PREPARING FOR A NEW YEAR…

MATTHEW 5:29-30: “Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: How am I preparing for the New Year? As another year comes to a close I find myself taking personal inventory once again. What have I accomplished? Where have I fallen short? How have I grown as a person? What in my life needs to change?

When you think about this annual process it resembles a perpetual merry-go-round. It is like the holiday cycle of marketing that takes place in the retail world. In November and December, the focus is on gifts, food, and celebrations. Immediately after Christmas, the ads begin to change and focus on exercise equipment, storage and organizational items for the house, and personal improvement programs.

The reality is – most of us overeat during the holidays. We buy too much and have to pay off our credit cards. We don’t have any room to add storage units because we are already maxed out for space. And, we need to get rid of the last piece of exercise equipment that we bought and never use before we buy the next great miracle-working machine! Sometimes I feel like yelling…

Stop the merry-go-round! I want to get off!!

This brings me to one of the most misunderstood but important teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. While Jesus was addressing the issue of lustful thoughts, what He says next applies to all of life and especially as we face a New Year.

  • “Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Now, before we start to overreact, Jesus was using hyperbole. This is making an extreme statement to illustrate an important point. It is like someone saying – “I am so hungry I could eat a horse!” Jesus was not advocating dismembering one’s body to battle sin. Jesus was making the point of removing anything from our life that causes us to stumble. If this advice was given to King David on the night he sinned with Bathsheba, it would have been worded like this –

“If you can’t keep your eyes from wandering – STAY OFF THE ROOF!”

Yet, how many times do we face a New Year, start with great hopes, and end up tripping and falling in the same way once again? Why does this happen? Could it be that we are simply leaving the same obstacles in our path and then wondering why we keep tripping and falling? What would happen if we took Jesus’ words to heart and removed the things that keep causing us to stumble?

Over the years I have used the “Twinkie” example to illustrate this. Everyone knows that Twinkies are not a healthy snack. Yet, a Twinkie and a cold glass of milk…well, you get it. If the doctor told me that I was borderline diabetic and needed to cut sugar out of my life then I would need to give up Twinkies. Yet, just for nostalgia I purchase a box of Twinkies and put them in the cupboard. Now, I am not going to eat them, but I just like to look at them and remember the good old days…

Until I have to buy another box to replace the one that is now empty!

If I don’t remove the obstacle from my life I will keep tripping over it time and time again. This is true in every area of our life. So, Jesus uses an exaggerated statement to make a bold spiritual point. If there is something in your life that is causing you to stumble, that is keeping you from overcoming sin, reaching your goals, living in peace, abiding in joy, forgiving others, loving as Christ loved, then…

CUT IT OUT!

I need to hear these words. Perhaps I need to focus on what obstacles need removing more than what my New Year’s goals will be. If I keep running on the same old path that is filled with rocks and ruts, then it does not matter what I decide to do in the New Year, I will once again start with great hopes only to trip and fall once again!

I need to remove the obstacles or take a completely different path!

Heavenly Father, as I face this New Year, show me the things that You want me to remove from my life so that I can run the race that You have set before me. Give me the grace to surrender anything that keeps me from becoming more like Jesus Christ my Lord!

In Jesus’ Name!

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IT WAS NOT THE GIFT I WAS EXPECTING…

MATTHEW 3:11-12: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: What is the most memorable gift you ever received for Christmas? I think we have all forgotten most of the gifts we have received over the years. Yet, I bet there is one gift that stands out in your memory that you will never forget!

Growing up, and not to brag, Santa visited the Zehnder house before any others. In fact, since Santa came so early to our house, we would open our gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning. My grandparents, Nanny and Poppy, would load us into their van and we would drive around the neighborhood to look at all the lights. And, just like magic, when we arrived back home – Santa had arrived, left all our presents, and headed out to deliver gifts to all the rest of the houses!

It was great to be a Zehnder!

My wish that year was for a bike with speeds. Many of my friends had a speed changing bike but I was still trying to compete with a single speed Schwinn. When we arrived from our tour of Christmas lights I scanned the wrapped presents under the tree. To my disappointment there was nothing that resembled or even came close to being a bike. We opened our gifts and I received a lot of nice things – but not the bike with speeds.

I hid my disappointment and tried to feign a smile.

