Author: Larry Wall

I would like to share a few thoughts about giving by looking at a couple of my favorite verses from Philippians 4. The HOLY SPIRIT through Paul says in verse 13, “I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me.” Then in verse 19 we find these words, “And my GOD will supply all your needs according to HIS riches in glory in CHRIST JESUS.” Paul states that in JESUS all things are possible and in HIM all of our needs are met. What great comfort knowing that when I rest in HIM and in the cross that I will find satisfaction and contentment.

It is instructive to look at the verses between the two that are quoted above. Paul commends the Philippians for their gifts to him. In fact he notes that there was no other church that gave as they had given and on more than one occasion. Isn’t it curious that JESUS is the source of our strength and the ONE who meets our every need? But Paul recognizes that JESUS often uses others to provide the strength we need and to satisfy our very practical needs. Paul goes on to say that he is well supplied by their gift and that the gift was a pleasing aroma, an acceptable sacrifice to GOD. He also notes that he was not seeking the gift himself, but rather he was looking to the growth in faith that would come to the Philippians because of their generosity.

Interesting reading, but so what? What does giving from the heart really mean to me here in O’Fallon, MO two millennia after these words were written to people living in ancient Turkey? JESUS is at the heart of everything and obviously that includes money. As we yield to HIM and make HIM the king of our lives, we can accomplish tasks beyond our abilities and in excess of resources that are at our disposal. HE is not only able but also actively involved in meeting every need of our lives as we rest in HIM whole-heartedly.

When we yield to and rest in HIM, then our giving is impacted in gospel-centered ways. We will look for opportunities to help others in need and creatively find ways to give that bring glory to HIM rather than us. We learn to give sacrificially to meet the needs of our church because it is in the local church that GOD has placed us and is asking us to serve. The goal of our generous and sacrificial giving should always be to bring glory to GOD. This type of giving can only happen when HE changes our hearts and rules our lives.

Luke 9:23 says, “If any man will come after ME, let him deny himself, take up his cross, daily, and follow ME.”  This is a verse that I have memorized, contemplated, and at times even lived by.  It is my sincere desire to follow HIM, but like Paul I must confess that the very things I want to do, I do not do; and the things I do not want to do, I do.  The GOSPEL is my only hope to live my life more in step with what JESUS asked.

The GOSPEL makes it clear that the only way I can come after HIM is as HE draws me to HIMSELF.  It was never me pursuing HIM rather it has always been HIM reaching out to me.  HE came for me, when I was an enemy and wanted nothing to do with HIM and HE continues to call me to relationship day by day with HIM.   As I strive to yield my life to HIM and follow where HE leads, I discover that it is only when I allow HIM to rule my mind and heart that this can take place.  When I listen to my old nature and live in broken religion, I discover that even my best efforts are ineffectual and ultimately lead only to corruption.

I have also discovered that apart from the GOSPEL, it is impossible for me to deny myself.  I am far too self-centered and without HIS direct intervention in my life I would never give up all the creature comforts that I have come to crave.  The HOLY SPIRIT gently prods and encourages me to remember JESUS and all that HE taught as I live each day.   THE SPIRIT brings to mind verses and truth that I can rely on to put aside these sins that so easily ensnare me and focus my energy and efforts on HIM.

The GOSPEL has served to convince me that walking with HIM is a daily experience.  The GOSPEL calls me to confess and repent continually, moment by moment throughout each day, not just on Sundays.  From my experiences, it is so easy to compartmentalize my life and to have my Sunday game as well as my Monday through Saturday game.  As JESUS clearly states in this verse from Luke, my Christian walk is a daily activity not something I do once a week.

JESUS is my only hope.  I can only come to HIM because HE first pursued me, I can only deny myself as HE empowers me to do so.  It is only HIS presence in my life day by day that allows me to follow HIM where HE leads.

As I look back on how the Gospel initially impacted my life, I am humbled that GOD never gave up on self-righteous and self-centered sinner.

