How it Really Happened – The Birth of Christ as the Bible Tells It

I appreciate movies on the life of Christ.  Movies like “The Nativity”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, & “The Gospel of John” may be a bit cheesy but they can make the Biblical narrative come more alive.  But as good as they may (or may not) be, we don’t want to get our understanding of the life of Christ from a movie.  They’re not exactly three wise mentrue to the Bible and tend to deviate from the chronology of events as they happened.  We want to know how it really happened!  Surprisingly, there’s a large portion of the Church that’s still pretty fuzzy about how the events of Jesus’ birth unfolded.  There are a lot of misconceptions.  So with the Christmas season here, I thought I’d write a short blog on how the events ACTUALLY happened, as told by the Bible.

It happened (in order) like this:

Luke 1

Zacharias and his wife receive word from the angel Gabriel that they’re going to have a baby boy.  This boy will be the forerunner who prepares the way of YAWHEH (Luke 1:1-25)

The angel Gabriel visits an obscure teenage girl in Nazareth months later, telling her that she will give birth to the Son of God.  She should call His name “Jesus”. (Luke 1:26-37)

Mary leaves Galilee and visits her relative Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist.  When they see each other they rejoice and Mary sings the famous “Magnificat”.  (Luke 1:38-55)

Mary stays 3 more months with Elizabeth after she arrives and most likely sees the birth of John the Baptist, her Son’s forerunner. (Luke 1:56)

John the Baptist is named by Zacharias as his mouth is opened and He prophesies about the coming redemption.  Mary was likely there to hear it.  (Luke 1:57-80)

Matthew 1:18-25

Mary returns up north to Nazareth after being 3 months pregnant.  She is discovered to be with Child though she’s never been with a man.  Joseph considers writing papers of divorce in secret but while he thinks about these things, an angel appears to him and tells him to “marry Mary” and to name their Son Jesus.  (Matthew 1:18-25)

Luke 2:1-38

Caesar Augustus issues a decree that all should be registered in their hometown.  Mary and Joseph have endured 6 months of reproach in Nazareth.  Mary is now almost due to have their firstborn Son.  They travel about 7 days to the south and arrive at Bethlehem.  As the city is crowded with everyone to be registered, Mary’s time for delivery comes and she gives birth to Jesus in a cold stable since there’s no room for them in the town.  (Luke 2:1-7)

Some time after Jesus is born (probably minutes or hours) a group of heavenly hosts appear to Shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem.  These shepherds were likely keeping the flocks that were used to offer sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem.  After angelandshepherdshearing the angels, the shepherds go to Bethlehem and find Jesus in a feed trough.  After seeing the sign they begin telling the story to everyone in the area.  (Luke 2:8-20)

After Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph seek better accommodations.   Eight days after Jesus is born, He is circumcised in Bethlehem.  (Luke 2:21)

Thirty three days after Jesus is circumcised (Leviticus 12) Joseph and Mary travel to Jerusalem with their 6-week old baby.  The journey is about two miles.  After arriving at the Temple, they meet two elderly people who declare Jesus to be the Messiah and prophesy regarding Jesus’ ministry.  (Luke 2:22-38)

Matthew 2

After their stay in Jerusalem to present Jesus in the Temple, Mary & Joseph return to Bethlehem and find a house to stay in.  While in Bethlehem, a group of “wise men” from the east come to Jerusalem.  They tell Herod that a king has been born in his region.  They’ve seen His star and have come to worship Him.  After Herod gets more details he sends the wise men to Bethlehem, telling them to bring him word when they find Jesus.  Upon arrival they find Jesus in the house with Mary and worship Him.  After giving him costly gifts, they return to the East by a different route to avoid Herod.  (Matthew 2:1-12)

The night after the wise men visit, Joseph receives an alarming dream from an angel telling him to take Mary and Jesus to the land of Egypt to avoid Herod’s wicked plot to kill Jesus.  Joseph leaves that night and flees to Egypt.  The trip probably takes a few weeks.  (Matthew 2:13-15)

Herod realizes the wise men aren’t coming back.  In a blind rage he issues a decree for any children under the age of 2 to be murdered.  The city of Bethlehem probably loses 20 to 30 children in the massacre.  (Matthew 2:16-18)

After an unknown time (2 years?) Herod dies.  An angel visits Joseph in Egypt telling him it’s safe to return to the land of Israel.  (Matthew 2:19-21)

The family seeks to return to Bethlehem in the south but receive word from an angel that Herod’s wicked son Archelaus is reigning in his place.  They reluctantly return up north to the town of Nazareth where Jesus spends most of His earthly life.  (Matthew 2:22-23)

“And the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” -Luke 2:40

December 2014 Newsletter – Indestructible Joy

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” –Luke 2:9-11

We should constantly be fighting for the-nativity-large-image-zoomjoy in our lives.  Not a joy that dissipates as our circumstances change but a joy that is indestructible, a joy that cannot be affected by what we have or do not have.  Indeed, this is what determines the spiritual health of every believer.  Are they happy in God?  Is the joy of the Lord their strength?

