We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ahem—problems with this season are no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy. Let’s face it; this time of the year can stir up memories of possibly better times, at least the way we see it. The Christmas blues can hit hard when we think of those we used to spend Christmas with are now gone by death, divorce or a broken relationship. We can be alone and these thoughts may not be so merry, but hang over our heads like the wrong kind of mistletoe.
Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It’s been a story hard to forget. A young mother had to give up her kids to her X-husband because she could no longer afford to raise them on her own with the job she had. Her soul was ripped in two. I could go on, but you get the point.
I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce, or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.
But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.
But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who realize they really need a rescue that is bigger than themselves. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.
Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who have to live alone when they would rather be married. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want “home” but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray. Christmas is for those who have all but given up on life whose hopes have been crushed too many times to hope any more, but rather exist an odd “comfortably numb” existence during the holiday season,
Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.
This has been a most disturbing year in American history. Did you know that there has been 307 mass shootings in the U.S, so far, this year alone? In fact, there has been nearly as many mass shootings as we have had actual calendar days in 2017.
On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. This horrible event is considered the “Worst Mass Shooting in American History.” On Nov. 5, a 26-year-old gunman shot and killed 26 people including several children, a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter during a Sunday church service at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The shooting was the fifth-deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the deadliest in Texas. Millions of Americans at this moment are confused, discouraged, cynical, frightened and disillusioned. Each day seems to add to our problems.
In the wake of a difficult year, many people have become somewhat numbed to what appears to be the “further unraveling of our culture.” In October, the New York Times published allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, more than 38 sexual misconduct scandals have occurred involving high-profile men, actors and national, once-respected celebrities such as; Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, U.S. Senator John Conyers (D-Mich.), U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), Comedian Louis C.K., Alabama Judge Roy Moore, Actor Dustin Hoffman, Actor Kevin Spacey, and Actor Ben Affleck, to name just a few.
Contrasted against the dark background of 2017, in the midst of all this terrible upheaval, crisis, difficulty, problems and fear, comes the message of Christmas with all of its hope, goodwill and cheer. I think the message of Christmas has been terribly misapplied and misunderstood for many years in this country. There has never been a greater need to revisit, renew and recapture the reason for Christmas, not only for our country, but for our lives personally, than there is right now.
During this holiday season many people are caught up in the material side of business profits, shopping, gifts, tinsel, toys and celebration. Others are more spiritual and think mostly of Bethlehem, of the star in the sky, shepherds in the field and angels singing. Still others cynically ask, “Where is this Prince of Peace in a world filled with so much trouble? Where is this peace on earth promised to us”
But the real Christmas message goes far deeper. It answers all the great questions that plague the human race at this hour. The Christmas message is relevant, revolutionary and reassuring to us today. I believe it can be summed up in three words: a cradle, a cross and a crown.
First, the cradle. On that first Christmas night, the Bible tells us about the angel coming to those fearful shepherds and saying, “Fear not, I bring you Good News” (Luke 2:10).
During World War II, many a mother would take her son and try to keep the memory of the father, who was away at war, in the memory of the boy. One mother I heard about took her son every day into the bedroom and showed him a large portrait of the father who was away. And one day the little boy said, “Mom, wouldn’t it be great if Dad could just step out of the frame?”
That’s what happened that first Christmas. For centuries men had looked into the heavens longing for God to step out of the frame, and at Bethlehem that’s exactly what God did. God stepped into our world through our human skin and became one of us, yet without sin. God became personal in an intimate way like never before. God walked “in our shoes” in Jesus.
Incredible and unbelievable as it may appear to a modern man, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was a visitor from outer space. He was God Incarnate. That virgin-born baby was God in human form. He humbled Himself, He took the form of a Servant, He was made in your likeness and mine, He identified Himself with the problems of the human race. And thus it was that the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).
What a difference the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger 2,000 years ago makes to our world today. The educational systems He has inspired, the social reforms that His teachings have instituted, and the transformation of families and lives that have come about as a result of a baby born at Bethlehem! The whole world was thinking of Caesar. The whole world was thinking of Rome. But in God’s eternal plan, He was thinking of a Baby in a manger in the little tiny town of Bethlehem.
Second, there’s the cross. Christmas, to have meaning, cannot be separated from the cross. The angel said at the birth of Jesus, “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus Himself said, speaking just before His death, “For this cause was I born” (John 18:37). He was the only person in history who was born with the purpose of dying. The Apostle Paul, years later said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
The central message of Christmas is that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, can transform both individuals and society. Almost everyone at some time or another feels shame, moral guilt and failure. In every newspaper or magazine that we pick up, and in every newscast that we watch, we see a picture of hate and lust and greed and prejudice and corruption—manifested in a thousand ways. The fact that we have wars, crime, injustice, terrorism, hate, racism, policemen and jails and military forces indicates that something is radically wrong with human nature. We suffer from a heart problem on an epidemic scale.