I grew up in a Christian home where church was a part of our weekly home life.  Mom and Dad took us to church every week twice on Sundays, Wednesday evenings, and at least one more church related activity each week.  There were twice yearly revival services, Royal Ambassadors meetings, regional associational meetings; we were in church whenever the door was open.  I asked JESUS into my heart at 9 years old and walked closely with HIM throughout grade school.  We moved to Colorado as I was entering Junior High and lost a strong support group.  I remained actively involved on Sundays, but began following a broken religion model.  I reasoned with myself that if I went to church on Sundays I could live as I chose throughout the rest of the week.  After all, this was much more than what my friends were doing and I assumed that by attending I would be pleasing to GOD.

Fast forward through high school and college.  Linda and I were married and I began my career teaching at a small university in northern Wisconsin.  We continued to attend a small Baptist church but it was never a priority, only something to check off our to do list.  After a year or so, I was approached by the pastor and asked to teach the College Sunday School Class.  I of course declined.  They were persistent and eventually I reluctantly agreed to teach the class.  We started in a study of the heroes of the Old Testament that was easy, non-threatening, and added to the score I was attaining in my broken religion rule keeping.  However, I noticed that the lives of several of these students were much better than my own.

When we finished our study of the Old Testament heroes, we switched to a study on the book of James.  As we worked through this book, GOD began to speak to me very clearly.  James 3:1 was a particular verse that HE used to speak to where I was living.  It says,  “Let not many of you long to be teachers because as such you will incur a stricter judgment.”  GOD began to open my eyes to the Broken Religion that I was following.  HE clearly pointed out that I could not compartmentalize my life.  I could not set up a scoring system in which I added up my efforts and subtracted my mistakes.  Instead as Luke 9:23 states, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow ME.”

GOD was saying “Larry, I have to be first, I have to have dominion over all of your life.  You have done nothing and I have done everything.  Come rest in ME.  Don’t think that you can keep score, don’t think that you can live one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week.  Trust in ME.”

Does JESUS still come today?  Listen to the music

This Christmas morning as we think about JESUS coming to us today let us consider Christmas carols that have been written over the last two thousand years.  Recall the words of the songs as they speak to the miracle of HIM coming to earth.  Allow them to wash over your being as you enjoy the notes and feelings that the authors put into these songs to express their belief that JESUS had come to them in their life and experiences.  If HE came to them inspiring them to pen these words and notes, surely HE comes to us as well as we sing and listen to them.

In Joy to the World we sing that our king has come, that HE rules the earth, and that all of nature echoes the refrain that HE reigns over all.  While it is true that HE came as a human 2,000 years ago, it is also true that this reign continues and will continue until HE establishes the new heaven and the new earth.

Hear the haunting melody of the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day as “wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth good will to men.”  The writer goes on to say that surely this is wrong for “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.”  He concludes, however, by saying that once more he heard the bells ringing that “GOD is not dead nor doth HE sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.”

Remember singing Away in the Manger as we reflect on that blessed day when JESUS came as a baby just as each of us did, born of our mother’s womb.  What pain mixed with pride must Mary have felt as she gazed down on HIM lying in the manger.  In the second verse, however, the writer moves from looking at JESUS as an infant and asks that JESUS would be his Savior and protector, be near me LORD JESUS I ask you to stay.

Or how about GOD Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  The author says let nothing you dismay.  Why?  We have nothing to dismay, because JESUS was born on Christmas day to save us all from sin and death when we were gone astray.  HE came to save us from the power of sin and death, which was the reward we deserved for our sin.  But HE has not come and then left us alone, no, HE still comes to guide and direct us as we walk through our present life.  As you hear the old familiar carols played this year I would challenge you to listen with your hearts as the words strike your ears.  Just as HE came so HE comes to us today to meet the needs of our hearts.

If you have children:  Listen to a couple of Christmas carols together and encourage them to consider why we celebrate this wonderful birthday.  Maybe even sing Happy Birthday to JESUS.

Does JESUS still come today?  Let’s take a look at Nature

In John 15:5 we read: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in ME and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from ME you can do nothing.”