In a sense, all of our life could be defined as a battle to enter into indestructible joy.  We crave happiness, fulfillment, and safety.  We long for our hearts to be glad in God, though we may not have this kind of language for it.  The good news of the gospel is that this longing can be fulfilled.  In Christ our joy can finally become complete.  He Himself is joy incarnate and though He was a Man acquainted with sorrows, He was also the happiest Person that ever lived.  Where did His joy come from?  It came from the same place it comes for us: fellowship with the Father.  Psalm 16 tells us that “In His presence is fullness of joy”.  Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus was “anointed with the oil of gladness more than His companions”.  This is the joy of the Lord, the joy of Jesus.  It comes from abiding in God’s love.  It comes from walking in wholehearted obedience.  It comes from hearing the voice of God.  And it’s available for us if we really want it.  Jesus wants to impart this joy to us.  He longs for our hearts to be happy in God.  As we enter into another Christmas season, let’s remember to tap into this joy.  The simplest way is to set apart time to gaze at the mystery of His birth and to commit to wholehearted obedience.  We want the same good news that was announced to the shepherds 2,000 years ago to be alive in our hearts.

One cause of rejoicing this Christmas is that my Dad is still here!  Loretta & I were able to visit him and my Mom for Thanksgiving and we had a wonderful time.  We celebrated together by opening Christmas presents (We celebrated early since we’ll be in KC for Christmas), watching “It’s a wonderful life”, and stuffing ourselves with stuffing.  I was impressed by the nursing home my dad is living in.  It doesn’t feel institutional and the staff is always happy and helpful.  For where my Dad is at right now, it’s a wonderful place.  In fact, it’s such a large facility that many families celebrate the Holidays with their loved ones on the campus.  That’s exactly what we did.  All of our relatives came to my Dad’s place for Thanksgiving and we’re continuing to pray that his strength returns and that he fulfills all the days God has apportioned for him.

Here in Kansas City, everyone is gearing up for the annual “onething” conference at the end of the year.  One special note of excitement is that the world renowned evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke, will be joining us this year.  He has ministered for decades in third world countries and his ministry has touched hundreds of thousands of people.  But most importantly, he’s a humble man whose heart burns with love for Jesus.  All of the staff at the International House of Prayer is looking forward to hearing him speak.  You can actually join with us online.  I believe the web stream is free.  The conference will be from December 28 – 31st.  By going to our website, “ihopkc.org” you can watch the sessions and see what Loretta & I are doing.  Merry Christmas!

The Remedy For Deception in the Church

church building

100 years ago William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said this about the twentieth century:

“The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, and heaven without hell.”

We are now living in those days.  Everywhere one looks there’s a new doctrine that excuses people from living the true gospel.  Praise God, there’s still a righteous remnant in the land who hasn’t bowed their knee to Baal.  But still the danger is real.  This was the primary thing Jesus warned us of in the end-times: “Take heed that no one deceives you (Matt 24:4).”  

One of the worst things about being deceived is that you don’t know you’re deceived. You think you’re walking in the truth, when in reality, you’re not.  How do we know whether we’re walking in the truth or not?  How can we be sure we’re on the path that leads to life?

The simple answer is the Bible.  Despite the sinking sands around us, God’s Word is truth.  It has continued to be the anchor for the Church throughout the centuries.  Yet even if we’re in the Bible on a regular basis there is still opportunity for deception.   And this is where many believers stumble and believe a lie:

Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” – James 1:21-25

We must do what it says.  If we hear the Word but don’t obey it we deceive ourselves.  Sadly, this is happening in the Church now more than ever.  There are many worship leaders, pastors, and prophetic leaders who read, “take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life”, but don’t do what it says.  They drink too much alcohol and give their bodies over to drunkenness.  They read passages that say “The lamp of the body is the eye.  If your eye is good your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness”, but at night they binge on watching television shows and movies that grieve the Holy Spirit.  They hear passages saying, “Take heed what you hear”, but they indulge in worldly music that defiles them as they listen to it.

It almost seems they are living two different lives.  In the ministry they are anointed and sincere.  But in their personal lives they are grieving the Holy Spirit.  Their lifestyle choices are shallow which lead them to watch questionable things, listen to questionable things, and talk about questionable things.  But in the ministry they are reaching for God.