The Bible teaches that the human race is morally sick. This spiritual disease has affected every phase of our life in society. The Bible calls this disease by an ugly, three-letter word: Sin. Secular psychologists may try and explain our problems away, but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see something is radically wrong with human nature. The evidence is all around us, everyday.
The Bible teaches that the only cure for sin is the blood that Christ shed on the cross. Christ became the Lamb of God who bled and died on the cross for our sins. He took upon Himself our sin, rebellion and disbelief, for us, in our place, on that rugged, Roman cross. The sin we committed, He became guilty of. He took the curse of sin, the death, hell and judgment we deserved, on that cross.
The cross and the resurrection stand today as man’s only hope. It was on Good Friday and Easter that God did for man what man could not do for himself. From these momentous events, God is saying to sinful man, “I love you. I love you so much I gave My Son.” But He’s saying more than that. He’s saying, “I can forgive you, because of what He did on the cross.” And this is Good News this Christmas!
Some may dismiss it as idiotic and ridiculous that a man dying 2,000 years ago could be relevant today. Paul anticipated that we’d say that. He said, “The preaching of the cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from that death it is nothing less than the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, Phillips).
I believe that America stands on the threshold of divine judgment. Morally, socially, economically, politically, spiritually, we are in deep trouble. We’ve turned away from God, and every month seems to take us further away from the only One who can reverse the tide, forgive our sins and forestall the imminent judgment. We must alter our course if we are going to see many more Christmas seasons as a free people. We are running out of time to change our ways. Our country desperately needs a moral and spiritual awakening from coast to coast. Many concerned believers today are praying for just that, even as we speak now.
Our greatest need is a change in the hearts of people. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). That’s why He said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Paul, in his famous sermon at Mars Hill, said, “God commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world” (Acts 17:30-31).
Who should repent? Everybody. This is what the cross calls for. The heart of its message is simple: Repent or perish. I know the word “repent” sounds like an archaic term, but what it means literally in the Greek is, “a change of mind, a change of heart, a turning away from the things that are wrong in our life and a turning towards God.” Of course, we need God’s grace and power to do this. But, there is an alarming trend in many pulpits today of some popular television preachers preaching a gospel without repentance, a “cheap grace” and “easy believism,” as Bonhoeffer warned us about. Yet, the truth is, without repentance we cannot be saved. Keep in mind, when we commit our lives to Jesus Christ, God gives us His Holy Spirit to help us repent. We are given all the spiritual power we need and more to become the transformed people He has called us to be. As we follow Christ, we learn that repentance is not just a one time “walk down the aisle.” It’s a lifetime of seeking to live in holy, set apart for the glory of God. Thank God He gives us not only the power, but the desire to live Christian lives as we should.
The Scripture says, “A broken and a contrite heart God will not despise” (Cf. Psalm 51:17). If we as individuals and as a nation would humble ourselves and turn from our sins, God has promised forgiveness, healing to the nation and eternal life to the individual.
Third, there’s the crown. Chiseled into the cornerstone of the United Nations building is a quotation from the Bible that has never yet been fulfilled. It reads, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). This is a thrilling thought. It has often been repeated by those who long for peace. However, this quotation must not be taken out of context.
The passage speaks of the future time when the Messiah will reign over the whole earth. This is the era about which Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is the time when He who came as the baby of Bethlehem shall come back as King of kings and Lord of Lords. The Bible teaches that there will be an end to history as we know it. Man will have his last Armageddon. But when it seems that man is about to destroy himself, God will intervene. Christ will return.
At the cradle, He was in the stall of an animal. At the cross, He wore a crown of thorns. But, praise God, when Jesus returns, it will be as the mighty, victorious Commander in Chief of the armies of Heaven, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” He will take control of this war-weary world and bring the peace that we strive for and long for. A new world will be formed, a new social order will emerge. Sin will be eliminated. Tears will be wiped from every eye. Disease shall be no more, and even death will be eliminated from the human scene. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and war shall be no more.
This is the promise of Christmas. This is our hope. This is the Christmas star that lights our darkness. This is the assurance that a new day is coming, through the Messiah, whose name is called by Isaiah the prophet, “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
This is God’s gift of Christmas: the cradle—His Son; the Cross—His life; the crown—His coming kingdom. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us note not only the historical significance of Advent, but the radical difference Christ makes in our lives today, and the uplifting hope we have for the future with His return.
