Joy, Joy, Joy

Philippians 4:4

Philippians is a book of joy. The key verse of the book is Philippians 4:4. In addition, throughout the book, joy is the theme. The Greek word for joy is used 9 times and various related words (with prefixes, etc.) are used approximately another 7 times. Christmas is a season that should activate joy in our lives. But, our question is “Why joy?” Or “How joy?”

The Apostle Paul’s life is “Exhibit A” on how to have joy. Paul had a remarkable outlook on life. Consider his circumstances as he wrote Philippians. He is under house arrest.

But his present circumstances were not the only threat to his joy. Here’s what he wrote to the Corinthians.

Are they servants of Christ?
I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one:
with far more labors,
many more imprisonments,
far worse beatings, near death many times.
24 Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans.
Once I was stoned by my enemies.
Three times I was shipwrecked.
I have spent a night and a day
in the open sea.
26 On frequent journeys, I faced
dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers,
dangers from my own people,
dangers from the Gentiles,
dangers in the city,
dangers in the open country,
dangers on the sea,
and dangers among false brothers;
27 labor and hardship,
many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst,
often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.
28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

So from Paul’s testimony, we can draw several conclusions about joy.

1. Joy is not dependent on our circumstances.
2. Joy is a choice.
3. Joy is a gift from God.
4. Joy, like peace and hope, is ultimately found in a relationship with Jesus.

We are days now away from Christmas. Choose today to be a person of joy, not only for this Christmas season, but for life.

What’s Happening this Week at FBC?

We have had a team of singers presenting Christmas music in local nursing homes and hospitals. They have distributed the Christmas cards that we collected last Sunday evening. I am thankful for this group being the Church out in our community this week.

Activate Joy
—Our advent theme Sunday is joy. I will be preaching on “How to Activate Joy” in our lives. You will want to return Sunday night for the Children’s Christmas musical titled, “Christmas Dream Team Parade.” In keeping with our month long emphasis on impacting our community, we are collecting unwrapped new toys to give to underprivileged children in our community.

I encourage you to participate in reading the daily devotional and following the guided Advent activities found on the Activate Advent app.

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering—Have you given your gift yet to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering? We have received as of last Sunday, $26,828. Please hurry and make your gift. I cannot think of any gift that you could give this Christmas that will have a more lasting impact. Pray about your offering and bring that gift with you this Sunday.

Preparing for the Holidays

Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” goes the line of the familiar Christmas song. I think the line should be, “It’s the busiest time of the year.” Most of the problem is our own creation. We try to go to too many parties. We try to buy too many gifts. We try to make too many people happy. Could I offer a solution to this holiday rush? Simplify! Simplify everything. Simply your giving and going. Spend more time on those things that truly “redeem the time.”

Here is my encouragement to simplify.

1. Simplify the gift buying craze. Lest someone think I am Scrooge, I love both giving and receiving gifts. I am just arguing for prudence. Most of what we buy during this time is probably excessive. Seek to give gifts that will advance the Gospel. For example, make a donation to a mission or charitable organization in someone’s honor. As a Southern Baptist, our churches receive a special offering (the Lottie Moon Christmas offering) at this time of the year for International mission efforts.

2. Seek opportunities to share the Gospel. I have read research from church strategist Ed Stetzer which indicated that Christmas is the best time of the year to share the Gospel. Many churches will have special presentations during this season to share the Gospel. Make special efforts to bring unbelieving family members, neighbors, and friends to these presentations.

In so doing we will be redeeming the time during this most busy time of the year.

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Activate Peace

This year at Christmas, in our church, we are on a journey to Activate Advent. Yesterday, we talked about the idea of “peace.” Peace has always been associated with Christmas. Such was the case on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914. The German troops and the Allied troops participated in a Christmas Truce in the middle of World War I. Though versions of exactly what happened are sketchy, the common thread in most accounts is that peace, albeit short-lived, happened in the name of Christmas. German and Allied troops sang carols together, exchanged gifts, and more than one account suggests that they had a friendly game of soccer.

