Category Archives: Christmas 2011

Keeping Jesus at Your Center

In wrapping up my 25 days of Christmas, I would like to propose a thought to you all with the coming new year.

I, for one, do not make New Year’s resolutions. If I call it that, I never end up keeping them. I’m always in a constant state of bettering myself, wanting to excel in everything I do. I choose healthier eating options, go to the gym five days a week, do yoga, spend time with God, spend quality time with friends and family, become a better musician and writer…and the list goes on.

Most of us even end up re-prioritizing our priorities at the end of the year…saying that next year will be the year that we will keep Jesus in first place…leaving our lists looking more like this:

1. Jesus
2. Family, friends and others
3. Career
4. Volunteer
5. Music and writing
Etc…

This year, I’m choosing to not just have Jesus first, but keep Him in everything on that list.

Prioritizing the list that way seems to remove Jesus from the majority of your life and gives Him an  island all His own, making it a rather ineffective list when you get down to the grind of every day life. Jesus should be infused into every nook and cranny, rather than given a separate time or section of it.

After all, the scriptures repeatedly tell us that Jesus is first before and over everything; all things were created through and for Him; in Him all things hold together; the goal of the cross was to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:15-20).

Jesus is first.

First in order.

First in importance.

He is so because He is the center of everything.

That’s what He should be in your life. And consequently, the thing that is the center of your life will automatically be first in your life.

That priority list should instead look more like this:

Jesus in my family, friends and others.
Jesus in my career.
Jesus in my volunteering opportunities.
Jesus in my musicianship.
Jesus in my writing.

Jesus in in my everything.

This year, instead of worrying about putting Jesus first in your life, what if you concentrated on making Him the center of every area of your life? Not just the top priority in front of every other priority, but the top priority in every priority?

We’d probably be a lot more successful in actually keeping Jesus at the top spot on our list. And we’d be much more likely to do an exponentially greater job at accomplishing our other goals and maintaining our priorities.

That is my prayer for you, not only with the company year, but for your life. May He be the center of everything.

God’s Story is Your Story

Read Luke 1.

Why is Christmas such a magical time of year? I think its because everyone is expecting a miracle at Christmas. Consider all the popular movies. Each one has a miracle as it’s central plot. Whether it’s a boy hoping his parents get back together, a shop-owner hoping he can keep his business running, or a town who needs a new hero to help “save Christmas.”

You might be reading this and wishing for your own miracle this Christmas. It’s probably much smaller than what makes a holiday movie. But it no less important to you. 

Maybe you’re hoping our prodigal comes home. Maybe you’re wishing for a job. Some are yearning for a special someone to sit next to you by the fire. 

2,000 years ago, there was a couple who hoped for their own miracle. But like many, they had long given up on this dream. Zacharias and Elisabeth prayed for a child, but year after year, that prayer went unfulfilled. So, they gave up on the dream. 

But this couple didn’t give up on God. They stayed faithful. Then, one ordinary day, the extraordinary happened. Zacharias, a priest in Israel, was chosen to give the incense at the altar. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, a rare honor for such a common man. Then, as he performed this sacred duty, an angel of God appeared, breaking God’s 400-year silence with Israel. 

The angel told Zacharias that he and his wife, Elisabeth would have a son after all. He would have a special purpose an would prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. 

This all sounded impossible to Zacharias. Not the miracle itself—that Jesus would come, that John would be the forerunner. Zacharias, as a believing Jew, knew the Scriptures and believed this. 

He just had a hard time thinking God could use silly old him. After all, he and his wife were well past the child-bearing age. But, true to His word, God performed this miracle in the lives of Zacharias and Elisabeth. You know the rest of the story. John the Baptist led revival in Israel and would later baptize Jesus Christ, the very son of God. 

But let’s focus on Zacharias and Elisabeth. They were faithful people in a time of unfaithfulness. And yet they had given up on the dream God had planted in their hearts—the dream of having a son. What’s interesting is that Zacharias had no problem with the big miracle: God sending a Son to be born of a virgin and be the Savior. It was the little miracle he had trouble with, the miracle in his own life. Even though God had done a similar thing in Sarah and Hannah and Rebekah and Rachel, Zacharias refused to believe his wife, Elisabeth could bear a child. 