Then my Dad asked me to go next door and borrow something from our neighbors. I knocked on the door and Mr. Parker answered it trying to hide a grin that seemed to be ready to explode from his face. He said – “There is something strange here. Come on in and see it!” When I walked into the living room I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Schwinn 5-speed bike. I thought, wow, one of his girls really got lucky. Then Mr. Parker said, “I think this was delivered to the wrong house. It has a note on it.”

When he looked at the note it read – “For Kirk.”

Santa didn’t forget my bike with speeds after all. He simply delivered it to the wrong house!

I will never forget that bike. It reminds me of a simpler time when the wonder of Christmas was still alive in the heart of a child. Now, as an adult I find that there are not many gifts that I remember over the years. Yet, when I think of the gift of Jesus, and when I read the story of His birth and the beginning of His ministry here on earth, I am reminded of a very important and unusual gift that has changed my life.

It is the Gift of Fire!

Jesus did not simply come to die for our sins, grant the gift of eternal life to those who believe, ascend into heaven, and then let us struggle through life until we died and entered eternity. Jesus did come to open the way to eternal life. Yet, Jesus also came to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire so that we can reach our full potential in this life!

The abundant life that Jesus promised us is only realized when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire!

Most of us are familiar with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as we recall the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts. In the upper room the 120 that were gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit and there was the appearance of tongues of fire upon their heads. We don’t really think about this fire much. Yet, John the Baptist made an important emphasis about both the Spirit and fire.

  • “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In John’s words he looked forward to the final judgment of fire that the Messiah would bring when He set up His Kingdom. This is an important element of the fire that is spoken about in the Bible. Yet, there is a role of fire in the life of a believer. It is not always what we expect. Yet, it is crucial to our life in Christ, our victory over this world, and our spiritual growth and development. The Holy Spirit comes both to empower our lives and to purify our lives.

It is the Fire of God working in us that purifies us!

  • “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like launderer’s soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old, and as in former years.” Malachi‬ ‭3‬:‭2‬-‭4‬ ‭NASB

The Gift of Fire for the believer is not the fire of judgment. It is the fire of purification. It is God’s work of sanctification in our lives. It is wrought as we endure the fiery trials of life through the power of His grace. It is perfected through His loving discipline and through our sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Like the presents under the tree when I was a small boy, it is not the gift I am expecting or would choose.

Yet – it is the gift I need!

I need the Gift of Fire!

Lord, I thank you for baptizing me in the Spirit and with fire! Forgive me for the times when I try to run from the fire. May I embrace the fire of Your holiness and love, working in my life, so that I can know You and grow in Your grace! Thank Your for the wonderful Gift of Fire!

  • “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians‬ ‭3‬:‭8‬-‭11‬ ‭NASB

In Jesus’ Name!

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JESUS IS NOT A BABY ANYMORE!

PSALM 2:1-3: “Why are the nations restless And the peoples plotting in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers conspire together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let’s tear their shackles apart And throw their ropes away from us!” NASB
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OBSERVATION: Christmas is upon us once again. In just two days we will gather around our Christmas trees, open gifts, and look forward to a wonderful Christmas feast. Throughout this season homes have been filled with lights and replicas of the manger have been placed in front of houses and businesses alike. The world is happy to celebrate the birth of Christ because it means money to their bottom line. Everything would be fine except for this fact…

JESUS IS NOT A BABY ANYMORE!

A baby in a manger poses no threat to the status quo. Yet, Jesus grew up and began to challenge everyone with the truth. It is for this truth that Jesus was crucified. And, it is because of this truth that the nations rage and the culture of our day rises to take a stand against the Lord and His Anointed. Talk about the baby Jesus and no one cares. Talk about the risen Christ and all hell breaks loose!

This is the difference between the observance of Christmas and Easter in our culture today. Christmas focuses on the birth of Christ. No one gets upset about the story of a little baby lying in the manger. Yet, when that baby becomes a man, challenges the religious traditions of His day, and calls men and women to repent from their sins and believe in His Lordship – everything changes. A baby makes no demands. The Son of God calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him!

When Jesus stood before Pontious Pilate, He proclaimed the reason He came to earth.

  • “Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this purpose I have been born, and for this I have come into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” John‬ ‭18‬:‭37‬ ‭NASB

Jesus came to testify to the truth. He did not come to bring a month-long celebration of lights and festivities. Now, I love the Christmas season as much as anyone. Yet, we can get lost in the lights, the parties, and the special events, and completely miss the reason Jesus came. He came to reveal the Father, to proclaim the truth of the Kingdom of God, to call us to repentance from sin, and to die in our place so that we might be reconciled to the Father through Him.

