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Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010 on Savvy Sheep!

Well, we've reached the end of another year here on Savvy Sheep.  Here's an overview of the events here on the blog in 2010:
  • I began the weekly trivia series at the start of the year on false debate techniques.  I think they are still a helpful resource for those who want to sharpen their witnessing skills. Click here for the link to the summary post I created for your browsing convenience.
  • Right after that series ended back in May, I ran a giveaway contest on Bible trivia.  I'd like to do something like that again, but I haven't developed a good theme yet.  Suggestions are welcome.
  • While those and other shorter post series were running this year, I was also writing a longer weekly post about serious spiritual issues like apostasy, archaeology and Biblical connections, revival, and postmodernism and other false teachings in the church today.
  • I doubled my posting schedule this year.  In 2008 and 2009, I was updating this blog about once a week.  That means twice as much good content for you to read!
  • My readership also increased this year.  I have around 20-25 long-time subscribers and a regular stream of new visitors.  If you like this blog, please support it by subscribing, leaving comments, and sharing your favorite posts with others.  I have a "Share This" widget at the top right of every post for your convenience.  Let's get the word out!

Several posts this year have received a high amount of traffic this year.  There are also several that I'd like to remind you about, if you haven't read them yet.  Take some time to explore my archives if you have the chance.
  •  Behold! the Bridegroom Cometh-- In this post, I explored the cultural symbolism of Jesus' miracle at the wedding at Cana.  Several people have told me it makes a lot more sense now that I have connected it to Jewish wedding customs that are still practiced today.
  • The Ten-Second Interview--  A post about your Christian testimony.  If someone only talked to you for ten seconds, would they be able to guess that you know Jesus?
  • Be Transformed-- Are Christians simply nonconformists, or something totally different?
  • Dabbling Can Be Dangerous-- We live in an eclectic society, which pushes dabbling and open-mindedness as high virtue, but sometimes it can be dangerous for our souls to sample everything we encounter.  How can we protect ourselves from the risks of dabbling?  This post is, I think, one of the most important ones I wrote this year, so I hope you check it out.
  • Desolation and Hope-- I took the time to outline and address specific teachings of the Postmodern movement.  Read it and learn to recognize this powerful movement in television, media, and modern education.  By the way, the comments section is still open if you want to join in.
  • Have They Heard?-- A special call to all blog writers--consider your audience, and think about your unique responsibilities and opportunities as a Christian blogger.  It's also a good one for missionaries and those who know them!
  • The King's Favor is the Best Heritage-- A powerful post about Mephibosheth and David, and the value of a spiritual inheritance that surpasses anything the world has to offer.
  • God of the Mountains and the Valleys-- Humanities scholars and archaeologists have often commented about the symbolic and cultural significance of the landscape where a nation lives.  What does the Bible have to say about this?
  • Have Faith to Cast the Net One More Time-- Struggling with poor results on your path to success?  Learn to trust God with the outcome, even when things look grim.
  • Look Over Your Shoulder--  The Hound of Heaven is in hot pursuit.  Will you run or let Him catch up with you?
  • He Will Take Care of the Rest!-- An encouragement to stand with God, even when circumstances seem impossible.  Do you really trust God?
  • Bow Down to the Baby in a Manger-- No one noticed the baby born that night long ago, even though He had come to change the world.  The world didn't recognize Him, and they didn't understand why He came.  Thousands of years have passed, but has anything changed?
Have a Happy New Year!  I'm looking forward to 2011 on Savvy Sheep--another year of good teaching, spiritual insights, and insightful comments.  See you next year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year-End Review: Take-Aways from 2010

This week, most people will be recovering from the holiday rush and travel, long but happy hours of visiting, gift-giving and (possibly) returns, and holiday food withdrawals (especially from all the sweets).  New Years celebrations are just around the corner, and then life will generally resume normal proportions again.  While 2010 spins to a close in a swirl of color, it's time to look back and see what we can take from it.

The opening lines from an old poem by Joseph Parry come to mind at the end of the year: "Make new friends, but keep the old;/ Those are silver, these are gold." The poem centers on how we should most value the friends who have stuck with us year after year.

That is a nice sentiment, but in the end, even relationships, things, and habits that have been with us a long time may perish.  They may not have even been good for us.  What we need to value most are the imperishable things we have acquired through the year--moral lessons we have learned, and guidance and grace that God has showered upon us every day.  What is your take-away for 2010?