How do we reconcile such things?  How can we be reaching for God but still dabbling in compromise?  How can we be reading the Word but not doing what it says?  The answer is, we can’t.  Those who listen to the Word but don’t do what it says deceive themselves.  Over time, they become cynical towards the Church.  They’ve “been there, done that” and so they feel relieved from the responsibility of focusing.  Their lack of follow through after reading the Scriptures causes them to believe they’re walking in holiness, when they’re not.  The areas in the Bible they disobey have created “blind spots” in their spiritual vision, though they don’t know it.

This is when the fellowship of believers should come in.  We ALL have blind spots, every one of us.  Our fellow believers are meant to see these blind spots and kindly point them out to us in love (Eph 4:14).  Unfortunately now days, that’s pretty rare.  We’re too kind to confront.  We’d rather stay comfortable and not disturb anything.  But if we all stay comfortable how will we be freed from these blind spots?

What we need is a few courageous men and women who speak up.  But there’s one important thing these courageous men and women need to learn first: compassion.  If we’re beating people on the head with Bibles everywhere we go, not much is going to happen.  In fact, truth without mercy is a sure way to make things worse.  God usually brings these courageous men and women through a refining process before He uses them to speak the truth.  They must first learn their own weakness & depravity.  They must first learn that without the grace of God they’re nothing.  Then, once the refining process is complete they are ready to speak the truth in love.

The remedy for deception in the Church has these two components.  The first component is 100% obedience.  We sincerely seek to obey everything the Bible says, even the things that are difficult.  This requires us to read our Bible on a regular basis.  We regularly open the Word of God and then we commit to obey it.

The second component is the fellowship of believers.  We make a commitment to receive and give each other the truth in love.  We call each other higher.  We refuse to let our friends off the hook with disobedience.  We stand for holiness when it’s unpopular.  And we kindly address the blind spots we see in love.

It will take a lot of courage for the Church to be freed from deception.  It’s roots go a lot deeper than we realize.  But it is attainable and Jesus has promised a reward for all who overcome it (Rev 2:7, 26).  Let’s do this thing together.

 

November Newsletter

I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  -Phil 3:12-14

Life is a race, a short race of 80 fall picyears or so in order to win a prize.  Often we forget that we’re running.  We get caught up in responsibilities and cares and lose sight of the purpose of it all: this short time frame is preparing us to reign with Jesus for eternity.   Every decision, every act of our will, every word and deed, will be the gift of love we offer to Jesus when we stand before him. And the way we choose to run determines our rewards forever.  That’s the way the early church viewed life.

It’s a provoking idea to know that many saints have already completed their race.  They finished well.  The cloud of witnesses cheer us on, eagerly watching our stories.  Even the angels watch with curiosity.  But ultimately Jesus Himself watches, waiting at the end to reward our labors.  Will we be satisfied with the way we ran when we stand before Him?  Will we hear those precious words, “Well done good and faithful servant”?  This is our goal, our ambition, our purpose.  We want to live for Jesus.  We want eternity stamped on our eyeballs so that everything we see is seen through this lens.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith…(Hebrews 12:1).” 

He is the goal of life.  Our hearts will burst with joy as we reign with Him forever on the earth.  We will see His face and hear the tone of His voice.  Our bodies will be like His body without fatigue, pain, sickness, or decay.  All will be right.  All will be bright.  Every tear will be wiped away and we’ll sing songs of worship to Him together.  It’s quite a dramatic story.  Glory to God!

Loretta & I have been provoked by My Dad’s story lately.  When he was 18 years old the Lord spoke to him saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  He’s done that valiantly.  Through all the sickness and ups and downs of life he has faithfully followed Jesus.  And he’s not done yet!  The latest CT scan showed that the tumor is stable so he has the opportunity to regain his strength and bounce back.  This is really good news, though the best news would have been that the tumor shrank.  We’re praying that the tumor continues to remain stable (or shrinks!) and that he is able to walk and stand again on his own.  Thank you to all who’ve prayed with us.  Here in Kansas City things are going well.  The KC Royals almost won the World Series, the prayer room is full of faithful intercessors, and our house group is growing closer together.  We’re actually really excited about the direction our house group is going.  We’ve decided to study the Gospels together again and are going to be going through the events of Jesus in chronological order.  This will probably take 3 years or so to finish but we’re in it for the long run.  In our personal life, wisdom is the main thing we’ve been asking for.  We want clarity on the specific work He’s given to us in this season.  We can only run our race well when there’s clarity about what He’s called us to do.  Right now, we feel the simple need to be faithful in small things.  Showing up on time, staying engaged during intercession sets, discipling young people, and stewarding our time better.  These are simple things we want to get better at so when we stand before Jesus, we have confidence that we ran well.  The voice of Jesus calls us onward and upward.  Let’s not grow weary!