All of this would be acceptable to the world if it wasn’t for the truth! Truth is a light that exposes darkness. This present world revels in darkness and rejects the light of the truth. Today, the world is happy to keep the baby in the manger but it conspires together to quiet the man Jesus from speaking the truth into the darkness of their lives. How does God respond to this?

  • “He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will announce the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have fathered You. Ask it of Me, and I will certainly give the nations as Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth as Your possession.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭2‬:‭4‬-‭8‬ ‭NASB

The reality of Christmas is not just that Jesus came to this earth. The reality of Christmas is that Jesus is coming back again! He is coming back as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is coming to reign forever and ever. When Jesus comes it will not be a hidden event in a lowly manger. Every eye will see Him and every knee will bow! He will come with judgment against sin and a reward for the faithful. His truth will be vindicated and His Kingdom will have no end!

As in the days before the flood, the world will go on in its darkness until He breaks forth in His marvelous light. There will be no more need for any Christmas lights for He will be our light for all eternity. Those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ will enter this light for all eternity. Those who embraced the darkness and refused to surrender to Jesus Christ will enter eternal darkness.

So, what should one do?

  • “Now then, you kings, use insight; Let yourselves be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, that He not be angry and you perish on the way, For His wrath may be kindled quickly. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” Psalms‬ ‭2‬:‭10‬-‭12‬ ‭NASB

This Christmas, as we enjoy all the lights and celebrations, we need to take time to remember that Jesus is coming again! Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The only way to escape the coming judgment and to enjoy the blessings of abundant life now and eternal life in the world to come is to – “Serve the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling!” The Second coming of Jesus Christ will come with wrath or blessing. Our blessed hope is in this promise.

  • “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!”

Lord, touch hearts this Christmas and open our eyes to see the glorious light of Your truth. Grant us the grace to serve You with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. As the wonderful chorus proclaims…

One day every tongue will confess You are Lord
One day every knee will bow
Still, the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose You now

In Jesus’ Name!

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THE GIFT OF POWER (An Advent Reflection)

EPHESIANS 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us —  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” CSB
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OBSERVATION: What is the most misunderstood gift that God gives to us? I believe it is the gift of power. Throughout the Scriptures, God promises to give His people power. Yet, throughout the Scriptures, and throughout our lives, I believe we miss this gift and all of its possibilities because we are looking for it in the wrong places.

What do you think of when you hear the word “power?” My mind is immediately drawn to an image of extraordinary strength. While power is that it is also much more. The power God gives us is more than the ability to do something beyond our normal strength. It is only when we discover the source of this power that we realize its potential in our life!

Paul writes about the potential of God’s power in our life.

  • “Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us —  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

This power and its potential are not something that we naturally possess. They are the gift of God working in us. This is evident in the fact that the glory and honor for this power go to God alone. He does above and beyond all that we ask or think – according to the power that works in us! And, He alone gets the glory for all that He does in our lives!

So what is this power and how do we receive it? Paul prays that our spiritual eyes will be opened so that we can truly understand the source of God’s power in our lives – the power that works within us.

  • “…I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians‬ ‭3‬:‭17‬-‭19‬ ‭CSB‬‬

The source of God’s power in our life is not a “something.” The source of God’s power in our life is His love! It is His very nature living and abiding in us. Paul prays that we may be able to comprehend the length, width, height, and depth of God’s love in our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord. In other words, Paul is inviting us to see and seek the infinite depth and riches of Christ, a quest that will be ongoing and filled with awe and wonder each day of our lives – for eternity!

So many times, in our Christian life, we begin to equate the power to live for Christ, the power to overcome sin, and the power to fulfill God’s call in our life, with things that we do. We think – If I only pray more, read the Bible more, witness more, serve more – then I will have more power. Yet, God’s power is not received through what we do.

God’s power is resident in us through what He has done!

  • “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts‬ ‭1‬:‭8‬ ‭CSB‬‬
  • “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5 CSB

God loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die in our place. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, conquered the power of sin and death, rose victoriously from the grave, and poured out the Holy Spirit upon those who believed. It was through the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives that the power of God, the love of God, came to dwell within us.

And the wonderful reality of Christmas is – this gift is given to all who believe!