Charles Dickens’ immortal classic “A Christmas Carol” was released on December 19, 1843, and has never been out of print. This beloved novel tells the dramatic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, greedy, sour, stingy man who bellows, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding!” Yet, one Christmas Eve, Scrooge is radically changed into a generous and happy man. With great humor and insight, Dickens’ book captures humanity’s universal longing for inner peace as it ends with the fact that no one could ever keep Christmas like the new, transformed Scrooge!
In a like manner, as a young man, the Apostle Paul hated Jesus and His followers with a burning persecuting passion. He was absolutely determined to destroy the early church and the first Christians. He “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). But one day he unexpectedly encountered the risen Christ, and his life became a totally different story (Acts 9:1-16). In a letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, Paul described that life-changing event by saying, even though he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man . . . the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:13-14).
Jesus was born into our world to change our eternal destiny by changing our heart in the here and now. Real Christmas is about a heart transplant; by our faith and trust in what Christ did for us on that first Christmas tree, His cross, “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). In the Scriptures, no one remained the same after they had encountered Jesus.
In 1739, Charles Wesley penned, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” In one of the verses, he poignantly writes, “Born to raise the songs of earth, born to give them second birth.” The second birth is the life-changing, transformation we experience when we come to Christ and totally trust Him and Him alone for the work of salvation He did for us on the cross. Someone once wrote, “We cannot truly know the birth of Christ until He is born in our hearts and He cannot be born in our hearts until we are born again.”
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” —(Matthew 1:23)
“Have I allowed my personal life to become a “Bethlehem” for the Son of God?”
I cannot enter the realm of the Kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth. “You must be born again” (John 3:7). This is a command, a fact based on the authority of God’s Word. The evidence of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that “Christ is formed” in me. And once “Christ is formed” in me, His nature immediately begins to work through me.
A middle-aged woman recently became a Christian writes, “I can’t believe it but I’ve really changed; God has given me the desire to want to study His Word, pray, turn away from the wrong things in my life. I want to worship God and be Christlike in my thought life, relationships and decisions. I use to think I wasn’t complete unless I was in a relationship. Yet, I’ve been hurt many times. Now, I finally have the power to forgive those who have done me wrong. The only thing that used to make me feel good was going shopping. Where once “I” was the center of my world, God now occupies that place. I am a different woman! To me it’s not becoming more religious. God has really become personal to me. It’s about a relationship. Jesus has become my personal Savior, not just a historic concept. I know I have been “born again.” I now enjoy real peace of heart and mind, I never knew that before. My guilt has gone. I know without a shadow of doubt that my sins are forgiven. I know I’m going to heaven when I die. I didn’t have that assurance before and that scared me. I’ve lost some friends and family members who were not believers. However, I wanted to make sure I was saved. On top of all that, I now experience joy and love on a whole other level much deeper than ever before. I’m not perfect. I still have a long way to go. But, what a difference Jesus has made in my life so far!”
This, my friends, is the grand personal transformation that Christ can make in your heart this Christmas. This is why Jesus is the heart of Christmas. This is why Jesus was born in Bethlehem, so that we could be born again.
The Birth of Christ Proves God Never Makes a Promise He Doesn’t Keep
Each year, Christmas creates in us a longing that reminds us not only of story of Jesus’ birth, but also hints at His promise to return one day. In fact, His future return makes His birth all the more meaningful for both events have considerable redemptive meaning for not only His people, but for the rest of the creation.
Rewind back to my childhood days, just before Christmas; as a little boy, I was totally convinced Santa Claus was the real deal. But thanks to my sweet, snooping, little sister Sandra, (who cannot stand to be in suspense during the holidays) the jolly ole “Saint Nick story” of him in a red suit, somehow magically flying around the world, on a supersonic sleigh led by eight tiny reindeer on Christmas Eve, was totally debunked. Much to my dismay, her persistent detective skills paid off when she discovered where Mom and Dad hid the Christmas presents (effectively proving our parents were playing the real Santa). It was a let down to me, I admit. From that very moment, Santa was dethroned from my childhood dreams. No more leaving milk and cookies for ole Saint Nick on Christmas Eve. No more pleading letters to the North Pole. No more carrots for the reindeer. But, in some strange way, I was kinda relieved. I did have a slight, lingering suspicion that maybe the story of Santa was a bit of a fable, even though it was presented initially to me as more of a loving parent’s promise that a child could trust.
