BRIGHT MORNING STAR

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS- “O HOLY NIGHT DIVINE WHEN THE STARS WERE BRIGHTLY SHINING”

“I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” Rev. 22:16

We’ve all felt it; the thick darkness of the night. When one was in their unrenewed state; they could look forever and feel the dark, disordered and the deluded. Night was a hopeless, lifeless, breathless blanket all meant to smother. But then the kindness of our savior appeared and dispelled the night! O night divine! For He is the morning star! The star that announces to the night that light is approaching! Christ comes to put to an end to our endless night! Our Aijeleth Shahar! (star of the morning in Ps.22) The morning star always shines brightest when the darkness is about to dissipate and the day is about to break. He comes as “the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings”. He comes as the herald of the Dawn. He becomes our Star and our Sun in the spiritual sky. “He comes to usher in the unclouded and eternal glories of the everlasting kingdom.”

(Clark) O how divine the night becomes when the day star appears! Star shine in the darkness when there is no other light to cheer us and they serve to regulate our seasons. Christ becomes our guide in the storms of night! “He is the revelator of great unseen realities being the harbinger of the day!” (Gill) This star charts our course early as well as late all the days of our lives. It is the light to see with when we are faced with blindness, our guide when the way is hindered. “He will be the eternal pledge and joy of a life that will be for ever young, of energies that will accumulate without end, of a service before the throne that will always deepen in its ardor and its triumph, of discoveries in the knowledge of the Eternal which will carry the experience of the blessed from glory to glory in a succession that cannot close.”( Moule)

And if that isn’t enough He becomes a flood of light upon us. In the Bible Illustrator it says; “His lustre cannot now be withdrawn, nor can men refuse to open their eyes to its presence. He is the Morning Star of all humanity, the brightest light that has ever dawned upon the world — that guides us onwards to the eternal day. He abides a steady, ever-shining light. All others are flickering torches, throwing a momentary and misleading glare, then waning and dying out.” O NIGHT DIVINE!

Enjoy the Advent Season when all around us is His light!

CHRISTMAS MYSTERY

1 Tim.3:16 – And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

There is something amazingly mysterious about the birth of God’s only begotten Son. As Augustine constantly preached, “He was born of a human mother without a human father, He was born of the heavenly Father in eternity without a mother”. The birth of God’s only Son, who has existed long before the virgin conception and birth, is the greatest of all mysteries. The eternal birth and generation of the Son of God is even harder to fathom than the virgin birth of the Son of Man. How could someone who has always existed be begotten? How could a woman without a human mate conceive and have a Child? Both are beyond human reason and are stumbling blocks to the unrenewed mind. Never the less, I believe God’s only begotten Son was carried in the womb of a virgin teen aged jewish girl, was born in an animal stable, lived a sinless life, and died an unjust death to redeem me from my sin. Great is the mystery of Christmas. Here are some thoughts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on this Christmas mystery.

“Holy theology arises from knees bent before the mystery of the divine child in the stable. Without the holy night, there is no theology. “God is revealed in flesh,” the God-human Jesus Christ — that is the holy mystery that theology came into being to protect and preserve. How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat, ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! Its sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend, and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery. This and nothing else, therefore, is what the early church meant when, with never flagging zeal, it dealt with the mystery of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ…. If Christmas time cannot ignite within us again something like a love for holy theology, so that we—captured and compelled by the wonder of the manger of the son of God—must reverently reflect on the mysteries of God, then it must be that the glow of the divine mysteries has also been extinguished in our heart and has died out.”

So this Christmas I am going to drink from the Christmas cup of theology. This is where my life begins, this is where I choose to stay.

THE TERROR OF THE MANGER

Matt.2:1-3 – Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

The weakness of God always defeats the power of the most powerful men and empires. Think about it, Herod and his soldiers fell before the power of the manger. Rome itself, ultimately fell before the manger and the cross. God has hidden His omnipotent power behind the weakness of the cross. His weakness destroys the power of this age. Today’s scripture says that all Jerusalem was troubled at the news of Christ’s birth. For those who have eyes to see, they tremble in godly fear before the manger, the lost lash out in fear trying in vain to stop the kingdom of God. Here is how Bonhoeffer describes the powerful in this world and their response to the cross and the manger.