  • “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭2‬:‭38‬-‭39‬ ‭CSB‬‬

As we enter into the final week of Advent, as we celebrate the lighting of the candle of Love, we are reminded of the greatest gift that God has given us. He has given us Himself. His love has been poured out upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit. His love opens all the possibilities of heaven for our lives. His love is the power that works within us. Christmas is a celebration of God’s greatest gift – the gift of Himself.

The greatest gift Christmas, the source of all power – is the gift of GOD’S LOVE!

This is a gift to be received and a gift to be given. It is wrapped in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. And, it is unwrapped each time we extend the love of Christ to others and share the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

  • “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.” 1 John‬ ‭4‬:‭9‬-‭11‬ ‭CSB‬‬

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your Love!

In Jesus’ Name!

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CHRISTMAS, THE UNITED STATES, AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD?

JOHN 17:14-19: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: What does Christmas have to do with the United States and the Kingdom of God? This may sound like a strange question to some, but I think there is a great deal of confusion among many believers between these lines. To put it another way, did Jesus come to establish an earthly system of government, or were His purposes completely directed toward something else?

I love the fact that the history of the United States shows that the original founding fathers based the founding documents of our nation upon Biblical principles. Many of them were true confessing Christians. The original settlers came to America to enjoy religious freedom. You can see Biblical and Christian influence in every area of our society. This is where the train is easily derailed. It is for this very reason that many confuse the Kingdom of God with the United States.

I love our country. I know that the United States is an imperfect government. Yet, I know that it has been the foremost beacon for good in a very dark and dismal world. However, Jesus did not come to this earth to establish the United States of America. In fact, as you study Bible prophecy, it is hard to even identify the United States in the unfolding of the end times. Jesus’ purpose for coming was entirely different. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to call men and women to repentance!

  • “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬-‭15‬ ‭NKJV‬

Jesus did not try to overtake the Roman government. He did not attempt a political coup over the Sanhedrin and establish Himself as the ruling power in Judea. Jesus came to proclaim God’s Kingdom, to call us to repentance, to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, to defeat sin and death, and to rise again to sit on the right hand of the Father. In Jesus’ final prayer in John 17 we see Jesus’ true intent for His disciples!

  • “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

Let’s break this down.

  • The disciples were hated by the world (and the world system) because they had embraced the Word of God.
  • Jesus prayed that while in the world they would be protected from the evil one (and the worldly systems that he controls).
  • Jesus prayed that His Word would be the determining factor to keep them separated from the world and its systems.
  • Finally, Jesus commissioned them to go out into the world and proclaim the Kingdom of God and call men and women to repentance (making disciples of all nations, Matthew 28:18-20)

There is nothing in this prayer about a worldly government. There is an outline for the church and its mission. Yet, the church in America has become enamored with things political and has left its true calling. We grieve the direction that our nation is taking and yearn for the good old days. Yet, as the church, we fail to understand why our nation once aligned itself with Biblical values.

It was because the church was fulfilling its true call!

If there is any hope for our nation it will not be from political strategies or campaigns to – “Get out the vote!” It will only come when the church begins to fulfill its call to proclaim the Kingdom of God and call men and women to repentance. Only changed hearts can change a nation. The church has been duped by the enemy to believe that we can change our current situation from the outside. Jesus did not come to start a political party. He came to seek and save the lost and call them to Himself. He came to establish the Kingdom of God within our hearts.

It is Kingdom-hearted people that take the values of the Kingdom into this fallen world in which we live.

My prayer is that the church will begin to be less focused on activities and become more focused on souls. Whatever we do must lead people to the cross. Jesus met human needs when He walked this earth. Yet, He never did this apart from proclaiming the Kingdom of God and calling men and women to repentance.

The Great Commission is to make disciples not to run churches, overtake governments, or transform culture. It is to seek and save the lost. It is to call men and women out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

To truly fulfill God’s call will be a counter-culture movement. It always has been this from the very beginning. We will need to be willing to pay the price of discipleship to fulfill its call. The world did not celebrate the life and ministry of Jesus – the world crucified Him! And, if we truly proclaim the Kingdom of God in this ungodly world our story will be no different than His!

  • “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” John‬ ‭17‬:‭14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Lord, seek my heart and know my ways. Am I striving to please men or to please You? Am I willing to take up my cross and follow You? This Christmas season, call me back to my true purpose through Your truth. Give me a burden for souls. Let my prayers be turned toward the harvest. Let me call others, in the power of Your love – “Repent, and believe the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

In Jesus’ Name!

