Monday, December 12, 2011

Skeletons in Jesus' Closet

The space-time event in history of the birth of Jesus is filled with so many highlights. And everyone has his or her favorite thing to share about the Christmas story. Jesus was born on time and in the little town of Bethlehem according to the many ancient Prophets.
What fascinates me most about the birth of Jesus is how it all came about through a variety of unlikely players. The Jews very carefully kept track of their genealogies as they relate to the godly line of the Messiah. In Matthew the genealogical record is most likely that of Joseph's and the genealogical record in Luke seems to be that of his Mother Mary.

What is so amazing is that after all of the care to follow each step of the way of the Messiah's godly line, God purposefully inserts some very unlikely people. Let's call these skeletons in Jesus' closet. A skeleton in the closet usually has to do with the uglier side of our family line. Jesus had 7 skeletons in His closet that all have a potential ugly side. Let's look at each of them:
FIRST-Mary, His mother. Mary was a sinful woman just as any other woman on the planet. She was an admitted sinner by calling her son her Savior and was surprised at the choice of the angel to create the Messiah through her. This is the least ugly of the 7 skeletons and yet was a definite application of the grace of God to choose her. She clearly recognized that she personally was in need of the Savior she was to birth.
SECOND-David. Although we know David is known as a man after God's own heart, he was guilty of horrific sins. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then set in motion the plan to have her husband, Uriah, killed in order to cover up his sin.
THIRD-Abraham. Remember, Abraham was a Gentile and God chose him to be the father of a new nation altogether-the people of Israel. Abraham's life was not a clean one, even though he was to be the father of all who believe. Two different kings brought Abraham's wife, Sarah, into their harems, because out of fear Abraham lied to each of them, saying that Sarah was his sister. What a horrible and shameful way to treat Sarah.

Even though David and Abraham were miserable sinners, Jesus the Messiah is known to be the son of David, the son of Abraham and proud of it. Then, within the genealogy of Jesus in a culture where genealogies were mostly dominated by men, there are four women, probably all Gentiles, who are included in the godly line of Messiah Jesus.
FOURTH-The first woman is Tamar, the Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah. She resorted to deception, prostitution and even incest when she was unable to have a child. She tricked Judah into having sexual relations with her and she had twin boys, Perez and Zerah. Tamar and her son, Perez, both are included in the godly line of Jesus-both part of His sacred family tree.
FIFTH-The next woman who was also a Gentile was Rahab. She made prostitution her livelihood. Rahab risked her own neck to hide the spies of Israel when she lived in the ancient city of Jericho. Because of her faith and action on God's behalf, He agreed to spare her life and the lives of all her family during the battle of Jericho. She became the wife of Salmon and the mother of a godly man named Boaz. Boaz was David's great-grandson. By this marriage Rahab was inserted into the Messianic godly line that would produce Jesus.
SIXTH-The next Gentile woman, a Moabite, was Ruth. Although she was a former pagan and a Moabite, having no right to marry an Israelite, God's grace brought Ruth into the family of Israel, and through Boaz into the royal line. She became the grandmother of Israel's greatest king-King David.
SEVENTH-The final Gentile woman who was surprisingly in the godly line of Messiah Jesus is Bathsheba. Now get this! She entered the godly Messianic line through adultery with David. Their first son died in infancy, yet their second son was the great King Solomon, who was successor to David's throne.

As you can see the story of Christmas has some amazing surprises in it. These undeserving, Gentiles not Jewish, people were inserted into the godly list solely and completely by the grace of God.

So, in the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the skeletons in the closet turn out to be all about grace-amazing grace! This is the story of Christmas: That God's Messiah has come to deliver whoever will come to Him. This is truly what the Good News is all about. Jesus accepts and loves anyone and everyone-no matter your origin, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Jesus proves His love and acceptance by including four sinful women in His family tree. By the way, this means Jesus accepts you and loves you unconditionally, too. Therefore you can celebrate your brokenness, your ways of falling short, the many times you've missed the mark. Jesus simply overlooks all of your negative stuff and wants you to accept His light into your life that you might be whole. Now, that is a Merry Christmas that gets you ready for a very Happy New Year!

James 5:19-20

The last two verses of James are so powerful to me. It's all about restoration and recovery! James sets up the blueprint for GOD'S RESCUE SQUAD: 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
The probability of straying from the truth is anticipated here. We must start here. People will stray. In fact, it may be better to start from your own heart. You have the capacity to do almost anything, any time, anywhere! We must not be surprised when a believer strays from the truth! It will usually come in one of two flavors: COMMISSION-Playing God! OMISSION-Leaving God out!

This straying might be based upon an opinion-opinions are usually man-made add-ons. Be careful of embracing another's opinions. Straying might be based upon specialists-experts and gurus and bible teachers that seem right. Or, this straying might be based upon dilution-watered-down.