You may be thinking that talking about fruit is an interesting way to answer the question of whether or not JESUS still comes to us today.  But I challenge you to think with me for a few minutes today about what JESUS is saying in this chapter of the book of John.  All true nourishment comes from JESUS.  HE is the vine we as HIS followers draw life from HIM as HE gives us what we need for life.  When I branch out on my own (pun intended) I am less successful and eventually falter, fail, wither, and die.  I need to be tied into the vine the source of life to face not only storms but also the simple daily challenges of life.  For a while I can appear to be OK.  I can put on an act or face and seem like I am doing well.  People who I do not allow to get close to me will think that I am sailing along smoothly in life.  The reality, however, is much different I am just a bunch of fruitless leaves that provide some passing shade but no substance or sustenance to others around me.

I must remain in HIM and allow HIS life to flow though my own in order to not only have fruit but even to survive this life.  JESUS’ sustaining comes in ways that I do not often readily see if I am not drinking deeply from HIS word and even then it may not be easy to see HIS hand at work.  Yet HE remains faithful.  Help me to realize that it is only as I remain attached to JESUS the vine that I get the nourishment I need and HE gets the glory that HE deserves.  JESUS is the key to fruitfulness in my life and is the apex of all of life.

So how do these truths help us answer the question does JESUS still come today?  First if we have any fruit in our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control; it comes from HIM.  I am not saying that you have all of these all of the time, (though if you are a follower you do), but that if you see any of these evident in your life you know that HE has come to you.  Second, HE enables us to live each day as HE gives us the gift of life and sustains us throughout each day just as a vine gives life to the branches that are connected to it.  That is to say, if you are alive HE has come to you.  Finally, it is HIS coming to us that allows us to accomplish even the little victories that we all experience in life.  For apart from HIM you can do nothing.  HE is at the center of our lives and it is, as we remain in HIM that we have life.

If you have kids:  Buy some grapes and eat them together at dinner this evening.  Talk with them about the wonders of nature and how that the only way that this cluster of grapes grew from flowers into delicious fruit was by remaining attached to the vine where it received nourishment.

Does JESUS still come today?  Let’s look at the HOLY SPIRIT part II

In Isaiah 57:15 we read: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit…  Further, in John 16:13-14 we read: When the Spirit of truth comes, HE will guide you into all truth, for HE will not speak on HIS own authority, but whatever HE hears HE will speak, and HE will declare to you all the things that are to come.  HE will glorify me, for HE will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

These two passages offer assurance that JESUS still comes to us today.  Notice in Isaiah the writer declares that JESUS dwells in heaven where HE sits with the FATHER since completing HIS work here on earth.  But simultaneously, in the form of the HOLY SPIRIT dwells with us, HIS children, here on earth.  This thought is continued in JESUS’ words when HE teaches the disciples about the coming and the work of the HOLY SPIRIT in their lives.  These verses provide evidence that JESUS still comes to each of HIS children today though the working of the HOLY SPIRIT.

As you ponder these truths today consider several ideas that are significant.  First, JESUS coming to earth as a baby, living here in a frail human body, suffering indignity and hatred beyond most of our abilities to comprehend, being brutalized and tortured beyond recognition, being hung on a cross to die in the most painful and humiliating way possible, lying in a tomb dead for three days, and then rising triumphantly over death was all part of GOD’s plan from before time began.  This was not an unfortunate miscalculation or an accident.  This was premeditated.  Just so, was the coming of the HOLY SPIRIT after these events for the benefit of all believers.  JESUS knew that the way HE would come to believers after HIS resurrection was through the presence of the HOLY SPIRIT, this was all part of HIS plan.

Second, the HOLY SPIRIT has come to remind me of the truth that JESUS taught.  When I wonder if this pod cast I am listening to, or this sound bite on TV is truthful, HE reminds me of truth I have heard and studied.  Third, the HOLY SPIRIT has come to direct my steps and to help me avoid the temptations and the snare of sin that so easily entrap and sidetrack me.  HE whispers in my ear, this is the way, walk in it.  When I obey I can draw ever closer to the ONE who has died for my soul.  Fourth, the HOLY SPIRIT empowers and enables me to complete the tasks that were prepared for me to complete before I ever accepted JESUS as my Savior and King.  I find that as I listen and follow as HE instructs I find the rest that I need to finish the course that HE has prepared for me.  So JESUS comes to me today most commonly in the presence of the HOLY SPIRIT who lives in me.  While I may wish at times that I could see HIM face to face, and then I would believe, the SPIRIT reminds me that HIS presence in my life is all part of GOD’s plan, that truth is found in JESUS’ words and teaching, that HE will guide me step by step, and empower me to do what I need to do because I am HIS child.  Thank you SPIRIT for living in me.