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THE GIFT OF PEACE (An Advent Reflection)

JOHN 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: Do you know what the second Sunday of Advent is? Today, many churches do not celebrate the observance of Advent. Advent is the four-week observance on the church calendar leading up to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. One of the tradtions of Advent that I grew up with was the lighting of the Advent candles each Sunday as we heard the Christmas story.

Each candle represented an aspect of the blessings of Jesus’ coming. The order of the candles varies by some traditions. The tradition that I grew up in observed the following order.

  • First Sunday of Advent: The candle of Hope (purple candle)
  • Second Sunday of Advent: The candle of Peace (purple candle)
  • Third Sunday of Advent: The candle of Joy (pink candle, pink was the liturgical color for joy)
  • Fourth Sunday of Advent: The candle of Love (purple candle)
  • Christmas Day: The Christ candle (white candle)

Each week was a special time to focus on the blessings of Christ. This past Sunday observed the lighting of the candle of Peace. The promise of peace was a central promise to the coming of the Messiah. The wonderful prophetic writings of Isaiah captured this promise.

  • “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah‬ ‭9‬:‭6‬ ‭NKJV‬

And, Luke records the wonderful promise of the Angels to the Shepherds.

  • “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭11‬-‭14‬ ‭NKJV

When one reads these promises there seems to be a disconnect somewhere in our world. If Jesus came to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men, and if He truly is the Prince of Peace, then why is there so much turmoil and unrest in the world today? So many songs have been written calling for peace, men and women have protested for peace, and the United Nations was founded to foster peace, and yet our world goes on warring and fighting and peace seems to elude us.

Jesus answers this question in the Gospel of John when he begins teaching the disciples of his coming departure back to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises not to leave them as orphans. The Holy Spirit would come and dwell within each believer. And, in this context, Jesus gives them, and us, this very special promise.‬‬

  • “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Jesus one day will return and bring world peace when He sets up His Millenial Kingdom (Read Revelation 19-20). Yet, Jesus promises us peace now in this life. The promise of peace was not a Christmas promise that was for some time in the future. It was the promise of peace in the here and now. Yet, it was not the peace that the world was looking for or hoping for. This is why the world rages on and misses the promise of His peace.

The world’s peace is the absence of something. It is the absence of war, noise, confrontation, personal struggle, and the list goes on and on. This is why the world never achieves peace. It is like the circus act of the plate spinner. Just when one plate gets spinning correctly the next one begins to wobble. To have perfect peace all the plates need to be spinning at the same time and the same speed. This is not humanly possible. Eventually, plates begin to crash to the ground and break. Peace is lost!

The peace that Jesus brings is not the cessation of something. In fact it is not a something. The promise of peace is the promise of a person. It is the promise of the indwelling Spirit of God living in us. And, it is through the indwelling Spirit of God that we enter into His peace. His peace is His presence. The very presence of the living God, dwelling within the human spirit, is the only source of true and lasting peace!

  • “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John‬ ‭14‬:‭23‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

The second candle of Advent represents the promise of His Peace. It is not the cessation of things without. It is the promise of the indwelling presence of God within. It is Jesus Christ in us – the Prince of Peace, the hope of glory! This is the peace that enabled Jesus to sleep in a boat that was being tossed to and fro by the waves and wind. It was the peace that allowed Jesus to endure the cross. It was the peace that encountered the disciples when they met the risen Christ. And, it is the peace that Jesus gives to every believer when they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of Peace is Jesus!

Lord, this Advent season, help me to remember Your great promise of Peace!

  • “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” Isaiah‬ ‭26‬:‭3‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In Jesus’ Name!

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IS CHRISTMAS JUST AN EVENT?

JOHN 11:23-27: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” NKJV
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OBSERVATION: What is Christmas to you? I often ponder this question as this time of year rolls around. As decorations go up, the stores are filled with festive gifts, and our calendar begins to fill up with so many get-togethers and activities, it is easy to forget what Christmas is all about. If we are not careful…

Christmas becomes an event!

I think in my spare time I could become a screenwriter for Christmas movies. They usually have these things in common. First, there is a person who is in a relationship that is going nowhere. Then, there is an opportunity to go back to where they grew up and magically they meet someone from their past whom they have not seen in years. And, finally, they begin to fall in love as they work together to put on a special Christmas event for their hometown. Sound familiar?