Fast forward to the first Christmas after I became a Christian and was baptized, from then on, December 25th carried a brand new meaning for me. Somehow it was now different. It was a special day—not just a “holiday.” It was literally “a holy-day.” The candlelight service on Christmas Eve at church took on a more sacred and deeper meaning for me. I could feel and sense things I didn’t before. Almost overnight, Christmas Eve became one of those “Silent Nights” to ponder the miracle of Jesus, how God became human, yet without sin or blemish, as our Savior.
Suddenly, I felt “personally connected” to the whole Christmas story like never before. Before, I felt “on the sidelines” looking on as a bystander. Now, I sensed the birth of Christ embraced me as I embraced Him. I began to understand what the Bible means by the word “joy.” Even the Christmas carols and hymns rang with a sense of significance they never had before.
Before becoming a believer, I never gave the return of Christ much of a thought. After my baptism, my thinking dramatically changed. I could not separate the two events in my mind as eternally connected; one ensured the other. So, especially at Christmas, I would think about Jesus’ promised return often. It all started making more sense to me the more I thought about it. I began to understand why so many Christians believed this truth taught in the Scriptures with unapologetic enthusiasm.
And ponder I did, long and earnest. But always, as I sat back into the pew, I expected something else to happen—something to fill the longing inside of me. I know now that I was deep into a Christmas longing. It’s a longing each of us senses this time of year—especially when we listen to the child inside of us. It tugs at our heart strings in the secret places of our soul that summons our thoughts to something we know we don’t quite have now, but hope to have one day. It’s a desire to be home, to belong, to find fulfillment, complete and eternal. To finally experience a love so perfect, so wonderful, so lasting. A love we always hoped for, but never could quite have.
Christmas is that Grand Invitation to an even greater Cosmic Celebration yet to come. It’s the “best that’s yet to be.” It’s the realization that this world can never truly satisfy our deepest longings, that we were made for heaven, ultimately. On this side of eternity, Christmas is a promise. The Savior brings inner peace to those who receive Him. But the story is not finished until there is peace everywhere in our world.
I don’t think it’s stretching the truth to say every dazzling decoration, every tasty desert treat, every surprise gift, every melodic carol, every warm hug, every bright smile and moment of laughter, at this time of the year, is merely a foretaste to a place and a life where there is a much bigger and better reality awaiting us; a never-ending, mind-blowing, Christmas every day that absolutely defies the very limits of our best, mortal imagination. All of that is still built upon the unshakable granite pillars of our God’s promise.
Joni Eareckson Tada puts it this way; “Every Christmas is still a “turning of the page” until Jesus returns. Every December 25th marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to our heavenly home. Every Christmas carol is a beautiful echo of the heavenly choir that will one day fill the universe with joy and singing. Each Christmas gift is a foreshadowing of the gifts of golden crowns to be cast at the feet of the King of Kings. Each smile, each embrace, beckons us onward and calls us upward when those who have received the gift of God’s Son will see the Lord face to face.”
Advent angels joyously hovered over those shepherd’s fields heralding His birth on that black, Judean, Bethlehem night two-thousand years ago. But, one day they will herald the dawning of a new day for not only us personally, but for the entire creation. God’s sure promise of a new day where there will be no end to love, joy and peace. A new day where our best dreams finally do come true and our nightmares and fears trouble us no more. A new day where our questions will be answered and our frustrations will be non-existent. A new day where something too good to be real finally becomes real because it’s too good.
Could the rapturous joy we feel, in those fleeting moments of our best Christmas on earth, be but a mere tidbit morsel of the perfect sumptuous, eternal feast for our senses in heaven? Yet, this is God’s promise. Can you envision not only a place, but a plane of existence for yourself, forever, that is so awesome, so rich and so thick with joy, love, peace and excitement that it’s impossible to wrap your mind around it now in this temporal life?
Apparently, the single most common denominator, from the more credible near-death experiences, is the fact that everyone who visited heaven was stunned beyond words at it’s beauty and the feeling they felt, which far exceeded being merely overwhelmed, that it was frustratingly impossible to adequately describe. Yet, this is God’s promise, not just a pie in the sky for religious people, “That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him,” (I Cor. 2:9).
Our Heavenly Father is our Promise-Maker and also our Promise-Keeper. He has a perfect track record; He’s never made a promise He didn’t keep. Faithful is His name.
“Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut. 7:9).
The Hebrew root word for “faithful” here includes the idea of confirmation or proof. God always proves to be reliable when it comes to His relationship with us. The root word behind God’s name is “aman.” At the heart of the meaning of the root is the idea of certainty. The book of Revelation also calls Jesus “the Amen” (Rev. 3:14). This brings us back to where we started because the Greek word “Amen” is adapted from the Hebrew word “aman.” Interestingly (Revelation 3:14) goes on to call Jesus “faithful and true.” So, when God says He is going to do something—we have good reason to believe and trust Him because that is His unchangeable, eternal character. That’s who He is. He always has, He always will. This is the promise of Christmas and the promise of Jesus’ return.
