Monday, December 28, 2009

God is our Shield


"He (God) holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones." Proverbs 2:7-8

Proverbs chapter 2 has three parts to it: One, the writer, known as "the Sage," encourages young people to seek wisdom and a relationship with God. Two, he encourages the development of moral sensitivity, or a conscience. Three, he encourages wise choices in our selection of friends, with the promise that with wise choices we will avoid evil and will be rewarded by God.

The problem is, how many of us consistently do all of these good things? Attaining Wisdom is a life-long pursuit. It involves hard work and consistent effort. It means we have to think, ask hard questions, study and always be open to learning. Sometimes it is exhausting, and when we fail it can be so frustrating. And, along the way, we often stumble and fall. The truth is, we sometimes pick the wrong friends, make bad choices, and get ourselves into trouble.

If we are not careful we can despair of ever living the righteous life that God wants for us to lead. The righteous life doesn’t mean a perfect life, it means a life that is living in the direction God wants it to go, being molded and shaped by God’s spirit and truth. To be righteous means we try to live as God wants us to, being shaped by the Bible and making ethical choices. For example, if we have the opportunity to make a lot of money fast but illegally, we will choose not to. Making money illegally or immorally is against God, so the righteous person won’t do it.

A young man was arrested for dealing illegal drugs. At the time of his arrest he had several thousand dollars stashed away. After his release from custody, and a stint at rehabilitation, he was going to go back to his stash and get it for himself. But, while he was in custody he began to realize that the money he had hidden was illegal and immoral. He made that money selling drugs to other children. His conscience began to develop to the point that he didn’t feel it was the right thing, the Christian thing, to enjoy the money that he had obtained immorally. He decided to let the money go, along with the friends and lifestyle from his drug-using and drug-selling days. That was a righteous decision.

Making righteous decisions is not easy. But there is good news for those trying to live righteously: we are never fully alone. Even if we stand alone, even if we stand apart from friends or classmates because we have different interests than they do, we are never truly alone. God holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless. We have God as our shield to help and protect us when we are trying to live righteously.

In ancient times warriors would carry a shield into battle. Defensively a shield protected a soldier from arrows or swords. He could hide behind his shield and protect his body from being hit. Offensively a soldier could use it to push against an enemy line or even strike an enemy soldier. It was an indispensable part of a soldier’s equipment.

This piece of military equipment is used as a metaphor for the kind of protection God offers us. God will protect us against attacks from enemies and he will go ahead of us to strike at the temptation waiting to engulf us.

Interestingly, the word used for shield actually means, resource, defined as "an inner power that helps one escape a fix." (Fox, 1:114). God is our resource to protect us and guide us as we seek to live righteously. He guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

How is God a shield or resource for us against evil companions or temptation to sin? One, remember God’s promise that he will never allow us to be tempted above what we can bear. (1 Cor.10:13). Secondly, the wise counsel of parents and spiritual friends is a valuable ally in finding the strength to do what is right. (Proverbs 27:9-20). Thirdly, having the Word of God in our hearts and trusting it above our own opinions is one of the greatest resources God gives us to shield us on the path of righteousness. (Proverbs 3:1,5).

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Soul Glorifies the Lord


The angel said to Mary, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary may not have felt highly favored at that moment, for the Bible says she was "greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be." I think we can excuse Mary’s disturbed state. Anyone of us would be deeply moved if an angel suddenly appeared and engaged us in conversation!

The angel continued, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." Since Mary was a young girl, engaged but not yet united to her husband, bewilderment and astonishment overwhelmed her.

"How will this be," she asked, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

May’s humble disposition can be seen in her response to the angelic announcement: "I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said."

Mary probably needed some assistance processing this unbelievable proclamation that she would be the mother of God’s son, so she rushed to her cousin Elizabeth with the story of the angel’s visit and announcement. The baby in Elizabeth leaped for joy; Elizabeth announced the exalted state of Mary: "Blessed are you among women," she exclaimed.

Having a little time to process all of this news Mary was moved to sing praises to God. She sang, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant." (Luke 1:28-48)

Mary’s emotions ranged from shock and fear to joyous exhilaration. She, a humble peasant girl, would be an instrument in God’s redemption of mankind. She would give life to the one who would ultimately give her life.