Okay, personal confession. I still enjoy these predictable movies. Yet, they reveal a common trap that we all fall into. We begin to focus on the event of Christmas and miss the revelation of Christmas. As I was reading this familiar passage about the death of Lazarus it struck me. We don’t do this only at Christmas. Rather, we do this in every area of our life.

We miss the moment as we focus on the event!

Mary and Martha had just lost their beloved brother Lazarus. When Jesus heard of this news he delayed his journey to see Mary and Martha by two days. Then, Jesus and His disciples traveled back to Judea to see Lazarus. By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been dead and buried in the tomb for four days. Jesus knew God has a greater purpose in this situation than merely praying for Lazarus to get better. Jesus was going to show His victory over death as He would raise Lazarus from the dead.

When Jesus arrived, Martha went out to meet Him. Martha was focused on the event and not the moment. She had just witnessed the event of her brother’s death. She had been there when they placed him in the tomb. Filled with sorrow she says to Jesus – “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus answers her with the purpose of His delayed visit.

  • “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Yet, once again, Martha is focused on the event. Martha replies,

  • “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

When we only focus on the event we miss God’s possibility, promise, and purpose in life. Jesus came to Martha with words of hope and life. Martha could only see some future event that would take place. She could not see the connection between Jesus’ words and her current situation. I think this is what happens to most of us during the Christmas season. We get so busy, and so stressed out with events, that we really do not enjoy the season. We miss the very reason we should be celebrating.

I love how Jesus responds to Martha. He does not rebuke her (and he does not rebuke us when we get our priorities confused). Jesus looks into Martha’s confused and hurting eyes and He points her to the reality that is standing right before her.

  • “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.“

I believe Jesus is standing before each one of us this Christmas season. He is calling us to remember who He is, why He came, and what He desires to do in our life – right now! Jesus is our resurrection and our life – right now! Life is not an event, a future promise, delayed until the final resurrection. Jesus is life. Jesus is resurrection. And, this life begins the moment we place our faith in Him.

Jesus came to invade the power and darkness of death in the life of all those who would believe. Yes, we have the hope of eternal life. Yet, we also have the promise of an abundant life – now, in this present time. Christmas is not about events, celebrations, and gatherings. As much as I enjoy all of these, Christmas is about life! Jesus is the source of this life!

And, this life is not an event, it is a person! It is Jesus!

So, as I think about these things, I put myself in Martha’s shoes. Jesus comes to me this Christmas season. He confronts my misplaced priorities and I hear Him say,

  • “Do you believe this?”

With Martha, I choose to say…“Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Lord, forgive me for the times when I allow the business of this season to misplace my priorities. Help me to enjoy all the events but always keep my focus on You! Let me hear Your words speaking to my heart…

  • “I am the resurrection and the life…” (Right Now!)

In Jesus’ Name!

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I LOVE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!

JOHN 1:4-5: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” NKJV

OBSERVATION: Christmas lights are like ice cream. It is hard to find people who don’t enjoy them. Once a year our neighborhoods and businesses take on a bright glowing grandeur that is not present the rest of the year. Nights are reserved for a cup of hot cocoa and a drive around the neighborhood to take in all the lights and sights!

I love Christmas lights!

Christmas lights are special because they take place once a year. They are not always shining so we become bored with them. Communities even schedule special events to turn on the lights. This year my wife and I will be attending the lighting ceremony in our golf course community. It will be filled with music, refreshments, and of course the traditional countdown to turn on the lights.

Rest assured, there are places where people do not cherish the lights. The people who live and work in Las Vegas do not cherish the lights on the strip. These lights are shining every day and night. There is nothing special about them. In fact, they are downright gaudy. To the visitor, they are a wonder for a few days. Yet, to the person who works there day after day they mean absolutely nothing.

Jesus came as the Light of the World! The opening verses in the Gospel of John read – “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus’ light was more than just a display of lights on the Vegas Strip, Time Square, or Hollywood Boulevard. Jesus’ light was the radiance of life. Jesus was the one true light who came to bring light to a darkened world.

Jesus was the eternal Christmas light sent from God the Father!

It would be sad if each year Christmas lights were put up but no one cared. Imagine, business going on as usual. No drives around the neighborhood to admire the lights. No hot cocoa or Christmas movies. No exchanging of gifts, family meals, or celebrations. If this were the case – how long do you think families and businesses would keep hanging their lights?