This Christmas I pray that God will fill the secret longing of your heart with a fresh, renewed awareness of the reality of love and peace of His Son offers you in His gift of eternal life. May the babe of Bethlehem who gave His life on the cross of Calvary for you, in your place, bring you hope and joy throughout the year and on into eternity. That is His promise to you and that’s a promise you can trust He’ll keep.
“Behold, I bring you Good News of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Someone has wisely said, “Christmas is a holiday for the prepared heart, but it begins with the listening ear.” About this same time each year we begin to hear the beautiful sounds, see the colorful menagerie of flickering lights and smell the captivating aroma of enticing, delicious goodies wafting in the air around us. In spite of the hustle and bustle, that normally accompanies this time, we have to admit there is no other season that offers as much stimulation for the senses as Christmastime.
Yet, how easy it is to get caught up in all the pomp and miss the real purpose of why we are doing what we are doing. Over the years, I’ve discovered that unless I choose to make and take the time to spiritually prepare my heart for Advent, it won’t happen automatically. The ever-growing secular drift of our culture today will ensure that Jesus gets minimal fanfare, even at His own birthday, unfortunately. So, it takes an intentional effort on our part to break away and do this, but it always pays bigger dividends than it demands. I don’t think it’s possible to experience the deep sense of peace only God can give the soul connected in His unconditional love to His Son Jesus.
Clearly, the greatest joy, by far, goes to those fortunate believers who begin to “listen” for the cosmic call of God to “prepare” one’s heart. As Mary acutely heard the need to simply stop and humbly sit at Jesus’ feet to learn, yet her well-meaning, mostly frustrated, frenzied sister chose to dismiss Jesus’ Invitation, so too are we faced today with the same Invite; to hear and to prepare for the greater joy or miss for the sake of preparing everything but the most important part God is after; our hearts. When we even unintentionally allow our daily lives to become too crowded for God, then we have just become too busy period and have allowed the enemy to rob us of the Life of Christ God wills for us to experience. This is especially true at “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” It is a temptation we all have to guard against.
Speaking of preparation at Advent, we are reminded of that rustic, wilderness preacher John the Baptist, who was prophetically called to “prepare the way” for the coming of the Messiah Jesus, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16–17)
What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. Let your love for Christ guide you in your decisions this holiday season. Remind yourself that while not everyone around you may feel the same, you can still “let your light so shine so that others may see your good works and praise our Heavenly Father,” (Matt. 5:16).
First, meditate on the fact that we all deeply need Christ our Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). If you don’t need a Savior, you don’t need Christmas. Christmas will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations, I will be sharing with you in the coming weeks here, help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior, His love grace and power in your life.
Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24). Let every heart prepare Him room . . . by cleaning house. Ask God to show you the things that is competing with and crowding out the Lordship of Christ in your life today. Make room for Jesus by doing a “Fall Clean Out.”
Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home — especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children. If you reserve your celebration only for the physical senses and not the spiritual reasons, you can’t expect your children to understand the Christ of Christmas very well.
Fourth, spend quality time in the Scriptures. Memorize the great passages! “Is not My word like fire, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:29). Gather ’round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights. It is wisdom for direction. It is provision for our needs. It is protection for our eternal souls. It is your very spiritual life, daily food for your soul.
The word Advent means “arrival,” and it refers to the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world. The “Advent season” usually starts four weeks before Christmas and concludes with the celebration of Christ’s birth. Some churches emphasize the Advent season more than others, but all Christians look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth during this season of the year.
Why was Jesus’ Birth So Important?
The reason is because slightly over 2,000 years ago, God fulfilled ancient prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of Messiah all the way back to Adam and Eve. The Almighty God, our Creator, humbled Himself, stooped down from Heaven and became a sinless, flesh and blood human being in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the Bible says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
Think of it: God became a man! He did it because He loves us—and that’s what we should celebrate as Christmas approaches. Take time between now and Christmas to reflect on this great truth. He chose to love us when we were nothing but rebels. He chose us from the foundation of the world to be His, not because we deserved it, but because God is good all the time! He rightfully deserves our greatest praise, worship and adoration!
Read Isaiah 9:6—In this Scripture we find the message and meaning of Christmas. Isaiah the prophet gave five awe-inspiring names of our Lord that encourage us, thrill us and fill us with hope at this Christmas season.
