Monthly Archives: December 2017

Monday Motivator – December 25

It was scandalous news in that small town. Imagine your girlfriend found out she was pregnant, and it was not by you. All she said was an angel recently showed up and said, “You will be with child and you will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus.” He added to not be afraid. The angel gave some further instructions about what would happen (and how). What would you have done if you were the initially scared female teenager? What would you have done as the initially scared male boyfriend? The angel also told Joseph not to be afraid (Matthew 1:20).

Read Luke 1:26-33 and 2:4-7.

The angelic pronouncement from Gabriel to Mary involved the King of Kings. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” What would you have done under those circumstances?

Joseph took Mary on a road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, with her expecting a child, and neither set of parents traveled with them. How did both mothers not make this trip? Imagine the cool night on the outskirts of Bethlehem when Mary gave birth to a son. She endured the pain of her baby’s arrival with no one around but her carpenter-to-soon-be husband.

Shepherds may have heard angels singing praises to the Baby, before the angel announced to them what just happened. Certainly they were initially terrified when the glory of the Lord shone around them, but the angel said not to be afraid. That’s the third time they said it in this story.

Can you imagine Mary and Joseph hearing a heavenly chorus that night, amidst animal sounds, and the first cries of the baby, God in baby form. A magnificent star illuminated the night sky over the manger, a simple, humble structure for the long way from home, out of town visitors.

Put yourself in the story. As Joseph placed the infant in Mary’s arms, a combination of awe, pain, wonder, and joy must have been piercing their thoughts. The angel had said the baby was “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32), but to actually be holding “the” baby? You have to believe the promise from the angel had overwhelmed Mary at times. How do you and your almost husband process several divine encounters that led you to this moment?

As her eyes peered through the darkness and found Joseph’s, both of them must have felt…wait. What must they have felt? The obvious question was how was she going to mother this One whose kingdom would never end? Joseph knew they still were not legally married, too.

What did Mary’s final statement to Gabriel in Luke 1:38 reveal about her relationship with God? The angel had said in verse 37 that “nothing was impossible for God.” Her response? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” What do Mary’s response to Gabriel (and Joseph’s to an angel not named) tell us about the kind of people through whom God works?

Think theologically. Mary (and Joseph) had a lot to think about on that unique and special night. Two centuries later, each of us needs to consider the importance of the birth of Jesus, along with his subsequent death, resurrection, and promise to return. One place to start: God came to live with us (Immanuel) so we that we could live with Him (restored hope). Merry Christmas.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – December 18

I had the privilege of attending an Auburn-Alabama college football game in the early 1900’s, courtesy of my good friend and missionary colleague, Al Baker. He was then the director of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at the University of Alabama (“Roll Tide!” right Al?).

The atmosphere at the game (that year held in Birmingham) was loud and electric during the pre-game festivities, the actual game, and the postgame. I do not remember who actually won the game all these years later, but I remember what I felt being there and then. It was almost as if the fans from both sides were given the following instructions: “This is the most important game of your life. This is the game you have been waiting for all year long. No excuses. Get out there and clap and cheer as loud and as long as you can. There should be no doubt who will win, so give everything you’ve got.”

I never experienced such a loud and raucous environment for sixty minutes. No one sat down (except for me and a few senior adults in my section). Everyone cheered passionately for their team. Clearly, Auburn and Alabama football fans take their football seriously.

Read Psalm 100.

The songwriter of Psalm 100 took his allegiance to the Lord seriously. I think he felt an obligation to his audience to urge them to do the same.

In the first verse he exclaimed, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.”

In verse two he added, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.”

In verse three, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”

In verse four, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

In verse five, he concludes with, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continue through all generations.”

The writer wanted the people of the Lord to freely express their praise to Him for who He is – the covenant God of Israel – the God over all other so-called gods. The Israelites were called to focus their energies on Him and His goodness.

God’s goodness and overall character alone should motivate us to freely express our love and allegiance to Him with shouts of joy. Even if God did nothing else, who He is demands our upmost reverence and worship. What other Being deserves such acclamation and honor?

This means that even the most reserved among us need to lift their voice, push back general restraints due to their personality, and learn how to express themselves to the One True and Mighty God. Those of us who are generally more expressive in our praise to God may miss the beauty of silence and therefore need to pursue the value of reflection and quietness at times.

As we approach the celebration of our Savior’s birth this Christmas, let us understand worship is a time to focus on our Creator, Redeemer, Shepherd, and King. Grow devotionally. May all of us celebrate who He is and what He has done. Our thoughts about God should lead to praise.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – December 11

Scripture commands it. Jesus and the apostles modeled and practiced it. And it works. Three guesses what I’m talking about? Defending the faith, or apologetics.

A decade or two ago, WWJD appeared in a lot of places. Bumper stickers, wristbands, sermon series, even billboards. “What Would Jesus Do” became a watchword and popular culture trend. If Jesus were standing beside you, not just spiritually, but physically, what impact would He have on how you live? Would He fill you with boldness and rid you of your timidity? Of course!