Christmas songs long for peace in the midst of war. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is from a poem by William Wadsworth Longfellow in the Days of America’s Civil War. “Do You Hear What I Hear” was written during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We long for peace—peace with our past, peace with others, and ultimately with God. Isaiah prophesied the Messiah to be the Prince of Peace. The angels sang of peace. Jesus declared that “in Him” was peace. Jesus offered a greeting of peace to the one history has called “Doubting Thomas.” Paul counseled to let the peace of God rule in our hearts. Best of all, Jesus wants to bring peace in our lives now.

On the night of Jesus’ birth the angels announced: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! (Luke 2:14)

Peace is connected to His glory and His grace. The more we behold His glory, the more we will be at peace. The reception of His grace (favor) is the requirement to be at peace. This announcement is tantamount to the saying, Know Jesus; Know peace. No Jesus; No peace.

But, please understand, though peace is a Christmas message, peace is not just a Christmas message. In preparation for His death, Jesus encouraged the disciples to have His peace.

We read in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”

Then in John 16:33, we read, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

His peace is contrasted to the problems we will face in this world.

Then, in John 20, the peace of Jesus is reaffirmed. In fact, peace is connected to the invitation to follow Jesus.

So What? How do we activate peace in our lives?

We must trust in Him for everything including our eternal destiny.

We find our peace in His peace, not our peace.

We must talk to Him about everything.

Philippians 4:6-7 says:

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Ultimately,

We must turn to Him.

Let’s end where we started with the announcement from the angels.

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!

I think about the hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

(This post is based on the message “Activate Peace” which you can watch at fbclaf.org/video)

Peace as the Umpire of Your Heart

Colossians 3:15

Colossians 3:15 gives us a great word about peace. “And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.”

Think about four truths we discover in this one verse.

• Real peace comes through the message about Christ.

This thought about peace begins with the words, “And let the peace of the Messiah.” The route to peace is very specific. Jesus spoke about this peace just before His death. He told His disciples, “I have told you these things that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” These things refer to the place called Heaven that He has prepared, the power of prayer that He invites us to, the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit that He promised, and the specific plan that He gave us to go to Him. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Then, Jesus modelled that peace on the cross. He said, “Father, not my will, but yours be done.” At His last, He prayed, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

You can search for peace through any avenue, but real peace comes through the message about the Messiah, Christ Jesus the Lord.

• Real peace is the calling of the members of the body of Christ.

I find this very interesting in this passage. This verse calls us to an individual peace, but this verse also calls us to a corporate—collective—peace. This is our calling. We are to experience peace, and we can through the message about the Messiah. But, understand that we are called to peace. The church is called to exhibit peace. The church ought to be leading the way in peace. I’m afraid that too often we lead the way in a collective panic. Think about this. If we—people who have faith, people who pray, people who believe that God hears, people who believe that God is the One ultimately in control—if we do not exhibit peace, who can?

People ought to routinely ask us, “Why are you so calm? How do you hold it all together? Why are you not falling apart?

• Real peace controls the mind of the Christian.

The word translated, “control” is a great word. It literally is pulled from the sporting world in that ancient Greek culture. It has the connotation of “umpire” so that we could literally read “Let the peace of Christ be the umpire in your hearts.” Umpires are decisive. You don’t see umpires hesitate. Umpires are confident. Umpires are most necessary when they have to make hard and close calls.

The peace of God should control our minds in that same way.

• Real peace causes thanksgiving that is a mystery to others.

After the imperative of “letting peace control our hearts,” we get the imperative to “Be thankful.” The route to thanksgiving is peace. Our thanksgiving should be the result of the kind of peace that Paul wrote about in Philippians 4:7. “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought (understanding), will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

If peace is truly activated in our lives, peace will be in control of our hearts.