“For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged…”

In today’s world, not much has changed. The powerful and the self important ignore the cross and the manger as they go about their daily agenda. They may give lip service to some belief In God and may even attend a church but their hearts are far away from the cross. They may have some sort of Christmas celebration but the message of the manger is far away. Only the humble can bow before the manger and only the broken can yield to the cross. This Christmas season let’s take time to humble ourselves before the Lord and His revelation of Himself in the birth of His Son.

OXEN AND DONKEYS

Isa.1:3 – An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.

What an amazing verse of scripture. According to Isaiah the ox and the donkey had more sense than God’s people. Isaiah said that the ox knew his owner. That is huge!! Many of us don’t realize that we are owned by God. We are His purchased possession, we are no longer our own. This basic revelation changes everything. It changes the purpose of our life and brings tremendous peace. After all, if we belong to God then nothing can touch us. Next, he said that the donkey knew his master’s manger. The donkey knew where his home was, he would never be foolish enough to wander off, he would stay at his master’s home, the place of protection and provision. Several years go I began to write a poem every Christmas. Here is my poem for Christmas 2018.

THE OX KNEW HIS MASTER

Isa.1:3 – An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.

The ox knew his master

The donkey knew his home

The sheep bowed in reverence

These beasts would never roam

The Creator born among them

Their feeding trough for His birth

Just a manger and a stable

To cloak heaven’s priceless worth

Nothing could be stranger

Who could ever ever understand

The drama was now unfolding

Creator God had become a man

The angels they were singing

Their voices piercing the sky

The heavens were announcing

This Infant King was born to die

Eternal drama was performing

Before an ox and a lamb

Eternal generation quite astounding

From a virgin comes a Man

Augustine had an interesting twist on today’s verse. He viewed it as prophetic. He saw in this a glimpse of the Lord being born in a stable among His creatures. Think about that, there was no room in the Inn because no one knew who He was. Life went on as normal, the world was clueless about the birth of the King. Is it possible that the creatures knew Who He was? Mark said that when Jesus was in the wilderness fasting for forty days He was with the wild beasts. Creation recognized the Master but His own people couldn’t, they were blinded by their sin. As the world passes by the stable and manger, caught up in the business of the season, I want to take my cue from an ox and a donkey. I want to honor my owner and bow at His manger.

CHRISTMAS TREASURE

Lk.6:20 – And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”.

How do you measure a really good Christmas? Is it the haul of presents and gift cards you got, the family reunions over holiday celebrations, or the bonus check at work? Obviously gift cards and prizes don’t last, the thrill is over pretty quick. The bonus usually disappears in the black hole of Christmas bills, and family time isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. Maybe the mystique of Christmas is much deeper than carols and candy canes, sleigh rides or sitting on Santa’s lap. Maybe its about the Savior’s birth and why He came, to restore man to a relationship of intimacy with God. Maybe Christ Himself in us is the true measure of a really good Christmas. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison in Germany in WWII because of his faith in God. He wrote a letter to his fiancée from prison during Christmas season that speaks volumes about the true measure of Christmas time. Here is a portion of that letter.

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: “We’re beggars; it’s true.” The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth. I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: “We’re beggars; it’s true.” The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”

Amazing, “I think we are going to have an exceptionally good Christmas”. How could anyone have an exceptional Christmas, all alone in prison, separated from their loved ones? The answer is simple, we are not alone, we are never alone. Bonhoeffer believed that in the midst of horrible circumstances what really matters in life becomes more precious and even more real. So if you are going through some unusually tough time this Christmas, take Bonhoeffer at his word, “The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”

NOT EATING AND DRINKING

Rom.14:17 – for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This verse sums up the Christian life. Paul is adamant, the kingdom of God is not about a system of rules and religious observances. The kingdom of God is spiritual and closely related to the Holy Spirit. The book of Romans has a theme connected to the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Being declared righteous by faith in the sacrificial death of Christ opens the kingdom of God up to us. Peace with God, peace in our own life, and peace with others is the fruit of the righteousness of God in our lives. Having been justified by faith we have peace with God. Joy is also the fruit of being right with God. It is in access to the kingdom of God that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and our joy begins to overflow. Here is how Matthew Henry describes this verse.

