Atheists and Christians have always disagreed. But now that difference has become more public. As in billboards.
During the holidays, the group American Atheists, www.atheists.org
put up a billboard in New York’s Time Square with a picture of Santa and Jesus along with the words, Keep the MERRY, Dump the MYTH.
Other billboards have also been placed by American Atheists and other groups that say things like, “I don’t need to have a higher power to have a higher purpose
,” (Freedom From Religion Foundation, www.FFRF.org
) and “Are you good without God? Millions are.”
(Chicago Coalition of Reason, www.SacramentoCoR.org
In response, the group Answers in Genesis, www.answersingenesis.org
has put up a billboard of their own, To all of our atheists friends: Thank God you’re wrong.”
The Catholic League got in the sign business too with their own billboard, You Know it’s Real. This Season Celebrate Jesus.
Some have called this communication back and forth between atheists and Christians a dialogue. Really? This is the dialogue you want to have? You can’t meet over a beer and discuss things rationally? You have to have a statement and a rebuttal with a billboard? This is not a dialogue. This is like that old Miller Lite commercial from the eighties with two groups of people in a bar yelling at each other, “Tastes Great!” “Less Filling!” No substance. No listening. Just getting your words in.
Call me mad, but I just think we can do better… as atheists and Christians.
Just five miles south of Jerusalem. Located in the Judean hills, lies a small town. At the time of Jesus’ birth, no more than 1,000 people called Bethlehem home. A place where shepherds watched their flocks and farmers tended their fields. Bethlehem was a humble city. One prophet called it a small village among all the people of Judah. (Micah 5:2b) Whether he meant to or not, the Episcopal Priest and poet cemented the phrase we sing every Christmas season, “O little town of Bethlehem.”
By today’s standards Bethlehem continues to remain small, not exceeding a population of 30,000. But its size means nothing compared to what happened there. Within the borders of this sleepy village God chose to do something great. Something that would change the world. This small village, this little town of Bethlehem, became the birthplace of the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
It’s not the things we do that make us great. It’s not the amount of money we make, the horses within our cars’ engines, the number of rooms in our houses, or how many friends we boast on our Facebook page. We can write books, sonnets, plays, and even a few songs that make the young girls cry. And while these can bring us fame and recognition, they can’t make us great.
In a world that values SUVs, big screen TVs and supersized meals, you may feel irrelevant, insignificant, even overlooked. But remember Bethlehem, a modest city tucked away in the hills of the Judean countryside. A place that would otherwise be unknown, not because anything the city did, but because of what God chose to do there. You too, can find value and significance. Because true greatness doesn’t come in the things we ourselves can do. I comes in allowing God to do for you what he did to Bethlehem; to place his Spirit within you, and have that greatness shine through.
Something to think about has you head into another week.
We all hope for something. We hope for a better job, a bright future for our children, early retirement, a long, rich life.
Did you know that when you hope, you are modeling God’s character?
Let’s take a look at the Christmas story as an incredible example of God’s hope.
By today’s standards, Mary is a girl. A teenager at best. Perhaps a high school student. She’s engaged to be married. She’s never been a wife. She’s never raised her own children.
Joseph is the man to whom she’s engaged. We don’t know much about him. He’s not a rich man. But a man with skill in a trade. A man who comes home and shakes the sawdust off his jeans and washes the sweat off his face. Who has callused hands from his work as a carpenter.
This is the couple chosen to raise the Son of God.
Not a King and Queen
Not the president and the first lady
Not William and Kate
Not even Brad and Angelina
Just ordinary Joseph and Mary.
This is the couple God has chosen. This is the couple in whom God has placed his hope; who will raise the Son of God, the Lion of Judah, the Savior of the world, Immanuel, God with Us.
A young girl who has no experience in raising a child herself. Whose child would be doing homework before she herself graduates high school. And some guy who, until an angel sets him straight, seriously considers walking out on her because the child she carries is not his own.
God certainly knows how to create a situation that requires hope. Not just a situation that requires Mary and Joseph to place their hope in God. But for God to place his hope in them.
And God places his hope in you as well. Every talent you possess, every day you have been given, is an opportunity for you to fulfill the hope God has placed in you.
Hope is not wishful thinking. It is trusting in the promise of God. That he has a future and a plan for you. God has placed his hope in you. What will you do with it? Something to think about as you begin your week.
Outside my church office is our kids playground. That playground is surrounded by a fence. We see fences lots of places; around gardens, schools, entire neighborhoods. We see fences around prisons.
Fences keep things that are on the inside in, and those things that are on the outside from getting in.
Just like the fence around our playground, most fences have a gate. If you control the gate, you control what can go in and out of your fenced area.
Jesus shared a story about a gate; a gate and two men. One man was rich. He lived in his house behind a gate. Everyday he sat at his table and ate an extravagant meal. The other man was a beggar who sat on the other side of the rich man's gate. The beggar woke up every morning to hunger. The gate between them was closed.