We Sure Could Use a Little Good News Today

We sure could use a little good news today. We could use a little hope. Our nation is in a state of deplorable downward-spiraling morality. It’s like we are living in the time of the Judges again—“everyone is doing what is right in their own sight.” Then there is the threat of North Korea. Then, there is the threat of where the next terrorism strike will occur. Then, there are things like the church shooting in Texas and fires in California. On and on we could list the bad news.

Then there is the personal bad news you might be facing.

We sure could use a little hope. That’s the same thing Isaiah faced. Remember that classic line that begins Isaiah 6, “It was the year that King Uzziah died.” That might not mean much to us, but it meant everything in Isaiah’s time.

Where do we find hope?

We find hope where Isaiah found hope. Let his prophesy guide us.

Isaiah 9:6-7 and Isaiah 53, both pointing to the future Messiah, find their fulfillment in Jesus.

We find our hope in the promise of the Messiah. We might say it this way. We find our hope in Christmas. Because Christmas, the coming of Christ into our world means…

A personal relationship with Christ is possible.

What does that look like? He is our . . .

• Wonderful Counselor
• Mighty God
• Eternal Father
• Prince of Peace

A perpetual reign of Christ is promised.

This reign of Christ is both now and forever. The Lord Almighty reigns! But there is coming a day, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Here’s what I want us to remember. We must wait and anticipate that second coming of Christ with the same faith that those Godly ones waited and anticipated His first coming.

This promise helps us to live by faith that Christ is coming to make all that is now wrong, then right.

Which kingdom are we going to serve? Are we going to serve the kingdom of this world which is passing? Or are we going to serve Christ and the kingdom which cannot pass away?

A perfect redemption in Christ is provided.

Isaiah rightly pointed to the ultimate reason for Jesus’ coming—to be our Savior. He, the perfect one, took upon Himself our sin so that we might have forgiveness of sin, freedom of sin, abundant life, and eternal life.

With Jesus, there is always hope!

What’s Happening this Week at FBC?

Thank you for bringing groceries to fill food baskets for InnerFaith Prison ministry. The response was tremendous.

I trust that you are continuing to use daily the Activate Advent for Advent Devotional readings and family activities.

Activate Peace —Our advent theme Sunday is peace. I will be preaching Sunday on “How to Activate Peace” in our lives. You will want to return Sunday night at 6 p.m. for the special Keyboards and Carols Concert. Musicians playing five pianos and the organ along with the choir and orchestra will present Christmas classics. The Handbell Choir of First Baptist Christian School will also be a part of this wonderful evening. Our community outreach project this week is focused on Nursing Home residents. Everyone is invited to bring a Christmas card. These cards will be delivered to residents of local nursing homes.

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering —“It is impossible not to speak when we have the words of eternal life.” These words are attributed to Lottie Moon for whom our offering for International Missions is named. We are certainly not giving in order to meet a goal; we are giving because we have words of eternal life to speak. If you have not yet given your special offering, please consider giving.

Several of our staff members were recognized for milestone employment anniversaries this year at a luncheon held in their honor Tuesday. These individuals are:

Ray Swift -5 years – Administrative Pastor
Dustin Lee – 5 years – Minister to Children
Allyson Theriot -10 years – Director of Mother’s Day Out

Tell these individuals how much you appreciate them.

Announcing the Retirement of Gary Ruffin

At the close of our services Sunday, I announced the retirement of Gary Ruffin. After serving first in a part-time role, Gary has served for 18 years as our full-time Minister of Education and Outreach. In this role, he has directed our Sunday School, Discipleship, and F.A.I.T.H. ministries. In addition, he has supervised our ministry leaders from Preschool to Senior Adults. Most important to me, he has been a friend, brother, father, and co-laborer in ministry. I love this forever friend.

He will retire on December 31, 2017. We will announce plans to honor him in the coming days. Please join me in praying for Gary and Marianne.

In addition, I have been working with the Personnel Committee in a staff reorganization plan. We will announce this reorganization in the coming days.

I am thankful for the past and excited for the future.