He did something we often do. We believe in the big things of God—sending a son to be our Savior, Creation, Heaven—but when it comes to littler miracles, we limit Him. It’s as if we say, Yes, God can create the earth in six days, be born of a baby, and send us to Heaven, but He can’t possibly change me, fix a relationship, get me a job. 

And God’s answer is Yes I can. You see, the biggest miracle has already been done—Jesus. Everything else is small to God. 

So maybe today, like Zacharias, you’re letting God know that there is something too big for Him. Something even He can’t fix. 

And the story of Zacharias tells us that there is nothing too hard and that God is still in the business of doing miracles. Even in your own life. 

Embrace it.

God’s Kingdom

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. -Luke 1:32-33

Christmas represents a beginning that only makes sense if we comprehend the end. The beginning is a child-a humble birth in an earthy stable. But the end… The end is an explosion of divine glory bright enough for the whole world to see-like the birth of new star. The end is a kingdom. Jesus came to forward the kingdom of God, to open people’s eyes to the power of God, to make it the central reality of their lives. “His kingdom will never end.”

Contrast this with King Herod, who sought to protect his kingdom by trying to eliminate any potential rival to his throne. What Herod didn’t understand was that by killing all the baby boys in Bethlehem, he was not protecting his kingdom, but showing its weakness and fearfulness. In the wake of God’s kingdom and power, all human power is simply water dribbling through cupped hands, no matter how steadfast the grasp.

The kingdom of Christ is different; it will never end. There is no rival to his authority, though unbelievers will always abound. There is no one sitting at the right hand of God except Christ. No other authority was present when the earth was created, and no other will be there when the final judgment comes.

Christmas is a celebration of the coming of a kingdom. Powerful. Life-changing. Overwhelming. Don’t ever think that Christmas is a way for us to wrap God up in a package, put a bow on it, and keep the whole thing under our control. A way for us to avoid God except for those extra-special religious seasons.

The first Christmas was the arrival of a king. Rulers from the east knew it, so they came to present gifts. King Herod knew it, which is why he ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed. It is the Battle of Bethlehem, the beginning of a war in which the King of Kings is intent to take back territory that belonged to him all along, and to sweep people like us into a new benevolent kingdom.

Day 25: Keeping Christ

As I prepared for the holidays, I noticed something different this year. Retail stores always try to stock their stores with things they think will sell well. This year, they did something different. In years past, one could always find an aisle devoted to Nativity scenes, angels and things of that nature, including wrapping paper with words like Peace, Noel, et on them. Instead the shelves are stocked with color coordinated ornaments, colorful trees and LED lights. Wrapping paper has Santa and Frosty frolicking in the snow. What happened? Why are we taking Christ out of Christmas? Are we forgetting what Christmas is all about?

Christmas is not about the latest gaming system or the largest flat-screen TV ever made. Christmas is not about competing with your neighbor for the biggest and brightest light show on the block. It’s not even about colored trees, LED lights and coordinating ornaments. Christmas is about that baby in a manger. Christmas is not about the decorations, the food or the gifts. Christmas is about Christ, the ultimate gift of God’s love for all mankind.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) (NIV)

Isaiah foretold about this baby long before He entered the world.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

It’s easy to forget that as we rush around during the holidays. Our schedules get so busy with holiday functions, church fellowships, office parties and school performances. There’s much to be done: shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, etc. Yet, no matter how busy the season gets, take time each and every day to stop, pray and meditate on God’s Word and the real reason for the season. Keep Christ in Christmas and may you keep Him all year long.

Day 24: God with Us

Emmanuel

God is with us—God came to us. What a staggering thought!

God is with us – the essence of the Christian faith and the Christian life. All other religious ideologies essentially tell you that you must do something: Do this, and you will find inner peace. . . . Do this, and you will reach nirvana. . . . Do this, and maybe you will make it to heaven. But Christianity says it is done—done for you at the Cross, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Being a Christian is not merely following a creed; it is having Christ himself live in you and through you, giving you the strength to be the man or woman He has called you to be. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

The message of Christmas is God with us. That is important to know, especially during those times when we are going through great difficulty. The psalmist said, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:9–10). It is great to know that God is with you wherever you go.