I think this gate symbolizes the rich man's heart. He could have helped the beggar at any time. But, like the gate, his heart was closed to helping others.
Take some time this week to think about the gates in your life. Is there someone to whom you need to offer forgiveness. Unlock the gate to your heart and let that forgiveness pour out. Is there someone or something in your life that needs to come in? Open up that gate and let it in.
I don't know what the situations in your life are but I do know this. You and only you control the gate to your heart. Isn't time to unlock some of those gates and enter into a life that God has prepared for you?
God does have a plan for you and he is ready to develop that plan for your life. But are you ready to be invested in? In order to discover God’s plan for your life you will need to make yourself right with God. Until you are ready, God will wait to make sure that the good work he puts in you will be received and utilized. Here are some things to think about as you enter step 3 of discovering God’s plan for your life.
GOD WILL INVEST IN YOU WHEN YOU ARE READY
God is ready and willing to invest in you… but when you are ready. Why would God set you out on a plan if you are not ready? We wouldn’t dare send a child off into the forest to go camping if they were not equipped. We wouldn’t even drop a child off the mall if they were not ready. God is not going to set your plan in motion until you’re ready to move on it.
This can be frustrating. You may know the plan God has for you but it’s not coming together like you think it should. That may be because you’re not ready for it.
Who is God going to invest in…the person who does not take the time to talk with God and listen, or the person who acknowledges that God is the one with the plan and is willing to listen and follow?
WHEN YOU ARE NOT RIGHT WITH GOD, YOU ARE NOT RIGHT WITH YOURSELF
John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian movement said, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God,” and “Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self.”
Calvin is saying, as we examine our own lives we see the need for God. And we can never truly know ourselves unless we begin to know God.
When we examine our lives, we’ll see that we are not perfect. God is the standard by which we measure ourselves. We don’t measure ourselves against each other. (God doesn’t grade on a curve.) We need God’s forgiveness. When we seek and receive God’s forgiveness, we’ll become right with God and right with ourselves.
God desires first a relationship with you. With that relationship in place, he will begin to develop it and you along with it.
IF YOU ARE RIGHT WITH GOD, YOU WILL BE RIGHT WITH OTHERS
Your plan includes more than yourself. Just like Nehemiah needed others to build the wall (See the story of Nehemiah here) you will need others to build your plans. Need a degree, you will need teachers. Want to build a company, you will need employees.
If you are not getting along with your spouse or significant other examine your relationship with God. You will find that when you work on your relationship with God, you will ultimately be repairing and building your relationship with others.
When you have healthy relationships, you will have the people and resources available to you to build your plan. Be right with God so you can be right with others. Let God help you build those relationships so you can work on his plan for you.
GOD WILL ACTIVATE YOUR PLAN WHEN YOU ARE PREPARED TO BEGIN IT
You will never be perfect. And you can’t wait until you’re perfect or feel completely ready before you try to carry out God’s plan for your life. But at the same time, you will not be able to pursue God’s plan for your life if you are not right with God.
Take some time to examine your relationship with God. Has he been speaking to you and you’re just not listening to him? Does he have a message that you need to hear? How do you feel about your own life? Are you down because you just can’t seem to get your plan in motion? Remember it’s not just your plan… it’s God’s plan for you. Work on your relationship with the One who has a plan for you. Your plan includes other people in your life. Do you know who they are? And if you do, is your relationship with them strong enough for them to invest in you?
God has a plan for you. It is for your good. It is because God is good. Go and get it.
Jen and I took a hot air balloon ride over Lake Tahoe. Just wanted to share it with all of you! :)
If you want to discover the plan God has for your life, pray for it before you look for it. Today we’ll take a look at four benefits of prayer. These four benefits come from the book, Hand Me Another Brick by Charles Swindoll.
PRAYER MAKES YOU WAIT
You have to stop what you’re doing in order to pray. (This is especially important if you’re driving.) Nehemiah prayed for four months after hearing the wall around Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt. It was obvious what needed to be done. But he still took the time to pray and seek wisdom in how to proceed.
Of course we can say a quick prayer in our head as we are completing a task. Nehemiah did as much when the king asked him what was on his heart. I’m talking about the type of prayer where we empty our minds of all things except for the voice of God. This kind of prayer keeps us from making quick decisions. It forces us to slow down and wait for God’s wisdom.
Waiting before acting does not represent a lack of faith. It is a sign of mature faith. Children don’t like to wait. They cry and act out if they don’t get what they want immediately. We teach children patience in order to help them mature. We need to be the same in our adult spiritual lives.
Don’t regret making a decision without prayer. Take the time. Wait. Pray.
PRAYER CLEARS YOUR VISION
Praying for God’s plan for you will make you think about God’s plan for you. You can’t move forward with a plan for your life if you don’t know what that plan is. It would be like a carpenter building furniture without knowing what their making. You need to have a clear vision of what you want to build before you can build it.