(Picture: An ancient manger, such as Jesus may have been placed in).

God often surprises us with his person and presence. At times in the Bible he made his presence known through personal appearances, as with Moses. At other times he mediated his presence through an angel or inspired prophet. At other times his presence was manifested in the preaching of the Gospel, which stirred the souls of people and moved them to obedience. God’s appearing often produced fear. But to the heart open and receptive to a visit from the Holy One, his appearing also produced life, love and joy, as with Mary.

God still appears to his people. He still makes bold announcements that "The Son of God is here!" He makes those announcements through us when we worship, share a meal, enjoy fellowship, help someone in need and proclaim the Gospel. God still inspires in his people the bold confession, "My soul glorifies the Lord!" I hope he inspires that in you, especially during this season. Merry Christmas.

Warren Baldwin

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lonely Shepherds and a Baby

Luke 2:8-14

I remember three announcements of births about to happen
- one at a friends house
- another when we woke up one morning
- another when I was painting an outside door jam.

Each episode is burned in my mind. Certainly everyone here has similar recall of the day the special babies came into your home.

This birth announcement in Luke 2 has some unusual features to it.
1) It is the announcement of a king’s baby. This was a special announcement in ancient times. Nearly everyone had children that they birthed or adopted, but only rarely was their a birth from a kingly family. That was news.

2) The announcement of the king’s baby was not delivered in the usual places. Normally the announcement of a king’s baby would be made in prominent places to prominent people. This announcement is made to shepherds living and working in obscurity.

3) The king had messengers to make his announcement, and they were always human. This messenger is an angel.

4) After the announcement of the king’s baby, there would be cheering and celebration. Think in our own lifetimes of the announcement of royal births in England. It was a cause for immense celebration for the people of that country. In the Luke 2 story there is celebration, also, but notice who does the celebrating: "A great company of the heavenly host" (v.13)

Here are four similarities with some differences between the birth announcement of this baby and the birth of any king’s baby. But there is something that stands out as unique in this story: the angel and the heavenly host praised the baby. They sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests." (V.14). This was truly unique.

And don’t forget the shepherds.

The shepherds were standing by watching all this. I can only imagine their reaction. They were normal guys watching sheep. Late into the night they probably muttered something about being hungry, wishing they could be at home, and even making a career change. Then, without warning, the glory of the Lord appears, an angel appears and makes his announcement about the King’s baby, a great company of heavenly host appears praising God, and then the angels left.

If you were a shepherd there, what would you think? What would you do?

When the shepherds heard about this special birth they did three things.
1) They went to investigate. V.15-16

2) They told others about baby Jesus. V.17

3) They worshiped God. V.20.

The shepherds learned something about this special child: he was the son of a king, but not any king. He was the son of the King of Heaven. This was God’s son. And that changed everything. It changed the shepherds. It can change us.

I worship a crucified and resurrected Jesus. Paul told the Corinthians, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This is the Jesus I worship.

But this isn’t the Jesus the shepherds saw that night, not yet. They saw a baby, and the baby led them to worship God. Matthew 2:11 says that when the Magi, or Wise Men, saw baby Jesus, they worshiped him, the baby.

We may feel uncomfortable today worshiping the baby since we have the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus.

But let’s not forget the miracle of the birth, and let’s not forget to marvel at what God has done.

When the angel and heavenly hosts praised God they said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Peace. The very presence of Jesus, either as a baby or a crucified savior, is to bring peace.

In ancient times the announcement of a king’s baby would often mean a cessation of hostilities between warring parties. The announcement of Jesus’ birth came with the announcement of the ending of hostility. Peace.

It is the death, burial and resurrection that ushers in our salvation.

Of this Charles Hodge wrote: "Salvation is atonement not attainment! Man is spiritually bankrupt! He cannot even pay the interest let the alone the principal!"

We need the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to save us. We have not a prayer with out it!!

But we also need this story of how Jesus came into our lives. As a baby. In a manager. To poor parents. Because this story brought such hope to lonely shepherds. And it can bring hope to lonely people today.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Warren Baldwin