Monday, September 24, 2018

Blazing the Trail for Jesus

"I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” - Luke 3:16b

The story goes that a man died and was met by Peter at the pearly gates. Peter told him, “You need 100 points to make it into Heaven. Tell me all of the good things you’ve done and I’ll give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” “Okay,” the man said. “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” said Peter. “That’s worth three points.” “Three points!” the man exclaimed. He thought some more and added, “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and service.” “Terrific!” said Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.” “One point?” the man echoed. “Okay … well, I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a homeless shelter every weekend for 20 years.” Peter said, “Fantastic! That’s good for two more points.” “Two points!” the man cried out in frustration. “At this rate, the only way I’ll get into Heaven is by the grace of God!” Peter gave him a wide smile, stepped aside and said, “Come on in!”

You get the idea. It’s not possible for any of us to get into Heaven without God’s grace. And if that’s hard for many people to understand today, it was that much harder in the days of John the Baptist. Most Jews thought that if a person had been born into a Jewish family and pretty much followed God’s Old Testament laws, they would be saved. In their minds, salvation was simply a matter of being born into the right ethnic group and following Jewish law. If those two requirements were met, they’d be a shoo-in for salvation.

Then along came John the Baptist, From a very young age, I’m sure that John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, had told him what the angel Gabriel had prophesied about him before he was born: that John would turn the hearts of fathers to their children, turn the disobedient to obedience, and to get the people ready for the Messiah’s coming. When John embarked on his ministry, we’re told in Luke 3:3, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Now, baptism was a pretty common thing in John’s day, but the kind of baptizing that John was doing was unprecedented. You see, in those days the only people who were baptized were non-Jews who wanted to convert to Judaism. If you were born into a Jewish family, you would never be baptized. But John the Baptist was insisting that Jews come to God the same way that non-Jews did. John was basically saying that everyone has to come to God on the same terms. Nobody has the advantage of being able to ride their ancestors’ shirt tails into heaven. What John was preaching was revolutionary.

John also made it clear that he was paving the way for a leader far greater than himself: “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16b). In other words, “The promised Savior and King is coming, and I’m not Him. He is much stronger than me. He is much more important than me. My job is simply to help get you ready for Him and then to get out of the way. When he gets here, you’ll need to leave me and go follow him instead.” How’s that for an unconventional approach to leadership?

And once John’s followers were baptized, they asked John what to do next to demonstrate their repentance. And John told them bluntly in verses 11:14: If you see someone in need, give him your jacket. If you are a tax collector or a soldier, stop using your job to cheat people. Stop strong-arming people and using your position to build your own bank account. Do what is right and good. Do what God would want you to do.

John packed a lot into his short ministry, but I believe it can be condensed into three points that still hold true for us today:

1. Everyone has to come to God on equal terms. We’re not that different from the Jews in John’s day. They believed that because they were born into a Jewish family and had studied the Bible, their salvation was secure. But they were dead wrong. Similarly, many people today believe their salvation is secure because their whole family is Catholic or because they were born into a Christian family. But the truth is, salvation is not transferrable. Your mom’s salvation is her salvation … not yours. You can’t ride anyone else’s shirt tails into heaven. You have to stand on your own two feet before God.

2. The way you have to come to God is through faith and repentance. You must place your faith—your trust—in Jesus Christ to save you from your sins. You will never get to 100 points on your own. Not even close! You need His grace. You need His forgiveness. You need His salvation. So, as I like to say it: You need to put Jesus Christ in the driver’s seat of your life. 

3. True repentance always produces fruit. To repent doesn’t just mean to be sorry for your sin. To repent literally means “to change your mind.” And once your mind is changed, your life must be changed. So, I ask you today: If you’ve truly chosen to repent—to change your mind and turn from your sin and follow Jesus Christ—is there plenty of evidence in your life to back it up?

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit  and join us for church Sundays at 10 a.m.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Jesus Goes AWOL

“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. 
‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” - Luke 2:49

This past week I was thinking about my junior high years. I turned 12 a few months into seventh grade, and if I remember correctly, I didn’t accomplish very much. I got A’s and B’s in school, but so did many others. I played AYSO soccer, but so did thousands of other kids. And like most other pre-teen boys I stumbled over my own two feet, and my voice changed, and I picked on girls I liked. Nothing earth-shattering—right?

Now, consider some of the heroes of our faith in Scripture. It’s interesting that we know very little about their childhoods. We know nothing about pre-teen Noah or 7th grader Abraham or junior high Paul. We read a little bit about Samuel when he was a kid, and David might have been a teenager when he slayed Goliath, but we can’t be sure. When it comes down to it, the Bible doesn’t tell us very much about the childhood years of our Biblical heroes. But, as we see in the second chapter of Luke Jesus is an exception to the rule.

When Jesus was 12 years old, he went with his parents to the eight-day Feast of Passover. After eight days, Joseph and Mary joined a caravan and began their long road trip back home. But a funny thing happened on the way back to Nazareth: they misplaced Jesus.