The Bible never teaches that we will have problem-free lives as followers of Christ. But the Bible does teach that we never will be alone. And because of that, we don’t have to be afraid.

That is the message that this sin-sick world needs to hear: Immanuel—God is with us.

Who are we, that You would be mindful of us?
What d You see that’s worth looking our way?
We are free in ways that we never should be
Sweet release from the grip of these chains.

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing.

All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified
Emmanuel, God with us
My heart sings a brand new song
The debt is paid; these chains are gone
Emmanuel, God with us

Lord, You know our hearts don’t deserve Your glory
Still You show a love we cannot afford.

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
Nevertheless, we lay it at Your feet

Day 23: Better to Give Than to Receive

Erma Bombeck, an American author and humorist, once said, “There’s nothing sadder than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” I’m sure that when she said that, she was thinking of the joy and wonder of a child opening presents on Christmas morning. I experienced such a Christmas in 1991.

It was the year I wanted a dollhouse for my Barbies to live in. My sister and I usually got similar gifts (a new doll each year) and we would play to our hearts’ content for hours afterwards, but out dolls didn’t have a place to live.

We made do by tipping chairs over and putting blankets over them, fort/tent style, and used our imaginations. Maybe they were on a safari!

That year, I asked my parents for dollhouse. I could barely hold my excitement for Christmas.

Christmas Eve, when my father finally came in from working outside, we got to open our gifts. I will never forget the giant gift with my sister’s and my name on it. The package was twice my size!

When our turn came, we both ripped the wrapping off, creating more of a mess than anything. Underneath was a two story dollhouse. The main level consisted of the living room and the dine-in kitchen. There were counter tops, cupboards that actually opened, a mock sink, door frames, miniature light fixtures, carpet and tile. One wall in the living room had a fireplace on it…granted it was one of those mural stickers that you could get at Hobby Lobby, but it gave the room a warm glow.

There was a set of stairs in the living room leading up to the second level where there were two bedrooms, both contained two different types of carpet. The roof actually had shingles and there was even a chimney. All it needed was our doll furniture and a little life!

I couldn’t wait to play with it and neither could my sister.

I’m sure Erma Bombeck was thinking of such precious moments when she made her comment. The wonder and joy doesn’t have to stop when we grow up. I still get that when I give. I don’t expect anything in return. I’d rather see the smile on a kid’s face or hear a thank you from the young woman struggling to make ends meet.

The wonder and joy I experienced when I found that dollhouse under the tree was a self-centered joy of having my dream fulfilled. There is nothing wrong with that. However, part of maturing is growing out of our self-centeredness. As we mature, we learn to rejoice with those around us and share their joy.

There is even greater joy and wonder to be the one that brings joy to others. I can imagine that my parents were overflowing as they watched me with that dollhouse. It really “is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). If we want more joy at Christmas, it’s amazingly simple. All we have to do is give more joy to others.

The late American newscaster Eric Sevareid seemed to understand our need to give to others. He said, “There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). The truth applies all year long, but maybe Sevareid is right. Maybe it is a good thing we have one day a year that encourages us to practice it. Maybe seeing it prove true in December will encourage us to put it into practice all year long.

May your Christmas and New Year be filled with joy!

Day 22: Peace in a Chaotic World

Peace.

When we think of that word, we tend to picture the scene of shepherds guarding their sheep by night on a hill in the country of Judea, Israel. Suddenly, an angel appears with good news about a baby, born in a manger, then a multitude of angels join in singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.” We hear about it every Christmas: peace on earth. We sing about it. We pray for it. Peace on Earth: an end to wars, an end to bitterness and hostility, an end to fear. We even talk about how nice it would be to have Christmas all year long, so we could always focus on peace and goodwill toward all mankind.

But wars go on. Bitter struggles that have lasted for centuries continue. We find new ways to kill, new things to be afraid of.

In fact, if you were to Google the top stories of 2011, you would find articles on the Japan earthquake, tsunamis, riots around the globe, overthrown governments, the death of dictators, Occupy Wall Street, protests, Steve Jobs, and more.