When you start praying to God to reveal his plan for you, you will begin to be more focused. You will start to discover ideas and ways to carry them out. When Nehemiah was asked by the King what he needed, he was able to do more than share his concern. Nehemiah had a clear vision for the solution. He requested letters for safe travel, permission for timber to build gates, and even had a timeline in mind for when he would return. It’s a good thing Nehemiah waited before going to the king. His plan was so well thought out he was able to make specific requests when asked what he needed.
PRAYER QUIETS YOUR HEART
In a true conversation, there is as much listening as there is speaking. In fact, listening is often more important. As the saying goes, the good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Prayer requires that we listen to what God is saying to us. The more we listen, the more our hearts will calm down.
Oftentimes when we go to God in prayer our hearts are filled with the noises of the world; fear, anger, worry, anxiety…It’s hard to hear God when there is so much noise in our hearts. But as we pray and focus on God, those things lose our attention. As the sounds of the world fade away, the voice of God begins to become more audible. It’s not that God’s voice wasn’t there. We just need to let those things go away. We need our hearts to be quiet so we can hear the message of God.
PRAYER ACTIVATES YOUR FAITH
One of the first things Nehemiah did confronted with the status of the wall was pray. He prayed continually. If Nehemiah had not prayed, he may have not thought the task was possible. Building a wall around a city? Needing permission from a king from another city to do it? Why would King Artexerxes, the king for whom Nehemiah worked want to make another city more fortified? It would take a lot of faith on Nehemiah’s part to seek permission to rebuild.
What do you want to build in your life? You need to have the faith to do it. Praying activates that faith. It can be like the pep talk a coach gives their team before the big game. You can’t open yourself up to God and not be changed.
EVERY JOURNEY MUST BEGIN WITH PRAYER
A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step. But a successful plan begins with prayer. As you journey toward your destination, don’t forget to stop and pray. Wait. You can’t move forward if you’re kneeling. Pray to clear your mind and receive God’s vision. Listen. You won’t hear God speaking if you’re doing all the talking or paying attention to the world’s bullying. Do this, and your faith will be activated so you will have the courage to do what you may previously thought was not possible.
When I was a teenager Twisted Sister came out with the song, “We’re not Gonna Take It.” The video started off with an overly aggressive father yelling at his son, "What do you want to do with your life?” The boy’s answer, “I wanna rock!”
It was a just a video but that line haunted me… “What do you want to do with your life?” Well? Do you know?
In the Bible we read about a man named Nehemiah who knew exactly how to answer that question. He discovered that the wall around the city of Jerusalem was in disrepair. The moment he discovered that, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He was going to lead the charge to rebuild the wall.
Today I want to share the first of four steps to discovering the plan that God has for you.
STEP ONE: BE PASSIONATELY PASSIONATE
When Nehemiah learned that the wall around Jerusalem needed repair he had a passionate response. He immediately sat down and wept. Then he mourned, fasted and prayed for weeks. People have strong reactions to the things they are passionate about.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
You constantly think about it.
When you are passionate about something it is always on your mind. Whether it’s a car you want to buy, a job you hope to get or that girl you want to date.
You will sacrifice comfort
Nehemiah gave up the comforts of his lifestyle of serving a king to go and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Missionaries give up hot showers. People in the military sacrifice time with their families. Public school teachers give up higher pay and more respect they could earn in the private sector to pursue their passion of teaching.
You will give your money
Everyone says that money is tight. And for most of us it is. And yet, we seem to have most of those things we desire. Jesus said in Matthew, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21. You want to know where your heart is? Look at your bank statement and see where your money is going.
You will give your time
Money may be valuable. But time seems to be the most prized possession we have. As a pastor, I find it easier to get people to donate money over donating their time.
Nehemiah could have just written a check and asked someone else to build the wall. He could have done fundraisers, spaghetti dinners and written articles on the tax benefits of making donations. But until someone took the time to pick up the stones and start stacking them together, there wasn’t going to be a wall.
Same goes for us. Want an education? You can save up all the money it takes to go to the best college in the world and earn a degree. You can save enough money to get two degrees. But until you invest the time to study and take the tests, you’re not going to get that diploma. An education takes more than money, it takes time.
You are self motivated
Nobody told Nehemiah he needed to rebuild the wall. He just did it. Nobody needs to remind you to do the things you love. Those things come naturally. You just do them.
You know what you’re passionate about. You think about it. You sacrifice for it. You give your money for it. And no one needs to tell you to do it. So what in your life fits all those criteria? Think about it. Because the answer to that, may lead you to the plan God has for you!
We're doing a sermon series on Nehemiah at my church, Trinity Presbyterian in West Sacramento. I put together this video as an intro to some of the sermons. What do you think? Video and music are from Planet Earth produced by the BBC.