The Blurriness of Christmas

The Blurriness of Christmas

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  Matthew 2:11

Consider the last few days in this month of December.  Lots of people are talking about “holidays” and Christmas. Many people appear to worship Christmas instead of worshiping Christ.  It is an easy thing to do.  There are holiday parties, travel to grandparents, gift exchanges and more.  I enjoy the holiday decorations, lights and nativity scenes we see all over the place.  The movie industry, commercial sales industry, and society as a whole are celebrating.  But, it is clear they are celebrating something other than the events in the Bible. The busyness of Christmas can give us blurry vision.

When the wise men saw baby Jesus they kneeled down to worship Him.  They did not loose sight as to why He was here and what Jesus was doing on the earth.  Just like when the cold temperatures outside and the warm temperatures on the inside causes the windows to fog up sometimes, we can have a hard time seeing Christmas for what it really is.  There is such a disparity in the perceived “reasons for the season” in the world today.

Pray and ask the Lord to help you not loose sight or have blurry vision during this holiday season.  With all the busyness and possible distractions of this season, take some time to kneel in prayer, thanking and praising God for His Son and our Savoir Jesus, the Christ.

 

 

 

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The Gift of Himself

The Gift of Himself

I read about one boy named Alfred who “wrote a letter to Santa which read, “Dear Santa, you did not bring me anything good last year. You did not bring me anything good the year before that. This is your last chance. Signed, Alfred.””

Of course, us humans receiving material gifts is not the purpose of Christmas. Modern thinking tends to focus on gifts to the neglect of the reason for Christmas to begin with.

As the Christmas day approaches news reports always come in about record sales or low sales at the stores.  As soon as Black Friday hit, we heard of the large number of retail sales.  Online sales soared again on Cyber Monday.  Business owners perhaps are thinking “this is the best Christmas ever!”

When everything is said and done – the first Christmas is the best Christmas.  It was on that day, that Jesus inserted Himself into this human experience, took on flesh, and began His mission to seek and save the lost.   He gave Himself to us as a gift.

With all the busyness of the season, please do not forget the reason for this season.  God’s love.  His Gift. God’s Son. His Sacrifice. Our Sins. His Forgiveness.  Thank the Lord Jesus came to earth for us.   Thank God for the gift of His Son and the Salvation He purchased at the cross.

Philippians  2:5-8 is a good Christmas reminder: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emergencies and Tragedies

Emergencies and Tragedies

One story I have read and enjoy very much is a story is “told of a zoo that was noted for their great collection of different animals. One day the gorilla died, and to keep up the appearance of a full range of animals, the zookeeper hired a man to wear a gorilla suit and fill in for the dead animal. It was his first day on the job, and the man didn’t know how to act like a gorilla very well. As he tried to move convincingly, he got too close to the wall of the enclosure and tripped and fell into the lion exhibit. He began to scream, convinced his life was over…until the lion spoke to him: “Be quiet, or you’re going to get us both fired!”

There are many emergency situations that may arise in life.  Storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding will take their toll.  Earthquakes, forest fires, and even volcanoes create much distress, problems, and each are potential life and death scenarios.

Depending on where you live a “natural disaster” may be more likely to unfold.  Having safety plans and survival plans is advised.  Today we also have the added possibility of a deranged, depressed, or demon filled attacker.  Violent attacks ranging from guns and knives to cars and even blunt objects are all possible.

Those are real emergencies. Most of us will experience relatively few true “emergencies” in life.  A majority of the time, what we are more likely to encounter are “tragedies.”  We see this especially in the areas of relationships, priorities in life, and spiritual formation.

Unlike emergencies, that can unfold rapidly, tragedies are events that are slowly unfolding in life.  For example:  a teenager who leaves home saying he “hates God, the Bible, and church” is not an emergency – he is a tragedy.  He did not wake up one day with the impression that he was against everything his parents stood for.  It took time.  An evil attitude was nurtured over time.  Sinful thinking and warped thinking was not only tolerated, but allowed to grow over time.

Emergencies need a quick response, while tragedies (while still urgent) will take some time to unravel and correct.  Please note that repentance and turning a life around all starts with one good decision, but it takes time to adjust a lifetime of sinful choices or bad habits.