1. Wonderful. When He did His many miracles, the Scripture says, “The people wondered.” (Luke 11:14)
2. Counselor. The officers said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)
3. The Mighty God. He is the God-Man. He said that He and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
4. The Everlasting Father. It was by Him, the living Word, that all things were created. He is the designer of the whole universe. (John 1:3; Hebrews 11:3)
5. The Prince of Peace. There will never be lasting peace on earth until He comes again to reign in righteousness. But He is also the Prince of Peace in other ways. None can have peace with God apart from Him and the peace that He made through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20).
The full meaning of these words from Isaiah should give us enough strength, hope, and joy to face any crisis, endure any sorrow and meet any temptation. How has Jesus shown you recently that He is “Wonderful, Counselor … the Prince of Peace”?
No matter where you are with God now, He desires to give you a greater joy, a deeper peace and a more meaningful understanding of His unmerited love for you so that you can reflect His goodness to others in deeds of kindness, compassion and mercy this Advent season. That first Christmas changed the hearts of many who experienced God incarnate. Advent is about preparation for personal transformation. This is our witness, like the shepherd who were the first witnesses to the birth of Christ; their joy propelled them to tell everyone!
As we begin our Advent experience for 2017, we pray that the Spirit of God will stir your heart to meditate on His Word and reflect upon your personal relationship to Christ. No matter where you may be now in your spiritual journey, you can know that God desires to deepen your understanding of His love and power in your life in order that the light of Christ may shine brighter to a darkened world in desperate need of the saving Good News of Jesus. We challenge you to open your heart and mind to all God desires to show you and to expect by faith for Him to act dynamically in your life as you seek Him this Christmas season. God has more for you than you can possibly imagine.
Are you thankful no matter what? Perhaps you have lost your job recently, as the economy has continued to struggle. Or you may have lost your health, or a loved one. Such circumstances can be tremendously difficult. But even so, we all have much to be thankful for. Look with me at the story of a man who had every right to be bitter—but wasn’t.
The next footsteps in the corridor, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs.
Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated—if ever a person had a right to complain, it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving!
The man was the Apostle Paul—a man who had learned the meaning of true thanksgiving, even in the midst of great adversity. Earlier, when he had been imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20, NIV).
Think of it: Always giving thanks for everything—no matter the circumstances! Thanksgiving for the Apostle Paul was not a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reality that changed his life and made him a joyful person in every situation.
Thanksgiving—the giving of thanks—to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ. We must not allow a spirit of ingratitude to harden our heart and chill our relationship with God and with others.
Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.
In the ancient world, leprosy was a terrible disease. It hopelessly disfigured those who had it, and it permanently cut them off from normal society. Without exception, every leper yearned for one thing: To be healed.
One day 10 lepers approached Jesus outside a village, loudly pleading with Him to heal them. In an instant He restored them all to perfect health—but only one came back and thanked Him. All the rest left without a word of thanks, their minds preoccupied only with themselves, gripped with a spirit of ingratitude.
Today, too, ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common. Children forget to thank their parents for all that they do. Common courtesy is scorned. We take for granted the ways that others help us. Above all, we fail to thank God for His blessings.
Ingratitude is a sin, just as surely as is lying or stealing or immorality or any other sin condemned by the Bible. One of the Bible’s indictments against rebellious humanity is that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, NIV). An ungrateful heart is a heart that is cold toward God and indifferent to His mercy and love. It is a heart that has forgotten how dependent we are on God for everything.
From one end of the Bible to the other, we are commanded to be thankful. In fact, thankfulness is the natural outflowing of a heart that is attuned to God. The psalmist declared, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving” (Psalm 147:7, NIV). Paul wrote, “Be thankful” (Colossians 3:15, NIV). A spirit of thanksgiving is always the mark of a joyous Christian.
Why should we be thankful? Because God has blessed us, and we should be thankful for each blessing.
We seem never to be satisfied with what we have—rich or poor, healthy or sick. But what a difference it makes when we realize that everything we have has been given to us by God! King David prayed, “Wealth and honor come from you … We give you thanks, and praise your glorious name … Everything comes from you” (1 Chronicles 29:12-14, NIV).
Some years ago I visited a man who was wealthy and successful. He was the envy of all his friends and business associates. But as we talked, he broke down in tears, confessing that he was miserable inside. Wealth had not been able to fill the empty place in his heart.