Along with the probability of straying, there is the possibility of saving that person for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom. If one strays and one turns him back, he will actually be saving his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. I am reminded of Galatians 6:1: 1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load.

Restoration is encouraged by those who are spiritual. Restoration is not a popular theme throughout the churches; shooting the wounded is more like it. Yet restoration is at the very core of salvation. It's almost like we must sneak salvation back into the churches.

NOTE an effective progression here might be to express the balance of compassion for people and commitment to truth. COMPASSION FOR PEOPLE is experienced when you: 1. Go to him only after you look at yourself (Gal 6:1, 7). 2. Go to him personally-(Matthew 18:15). 3. Go to him for what's best for him/her. The word restore has to do with mending that which is broken or putting something back that was out of joint.

NOTE it is not "rebuke" him or "reject" him, but restore such a one. Restoring a brother or sister is like bringing back to them the practical application of salvation to their souls. It's being a friend. A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you've forgotten the words!
RESTORATION requires that you be like Jesus-full of grace and truth-have a compassion for people and commit to the Truth! Start with Grace and Side with the Truth!

No doubt there are all kinds of relationships around you who are candidates for a rescue using the spirit of restoration. As you are aware, you will find yourself saving lives wherever you go.

The most common straying and the most strategic restoration revolve around the same issue-a personal focus on your relationship with Jesus. Paul was concerned when he wrote to the Corinthians: "I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, that your minds might be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus." That is the ultimate straying-leaving Jesus out of your life equation.

Therefore, the most important thing you can do to restore someone is to reintroduce him back into a relationship with Jesus. This relationship may begin at any level-seeking, walking with or loving Jesus. Just encourage them to get to know Jesus without any religious baggage. It's Jesus plus nothing!

James 5:1-18

When I look at these 18 verses as a whole, it seems to be moving in one direction-we must pray (13). Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. The primary purpose of prayer is to exercise TRUST in the Lord. It's interesting to note that in the case of nearly two-thirds of the prayers offered in the bible, the people praying already knew the answer but were praying anyway. Praying is trusting! When you pray, you are bending your heart along with your knee toward the Lord saying that you are trusting in Him for whatever it is that you are bringing before Him. 

Here James is exhorting the believers who are trusting in something other than God or doing things in response to their life conditions other than trust. Let's look at each one: 1-Why pray (trust in God) when you can trust in your own riches? 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

There is a horrendous responsibility on those who are rich. First of all, because of their riches it makes it impossible to get into the kingdom of God. Their riches can buy people, places and things for their enjoyment. This then leads toward trusting in those riches. Fortunately, God can do the impossible, so He makes it possible for rich people to be able to put their trust in Him rather than in their riches. Instead of just enjoying their people, places and things amassed by their riches, they learn to use these riches for the kingdom and to meet the needs of those God puts in their paths.

NOTE James says that those riches will rot, be devoured and your precious things will rust, because you have stored up for yourselves your treasures. What good is it if a man gains the whole world and loses his soul?

Secondly, the rich tend to treat poorly those who are not rich. James points out that those who work for the rich will someday testify as to how they were treated. To be skimpy in what is paid, to withhold pay over something petty, to demand something for so very little; it's like committing a fraud against these people. James says, "You have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter." You have lifted your lifestyle to the greatest luxury on the backs of people you have treated poorly or wrongfully.

This reminds me of the well-known text in I Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

2-Why pray (trust in God) when you can worry with impatience? 7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. James urges those who are impatiently stewing in their worries to pay attention to how life works. Check out the farmer. The farmer waits! The Lord will come through on your behalf and you must wait.

3-Why pray (trust in God) when you can complain against one another? 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. Impatience and worry will inevitably produce a constant flow of complaining. NOTE the examples: 1. Of the prophets who endured. 2. Of Job's endurance with a great outcome. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy and NOTE Jesus, the Judge, is standing right at your door listening to all of your complaints and stewing.

4-Why pray (trust in God) when you can make deals (swear oaths) that trick people into something you want? 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
YOU MUST TURN TO PRAYER-trusting the Lord in the midst of your troubles. 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises [Even if you are not in trouble and are cheerful, still turn to prayer and sing praises.]. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

NOTE the connection between sickness and confessing your sins. There is a psycho-spiritual-physical dynamic within each of us. Sins will affect your psyche and your physical health as well. So, make it a habit of confessing your sins (being open about your life) to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. NOW HOW MIGHT THIS HAPPEN? By paying attention to the 3 habits of walking with Jesus, walking with others and waiting for Jesus to lead out. These habits present the perfect opportunity for you to be open and honest with someone you trust.

NOTE "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" statement. It is not the techniques of prayer (how or when you pray), but the emphasis is upon who is praying-a righteous man. When you are walking with Jesus and doing what He would do-walking, loving and thinking like Jesus, you are a righteous man/woman who has the ear and heart of Jesus in all you think and do and ask. So, pray!