwell on the past...Behold, I am doing a new thing...Now it springs up! Don't you perceive it? I am making a way in wilderness...and steams in the desert..." Isaiah 43:18-20
"...let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness
out of reverence for God..." 2 Corinthians 7:1
"...therefore, if anyone is in Christ...that person is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come..."
2 Corinthians 5:17
Gracious God and Lord,
You are light and life to us. We confess that we're all too often attracted to lesser sources of so-called light that eventually become a source of darkness for us. We're sorry we get lost. We're just all too human at times, and we're glad that You became a human being through Christ Jesus, your beloved Son, to deeply empathize with our condition. Forgive us our sin and uplift us by your Holy Spirit in these days. In Jesus, Amen.
We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ with every increasing glory according to Saint Paul.
Please note: transformed into the likeness of Christ - with every increasing glory
The new year of 2021 has dawned upon us. For many people it's a time to make resolutions...and like many (most of the time) those resolutions fall through the floor. Personally, I used to make new-year-resolutions, and most (if not all) of those promises to myself ended up as so much dust by mid-January of the same year. How is it that we can know of needs that remain unfulfilled in our lives, and yet, we seem unable to overcome. We're not successful in becoming the person we want to be. You may not have ever thought that God wants you to become what you want to be in your heart. There is something that not many people think about that provides clarity and purpose in that regard.
Who is the fool who said that life is simple? Not me. However we can simplify our lives...we can be guided in our lives in such a manner that what we experience daily is pure joy, instead of the heaviness of an unnecessary burden making life a drag...that is to say...the joy of living our life on a daily basis with the knowledge that we're on the right track and that we'll accomplish all that is precious and life-giving for us.
"...do not lose heart..." 2 Corinthians 4:1--- 2 Corinthians 4:16
It's the intention of this message to combine resolving problem areas that often cling tenaciously to us and...the meaning of Epiphany, the phenomenon of brilliant starlight over the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth upon the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) in Bethlehem.
We really don't know for sure, but the common misconception is that the Wise Men were three in number, one being brown, one being black, and one being Asian. We don't really know if there were only three of them. We do know they brought three gifts. I'm convinced the Wise Men were actually Hebrews whose ancestors had chosen not to return to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah in the Sixth-Century before the birth of Jesus...they knew the Scriptures, i.e., the Savior would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)...a bright star would appear upon His birth (Numbers 14:17)...He would be despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3)...that a new covenant (Divine Agreement) would be made with God's people through Him (Jeremiah 31:31). Though Hebrews, they would not be considered Jews.
The Magi did things in a way important for us to consider as we trust that the Lord will save us from unnecessary routes and dead-ends in life. We can save ourselves the grief of things in life we can well do without, freeing us up to enjoy the fullness of "new spiritual life" promised us in Scripture.
First of all, the Wise Men made themselves available to visit the Christ Child at great inconvenience...by setting aside their important normal schedule to be present...as a matter of fact... way over there...hundreds of miles (on camels, not automobiles) to be able to say they saw the Savior predicted in Scripture. This notion of "inconvenience" for the sake of serving God is what is called "HOLINESS". When we step out of our way inconveniently to seek God and to serve Him...that is to understand "holiness". When it's convenient for us to nominally be connected with a church, or if we think we're a true believer because it's a family tradition, we are only fooling ourselves. Christ Jesus suffered terribly and died on the cross of Calvary for us. It was not convenient for Him to do so. His holiness becomes newly discovered by us in the fact that He manifestly inconvenienced Himself. As Jesus manifestly inconvenienced Himself...to really follow Jesus we must do the same. We also need to go to Bethlehem to experience firsthand Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child--in our hearts. We need to make the journey.
When was the last time we inconvenienced ourselves to serve the Lord?
I mean really went out of our way...
KNOWLEDGE OF THE SCRIPTURES
Time and time again, I hear folks suggest that they read their Bibles by themselves. That seems to be sufficient for them. But I continue to want to ask the question..."Do you really know what you're reading?" Or, I might say, "Don't questions arise in your mind about 'faith-issues' or 'personal conduct' that remain unanswered?" People have the tendency, I've learned, to interpret the Scriptures in terms of their life experiences without the advantage of having another individual present a different point-of-view about what Scripture means. In too many of our churches, on the other hand, non-biblical activities take precedence over communal worship and interactive fellowship afterward, with questions asked and answered. We can't do whatever we please when we get together to honor Christ. Sunday morning should exemplify the peace and joy we have in the biblical Jesus. The focus should always be based
on reconciliation, forgiveness for all, new insights on how to live fully in Christ. I have been accused of suggesting that the church is not a country-club for saints, but rather, a hospital for sinners. In recent years, the expression has been floating around, "Wise Men Still Seek Him!" Jesus needs to be the center.
THE WISE MEN CAME TO GIVE AND NOT RECEIVE GIFTS
The Wise Men brought precious gifts to present to the Messiah. The gifts were precious. Are we giving our best unto the Lord...or are we giving "left-overs"? The gifts Maji were well-thought-out and appropriate...they were gifts of gold (for a king), frankincense (for a God)...and myrrh...just to say...the Wise Men knew that Jesus was born to die...they had read all of Isaiah 53...with understanding...