A few hours later I visited another man only a short distance away. His cottage was humble, and he had almost nothing in the way of this world’s possessions. And yet his face was radiant as he told me about the work he was doing for Christ and how Christ had filled his life with meaning and purpose. I am convinced that the second man was really the rich man. Although he didn’t have much, he had learned to be thankful for everything that God had given him. Paul declared, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12, NIV). A spirit of thankfulness makes all the difference.
Are you constantly preoccupied with what you do not have? Or have you learned to thank God for what you do have?
It is so easy to take people for granted, or even to complain and become angry because they do not meet our every wish. But we need to give thanks for those around us—our spouses, our children, our relatives, our friends and others who help us in some way.
I once received a letter from a woman who began by telling me how fortunate she was to have a kind, considerate husband. She then used four pages to list all his faults! How many marriages and other relationships grow cold and eventually are shattered because of the sin of ingratitude?
Do you let others know that you appreciate them and are thankful for them? The Christians in Corinth were far from perfect, but Paul began his first letter to them by saying, “I always thank God for you” (1 Corinthians 1:4, NIV). When a group of believers (whom Paul had never met) came out to greet him as he approached Rome, we read that “at the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15, NIV). Thank God for those who touch your life.
We draw back from difficulties, yet not one of us is exempt from some kind of trouble. In many parts of the world it is dangerous even to be a Christian because of persecution.
And yet in the midst of those trials we can thank God, because we know that He has promised to be with us and that He will help us. We know that He can use times of suffering to draw us closer to Himself: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3, NIV).
When the prophet Daniel learned that evil men were plotting against him to destroy him, “he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10, NIV). The Bible commands, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV). Paul declared, “You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light” (Colossians 1:12, Phillips).
I don’t know what trials you may be facing right now, but God does, and He loves you and is with you by His Holy Spirit. Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness even in the midst of trials and heartaches.
“God has given us the greatest Gift of all—His Son, who died on the cross and rose again so that we can know Him personally and spend eternity with Him in heaven.”
God has given us the greatest Gift of all—His Son, who died on the cross and rose again so that we can know Him personally and spend eternity with Him in heaven: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV).
The Bible tells us that we are separated from God because we have sinned. But God loves us—He loves you, He loves me—and He wants us to be part of His family forever. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son into the world to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. All we need to do is reach out in faith and accept Christ as our Savior and Lord: “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” (John 3:16, NIV).
Have you opened your heart to Jesus Christ? If not, turn to Him with a simple prayer of repentance and faith, and thank Him for what He has done for you. And if you do know Christ, how long has it been since you thanked God for your salvation? We should not let a day go by without thanking God for His mercy and His grace to us in Jesus Christ.
When we come to Christ, it is not the end but the beginning of a whole new life! He is with us, and He wants to help us follow Him and His Word.
In ourselves we do not have the strength that we need to live the way God wants us to live. But when we turn to Him, we discover that “it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13, NIV). Jesus promised His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18, 20, NIV).
In many countries a special day is set aside each year for thanksgiving. But for the Christian every day can be a day of thanksgiving, as we are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NIV).
Do you know the joy of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ? If you’ll turn to God, He can take away your bitterness and give you the spirit of true thankfulness.
Refreshing. Invigorating. Captivating. For a moment in time, you feel transported to another world, far from all the worries, concerns and challenges of stressful, modern-day living in a rapidly-changing culture. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life could always be so serene and peaceful? Like a long stroll down a quiet beach, as we go through life, changes always occur and it’s especially then that we reflect in retrospect on our lives; what we’ve done, where we have come from, why we are here and most of all where we seem to be going. While we are generally thankful for what we’ve been able to experience, often we wonder if there’s more, and if there’s more, how do we find it, or is this the best we can expect from life until it’s over?
Thinking about your life now, perhaps you are wondering;
“Why am I here? What is God’s call in my life? How do I fit God’s call with my own individuality? How should God’s calling affect my career, my plans for the future, my concepts of success?“
In this era of “life makeovers,” personal coaches, and success-oriented mission statements, many people are working hard to get it together. They’re looking for a good life, which at its core includes wanting their time to count for something, to be meaningful and mindful. But as Christine and Tom Sine point out, “more and more people are missing the best and settling for less.”
Living on purpose means living for a reason far more than just existing–one rooted in God’s greater purposes for our lives, not merely our own desires for success. God desires to give us a laser-focus on His mission and vocation for each of his children, and show us how staying on His course will lead to the very richest and most fulfilling life. Nothing will bring us a greater sense of contentment and life satisfaction than finding out where we belong in His plan.