Does JESUS still come today?  Let’s look at the HOLY SPIRIT Part I

“All this took place to fulfill what the LORD had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, GOD with us).” – Matthew 1:22-23  

Today we want to explore this truth from a theological perspective.  Now before you get all put off, recall that Martin Luther said that theology is nothing more than using grammar to study the Bible.  So as we begin this Bible study, the first question that comes to mind is who is the prophet are we talking about.  Matthew is quoting the prophet Isaiah (7:14) who wrote about his confrontation of the evil king Ahaz.  In this confrontation, Ahaz proudly stated that he would not submit to GOD’s request and ask GOD for a sign.  So GOD provided one, and one that Ahaz likely would not have chosen.  A son was to be born of a virgin and he was to be named Immanuel (GOD with us).  Some 600 years later, this prophecy is about to be fulfilled as the virgin Mary gives birth, and Joseph names HIM, JESUS, that is Immanuel.

The second question from a grammatical standpoint is what does the phrase, GOD with us, mean.  The first word, GOD, refers to the Triune GODHEAD.  That is to say GOD in HIS fullness was coming to earth to live among the people HE had created.  HE was coming in the form of a baby, a human child with all of our weaknesses and limitations and yet still being GOD.  With, means alongside, to go with someone is to come alongside, to walk their same journey, to experience together their situation.  This is what JESUS did.  We read in the Bible that HE walked alongside Mary and Joseph learning from them and about them.  HE also walked along side HIS brothers and sisters, his boyhood friends, and fellow townspeople.  Finally HE walked alongside the twelve HE called disciples.  HE taught them, HE ate with them, HE laughed with them, HE cried with them, that is, HE lived with them.  The pivotal word in this phrase, however, is us.  Who is us?  Does JESUS’ presence stop when HE ascends into heaven in Acts chapter 2 and resumes HIS close fellowship with GOD the FATHER and GOD the HOLY SPIRIT?  Grammar says no!  This short little phrase offers tremendous comfort and joy because it says emphatically that GOD is with HIS people, all of HIS people, all of the time.  HE came to be with us.  When your emotions or circumstances scream otherwise, remember HIS last words in Matthew 28:20…and lo I am with you always…

Does JESUS still come today?  Have you ever seen an angel?

One of the traditions that many families have at Christmas time is to gather around the old 64-inch big screen TV and watch a Christmas movie.  Whether it’s a classic like “It is a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart or the somewhat audacious Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, watching a movie can be an entertaining and even a bonding time.  We recently watched a new Christmas movie, at least for us, titled “ An Angel in the House.”  This was a captivating story of a husband and wife who had lost a child to an accident and several years later were coping with the devastating guilt and loss associated with the child’s death.  Their lives are interrupted by the appearance of an angel posing as a precocious orphan who challenges their beliefs and helps them move forward in the lives that had been frozen in the past.

In Hebrews 13:2 we read, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” 

Sometimes JESUS comes into our lives through an angel who is able to help us see life from a totally different perspective than the one we are currently locked into.  In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the main character is given an opportunity to see how his little corner of the world would have turned out if he had not been a part of it.  In doing so, he was given a glimpse of the difference that he was making and the bigger story that he was a part of.  Many times for me, this is what I need, for someone or some being (an angel) to help me take my focus off of my current situation and see that I am in fact a part of a much bigger story.  I need someone to help me reexamine the truths of scripture that I too often glaze over or read at a surface level rather than meditating on.  I need to see that I am deeply loved, and highly valued, and to realize that the experiences that I am wrestling with are inconsequential in the bigger story that GOD is writing.  Angels are ministering spirits who have been sent by JESUS to answer my prayers and to help me understand the circumstances of my life.  The question that begs an answer is, do I take the time and the effort to recognize them when they visit?

If you have children watch a Christmas movie with them and talk about why Christmas is such a big deal.  Explain that JESUS is still coming today as HE did thousands of years ago.