When we take a look at our schedule in advance for 2021...and put God first...we receive blessing we haven't received prior. This is a real challenge in the midst of our present pandemic...and what it's done to our economy. We need to start now in the teaching aspect of the "holiness of giving" in order that, at the proper time, we've made significant progress toward our goal. Mental acceptance of the biblical giving principle is essential to true faith. It's appropriate this Sunday to identify it with the Epiphany model. The Wise Men sought the Christ Child and gave Him gifts of substance. We need to follow their example.
NO ONE CAN TELL US WHAT TO DO
We need to be schooled in terms of what biblical giving is. We need to be convinced that we'll be blessed when we step forward in faith with a positive attitude. Biblical giving is so essential that, without it, that "transformation" cannot take place so it's really a part of us. It needs to come from within. Allowing negative thoughts to smolder within us as resentment will poison us. It's not going to work if it's something "we have to do"...forcing ourselves to give generously will make us prisoners, rather than free men and women God promised we'd be under Christ. Blessing comes when we follow Christ without mumbling under our breath.
GIVING GENEROUSLY IS NOT JUST A MONEY MATTER
When we go way out of our way to minister to others we inconvenience ourselves and truly step into the true, spiritual realm of Christ Jesus. When was the last time you said something or did something good for somebody else expecting to receive nothing in return, knowing that God rewards a cheerful giver?
THE CONCEPT CANNOT BE FORCED UPON PEOPLE
To summarize, the question before both you and me in 2021, is putting the Lord first in our giving. The first 10%, the tithe, is what we give up-front to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30). The first 10% belongs to the Lord according to the Scriptures. That amount off the top doesn't belong to us. After we've given the tithe off the top, our own free-will giving begins. Think about that for awhile. If we give to the local food-bank, and we haven't given the Lord the tithe, that kind of financial planning and thinking isn't biblical. Can we do that immediately if we haven't done it in the past? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Just don't feel guilty about not being able to do so at the present time. You'll reach the Bible standard eventually..in God's good time. You work toward it gradually. The Lord will work with you on it...and it will bless you in the process. If you haven't done it, you will be surprised how good it works. I've found that it usually takes some time to get up to the Bible standard, but it can be done in time with discipline. Priscilla and I got there gradually. One needs to avoid feelings of guilt, or even anger if somebody...like this pastor...encourages the Bible standard. Faithful families, faithful women and men, have followed the wisdom of tithing in the Scriptures for centuries and it has always brought increased happiness and fulfillment. Don't knock it, if you haven't tried it!
Can we achieve Christian freedom in giving if we feel we are forced to give the way the Bible suggests?
A person has to do it voluntarily knowing "...Christ Dwelling Within..." will bring success. One has to start from the beginning humbly. One has to do so without negative feelings about being forced to do it. In the world they say, "...don't follow the comments, follow the money..." We know that the Lord will have done a great work within us when we achieve the tithing goal...only the Holy Spirit can make this to happen.
Eventually you will succeed and say with so many...I can't believe what a blessing it is!
Your church fellowship will be blessed as this happens in each believer's life...in my view, this discipline
should never be pushed as a church project to reach a congregational financial goal. It's a Bible mandate
for us. Each Christian should seriously take this to heart as an essential personal discipline.
THE WISE MEN CAME TO WORSHIP
The Wise Men weren't of a "servant class" socially. They were leaders in their nation, they were men of great distinction, of great learning, scholars, masters in their various disciplines. We note that they were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what their journey was for. They knew who they were to see...the desire of the ages. Matthew 2:11, describes what happened to them when they saw Jesus with his mother, Mary. Hold on for a minute...they...bowed down and worshipped Him.
First of all, they went way out of their way to see Him. They brought precious gifts to give to Him. Though these Wise Men were distinguished and honored in their land, they emptied and humbled themselves to bow down before the Child. They knew they were seeing the face of God in the face of the Baby Jesus. You know, wise men and wise women still seek Him!
Are we more sophisticated than the Wise Men? Has the value of seeking and finding Christ diminished through the years because of progress through the ages. Do we have more wisdom than the Wise Men because of our post-modern technology? Let me tell you. These men were advanced in their learning.
Do we have the same profound sense of the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or do we take Him for granted? Can we do without worship...or is worship at the center of all that holds things together for us? Yes, when some sort of normality returns to us, dear people, we'll appreciate being in worship publicly.
Where is our sense of awe? Hopefully we haven't been so "awe-struck" by post-modern technology that our smart-phones and computers are the only incentive for us to be amazed these days. The great Jewish Rabbi Abraham Jacob Heschel once said, "In his day, King Solomon asked for wisdom...In my day, I ask the Lord for a sense of awe in the ordinary things and in the holiness of God..."
So, Epiphany, the festival of divine light to cover the darkness of this world, is right around the corner. Lord God, we're ready to receive it. Thank you for your grace and the light you provide for the way. Help us to understand how important it is for us to be generous, kind, and good. But, setting all else aside, we are grateful for having provided the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son.
Know and understand your Scriptures...
Go out of your way to seek Him and serve Him...
Provide with Him with gifts of substance...
Worship Him with all of your heart, body, and soul...
The Lord bless you and keep you!