One reason is the presence of Jesus would dispel the negative thoughts some of us carry to this day about who we are and our inherent value. Do we really belong and matter to anyone? Many of us wrestle with places of uncertainty “inside” about our values, calling, identity, and Christian practices. We say we believe the right things because they are true, but often wonder if they are actually “true,” and not just for us? Is the truth we believe really true? If it is, it would have a profound influence on how we think and live, right?

Sadly, that is not the case for some in the Body of Christ. Some consider apologetics peripheral or even non-essential. Yet my experience in 3.5 plus decades of campus ministry have borne out the reality that most men and women leave home for college ill-prepared to understand, articulate, and defend their faith, hope, and trust in King Jesus.

Having to face critics of Christianity at the secular college or university is challenging for all Christ-followers, but I have noticed the toughest critic most of us have to face is ourselves. Our own doubts and questions tend to derail our faith journey more than a skeptical roommate or agnostic professor’s claims the Bible is irrelevant, outdated, and not trustworthy in its contents.

If you are not confident the message of Scripture is true, it is hard for you to trust in it. Trust is hard to manufacture and does not work well if you have to squeeze it out by sheer will. But if you get your head, heart, and hands on valid evidence that is substantiated with compelling reasons, your confidence grows, deepens, and it strengthens your faith.

That is why the four Gospels about Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written and became the best-selling biography of all time. In one example, the apostle John wrote that he presented evidence that the central purpose of his Gospel was to give hardcore evidence for faith in Jesus as the Christ (read John’s words in John 20:30-31 of the New Testament).

Spiritual growth involves increasing our knowledge and understanding of the Truth, who is a Person. We need confidence that the things we learn are actually true. In Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship chapters across the country, students are helped to know what to believe, but just as importantly, why they should believe it. Our staff and student leaders help students study and learn about the powerful evidences supporting Christianity. Increasing their knowledge about Jesus strengthens faith and doubts begin to fade. The critic’s voice in your own heard starts to lessen. Spiritual confidence in Jesus and his teachings translates into spiritual action for him.

Serve globally. When doubts shrink, it changes your prayers (more aggressive), your sense of trust (it is anchored in the Father’s character and care of you), and you’ll work harder, knowing your efforts are not in vain. Apologetics can turn shaky faith into Christ-centered confidence.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – December 4

True or false? The prophets of the Old Testament were ordinary people, like you and me. The men and women mentioned in Scripture lived centuries ago. Like people in today’s world, many struggled to make sense of life, worked hard to make a living, raise families, live out their values, be productive citizens, overcome difficulties, and make a difference for good.

I have taught the Older Testament to college students for decades and often asked them what person was their favorite character. As you imagine, the responses have come from all over the 39 books – Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Esther, David, Hannah, Daniel, Jonah, even some more obscure or rarely mentioned men or women like Gideon or Abigail. One of my favorites has been Jeremiah, because he was inspired to write and deliver some rather difficult material.

Read Jeremiah 1:4-12.

Here is a young guy, chosen and called by God to live out a new calling to be a prophet in very challenging circumstances. He started out not sure if God knew what He was doing by selecting a young person like Jeremiah for a transformational role of leadership. Yet he begrudgingly stepped out into a life of faith (spelled r-i-s-k) by choosing to trust the Lord, again and again.

Jeremiah served in the context of three major kings (Josiah, (640-609 B.C.), Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), and Zedekiah (597-598 B.C.). Under Josiah he was free to preach and call for reforms. Under Jehoiakim, he was not received well and frequently put in prison. And under Zedekiah, he was treated a little better but still had to fear for his life. The judgment Jeremiah preached came to fulfillment in and through Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, whose army destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and resulted in a total exile of Jews to Babylon (see Daniel).

He was treated poorly by those he brought God’s Word to, yet Jeremiah did not second-guess God too much or back down from delivering the pronouncements of God. He suffered, was ridiculed, ignored, threatened, and thrown into cisterns (deep holes in the grounds).

But think about the lessons we can learn from this young man. He practiced obedience. He modeled the words to the old hymn, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.” While he had to be concerned about what other people thought about what he chose to do with his life, he pressed on in his commitment to serve the Living God. He just went wherever God told him to go and said whatever God told him to say.

Jeremiah is a great example of living by faith, saying “yes” to God with frequency. He shows us what obedience looks like, including living with the consequences of a surrendered life.

If you are Christ-follower, or contemplating such a decision, here are some questions: Are you willing to do whatever God tells you to do? Remember that “No, Lord,” is a statement of conflict. How would you feel if God led you to remain single? What if He called you to take your career into an overseas marketplace in order to extend the reach of His gospel? Or even serve in an urban setting with underprivileged youth faraway from family and friends in America? What if he asked you to do something way outside of your comfort zone?

Walk wisely. When God says, “Go,” Jeremiah (or faith) says, “I will.” Will you?

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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