Does JESUS still come today?  Let’s ask Joseph  Matthew 1:18-23:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

Have you ever had a spouse, a child, a friend, or a co-worker begin a conversation with the words, “You’re probably not going to believe this?”  If your reaction is anything like mine, then you are probably thinking, “you are right, I don’t believe whatever it is you are telling me.”

Come with me in your mind back to the conversation between Mary and her fiancé, Joseph.  “Honey, I am not sure you are going to believe me, but I have something I need to tell you.  You know how all of the scholars have been talking about this being the right time for Messiah to come?  Well last night, just before I got into bed an angel, Gabriel in fact, came and gave me a message from GOD.  He said that I had been chosen to be the mother of the LORD JESUS.  I told him that while I was flattered, this just wasn’t possible, because, well you know, we haven’t…  Well, anyway he said, no problem, the HOLY SPIRIT would come over me and I would become pregnant.  And guess what, I am.   Isn’t this exciting?”

You know what happens next, Joseph says, under his breath, “momma didn’t raise no fool”, and out loud, oh Mary, you are so right; I do not believe your story.  I care about you, in fact I love you, but this just cannot be.  I will see how I can take care of the problem that you have created.  But GOD stepped into Joseph’s life and revealed HIMSELF to him.  GOD said, “not so fast Joseph, she is telling the truth.  What she has told you is exactly what has happened.”  When GOD appeared to Joseph in the dream, everything changed.  Joseph took Mary as his wife and together they raised JESUS from birth, through the terrible twos, the teenage years, and into young adulthood.  JESUS worked along side Joseph in the carpenter’s shop and learned the value of work and what it means to be a husband and a dad.

Sometimes, JESUS comes in dreams and visions to clarify for us the road that HE has already mapped out for us, to help us make decisions that are in accordance with HIS prescribed will that is in HIS word.  HE already knew exactly the role that HE had for Joseph to play and HE came at just the right time to help Joseph comprehend that his life was part of the bigger story of redemption that HE had written from before time began.

If you have children, ask them about their dreams.  Some can be funny, some scary or absurd, but some can be from GOD to help guide them as they seek how they are to live.  Take time to pray and to thank GOD that HE can and does use dreams to help us walk in HIS way.

 

Does JESUS still come today?  Let’s ask Thomas  John 20:24-29:

“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””

Have you ever been so disappointed by the circumstances of life that you have said in your soul, unless I can see, unless I can touch, unless I can use my senses I will not believe?  I think all of us have had those times, those disappointments, that pushed us into wanting, no demanding, a sign that HE is here that HE still comes and moves in our world today.  Today as we ponder HIS coming more than 2000 years ago, let us consider one of the disciples and his struggles with life’s circumstances.

What an interesting character, this disciple Thomas.  He is called doubting Thomas because of his statements here in John 20 where he indicated that unless he was able to put his fingers in the place of the nails and his hand into HIS side, he would not believe.  He said show me the proof that HE has risen and then I will believe.  Give me some hard evidence and then I will put my trust in HIM.  But he had not always been such a doubter.  In John 11 we read the story of Lazarus.  JESUS told the disciples that HE was going back to Bethany to see about Lazarus who had died.  The other disciples questioned HIS wisdom about going back into the area where the Jews had threatened HIS life.  But Thomas said, “Let us go also that we may die with HIM”.

What caused such a change from champion to doubter?  Why would he make such a strong statement, especially in the face of ten others who were saying that JESUS had risen from the dead?  We can only imagine what must have been running through his mind that day as he snuck into where the others were hiding.  But we do know one thing for sure, JESUS showed up in a real, senses overloading way in Thomas’ world.  HE didn’t rebuke him or belittle Thomas but instead said, here I am touch me and believe.

Will HE show up in our lives when we want proof?  Yes.  Will HE hold out HIS hands for us to put our fingers into, or bare HIS side for us to touch?  Will HE be offended by my request? No.  HE says try me and see if I am not good; believe me even when you do not see me.

If you have children:  Go outside and feel the wind as it blows.  Ask them where does it come from?  Where does it start?  Where does it end?  We need to realize that even when I cannot see or sense with my senses something that is occurring I still need to believe that it is still there.

 

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