In Luke 2:43-44, we read, “After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.” Now, from our 21st century perspective, Mary and Joseph look completely negligent, don’t they? How on earth could you leave your pre-teen son in a strange city and not even realize it until the end of the day?

Well, before you call CPS on Mary and Joseph, you need to realize that at 12 years old, Jesus was less than a year away from entering Jewish manhood. So, it’s not like Mary and Joseph were leaving behind a 2nd grader. And because Mary and Joseph were traveling in a large caravan, they probably weren’t traveling side-by-side. Joseph probably assumed Jesus was with Mary and their other younger kids in the front of the caravan. But since Jesus was nearing male adulthood, Mary probably assumed Jesus was with Joseph at the back of the caravan. And their cell phone reception was really spotty, so they didn’t compare notes until the end of the day.

But what’s remarkable about this story is what they discovered when they returned to Jerusalem and found Jesus. He wasn’t in the street kicking a ball with other kids his age. He wasn’t panhandling from a food vendor in the marketplace. “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47). Jerusalem’s best and brightest rabbis were blown away by Jesus’ understanding of Scripture and theology. They knew they were in the presence of some sort of child-savant with a spiritual understanding well beyond his years.

And when Mary scolded him for sending them on an anxious three-day search, Jesus’ response was a puzzler: “‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them” (vs. 49-50). It wasn’t just a matter of Jesus being a child genius. Simple genius would have been easier to deal with. What Mary and Joseph couldn’t wrap their minds around was the fact that their boy was not THEIR son. He was GOD’S son. From Jesus’ perspective, he wasn’t on his way home to Nazareth, because he was already home in his Father’s house in Jerusalem.

It seems clear that when Jesus came to earth, he emptied himself of most of his eternal power. When he was a kid he wasn’t all-knowing or all-powerful. He allowed Himself to be born as a helpless baby who needed to learn how to talk and walk and obey his parents just like every other kid. But this appears to be the point in time when Jesus had an awakening—here, at the age of 12, seems to be when he realized for the first time that he was the Son of God, and His life’s purpose was to do the will of the Father. Jesus understood these realities at the age of 12. But for Mary and Joseph … that would take quite a while longer for them to grasp.

If any 12-year old was ever smart enough, spiritually mature enough and experienced enough to call the shots in his home and rule over his parents, it was Jesus. But Jesus modeled what God expects of kids and teenagers: He submitted to their authority. We’re told in verse 51, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” The Savior of the world humbly obeyed his parents as he grew up physically, socially and spiritually.

So if you’ve closed your ears to the truth, do what Jesus did—SIT, LISTEN, LEARN and OBEY. Let’s be honest: We’re not very good at sitting down and listening. We close our ears to others’ opinions. We close our ears to others’ needs. We close our ears to our spouses and to our kids and to our parents. We act as if we’re know-it-alls. But even Jesus wasn’t a know-it-all. He sat and listened and learned and submitted to the authorities God had placed in His life. So too should we.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit and join us Sundays at 10 a.m.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Christmas in September

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” - Luke 2:19

It was one of my favorite Christmas presents of all time: the Little Tikes football toybox that my parents gave me when I was just two or three years old. I LOVED that toybox. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that if I didn’t have many toys in it, I could crawl inside, put the lid back on top and hide from my parents. Little Tikes must have suspected that there would be some mischievous boys who would do just this, so fortunately they designed it with a big round hole in the back of the football.

I would sit inside that toybox and peek through the hole, watching my mom walk back and forth through the house looking for me. Finally, when my mom’s voice sounded like I was about 10 seconds away from a spanking, I would slowly stand up in the toy box with the lid on my head. And I was so darn cute I didn’t get in trouble.

Well, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that a Little Tykes toybox isn’t the best Christmas present of all time. Neither is a dollhouse or a new bike or a game system or a trip to Disneyland or even a new car. I’ve learned that the best Christmas present of all time was a baby boy who—it turns out—was the Son of God, born to save the world.  

Of course, the Christmas story in the second chapter of Luke is one of the most famous parts of the Bible. The details in the first 20 verses are so familiar to us, from the decree of Caesar Augustus to the “No Vacancy” sign at the inn. Maybe you read it with your families on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning as you’re gathered around the Christmas tree. Chances are, you don’t usually read it in September. But by taking a closer look, we still take some lessons from this story that are new to us, and that apply to our lives any time of year.

We know that while Joseph was in Bethlehem registering to be taxed, Mary gave birth to Jesus. We also know that since the little town of Bethlehem was bustling with people who had come into town for the census, there were no vacancies in any of the homes or inns. And since Jesus’ first crib was an animal’s feeding trough (a manger), our best guess is that Jesus was born in a stable. It could have been a cave. It could have been an open corral without a roof. But whatever it was … it was not a nice place for a baby to be born.