Proverbs 3 teaches about wisdom.  Wisdom is personified in this passage.  Each person must decide to keep his or her eyes on wisdom.  She will help you to not stumble, fall, or be in a place where great trouble will capture you.

Proverbs 3:21-26 instructs, “My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: 22 So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck. 23 Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. 24 When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.  25 Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. 26 For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.”

If we keep our eyes on wisdom, it makes it harder for us to “fall off a cliff.”  Why?  Because wisdom will not let you get near the cliff to begin with.

Falling off a cliff would be an emergency.  Plunging down 65 feet off a rock face would be disastrous – but it is an emergency that is predicated by a tragedy.  The tragedy in this case is a life of wrong thinking, unwise decisions, and a heart that is slowly walking away from wisdom and away from the Lord.

There are many tragedies unfolding in the lives of people all around us.  Seemingly “insignificant” choices that are rooted in selfishness more than the Spirit of God, may seem innocent, but they do bring a person closer to the cliff.

  • A child may think “It is just a drink or a smoke” but that brings them closer to an emergency of an overdose on some other drug.
  • A man may think “it is just one magazine or website” but it is a slow path to addiction in his mind and isolation in relationships.
  • A woman may think “it is just a few dollars more” for coffee, tea, or some other fancy and expensive pleasure, but it could lead to mismanagement of finances leaving a person’s savings account bankrupt.

By The Way:  Poor choices are not just about plain sin.  Sometimes the innocent pleasures that are prioritized above Bible principles can become sin to us. Wisdom assesses each scenario and helps you to avoid tripping and falling.  The Apostle Paul suggested this in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  Just “Because I can” does not make it a good choice.

Please avoid making every decision based on emotion, drama, or selfishness.  Be aware that the mundane, daily choices are the most significant of choices for direction (towards wisdom or away from wisdom) that will determine if you have an emergency or not.

No one intends to create personal emergencies in life.  They develop as “tragedies” over the course of time.  Tragedies are happening all around us.  Be sure your life is not a tragedy.  Remember Shakespeare?  He wrote what literary students call “Tragedies.”  Those writings include: “Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet.  Many people have been entertained by these “Tragedies” over the years.  Purpose to not let your life be mere entertainment for Satan or the world.  Your life should not be a “play thing” or amusement for evil people. Make the daily decision to apply God’s wisdom to your life today.  Keep your eyes on God’s wisdom.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Be Like Your Dog

Don’t Be Like Your Dog

“A little lad of six was invited out to lunch in a neighbor’s home. As soon as all were seated at the table the food was served. The little boy was puzzled, and, with a child’s frankness, asked, “Don’t you say a prayer before you eat?” The host was uncomfortable, and mumbled, “No, we don’t take time for that.” The lad thought silently for a while, and said, “You’re just like my dog! You start right in.””

Don’t be like your dog on Thanksgiving.  Remember to give thanks to the Lord.

One of my favorite things to do each holiday season is to watch Charlie Brown and his talented dog, Snoopy.  One of the best yearly reminders of God’s blessing to early America can be seen in Charles Schultz’ rendition of the Pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower, meeting Chief Massasoit and Squanto and sitting down to dinner and giving thanks to God for surviving the brutal and deadly winters they were unprepared for.  With little food, a majority of the settlers buried, and with great uncertainty facing the future, they stopped everything to praise and thank the Lord.

It has been said that being truly “thankful” involves “giving.”  After all, the word Thanksgiving is a compound word; and both “Thanks” and Giving” are words rich with meaning.  Grateful people are happy people.  Have you ever seen a complaining, grumbling person?  Sure.  Are they happy?  No.  We are most happy when we have thankful attitudes, grateful words, and gracious actions.  If you are consistently giving praise and thanks to the Lord, you will be less likely to be critical, self absorbed, and feeling negative about life.

We need to be like the Apostle Paul who said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  The early Christians living in the city of Thessalonica were challenged and encouraged to give thanks in everything in life.  Every life stage.  Every circumstance.  Every weather event.  Every electoral cycle.  Every season of life.  Every start to the week.  In.  Everything.  Give.  Thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Thank-you for reading these devotionals.  I am grateful for each reader and pray that these postings will be a help to you.