Just this past week: bombings in Baghdad, families being held hostage by the Taliban, babies gone missing and the payroll tax issue in the US.

I even face it at work – domestic violence, workplace threats, robberies…the list goes on. The Christmas ideal of peace on earth seems to be nothing more than an oasis in the midst of this violent world…maybe even a mirage.

The news headlines are discouraging. The reality of war and hate among nations is too close to home. And it is hard to know what to say to those enduring this season without their loves ones for the first time. Yet, despite all of this, there is still a message ringing through the air: peace on earth.

The scriptures are clear:

For it pleased the Father that in him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on Earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:19-20

He came for this purpose.

For He Himself is our peace. He has made us both one, and has broken down the hostile dividing wall between us. Ephesians 2:14

His goal was sure.

When we think about peace, it’s important to remember that God and Satan have been at war since the beginning of time. As Christians, we have joined God’s forces. We are no longer at war with God. He offers us peace; shalom rather, a peace that fills from within, rather than without. Our physical peace will not be complete until Jesus returns and Satan is defeated or we go home to be with Him.

I believe that the peace Jesus brought brings more than that. Jesus didn’t come to take our problems away. He came to stand with us in the midst of our problems so that we could find  that He is our peace.

As if the angels who met the shepherds long ago were still singing, their message has carried through the ages. Longfellow was right. Tragedies constantly bombard our doorsteps, yet there is a reverberation ringing through the air. If we listen with our hearts and not judge with our eyes or our minds, we can hear it too.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does He sleep…Peace on earth, Peace on earth…The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on earth , goodwill to men.

With great compassion, God saw the condition of His creation and made a provision for change (John 3:16)

The storms of life do not end on Christmas day. Trials and tribulations are often with us every day of the year.

Christ was born to bring peace to you and to your world. You can choose to be a part of Christ’s peace or choose to use your free will to turn away from Him. God leaves it up to you to decide to live in Christ’s peace…even in the storms of your life. When you open your heart and soul to unwrap Christ’s gift of peace, His peace flows into you.

Peace it not only available. Peace is possible. May you find it, not only this season, but all year long.

May the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Day 21: He is Jealous for Me

He is jealous for me; loves like a hurricane and I am a tree, bending beneath the wind of His wind and mercy. When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory  and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us, oh. Oh, how He loves us; how He loves us all!

And we are His portion and He is our Prize; drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes. If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss and my heart turns round violently inside of my chest. I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way….

Love.

One simple word can speak so much into the lives of those around us. It also happens to be one of my favorite words in the English language. Granted, I wish we had more alternatives for the word like the Greeks did, with agape being the deepest of them all.

That word alone is probably why I love Christmas so much. It’s one of the most joyous Christian holidays, a time to remember the birth of Christ our Savior. Christmas is time when we share blessing with others (this should be done all year long, not just December) and are surround by those we love.

Not long ago, a young family member asked me “Why  did God send Jesus if He knew He was going to die?”

Thing is, He wasn’t just going to die. He was going to be mocked, beaten, tortured, and then sentenced to die a slow, painful death by crucifixion. All at the hands of those He came to save.

We tend to remember the good times in life…both ours and in the life of Jesus. We love telling the Nativity story and studying His words of wisdom, reading about His acts of love and servitude, and His healing. But…but, we forget that shortly after His birth, an angel told the family to flee from Herod’s army. We forget about His suffering. We forget the price He paid, for our sins. We forget the lengths that God went to show His love. (Read Romans 5:8).

Thinking about all that leaves me in awe.  God knew the very creatures He created would crucify Him for trying to save us from ourselves. He went as far as prophesying this through the prophets; the suffering He would endure. And yet…

God lowered Himself in Christ, feeling physical pain and suffering. God lowered Himself  and let mere humans mock and beat Him. God, who has all the power in the universe, humbled Himself to be lower; to die at our sinful, hateful hands. (Read Hebrews 2:9).

God knew all of this would happen at the beginning of time, and yet, He loved us so immensely that He sent His Son to suffer a painful death just so we could spend eternity with our Heavenly Father (John 3:16). That is love.

God is jealous for you.

His love is like a hurricane. Picture that. Feel His waves of mercy.

