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January 2017

WE ALL NEED CLEAN HEARTS AND RIGHT SPIRITS

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”Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51:10-13)

I write this column knowing it will appear on Inauguration Day 2017. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence will take their oaths of office this day in the presence of both thousands of vocal supporters and thousands of vocal protesters. A record number of congressional representatives from the opposing party will not attend, and as each media source reports the event in a manner reflecting their particular political bias, our nation’s “peaceful transition of power” will be off to yet another shaky start.

For ten years, my primary focus in this monthly column has been the application of biblical truth to our lives, our relationship with God, and our relationships with each other. My worldview, in a nutshell, is that if I get my relationship with God right, I begin to develop a right attitude toward self and right relationships with others. I am then in a position to have a positive impact on the people around me by my prayers, words and deeds.

The biblical name for this is Kingdom living. As I do it better, and as more and more people around me do it better, the Kingdom of God increases on the earth. (Matthew 6:10, 13:31-33)

Kingdom living is about love, truth, faith, hope, grace, kindness, humility, repentance and righteousness. Our nation’s political process has been unloving, divisive, deceptive, fearful, self-righteous, condemning and unrepentant. And too many Christians in both parties have represented their politics more than the Kingdom.

My last two columns: “Jesus is the Lord of America”, written before the election, and “Ask the Lord to Lead America”, written after the election, have both been about how Kingdom living can change our political climate. This column is about accountability. This column is about you and me.

Most of you are familiar with Psalm 51. King David wrote it to express his repentance after he was convicted of his sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. (2 Samuel 11) These were sins against his family, his friend and his nation, but they were first and foremost sins against his Lord. (Psalm 51:4)

David’s cry is for a “clean heart” and a “right spirit” so that he can be restored to the joy of his salvation and the blessing of God’s manifest presence in his life. As Christians who follow Jesus, we know “a clean heart and right spirit” is simply another way of describing Kingdom living. We also know it is Kingdom living that produces peace, joy and the manifest presence of the Lord in our lives. (John 14:21; Romans 14:17)

David’s commitment in this cry of repentance is, upon receiving a clean heart and right spirit, to lead others to God. (Psalm 51:13) David knew he had to get right with the Lord before he could effectively help others be right with the Lord. Likewise, we know as Christians that our witness is only as effective as our walk. (Acts 1:8; 1 John 2:2-6) If we want God to use us to change our family, community or nation, we must first let Him change us.

The key word I want us to focus on in Psalm 51 today is the word, “me”. My friends, for each of us, it always starts with God and “me”.

As we move forward with our nation in this hour, you and I need to embrace Psalm 51 as our own individual prayer. Create “in me” a clean heart! Renew a right spirit “within me”! Restore “me”! Uphold “me”!

Jesus taught about the importance of this in a wonderfully blunt parable. He said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

For many of our politicians and their supporters, including those who profess Christianity, things may not change any time soon. “Unity” may still mean, “Join me in what I want” rather than “Let’s work together”. The goals may still be, “Stay in power” and “Get power back”. The mantra may still be, “We are good and they are not”.

But for you and me, little old Doug Tweed and each of you who reads this column, change can begin now. As we take our stance on the issues, we can do more than profess Christianity. We can embrace Kingdom living. We can love, respect, listen to, pray for and seek to work with those who disagree with us, and become a living model we hope others will follow.
We all need clean hearts and right spirits. It has to start somewhere.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

INCLUDE HEAVENLY FATHER IN YOUR NATIVITY SCENE

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“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ….” (John 3:16)

In the midst of all the secular expressions of Christmas, we are visually blessed with at least one precious reminder of what Christmas really celebrates. It may be a small rendition on a mantle or a life-size rendition on Kingsport’s Church Circle, but we are always inspired when we see a Christmas nativity scene.

The centerpiece of the nativity is the baby Jesus. Thousands of years earlier, the covenant presence of God with His people centered on an ornate golden box called the ark. Now, the bread of life, the only begotten Son of God, lay in a box used to feed farm animals.

The infant in that manger was both newborn and firstborn, the long-awaited Messiah Savior King, the Word of God through whom all things were created, now made flesh. God is with us! He came in a totally unexpected way.

Kneeling next to the Christ child is His mom, Mary. She accepted from an archangel her life’s calling: be impregnated by the Holy Spirit of Jehovah, become an unwed mother in a culture where that brought shame or even death, and raise God’s Son to adulthood.

This mother watching over her infant son would later watch Him die on a cross. Then, in an incredible reversal of roles, she would be born of God herself in an upper room on Pentecost. What an amazing woman!

Standing over mother and child is Joseph bar Jacob, the best step-dad ever! He too was entrusted to raise God’s Son to adulthood, and so we know he was a godly, humble man. What strikes me most is his courageous faith in accepting such a responsibility under the constant scrutiny of the child’s true Father. Joseph’s courage and faith would carry them to the pagan lands of Egypt and back, and would allow him to teach Jesus both the craft of carpentry and the craft of righteous manhood.

Surrounding the holy family that night are the angels and the shepherds – the glorious, powerful multitude of heavenly host, and the lowly minimum wage earners. It is a fitting contrast for the child who would be called both Son of God and Son of Man – the Good Shepherd who would be anointed to bring His Kingdom to the poor.

The angelic messengers brought news of great joy to those shepherds, and they became the first messengers to bring that news of great joy to others. Be thankful, when you see the shepherds in the nativity scene, for the shepherds (pastors), teachers and other servant leaders of Christianity who proclaim the good news today.

The magi are also present at our nativity scene. Although theologians point out from Matthew that they came to a house in Bethlehem and not a stable, it is clear God wanted them to be part of the birth story.

These highly educated and spiritual men were not kings. They were king-makers, the politically elite of the Persian Empire. While not Jews, they had studied and accepted the centuries-old prophecies of a Jew who became one of their own: a man we know as Daniel and they knew as Belteshazzar.

The magi remind us that God came not just for the poor, but for the rich and prominent. “With God all things are possible.” And as these kingmakers entered that house to honor the newborn king of the Jews with gifts, something happened that reveals yet another Person present at the nativity even though He could not be seen.

I believe with all my heart that the Heavenly Father was present for the birth of His Son. I believe it was His manifest Presence that caused the magi to fall down and worship.
Think about it. The Son had emptied Himself when He came down to take on the form of mankind. Jesus would not receive the fullness of Holy Spirit until He was thirty years old. So the manifest presence of God would probably not come from the child.

Many of us have experienced our Father’s manifest presence in prayer or worship. Don’t you think Mary and Joseph would experience His Presence on that holy night?

Would the Father who was present at His Son’s baptism, and who loved and revealed Himself to Jesus throughout His ministry, not also be present at His birth? I was present at the birth of my two beautiful daughters. Is not our Father a more loving and involved father than me? Would He just send His messengers, or would He come to hold His Son in His own arms?

As I reflected on my belief in prayer last week, God’s spirit rose up in me. I will never look at a nativity scene again without being aware that Heavenly Father is a glorious and majestic part of what I see and sense. Most holy is His name!

I also know that the Father who was present for the birth of His firstborn Son is the Father who chooses to be present at the birth of all of His children: every one of us who receives His Son as Savior and Lord. And He watches over us every moment thereafter, just as He watched over Jesus.

Merry Christmas!