 

 

 

 

 

(Snoopy rendition by Charles Schulz, from internet search)

Seasons of Change

Seasons of Change

The leaves are falling.  Soon the snow will be flying.  Before long, the grass will shove through the earth and the flowers will blossom.  The heat of summer will emerge, and the fall will be here before we know it.  Seasons make the year interesting.  Just as with the seasons and natural progression of hot and cold that God established, the Christian life and God’s church also goes through changes.

Change is something that human nature is resistant to.  We get comfortable.  We become accustomed.  What is “Normal” is what we have known to this specific point in our lives.  We can arrive at “new normal” when we willingly adjust our expectations.

Change in the Bible is good.  If you are a Christian, the specific moment you trusted Jesus for salvation, a big change took place.  You passed from “death unto life!” In John 5:24 Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”

Change for the Christian is good. For example: we are to be “transformed” (Changed from the inside out) by the renewing of our minds in Romans 12:1-2.

The Christian is to be continually changing to look more like Jesus.  In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul teaches, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Change is good.  Individual Christians are changing to look more like Jesus.  Churches also go through changes.  One preacher aptly stated: “Churches are always in transition.”  Very true.

A local church cannot remain stagnant.  A church must strive to be vibrant, meeting the edification needs for its members and the evangelism needs of its community.

Here are three areas a church can benefit from change:

  1. A renewed spirit of unity. We are to strive together to fulfill the Great Commission. We are unified by Christ around the Gospel.  Philippians 1:27, commands, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Perhaps this humorous story will help: “Intending to raise cattle, a family from New York bought a ranch out West. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would be rancher replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the BAr-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”

“But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.

“None survived the branding.””

There are casualties in a church when the members are not united around the main thing. Don’t be distracted in your service to the Lord!  Preferences, nuances, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” And personality issues should not divert your attention.  Keep serving Jesus.  Stay united to the cause of Christ and do not allow side issues to get your eyes off Jesus.

  1. A restored community of trust. Paul’s ministry even encountered seasons of disunity and discouragement.  When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, some of the believers were divided.  Read 1 Corinthians 1 for more details.  Some liked Paul’s preaching, others preferred Apollos (A great orator), and others enjoyed the passion of Peter.  The division was causing problems in the church.

Paul makes a hasty trip to Corinth in between these letters to try to resolve their issues.

Later, in 2 Corinthians, we find Paul sending another letter, not to elevate himself, but to elevate Jesus and help the people start to trust God again.

2 Corinthians 3:1-5 says, “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles (letters) of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? 2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: 3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”

The church belongs to Jesus.  He purchased her with His own blood.  We can trust the church to God.  Jesus can overcome any doctrinal, personal, or preferential problems a church may face.  Paul knew that he was not sufficient to solve the division, but Jesus was (and is) sufficient.   Paul was not boasting in his ability, but in the fact that these Christians had started to yield their sin, personalities, and problems to the Lord and God healed their church.  Jesus said: “I will build my church.”  We can trust Him!

  1. A revived attitude of respect. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 instructs, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”

Pastors are not dictators.  If pastors were dictators, then no church member would ever miss a service, and no one would ever not bring their tithe to church, and members would bring Snickers candy bars to every church function. Lol… if you like.  The role of pastor is that of “Servant – Leader.”  It is an accurate and healthy description.

Pastors are to be gentle shepherds leading and feeding the flock.  Sometimes that includes protecting the sheep from wolves (in sheep’s clothing), false doctrine (bad spiritual food to eat), and dangerous pasture fields (emergent church models).

There should be a mutual respect among the members of a congregation for one another.  Church members should be trusting the deacons.  Church members and deacons should have an attitude of trust with the pastoral staff as well.

One service I was preaching through this passage in 1 Thessalonians 5, and suggested that it helps the pastor of the church when the church members are not fighting or bickering and that when a church was at peace, the true work of the ministry can thrive.  It is a true thought.

A thoughtful man, a genuine student of the Bible, suggested to me that the peace among the members was also connected to their respect or lack of respect for the pastor.  Read that verse again please.

