Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gift of Second Chances

2nd chancesChristmas Gifts from the Prophets
The Gift of Second Chances
Part 3 in a series
By Brenda Black

“Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's wrath comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger.” (Zephaniah 2:1-3)

Doesn't sound like a typical Christmas verse, I know. Bear with me. Go deeper. Look for the gift Zephaniah brings. This one just might be the most precious of possibilities. It is the gift of second chances!

If ever there were a time to remember redemption, it's at Christmas. While the world has reduced your options to “naughty” verses “nice,” God sent His Son to cover all of the spectrum and provide the only One who could cover our inadequacies and sinful behavior from the slightest offense to the greatest affront.

Don't miss a significantly important aspect of this wrapped up warning from Zeph. He's presenting the gift of second chances to the shameful as well as the humble – the naughty and the nice. For God is “patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9b)

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” says Peter like Zephaniah. There is an appointed time. Just as Jesus' arrival one silent night, so too shall He come again, in God's perfect timing. Once He came as a vulnerable infant, dependent on man's protection and provision, in order to live as fully human. Next time He enters our atmosphere, He'll break the silence of indifference and silence the clamor of blasphemous proclamations! He'll come as King and Judge and He'll come in divine glory!

We can practice preparations for His coming this Christmas. Seek righteousness. Seek humility. Seek the Lord and do what He commands. The prophet Zephaniah delivered a message that grants us plenty of opportunity to pick the perfect gift for Christmas and every day of our lives. He gave us the chance to get ready, a reason to repent!

Again Peter confirms: “Dear friends...I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and with water. By water also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men...

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Pet. 3:1-7, 11-12a)

The best gift you could give yourself this Christmas is to be honest before the Lord and lay down the sin. Seek righteousness. That may take laying down the pride in order to seek humility. The season of second chances will one day be gone. And just like the last minute rush to get all the packages purchased and bought, time is running out to be right with God.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Gift of Evangelism

Part 2 in a series
By Brenda Black

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.'

“Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh...

“When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:

“'By the decree of the king and his nobles:

“'”Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”'

“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:1-10)

The gift of evangelism is not always an easy one to present, especially to those who would rather see you dead! The residents of Nineveh were Assyrians, enemies of Israel. Jonah knew them to be pagans with evil intent. God knew they needed forgiveness.

Unlike Jonah, who wanted the gift of grace only for himself and not for this wicked nation, the shepherds who first heard of God's miraculous offering, couldn't wait to go spread the news. They, too, would have faced potentially hostile recipients since they were considered lowly in social status. Yet, they didn't hesitate when an angel of the Lord bid them “Go tell!”

The difference between Jonah and the shepherds was a matter of perspective. The shepherds accepted the gift of evangelism, then wrapped it in compassion for speedy delivery. While Jonah begged to differ with God's commission, the shepherds took to heart the angel's message: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) They got it! And IT was for ALL!

Whether begrudgingly or willingly the Gospel is delivered, the miraculous power of the Word changes lives. In spite of our blunderings, our wanderings or our arguing, God will make a way. There is a much easier path than through the belly of a whale when it comes to sharing the salvation message. There is the way of the shepherd. With urgency, joy, enthusiasm and expectation, they “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Lk. 2:16-18)

The gift of evangelism is just that – a gift. It comes from the Father to His saved child with the expectation that he who has received much will be more than anxious to share it.
Go tell!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“The Gift of Three Songs”

Christmas Gifts from the Prophets
The Gift of Three Songs”
Part 1 in a series
By Brenda Black

“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit...What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isaiah 5:1-4)

Isaiah sang of the gift God gave – His fertile land and His choice vine -- the Son He sent. The best came to earth, predicted by the prophets of old, because God so loved each of us. Jesus was planted in the womb of a virgin, who adds her melody of humble favor to the notes of Isaiah's tune.

“And Mary said: 'My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thought. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.'” (Luke 1:46-55)

The gift came as a babe in a manger to a vineyard filled with promise. Isaiah sang of this great gift call Emmanuel. Mary sang of the gift of His mighty power. But it was Zechariah who added the all important lyrics of Christ's saving prophecy as the ultimate gift to humanity.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant...” (Lk. 1:67-72)

The vine, the babe, the song, the Christ “grew and became strong in spirit.” (Lk 1:80)

In His last days on earth, Jesus hauntingly sings again a new version of Isaiah's “Song of the Vineyard” when He speaks of the parable of the landowner, recorded in Matthew 21.

“'...There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it , dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.'

“'But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance!” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?'” (Mt. 21:33-40)

The Creator God provided the gift of a vineyard; He the earth and you and me. A Loving God sent the gift of His Son, the perfect branch, to dwell among the vines and offer fellowship with holiness. In return for such provision and love, mercy and miracles, we scorned, disrespected, rejected and crucified Him. We yielded bad fruit! Is that any way to say thanks? Jesus, the beautiful branch who bore life for all mankind, was planted in the womb of a virgin and grew to provide salvation. What are we doing with such a marvelous gift?

If Christmas is a time of music and giving, then may it be sung about you and me that we were good fruit and lived as redeemed.