When we finally make the connection between our everyday pursuits and goals and God’s will for our lives, a whole new world of exciting opportunities will open up for us. The Bible is packed with relevant examples of this, and there are scores of inspiring stories all around us today on the practical, how-to, live life on purpose we all deeply desire in our hearts. A life that leads us to better enjoy what God has given us, to discover and celebrate the unique gifts He has blessed us with, to used for the good of others. This is the kind of living that not only counts the most for today, but for eternity.
You see, the purpose of your life is far greater than just your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.
The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That’s because we typically begin at the wrong starting point–ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like, “What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future?” But, the problem with this is, focusing on ourselves will really never reveal our life’s purpose. The Bible says, “It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power.”
Contrary to what many popular books, movies, and seminars tell you, you won’t discover your life’s meaning by looking within yourself. You’ve probably tried that already. You didn’t create yourself, so there is no way you can tell yourself what you were created for! If I handed you an invention you had never seen before, you wouldn’t know its purpose, and the invention itself wouldn’t be able to tell you either. Only the Creator or the Owner’s Manual could reveal its purpose.
I once got lost in woods one day on a camping trip, as a boy. When I stopped to ask for directions to the campsite, I was told, “You can’t get there from here. You must start from the other side of the creek!” In the same way, you cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God–and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end, no matter what they may promise you.
Many people try to use God for their own self-actualization, but that is a reversal of nature and is doomed to failure. You were made for God, not vice versa, and life is about letting God use you for His purposes, not your using Him for your own purpose. The Bible says, “Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”
I have read many books that suggest ways to discover the purpose of my life. All of them could be classified as “self-help” books because they approach the subject from a self-centered viewpoint. Self-help books, even Christian ones, usually offer the same predictable steps to finding your life’s purpose: “Consider your dreams. Clarify your values. Set some goals. Figure out what you are good at. Aim high. Go for it! Be disciplined. Believe you can achieve your goals. Involve others. Never give up!”
Of course, these recommendations often lead to great success. You can usually succeed in reaching a goal if you put your mind to it. But being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same issue! You could reach all your personal goals, becoming a raving success by the world’s standard, and still miss the purposes for which God created you. You need more than self-help advice. The Bible says, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
How, then, do you discover the purpose you were created for? You have only two options. Your first option is speculation. This is what most people choose. They conjecture, they guess, they theorize. When people say, “I’ve always thought life is…,” they mean, “This is the best guess I can come up with.”
For thousands of years, brilliant philosophers have discussed and speculated about the meaning of life. Philosophy is an important subject and has its uses, but when it comes to determining the purpose of life, even the wisest philosophers are just guessing.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation. We can turn to what God has revealed about life in his Word. The easiest way to discover the purpose of an invention is to ask the Creator of it. The same is true for discovering your life’s purpose: Ask God. Seek His wisdom in His Word. Listen to gifted, trained Teachers He has put on earth to help you find your way. This is the starting place we all have to begin and continue at. And, that is why I am here to assist you find the place and purpose your loving Creator has for you. I will direct you with the “navigational compass” of the wisdom of His Word. Together, we can explore your journey and help you set your course to His destination for your life, no matter where you may be now.
God has not left us in the dark to wonder and guess. He has clearly revealed his five purposes for our lives through the Bible. It is our Owner’s Manual, explaining why we are alive, how life works, what to avoid, and what to expect in the future. It explains what no self-help or philosophy book could know. The Bible says, “God’s wisdom … goes deep into the interior of his purposes…. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us.”
God is not just the starting point of your life; he is the source of it. To discover your purpose in life you must turn to God’s Word, not the world’s wisdom. You must build your life on eternal truths, not pop psychology, success-motivation, or inspirational stories. The Bible says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” This verse gives us three insights into your purpose.
1. You discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don’t have such a relationship, I will later explain how to begin one.
2. God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about Him. His purpose for your life predates your conception. He planned it before you existed, without your input! You may choose your career, your spouse, your hobbies, and many other parts of your life, but you don’t get to choose your purpose.
3. The purpose of your life fits into a much larger, cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity.
Andrei Bitov, a Russian novelist, grew up under an atheistic Communist regime. But God got his attention one dreary day. He recalls, “In my twenty-seventh year, while riding the metro in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) I was overcome with a despair so great that life seemed to stop at once, preempting the future entirely, let alone any meaning. Suddenly, all by itself, a phrase appeared: Without God life makes no sense. Repeating it in astonishment, I rode the phrase up like a moving staircase, got out of the metro and walked into God’s light.”
Without God, life makes no sense. If you’re tried to make sense of your life without Christ being the center of it, you know how confusing and even frustrating it can be. Why don’t you step into the Light of Christ today by asking Him to come into your life. Then, you will finally know the meaning and purpose you’ve always hoped to have. May God help you to do that today.