Faith with Hope:
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 6-7 NIV 2010).
"We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Romans 5: 3-5 NIV 2010). 
Have you been through serious trials this past year?  At the end of the year, it is good to look back on what we've been through, and put it into an eternal perspective.  Our trials last only a little while, but in the end, they can strengthen our faith in God.  How? By proving to us again and again, in a very personal way, that God is with us always, and that He sustains us through persecution. We have a hope, as Christians, that eventually all trials will come to an end and everything will be set right again by a loving and just Savior.

If 2010 was a rough year for you, take a moment to remember all the good things that God has done for you, and all that He will do.  He keeps His promises!

Blessings for Obedience:
"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1: 5-8 NIV 2010).
"The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness" (Proverbs 11: 5 NIV 2010).
Perhaps 2010 has been easier than most years for you.  There may have been some rough times, but they didn't last and are hardly remembered when you look back over the year.  Still, you can see growth in your relationship with God, because you have spent time learning about what is right and doing it.  Practice builds new habits you can take with you into the new year.

Humility Before Honor:
"He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8: 3 NIV 2010).
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7: 14 NIV 2010).
 There is a third take-away, for those who did not live in constant obedience to God and did not suffer for the cause of Christ in 2010, but who want to do better in 2011.  It is a humbling experience, admitting failure, sin, or shortcomings, but if you know the Lord, you know that He will honor those who humble themselves before Him (see Proverbs 18: 12).  You may live to see the results of 2010 burned away like straw (see 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15), but if Christ is your foundation, you can start again with better materials in 2011.

Take a moment to think about these things this week.  I'll be back later this week with a "best of 2010" post.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy and wait for Christ's coming!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I am busy with holiday preparations, and I know you probably are, too--wherever in the world you are today.  Anyway, I don't want to get so busy that I forget what all of this is for.  Is it about sparkly decorations, bells, Santa Claus, excessive eating, or gift giving?  I think not.

Just thought I'd post a picture of my family's lighted nativity scene for you to enjoy...

...and a link to a great Christmas song to get you thinking about what it means for believers that we are able to celebrate Christmas! 

I'll be back here next week!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Weekly Snippet: Bow Down to the Baby in a Manger

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man with discernment and knowledge maintains  order.--Proverbs 28:2 NIV

I am writing this post a day early, because my entire weekend, starting Friday morning, is scheduled solid with activities relating to Christmas and my sister's college graduation.  In my rush, I didn't have an idea for what to write, so I went to my bedroom, prayed, and cracked my Bible for ideas.  When I saw Proverbs 28: 2, I found myself wondering, "What does this have to do with the Christmas season?"  However, with some thought and prayer, I started seeing a connection, and I wanted to share it with you here.

When Jesus came into this world, the country was full of rulers.  Herod was the greatest of those in Israel, and even he wasn't as high-ranking as Caesar, whose census had brought Jesus to Bethlehem that night.  The fact is, every person, whether important or not, saw himself or herself as an important ruler--ruler of their own lives.  Following the example that Cain set at the beginning, no one was looking out for his brother (Genesis 4: 9).  If they had been, they would have seen a woman in labor and her frantic husband at the inn door, and they would have given up their room for them.

The fact is, the country was full of rebellion.  No one was seeking to please God; they only thought of themselves and getting "their due."  As a result, the town was in chaos and they all dropped the ball with the arrival of the King of Kings.

Now, a few righteous kings had successfully ruled over Bethlehem in the past, but they couldn't address this chaos.  The problem was a matter of righteousness and their power didn't reach that far. Bethlehem, like the whole country, needed a King who ruled with true understanding (understanding of their spiritual condition) and knowledge (an intimate acquaintance with God's perspective and His laws and righteousness).  Only He could bring order by leading their hearts.

Little did they know that night that their King had arrived, and that one day He would set the whole town back in order.  Jesus came once as a baby in a manger, so that we could know His gentle side, His love, and His mercy.  While He was here, He led with understanding and knowledge, showing mercy to those who didn't earn it, and sharing His knowledge with anyone who would listen and take it to heart.

He left only 33 short years later (in body, not in spirit), but His job as leader isn't done yet.  Those who know Him have been brought to order under His leadership.  He rules in their hearts, and because the same Man leads them all, they are unified (see John 17: 22-23; Ephesians 4: 2-6).