“Righteousness, peace, and joy, are very comprehensive words; and each of them includes much, both of the foundation and the superstructure of religion. Might I limit the sense of them, it should be thus:—As to God, our great concern is righteousness—to appear before him justified by the merit of Christ’s death, sanctified by the Spirit of his grace; for the righteous Lord loveth righteousness. As to our brethren, it is peace—to live in peace and love, and charity with them, following peace with all men: Christ came into the world to be the great peace-maker. As to ourselves, it is joy in the Holy Ghost—that spiritual joy which is wrought by the blessed Spirit in the hearts of believers, which respects God as their reconciled Father and heaven as their expected home. Next to our compliance with God, the life of religion consists in our complacency in him; to delight ourselves always in the Lord. Surely we serve a good Master, who makes peace and joy so essential to our religion. Then and then only we may expect peace and joy in the Holy Ghost when the foundation is laid in righteousness.”

Stepping into the kingdom of God by faith is what the book of Romans is all about. Today you and I have access into this kingdom life. We can step into the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Lord, being filled repeatedly with the Holy Spirit.

THE PRECIOUS HOLY SPIRIT

John 14:16,17 – I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

I’ll never forget that first night I was touched by the Holy Spirit. I was actually attending my very first Bible study. It was in an upstairs apartment over a Pizza Parlor on Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans. I had been invited by some street preachers the week before and found myself in a room full of missionaries headed to Central America. These were the Jesus freak variety of street preachers, full of the Holy Spirit, and obviously unashamed of the power of God. I remember them singing in other languages for an extended period of time, the more they sang the more the room filled with an atmosphere I had never felt before. They seemed to stop singing on cue and an invitation was given, “whoever wants more of Jesus, step into the center of the room”. The simple invitation was given by a gentle giant of a man who seemed to be their leader. I found myself in the middle of the room, overwhelmed with the incredible presence of the Lord. My life was being changed, marked forever by the touch of God.

That was my first encounter with the Holy Spirit, thankfully it wasn’t my last. That first encounter was in the summer of 1973, fast forward to the summer of 1994 and I was now pastoring Victory Fellowship in the New Orleans metro area. Sixteen years of pastoring had taken a toll on my spiritual condition. I had become thirsty and dry and was now struggling, just trying to pastor my church. The problem seems quite obvious in retrospect, I had forgotten the importance of the Holy Spirit. Not only was my church dry, I was dry. I had forgotten how to receive, honestly I was unaware of my need to receive from the Lord. I was considering stepping out of the ministry for the first time in my life. That’s when my second visitation came, I was about to be filled again with the Holy Spirit. Rumors of revival were everywhere that summer, I was at the place where I was open to receive a touch from the Lord.

After overcoming my stubborn resistance to revival in a package I was unfamiliar with, I went to some meetings in Rockwall, Texas. After sitting in services for a week I reluctantly answered an altar call for pastors. The next thing I knew I was caught up in that same presence I had felt in that strange Bible study so many years before. The Holy Spirit fell on me that day and changed everything again. First, I learned how to receive. Next, I fell in love with ministry again. To my surprise, that same presence that fell on me in Texas visited my church that next Sunday. Almost twenty five years have passed since that awakening in my life in 1994. That same presence is in our church today. Honestly, I couldn’t continue another day without Him.

TEARS THAT AVAIL

Behold, he prayeth.” —Acts 9:11

Prayer gets God’s attention. This simple three word verse speaks volumes about the Lord. The Lord was calling Ananias to reach out and pray for the Pharisee from Tarsus. This would have been unthinkable for Ananias but those three words stood out, “Behold, he prayed”. Ananias was wary about visiting Paul until the Lord told him Paul was praying. Paul had just been awakened and his first recorded action was to pray.

Sometimes it seems we are so overwhelmed that we don’t even have the capacity to pray. That’s when the supernatural element of prayer kicks in and our prayers take on new power. We may be only able to muster a groan and some tears but the Holy Spirit energizes those groans into prevailing prayer. It’s when we are at our weakest that the strength of the Lord begins to shine. As Paul said later in his life in Romans 8:26 – “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Here are some thoughts from Spurgeon on the prayers of the Spirit.