And if His grace were an ocean…we’re all sinking.

My personal prayer for you: May you feel His love and sink within His grace this year. God is so worth it!

Day 20: Wishing You Hope This Christmas

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 

“A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” ~~ O Holy Night

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time to be an eyewitness of the celestial celebration that took place in Bethlehem the night that Jesus was born?  Now, I’m a bit fussy about fashion, but I’d even consider donning shepherd garb and hanging out with a few sheep for that opportunity! To see angels fill the sky, to hear the voice of God through the cries of a baby. To catch a glimpse of the brilliant Star of David, and to satisfy my curiosity as to what exactly a host of heavenly angels sounds like.

Oh, and to talk to Mary!  Wouldn’t that be amazing to hear what she was thinking as she witnessed, and took part in the greatest miracle ever known to man? This baby she gave birth to was God-in-flesh, a true bundle of love.  What do you think she treasured in her heart as she took it all in?  I’m struck by this thought:  As she held the Hope of the world, the Hope of the world was also holding her. Ponder that!

The baby born in a barn that holy night long ago is the Hope of the world – the Grace that saves us – the Love that heals us.  Jesus is Hope that changes our worthless into precious, our guilty to forgiven, our hungry into satisfied, and our empty into full.  His presence is inescapable.  We cannot flee from His stubborn grip.  The psalmist, David said: “If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” ( Psalm 139:8-10).

The Bible tells us in the New Testament that Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God, the Father in heaven and that He “holds us fast.” Relish that thought. The Hope that holds us is Jesus Christ. You and I are held by Hope.

In the Old Testament, God told Joshua that He would “never leave or forsake” him (Joshua 1:5). God says the same to us. He will never leave us or forsake us; no matter the circumstances, not matter the diagnoses, no matter the financial struggle. Our faithful LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We can rest assured that in everything, we are held by Hope.

After His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, Jesus said, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  My girlfriend Mary Southerland often reminds people that the word “always” actually means … drum roll please … “always!”  He is always with us.  Always loving us.  Always wanting us to find comfort, refuge, joy and satisfaction in Him.

As a Christmas approaches and New Year dawns, let’s be mindful of God’s promise that we are never alone. Just like the shepherds received the headline news of Jesus’ birth from singing angels so long ago, receive this glad tiding of great joy today: If you are in Christ, then you are held by Hope.

Day 19: Seeking the Savior

What are you searching for this holiday season? Have you chased worldly things only to discover that the effects don’t last as long as you’d like? Or are you chasing God – the only one who can satisify?

When you seek Him, you learn and see this life is all about God.  God made us.  He gave us a free will so we can choose to love whoever or whatever we want.  Many of us did just that.  We loved everyone and everything, except our Creator.  By rejecting God through our loving everyone and everything else, we sinned against God.  Romans 6:23 tells us “the wages of sin is death”.  Romans 3:23 says “all sin and fall short of the glory of God”.  That means anyone who chooses not to love God, chooses to sin instead and the result is the death penalty.

But God knew this would happen, so He made a way to save us from the death penalty.  He sent His Son, in human form, to live a perfect life, to take our sin upon Himself and die on a cross in our place.  That means our past sin, present sin and future sins are already dealt with.  Jesus’ death paid the penalty for us.

If we recognize our sinful condition, submit to God’s will by believing through faith Jesus Christ died for us, we are granted a new life.  Who wouldn’t want their record of wrongs wiped away or to be pardoned from the death penalty?

Think about it.  A fresh start.  A do-over. A second chance.  A new life.  Why, it almost sounds unbelievable doesn’t it?   Well, the Bible tells us in Matthew 19:26 NKJV “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Are you tired of striving to be good, only to realize your always fall short?

This Christmas celebrate the Savior by believing His Salvation.  He paid the penalty of death so we would be set free.  John 8:36 NKJV says “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

What are free from you ask?  Free from death. Free from sin.  Free from our sinful desires.  Free from our self.  Free from eternal separation from God.  But are not just saved to be free, we are saved for something too.  Salvation means we are saved for God, for His purposes, for His glory, and for good works He prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Seek Him this Christmas. Seek Him all year long. And may His blessings shower upon your lives as you seek out His will.