As for the rest of the people of Bethlehem (I am speaking figuratively of the whole world), He is coming back again some day soon to put them to order as well.  A country cannot go on forever with many kings; eventually one rises to pre-eminence.  First, we will see a false king who seems to establish peace for a few years, but chaos will still bubble under the surface of this false calm.  He will be no greater than the greatest king of Bethlehem in the days of Mary and Joseph--that distant Caesar, who couldn't even defend a baby's cause in that little town.

After that will come the Lion of Judah, the conquering King, that is, the returning Jesus Christ.  As C.S. Lewis often described Him in this role, "he is not a tame lion."  When Jesus returns, those who haven't been taking Him seriously, thinking of Him only as a feeble baby and not a victor in battle, will suddenly have to do so.  I'm not saying that Jesus will no longer be kind; I'm just saying that it will be time, for the sake of upholding justice, for wrongdoers to finally reap their punishment.  Even in His justice there will be kindness, since He has decided to give it at the right time (not prematurely) and He has decided to bring it to its fullest, but consistent, extent (nothing excessive or unjustified).  As Isaiah prophesied thousands of years ago,
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked:  Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.  They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’”  All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.  But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him. (Isaiah 45: 22-25 NIV, updated 2010 version)
 Therefore, Jesus is bringing order to this world, but some will submit to His Lordship with humility, and some unwillingly.  This is my Christmas warning--don't be unprepared, not even this Christmas, for the coming King.  He isn't just a baby in a manger--He is God.  Take Him seriously!  Obey Him.  He isn't a lion to be trifled with.

Until next time, this is me, reminding you, to know the Lord your God and follow Him only!  Be a savvy sheep!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let's Tell the Children About Christmas

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.--Psalm 78: 1-4 NIV
Christmas is the most heavily-merchandised season of the year, with desperate merchants vying for attention on every street corner.  It is tougher than ever before to remember the real meaning of Christmas.  Today, though, I'm not talking about your gift buying or gift giving habits.  I'm talking about how it all started.

Christmas is an arbitrarily-chosen day on which we Christians have gathered to celebrate the coming of Jesus to this world.  We don't know when He was born, actually, although some scholars have done calculations and research and have pointed to May or June as a more-likely date.  I suppose that if we actually knew, we might attribute more holy significance to a day on a calendar than we ought to.  Maybe that is why it was never written down.

So, it began as just any other day, and became (eventually) the most heavily merchandised day of the year.  Somewhere in the middle, and continuing on in the hearts of the faithful, it has always been about Jesus.

It's true, Christmas is about a gift.  It's about a truly spontaneous gift, not an expected one or a purchased one.  No one was watching for Jesus when He came, except a bewildered young couple who hadn't counted on sleeping in a stable that night.

The most important thing we should remember on Christmas (since, after all, it is more of a symbolic date than a real one) is why Christmas came.  That one date changed the world.  It reshaped cultures, raised leaders in hard times, and pulled millions of individuals from the brink of destruction brought on by their own sins.  We aren't just talking about a spontaneous gift here!  We are talking about the best thing that ever happened to the world, whether or not anyone recognizes it for what it is.

That brings me around to my title.  I think it's okay to see Christmas as an opportunity to teach generosity to children.  That is a great thing.  However, on the most fundamental level, Christmas does not teach us that lesson at all.  It is another story of sacrifice and humble obedience.  On Christmas day, the King of All was born into filth and poverty, to some imperfect people and a blinded, hateful world.  Why did He come?  To rescue the filthy, the poor, and the ungrateful.  Let us talk about that lesson of Christmas with the younger generation.  If they forget why Jesus came, trouble will come upon us all, but especially them.

Christmas is a fabulous opportunity for teaching children God's plan of salvation.  This is the time when they will be listening, and even secular radio stations will be playing traditional Christmas carols to confirm the lesson.  Contrary to some popular sentiments, it isn't "pushing our religion" on the children to freely share our beliefs and read them the story of Jesus' birth.  It's saying our part before the world comes in and tries to push their own, mostly merchandising or larcenist agendas.  If we truly believe in Jesus, we won't reinforce the teaching (by passive silence or wishy-washy statements) that Jesus is just a myth.  Now is the time to get back to the truth--the ugly truth about ourselves, and the hope-filled, joyous news that there is a cure for our sins!