“Esteem” means to “deem, consider, or count.”  A faithful church member must be able to count the pastor as respectful and worthy or he will not be able to learn, grow, or develop in that church.  A result of disrespect is that the pastor is not able to lead as effectively as he should.  Why can he not lead effectively?  Because of the lack of peace.  A pastor constantly putting out fires cannot commit the time called for – for the actual work of the ministry.  It could look like this old saying: “Too many chiefs – not enough Indians.”  Let the pastor be the “Servant – Leader” overseeing the overall work of the church.

These are 3 examples where change is good!  If these areas are lacking – Change!  Change to the glory of God.

  • Are you united with your church family in the purpose of the Gospel?
  • Do you have an attitude of trust for the other members, deacons, and pastoral staff?
  • Is there a mutual respect that you have for the church leadership that creates a peaceful environment?

Change is good.  Christians as well as churches go through “Seasons of change.”  Transitions and changes are sometimes difficult and even turbulent because human nature does not like change; but when we see Jesus – it will be worth it all.  When we make the needed adjustments as individuals and as a church, the Lord is glorified.

And. His. Work. Will. Continue.

 

 

 

 

Time And Growth

Time And Growth

Recently I read about an incident that occurred back in 2004.  A fight broke out among the residents of a nursing home in their dining hall.  One man was playing with the lettuce in the serving line with his bare hands.  From that a fight ensued.  A 62-year-old and an 86-year-old started to trade “punches.”  Then a 79-year-old was bitten in the arm.  The mother of the 62-year-old man was cut in the arm and a 92-year-old man was shoved to the floor as other residents ran away from the dining hall.

The point of sharing this story is that time and age does not ensure a person grows “out of” anger issues.  We cannot hope that one day the wrath of a person is appeased because he or she becomes a certain age.  The only way to grow out of any sin – is to grow more like Jesus.  What we do in and with our time, is more important than how much time has expired.

Ephesians 4 clearly teaches how to replace the sin with righteousness and goodness.  God can help you grow in these areas!

Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Please observe the first sin listed: Bitterness.  Wrath, anger, clamour (outcry of grief), evil speaking (vile and blaspheme), and malice (badness) are all a result of the first sin: Bitterness.

Bitterness leads to faulty vision, angry thinking, and heated words.  Time does not heal bitterness.  Jesus alone can heal bitterness.

A life submitted to God will bring the hurts, pains, resentments, and seeds of bitterness to God and let God take care of them.  When we hold onto our “rights,” our pride, and our bitter spirit, the bitterness sprouts up into a garden of deceit, pain, and turmoil that chokes out all the positive things God is doing in our lives.  Nurturing bitterness ensures a garden of sin and grief is cultivated in a person’s life.

Replace the bitterness with forgiveness.  Replace the anger and wrath with kindness. Replace the harsh words with tenderheartedness.

While some people seem to “mellow out” over time, it is not just because of the passing of days. Time alone is not enough to grow out of sin and to find healing from the control of sin.  Growing in Jesus and learning to follow his example of love, compassion, and forgiveness is the only way to see victory over the sin of bitterness and anger.  What we do with the time God gives to grow closer to Him is what really counts.

 

 

 

Making the Teacher Happy

Making the Teacher Happy

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. Luke 2:52

It makes sense to me.  Want good grades?  Want to not earn demerits?  Want to not be punished by your parents for wrong doing while at school?  Then make it a goal to “make the teacher happy.”

Don’t get this wrong.  Just about every week, the news tells us about impropriety and immorality between a teacher and student.  That is not how to make the teacher happy.  Making the teacher happy in the sense of gaining their favor in the classroom is something that should be expected.  Earning the esteem and admiration of the teacher should be like “second nature” to a student.

Here are some ideas to gain the favor of the teacher, earn good grades, and to become a more complete boy or girl for Jesus.  Parents, these are expectations you should have for your son/daughter.