Yet, this is exactly what happened when Jesus came. Jesus came as the source of life, the light from heaven, a beacon to a world lost in darkness, and yet – “…the darkness does not comprehend it.” They did not get it. Life had come and most people missed the parade. How did God respond? Did he simply say – “Well, they missed their chance! No more lights for these ungrateful people!” That would have been my response. Yet, God had a different response.

“And the light shines in the darkness…”

The light of Jesus’ life continues to shine. God did not pull the plug. In this darkened world filled with sin, brokenness, and sorrow – there is a light that shines. It is not an artificial light created by man. It is the radiant beam of God’s love, His life, His very person. The enemy of our souls tried to extinguish this light once and for all. Yet, Jesus defeated both sin and death and rose again in radiant life. His light continues to shine and His life continues to call men and women to His life!

  • “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John‬ ‭1‬:‭12‬-‭13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This is why I love Christmas lights! Whenever I look at these lights I am reminded of the one true light who came to bring life into the world. I am reminded of the moment when I became a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ my Lord. I am reminded that this light will never go out and that one day I will stand eternally in His presence warmed by the radiance of His life!

I love Christmas lights – because I love Jesus!

Lord, I pray that this Christmas season will be filled with both light and life for all. May Your light shine upon the hearts of those who do not understand to bring them to the wonderful knowledge of the truth so that they too can open their hearts to the true Christmas light – Jesus Christ, the light of life!

In Jesus’ Name!

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DON’T JUST READ YOUR BIBLE!

REVELATION 1:3: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” NKJV

OBSERVATION: Do you read your Bible? This may sound like an unnecessary question for a believer. Yet, in today’s church, the sad truth is that most Christians are Biblically illiterate. They own several Bibles, they have the Bible app on their phones, and they carry their Bible to church, yet they rarely open the pages of Scripture as they struggle from one week to the next.

I used to be in this camp. I read my Bible, but I did not read it regularly. Many times I made a goal to read my Bible from cover to cover, only to fizzle out sometime in February. I bought the One Year Bible, I tried several reading programs – all without success. I would read my Bible to prepare for a sermon, periodically throughout the week, but I was defeated by the tyranny of the urgent in my daily routine.

As I close out this year, I will celebrate reading through the Bible from cover to cover. I have enjoyed doing this over the past 20 years as I have practiced a discipline I believe the Lord gave to me. I call this the L.I.F.E. Program. It is very simple. I simply read three chapters of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament each day. If I miss a day I simply pick up where I left off. And, I have finished the Bible each year since beginning this discipline.

However, my goal is not simply to read through the Bible as if I was running a meaningless marathon. My goal is to do much more. As I read the opening verses of the Book of Revelation I was reminded that I need to do more than simply read the Bible.

I need to READ, HEAR, and KEEP God’s Word!

This is what the L.I.F.E. Program of Bible reading is all about. Here are the simple steps in the acronym.

L – LIGHT: I do my reading each day, prayerfully and expectantly. I trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate (light) something in my reading and to speak to my heart in a personal way.

I – INTERCESSION: I pray before I begin reading and I also pray throughout the reading process. As I read I pause to pray over what I am reading and many times over people that the Lord places on my heart during this time in His Word. I am not just reading. I am having a daily conversation with God through His Word and prayer.

F – FORGIVENESS: I have found that as I read God’s Word, as I hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to my heart, I must come to the foot of the cross for forgiveness, cleansing, and grace. When we hear the still small voice of the Spirit it will always lead us to the cross to find God’s provision for our lack and our daily living.

E – ENGAGEMENT: Reading God’s Word, hearing the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and receiving His forgiveness, cleansing, and grace, will lead to action in our life. John’s introduction promises a blessing to those who read, hear, and keep! It is the keeping where God’s grace meets our obedience. If we do not engage what we have read and heard there will be no growth. Spiritual growth only takes root when our prayers are followed by our obedience in response to the grace of God working in our lives.

One final note. All of the above would not have the impact that it needs to have if I omitted one important thing – JOURNALING! Imagine you were paying for a degree program at one of the finest colleges in the nation. Do you think you would benefit only from the lectures – if you did not take notes? Would you remember what you had heard during the hour? Would you be able to study and prepare for the tests you would be required to take? Taking notes is paramount to growing in knowledge.