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My Visit to Judge Kaliste Saloom

I wrote this piece six months ago, but in light of Judge Kaliste Saloom’s passing yesterday, I thought I might offer it again. Judge Saloom was the iconic city judge of Lafayette. He died yesterday at the age of 99. I stood before Judge Saloom 30 years ago as a 17 year old. Everyone has a Judge Saloom story, and I have mine. I will never forget that day.

My dad accompanied me to juvenile court. He had lectured me about the proper etiquette standing before a judge, but particularly this one. My dad knew first-hand the judge’s reputation. My dad’s warning was well founded. In the opening moments of court, one teenager, along with his mother, was sent home given one-hour to return with a proper shirt on or they would be found in contempt. The teenager was wearing a t-shirt advertising beer—not acceptable attire to the judge for the young man too young to legally drink.

One by one for a couple of hours, everyone was found guilty and given varying sentences of driving school or suspension of license for a judge-determined number of days. With an improper turn ticket in hand that had resulted in an accident, I finally got my turn before the judge.

“What happened, son?”

I began to tell my story indicating my attempt to make a right-hand turn.

“Wait a minute,” Judge Saloom interrupted, “This ticket says you were making a left-hand turn.”

I had not noticed that in the policeman’s writing.

“Well, sir, I was making a right-hand turn.”

He asked, “Well, tell me where you were?”

I told him exactly where I was and to my unbelievable surprise, he said, “You are right. You were making a right-hand turn. I can’t do anything with this. The ticket is wrong. You are dismissed.”

Like little shocked toy soldiers, my dad and I turned around in disbelief to make our way home. Just about the time I was beginning to breathe again, Judge Saloom barked out, “Wait a second, come back here.”

I thought maybe he had changed his mind, and I was about to get my sentence just like everyone else.

I still remember his next sentence. Though he did not mean it as such, what he said next is a clear presentation of the Gospel.

“Son, I didn’t say you were innocent. I just said you weren’t guilty!”

“Yes sir!”

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What is Hope?

Luke 2:25-38

This year at Christmas, at First Baptist Church, Lafayette, we are on a journey to Activate Advent. We begin with the word “hope.” What is hope? At the root of Christmas is hope. When the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied the coming of Messiah, they did so with hope.

Luke recorded for us the account of Jesus’ earthly parents bringing Him to the Temple for an ordained time of consecration. His parents are doing for Him all that “was customary under the law.” (Luke 2:27) This would have been some 40 days after His birth. In this experience, further revelation is made known as to who Jesus is. This recognition is made by a man named Simeon, who was righteous and devout and looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and a woman named Anna, righteous in her own right, being one who stayed in the Temple Complex to pray. In other words, both of these, fully aware of the Prophets’ message of the coming of Messiah, longed to one day be alive to see the Messiah.

But, here is our question for the day. What kept Simeon and Anna going to the Temple looking for Messiah? If we do the math, the last prophet, Malachi, had spoken over 400 years before this day in the Temple. Other major prophets, like Isaiah, had prophesied over 700 years before this day. What kept Simeon and Anna going to the Temple?

I think we find our answer in one word: Hope.

What’s the difference between hope and faith? I do believe there is a difference, because the writer of Hebrews said that “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” But, I also believe that Biblical hope is more than just wishful thinking. So what is the difference between hope and faith?

Hope is faith in waiting. So, what do we do while we wait? Simeon and Anna gave us a great example. First, we trust God’s Word. Then, we trust God’s timing.

Why did Jesus come on the day that He came? Why did Simeon, Anna, and others have to wait for the Messiah? Apostle Paul, in writing to the Galatians, gave this answer, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” (Galatians 4:4) Jesus was born at the right time. We don’t know the exact date, but it was the correct date. We don’t know the day He is coming again, but He will return on the right date. I don’t know why you have to wait for whatever today finds you hoping in God for, but I know that it will come on the right date.

If you have become discouraged, today is the day to activate hope because Christmas is coming!

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