  1. Work on your attitude. A student with a good attitude can do anything and become anyone that God wants him to be.  A student with a rotten attitude will not be able to achieve all God wants – because of the bad attitude.  As a parent, this is the most important area to work on.  If an attitude is demanding, selfish, reluctant, pushy, sarcastic, or manipulative, then the student is heading for a disastrous life unless there is an intervention.  Parents, work together with the teacher to remedy the attitude.  Rules do not make a bad attitude – a rebellious heart makes a bad attitude.  Attitude is a choice of the heart – not the circumstances. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  And Jesus said in Matthew 15:18, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”  The attitude, good or bad, is a reflection of the heart.
  2. Know the score. Each student should know what is expected in each class.  Jr High and Sr High school students rotate between classes and teachers and there will be variations of expectations in each class.  The student should learn each nuance and expectation and adjust accordingly.  If the student does not know what is expected, he should ask for clarification.  For example: One teacher may want the student to sit more straight in the chair, while another teacher looks for the students name to be printed on the top right (instead of to the left) of an assignment.
  3. Think before you speak. The classroom interaction should remain positive and encouraging.  When a teacher corrects a child, it is not the same thing as disciplining a child.  For example: a student is disrupting the class and talking out of turn.  When the teacher says: “Stop talking” – she has offered correction – not punishment.  The embarrassment of being called out may impact the student, but no discipline has happened. If the student talks back by giving an excuse for disobeying the rules, then he should be punished for acting and speaking the rebellion in his heart.  Demerits and detention are examples of punishment.  When correction is noted and told the parent and when actually discipline talks place in school, I believe it is best that the parents follows up with their own personal discipline and punishment at home.  Students misbehaving at school are a reflection of the parenting, or lack of parenting in the home. Parents are advised to train their children to “think before they speak.”
  4. Respect everyone. A student does not have to understand a rule, just agree to live by it.  Institutional rules are not intended to be morally right or wrong, but to give order and structure to the organization.  Disobeying a rule is morally wrong, even when the rule has no moral bearing.  A majority of rules in a school have to do with respecting other people.  In this era of education, most people are focused on individual rights.  Surprisingly, some Christians have also adopted this humanistic philosophy.  The Bible and traditional education is more focused on the rights of others.  For example, an clothing outfit that is distracting to others is ruled against in order to not interfere with the learning of the other students.  Another example – talking and disrupting class with sarcastic remarks is not allowed so that other students are able to focus on their studies.  Teach your student to be considerate of others when he comes to the classroom.
  5. Expect more. Many parents allow their child to talk back, complain until the parent changes his mind, and even manipulate the decisions of the parents with emotional instability, constant nagging, and a persistent bad attitude.  I encourage you to expect more and demand less.  Expect more of a submissive attitude and demand less negative talking.  When complaining starts – stop it. When a sour expression glosses over the face – stop it.  Expect more. When teachers and others in authority inform there is a problem – get to the root of the problem – the heart.  Defending a student, making up excuses, or taking sides will not help develop the heart of the student for the Lord.  Dross is never removed from the gold until the heat is applied.  Just like gold, a student will not be worth much in life if all the dross and impurities of a bad attitude and selfish life are removed.  It is ultimately the student’s choice, but a parent, like the goldsmith, can make a big difference.
  6. Honor God. Each student wanting to honor the Lord willingly submits to the authority and the education the Lord has called him to.  While a student may not have a “paying” job, the Lord has called each student to the “full time job” of learning.  It is hard work to focus, pay attention to detail, write papers, and study for tests.  Being a student is a “Calling” with lifelong implications and dividends.  If a student does not develop good study habits, personal disciplining relationships with authority and peers, and make decisions that honor God while in his youth – it is much harder to learn it later in life.  Thank the Lord for many who have been saved, or saved people who have been restored to fellowship later in life.  But think of the years wasted, the relationships ruined, and the witness for Christ diminished during that time.  Help your student to honor God today.

By the Way:  The Jewish boys would become a “son of the commandment” at age 13.  In the years before age 13, the parents would do all they could to help the boy mature and develop into a respectable and responsible young man.  That is the context of Jesus “increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  Mary and Joseph taught their boys before age 13 to put God first in their lives.  Parents, you do not have much time to help your student learn to “Be” and to “Do” right.

Learn to make your teacher happy. It will cause your educational years to be both enjoyable and productive.