This is why I journal regularly. This is exactly what I am doing right now. I am not writing these words to impress anyone. I am writing these words more for my benefit than anyone else. I need to wrestle with the word the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. I need to grapple with the thoughts in my mind and my heart. And, I need to call myself to action and implementation. Without this exercise, everything will be easily forgotten.

And, so I read, listen, pray, grapple, journal, and engage. I do this daily. I do this with great expectations. I do this each year by reading a new version of an unmarked Bible so I am greeting the text like it is the first time I ever read it. And, I do this with joy. My discipline has become my delight. I can’t wait to begin this process again in the New Year.

Lord, grant me the grace to continue to read, hear, and keep Your Word – so that I can experience L.I.F.E.!

In Jesus’ Name!

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THE PROBLEM OF LIVING ONLY FOR THE MOMENT…

MALACHI 3:13-15: “You have said terrible things about me,” says the Lord. “But you say, ‘What do you mean? What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.’” NLT
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OBSERVATION: Am I just living only for the moment? Is my life governed by only those things that benefit me now? Are my peace and security tied to the stock market? Do I ignore the weightier matters of life as long as my little corner is safe and cozy?

The nation of Israel had an ongoing flaw. They were grumblers. They complained, wined, and moaned in Egypt, on the day of their deliverance, and when they had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. Like Lot’s wife, they were continually looking over their shoulders, admiring the grass of someone else’s lawn.

Think about all the benefits the children of Israel were given. They were chosen out of all the people groups in the world to be God’s special people. They would be the ones who would receive God’s Word to pass down through the generations. And, it would be through Israel’s seed that the Savior of the world would come.

Yet, with all of these advantages, they still grumbled and complained.

In the message from Malachi the prophet, the Lord confronts the remnant of the great nation of Israel who had returned from the Babylonian and Assyrian captivities. Once again, failing to see God’s blessings and provisions, God challenges them saying,

  • “You have said terrible things about me,” says the Lord.“

Like a small child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, this small remnant of God’s people responds – ‘What do you mean? What have we said against you?’” God replies,

  • “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.’”

Have you ever felt this way? I know I have. You try to serve the Lord, love others, and follow and obey His commandments, and you wonder – “Is it all worth it?” What benefit is there to taking up one’s cross daily and following Jesus? When you look at the world around you it seems like the rich are getting richer and those who break the rules are winning the race. You look at the injustice in this world and wonder…

“Where is God?”

If we only live for the moment we will live a life of grumbling and regret. Paul put it this way,

  • “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭15‬:‭19‬ ‭NLT‬

When we forget to live with an eternal perspective in life we set ourselves up for a life of grumbling, disappointment, and regret. So many have turned being a Christ-follower into a pathway of success and prosperity. This used to work in America because of her abundant wealth. However, this focus did not export well to third-world nations, and it is no longer working very well in America as we face rapidly growing inflation and economic unrest.

Christianity is more than a get-rich scheme. It is a calling to love and follow Jesus. It is concerned about the life to come and the fulfillment of Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. It is a call to give rather than receive, to bless rather than to be blessed and to serve rather than to be served. It is the way of the cross.

It is an eternal calling with an eternal reward.

As we read the following verses in the book of Malachi we are reminded of this eternal focus.

  • “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.” Malachi‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬. NLT‬

God’s words did not fall on deaf ears. In all of history, there has been the faithful remnant who saw past the immediate and into the eternal. These were the ones who feared God, who remained faithful, who persevered. They did this not for an immediate reward. They did this because of their love for God and His promise of a coming Kingdom of righteousness. And, to these faithful, God promised –

  • “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” ‭‭Malachi‬ ‭3‬:‭17‬-‭18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There may be sacrifice and suffering for the moment. Yet, for those who love God, who fear His name, who walk after the Spirit of God, there will be deliverance from the day of judgment and a vindication of their faith and sacrifice. It will be on that day that the answer will be given as their names are read in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

It is worth it to serve the Lord!

Whatever sacrifice is made in this life for the Kingdom of God, there will be bountiful blessings in eternity for those who have answered the call, embraced God’s grace, and followed Jesus. In Jesus’ own words…

  • “…Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.” ‭Mark‬ ‭10‬:‭29‬-‭30‬ ‭NLT‬

Lord, forgive me for the times I have grumbled and complained. Give me the grace to keep my eye on Your eternal promise. Help me to remain faithful – rejoicing that my name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, and that I will hear you say,

  • “…Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” Matthew‬ ‭25‬:‭23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In Jesus’ Name!

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