“Prayers are instantly noticed in heaven. The moment Saul began to pray the Lord heard him. Here is comfort for the distressed but praying soul. Oftentimes a poor broken-hearted one bends his knee, but can only utter his wailing in the language of sighs and tears; yet that groan has made all the harps of heaven thrill with music; that tear has been caught by God and treasured in the lachrymatory of heaven. “Thou puttest my tears into thy bottle,” implies that they are caught as they flow. The suppliant, whose fears prevent his words, will be well understood by the Most High. He may only look up with misty eye; but “prayer is the falling of a tear.” Tears are the diamonds of heaven; sighs are a part of the music of Jehovah’s court, and are numbered with “the sublimest strains that reach the majesty on high.” Think not that your prayer, however weak or trembling, will be unregarded. Jacob’s ladder is lofty, but our prayers shall lean upon the Angel of the covenant and so climb its starry rounds. Our God not only hears prayer but also loves to hear it.”

Remember what the Lord told Paul when he felt he was at his weakest, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”. Maybe you feel like you are done, that’s okay, the Lord is just now getting started.

NONCONFORMIST

Rom.12:1,2 – Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

One of the ways hippies were described in the 60’s was with the term “non-conformist”. The hippie culture prided itself in not fitting into the system or culture of the day. They actually became a counter culture. Actually the thing they were trying to avoid is what they became. Their nonconformity just became conformity to a new system and culture. In today’s passage Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world. In other words, don’t be molded into the shape of worldliness. He was actually describing a true worshipper. Worshipping God from the heart destroys the possibility of being molded into this world’s image. Here is how Barclay describes this verse.

“True worship is the offering to God of one’s body, and all that one does every day with it. Real worship is not the offering to God of a liturgy, however noble, and a ritual, however magnificent. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God….This, Paul goes on, demands a radical change. We must not be conformed to the world, but transformed from it…. The word he uses to be conformed to the world is suschematizesthai; its root is schema, which means the outward form that varies from year to year and from day to day. A man’s schema is not the same when he is seventeen as it is when he is seventy; it is not the same when he goes out to work as when he is dressed for dinner. It is continuously altering. So Paul says, “Don’t try to match your life to all the fashions of this world; don’t be like a chameleon which takes its color from its surroundings.”

There is only one way to avoid conformity and that is supernatural transformation. Being transformed is the work of the Holy Spirit. He actually begins to transform us into a different image, the image of Jesus Christ. How does this happen in our lives? It all boils down to yielding. Present your whole self to God, that is where the miracle will begin.

HARMONY OF LOVE

Ps.133:1-3 – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Let’s face it, all of us are looking for happiness and contentment in life. I guess where we differ is in our search for this blessedness. Today’s scripture can help point us in the right direction. In this Psalm of David we find direction to this life of happiness. David says that we can find it in the most unexpected place, he says we find it in the harmony of the Spirit found in the body of Christ. Rather than in independence and doing our own thing there is a place of freedom and blessedness found only in the community of the body of Christ. There is actually a flow of love amongst His people that flows from the Father and the Son right through His church. David also called this the place of commanded blessing. Here are some thoughts from Matthew Henry on today’s verse.

“There, where brethren dwell together in unity, the Lord commands the blessing, a complicated blessing, including all blessings. It is God’s prerogative to command the blessing, man can but beg a blessing. Blessings according to the promise are commanded blessings, for he has commanded his covenant for ever. Blessings that take effect are commanded blessings, for he speaks and it is done. They are everlastingly blessed. The blessing which God commands on those that dwell in love is life for evermore; that is the blessing of blessings. Those that dwell in love not only dwell in God, but do already dwell in heaven….. Those that live in love and peace shall have the God of love and peace with them now, and they shall be with him shortly, with him for ever, in the world of endless love and peace.”

Church has its share of detractors. I can’t even begin to count the times I have heard people say they don’t believe in the organized church. From the Lord’s perspective that is like saying you don’t believe in Him. After all, church is why He became a man and why He died. I love His imperfect church, it is the place where He pours out His oil of love, it is the place of absolute blessedness.