I think I'll let Linus from Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoon say the rest.  I'm always proud to hear him testify on national television every year--may we all be so brave!

Until next time, this is me, reminding you to stay savvy and speak out about Jesus!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Snippet: The Greatest Gifts in Life Don't Come with Money

Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.  Ecclesiastes 7:12 NIV
Perhaps when Solomon wrote that "money is a shelter," he was pointing out how nice it is to have enough money that you don't have to worry about paying your bills or buying that little thing that you want.  In fact, I define poverty as not having enough to cover all of our needs.  Today, around the holidays, financial poverty is felt all the more keenly when we want to be more generous than our budgets allow.  But, money isn't everything, and it doesn't do the one thing that we all need--protect our lives.

Wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to buy a Christmas gift that fulfilled someone's every need?  In essence, wouldn't it be wonderful to give the gift of the end of poverty?  We all want something for Christmas, and there are a lot of things that would make us happy, but there are only a few things we need.  The end of poverty is high on that list.

Well, years ago, somebody did buy that gift.  The purchaser's name was Jesus.  He began poor, and stayed poor, but He grew in wisdom, and with that wisdom He obeyed God and purchased the gift of eternal life so that He could give it to anyone who asked for it.

How is that the end of poverty?  Well, we all lacked life, and we didn't have enough of the right thing to ever achieve eternal life.  Therefore, we all live in poverty.  The greatest gift--the most valuable gift--is life, and Jesus taught us a valuable lesson about it. The greatest gift we can receive cannot be purchased with money.  Both the rich and the poor know this.  Eternal life is purchased with wisdom, and knowledge of the God who gives it.  If we don't seek out the God who gives us life and wisdom, we will always be poor.

This Christmas, do you have the greatest gift of all?  I know that none of us are capable of displaying the kind of wisdom it takes to earn this gift.  That's why the richest man in the world, Jesus Christ, had to buy it.   He didn't use silver and gold.  He gave His life.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you by your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  1 Peter 1: 18-19 NIV
 Do you know Him?  If you don't, and you want to know more about this gift, please read my post "To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice," for a more detailed explanation.  If you agree with me, I have written how to receive this priceless gift at the end of this post, "Have They Heard?"

Thank you for reading!  Until next week, this is my reminder to you to stay savvy--seek wisdom!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Serving Before the King

Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.--Proverbs 22: 29 NIV
Success in the world these days is not often measured according to skill; rather, it is judged by the amount of money made or the amount of product produced.  You may be the best at what you do, but quite often you will not get the attention you deserve (or crave).  Is there any remedy for this situation?

Well, not always, in this world.  Good marketing and some shameless self-promotion can help, but normally our best efforts never propel us out of obscurity.  Frequently, when they do, our pride over our success takes over and corrupts us (see Proverbs 16:18, 11: 28).  Let me put it this way.  To the untrained eye, it seems that most people, no matter how skilled, only serve before obscure men.

Still, the proverb at the beginning of this post promises something different than what my eyes see.  I don't think it is talking about earthly success or earthly kings.  We who develop the skills God gave us, for His glory, will serve before the King of Kings.  We will never be obscure in His eyes, because He is the one who gives honor to those who serve Him.

I leave you with Jesus' words, which clarify what I'm getting at with this passage:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14: 7-11 NIV).
Even if you are in an "obscure position" right now in your life (that means most of us), you are serving before the King.  Your labor has been noted, and He will reward you.  Wait for it!

Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay with God, and stay savvy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekly Snippet: The Peace of Jerusalem

Yesterday was a bit of a scrambled day, and somehow I managed to forget this post.  I'm sure you may be experiencing these same sort of problems right now--students have semester finals, adults have year-end projects, and everyone has the holidays to plan and execute, on top of random life-crises that tend to crop up right about now.  You know, even in the most turbulent times, there is a calm in the middle of the storm for those who know the Lord.  Do you know what I mean?

We live in a world that is constantly clamoring for peace, but just as frequently, going to war.  This situation between people and nations has never changed, not even for Christmas.  I keep hearing Christmas songs like "Grown-up Christmas List," on the radio, and they only serve to remind me how far we are from realizing world peace--not even for a day, or an hour.  Why?  Because we don't understand peace.  We can't even recognize it.