10 Words of Encouragement For the Sick:

sunshine rays
1)  Never Stop Believing for Your Healing – Jesus doesn’t want us to be sick.  Sickness entered the world as an enemy of God & one of the primary purposes for Jesus dying on the cross was to destroy the works of the enemy (1 John 3:8).  Therefore we should never believe the jargon that it’s God will for us to accept sickness.  Jesus healed everyone who came to Him and He is the same yesterday, today, & forever.  We should always press in for our physical healing, till our last breath.

2)  Pain Can Be Used as an Escort Deeper into God – Let’s not forget that pain can be used to transform us into the likeness of Jesus & gain us more eternal rewards.  It’s not God’s will that we’re sick, but sometimes He allows it.  While we’re pressing in for our external deliverance (physical healing), let’s not forget to press in for our internal deliverance (transformation/communion with Jesus).  Pain often causes us to see the lack of beauty in temporal things & calls us to reach for eternity.  The deepest fellowship with Jesus is often in the midst of pain.

3)  You Don’t Have to Choose Between the Two – #1 and #2 go together.  We’re meant to press in for both external and internal deliverance at the same time.  We don’t have to choose between our healing and our fellowship with Jesus.  Pursue both!

4)  The Exchange Rate is really High – For billions of years we’ll live in perfect peace & joy with God.  There will be no more pain, sorrow, crying, or death (Rev 21:4).  It will be easy to love God then.  Only now in this short time frame do we have the opportunity to love Jesus in the midst of pain.  When we choose Jesus in the midst of sickness we gain eternal rewards (2 Cor 4:16-18).  The eternal currency in our heavenly bank account is multiplied a hundred times every time we love Him in this age (Matt 19:29).

5)  God Doesn’t Change – Our circumstances don’t change who God is.  He is always the same & His Word is the anchor of reality.  No matter what we feel, God’s love is still full.  His power is still unlimited.  His wisdom is still perfect.  One of the most powerful things we can do during sickness is declare who He is.  When we choose to worship & declare the truths of Scripture, the manifold wisdom of God is being displayed to angels & demons in the spiritual realm (Eph 3:10).  God’s heart is moved.

6)  Sickness Doesn’t Mean You’re Out of God’s Will – Sickness doesn’t mean we did something wrong or are out of God’s will.  There are times that that happens but if we’re sincerely walking in obedience that isn’t something we have to worry about it. There are multiple passages in Scripture that show even mature, obedient Christians go through severe hardships (Job, SOS 5, John 16:33, etc).  Anyone who says otherwise isn’t reading their Bible right.

7)  Trust in God’s Sovereignty – The question, “If God is a good God, why does He allow bad things to happen?” has a simple answer: free will.  God doesn’t want robots in His kingdom.  He created humanity with a choice to obey Him & He refuses to take that privilege away.  Bad things happen because humanity chose to disobey God.  Abortion, sexual immorality, poverty, & sickness are all results of the fall.  They’re not a case against God’s goodness.  The better question is, “If God is a just God, why doesn’t He destroy everyone right away who choose to reject Him?”   We don’t deserve anything but the wrath of God.  It’s His mercy that we have breath every day.  We must continually guard our hearts from accusation.  Our trust in Him is the demonstration of our love for Him.

8)  The Comfort of the Cross – Corrie Ten Boom, who went through the holocaust, once said “there is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”  No matter how low circumstances get, Jesus went lower.  He can meet you in the pain.  Meditating on the cross where Jesus bore our sorrows & carried our grief’s can be a great comfort in the midst of sickness.  Even now, after the cross, He hurts more from our pain than we do.  In our affliction, He is afflicted (Isaiah 63:9).  We must remember that It costs Him more to allow painful things in our lives than it costs us.  He doesn’t despise the affliction of the weak.   He weeps with us.

9)  Remember to Laugh – The Bible says that “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones (Prov 17:22).”  Laughter is healthy.  When we remember that all things are working together for our good & that we’ll have a resurrected body forever, things don’t seem so grim.  These temporary pains are only a shadow in eternity so it’s right to rejoice.  Remember to laugh and enjoy the good things God gave you as much as you can.

10) Have Faith in God - Not a superficial faith that pretends everything is Ok when it’s not, but a faith that believes in Jesus’ power & words.  We must remember that Jesus is both able & willing to heal us.  Faith is the most important thing we need during sickness.  We must believe in His love, in His power, & in His wisdom.  We must step out of the boat onto the water with Jesus.  Even if we fall, He’ll be there to catch us.