In the insightful words from Bible scholar William Barclay, “That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the overcrowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search—and his rejection—go on.” Think about that. Jesus Christ has sought entry to your over-crowded heart and my over-crowded heart; our parents’ and kids’ and neighbors’ and co-workers’ overcrowded hearts. And in most cases, there is no room for him. So, the Christmas story carries this important lesson to carry with you all year long: Make sure there is room in your life for Jesus.

Now, we all remember what happened next. In verses 8-20, we read about the shepherds who were out in the fields watching their sheep and the angels who announced Jesus’ birth to them. Since Bethlehem was just about six miles outside of Jerusalem, these shepherds were likely tending the lambs that were used for temple sacrifices. It’s a touching thought to consider the strong likelihood that the first outsiders to lay their eyes on the Lamb of God were the same ones who cared for the little sacrificial lambs.

After the shepherds visited baby Jesus, we’re told that they spread the word about what they had seen, “and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (verse 18). And I want you to notice what is said about Mary in verse 19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I like the wording of this verse in New Living Translation: “But Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” Even though Mary had been visited by one of God’s most important angels … even though Elizabeth had prophesied about Jesus nine months earlier … even though she had just given birth without ever having had sexual relations … Mary was still blown away by the story the shepherds told her. She hung on their every word, and she treasured their words in her heart. And she thought about them often.

The same should be said of us as Christians. No matter how many times we’ve heard the Christmas story … no matter how many times we’ve read Luke chapter 2 … no matter how many times we’ve heard the story of the manger and the shepherds and the angels … we should never stop being blown away by that first Christmas night. Like Mary, we should still treasure these things in our hearts and think about them often.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit  and join us for National Back to Church Sunday next week at 10 a.m.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Good News is Contagious

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come
 to his people and redeemed them.” - Luke 1:68

It wasn’t the shot heard around the world. It was far more important than that. The news that the angel Gabriel shared in Luke 1, foretelling the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, has echoed through the centuries. And it will continue to ring through eternity: the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior who came to rescue all of us from our sins.

Shortly after receiving God’s message from Gabriel that she would be the mother of the savior, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was to be the mother of John the Baptist. When she arrived, she walked through the front door and greeted Elizabeth. What happened in verse 41 is one of the most remarkable events in this chapter: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Now, let’s be honest with each other: Pre-born babies kick and poke and stretch. But they don’t usually leap. And babies in their mothers’ womb do have the ability to experience emotion. But experiencing joy—that seems like a bit of a stretch. How was this possible? 
Well, it was possible because of the Holy Spirit. Luke makes it clear that Elizabeth became filled with the Holy Spirit after John leaped. So, it stands to reason that John leaped because he too was filled with the Holy Spirit. 

The angel Gabriel had told Zechariah back in verse 15 that John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” The New American Standard Bible translates this phrase more literally: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” So, at what point during Elizabeth’s pregnancy did the Holy Spirit fill John the Baptist for the first time? In all likelihood, it happened right here in verses 40 and 41—the moment when Mary entered the room with Jesus inside her womb. The Holy Spirit responded by filling both John and Elizabeth, confirming that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was in the house.

The meaning of John’s leap was clear to Elizabeth. She responded with great joy: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42b-43) Elizabeth knew things about Mary’s pregnancy and baby Jesus that Mary had never told her—because the Holy Spirit told her. And Elizabeth’s joy was contagious. Mary, who was likely filled with the Holy Spirit herself, began speaking a beautiful new psalm to God, widely known as the Magnificat. It begins, “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” (vs. 47-48).

If you and I had been in the room with Mary and Elizabeth on this day, their joy would have been palpable. These two were beaming. They were rejoicing in what God was doing, and they just couldn’t help themselves. But how was Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah dealing with the good news?

Months earlier, Zechariah was in the doghouse. He had been the first person the angel Gabriel appeared to with the good news—but he didn’t believe it. So, God disciplined him. For nine long months Zechariah was mute. At last Elizabeth’s baby boy was born, and on the day of his circumcision, the baby was to be named. Family members assumed the baby would be named after Zechariah, or another male relative. But instead, in obedience to Gabriel’s message months before, Zechariah wrote on a tablet: “His name is John.”

And with that, Zechariah’s mouth was opened, his tongue was set free, and he could speak again. And once he could speak, what did he do with his tongue? He used it to praise God. At the start of the chapter, Zechariah responded to God’s good news with unbelief. But he had learned his lesson. By the end of the chapter, Zechariah reacted to God’s good news with a psalm of praise that’s often called the Benedictus. It includes the words, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (vs. 76-77). Yep, it’s pretty clear that Zechariah had gotten the message.

I think we’ve all been like Zechariah. In the past, we responded to God’s good news with unbelief. But today is a new day. It’s time to respond with faith and praise. If Zechariah could speak to us today, he’d probably say something like this: “Don’t make the same foolish mistake I made when I was standing there in the temple and refused to believe the angel standing right beside me. Nothing is impossible with God. When you receive God’s good news, receive it in faith and praise Him. Because our great and awesome God is good, and He is strong, and He is worthy of praise.”

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit  and join us for National Back to Church Sunday, Sept. 16th at 10 a.m.