Beginning with the End: The New Year

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Someone once wrote, “We cannot run to win the race God has for each of us unless we can envision the finish line. Live with the end in mind.” This is surely one of the many gems of wisdom coming from (Matthew 25:14-30) where Jesus tells the story of parable of the talents. The bottom line is; God literally gives us all talents, resources and opportunities. Each Christ-follower has received special abilities with unique strengths.  You may not realize this, but we should be intentional in discovering God’s good gifts to us. Yet, one thing is common to all; the Day is coming when we must answer personally before God what we did with all that He has graciously given to us. In other words, we are personally accountable to Him. This need not be a frightening prospect. It should motivate us rather than cause us to worry. Faithfulness will be greatly rewarded, indifference, apathy or ignorance will not be a pretty picture. We need to reorient our thinking and lives to reflect this truth; begin the new year with the end in mind. 

In the upcoming 2018 New Year, we are all going to be given opportunities. The question is: “What are you going to do with the opportunities God gives you?” Here’s what the question is not: “Why didn’t I get as many as that person?” The question, rather, is how you are going to leverage the opportunities the Lord has given you. Whether it is one, two, five, or even more—how are you going to use the gifts God has entrusted to you? Will you begin this new year with the end in mind?

Let me tell you what this may look like for some of you. For some, your family and your household will be growing this next year. Maybe you are having a baby; maybe a child is coming home from college; maybe a parent or relative is moving in. Your family and your household are going to grow. What are you going to do with that opportunity? At the end of their stay with you, what do you hope it looks like? How can you leverage that time you spend with them to point them to God’s words and his ways? Whether it is 18 years, 2 years, or 6 months, what do you want the end to look like? Begin with the end in mind.

Some of you will be starting new romantic relationships this next year. Begin with the end in mind. I am a big advocate of dating with purpose, dating with intentionality. I’m not saying you have to plan your wedding after your first date, but if God is going to put someone in your path, you need to enter into that relationship with an idea of where you want it to go. Taking it one day at a time, or just being in a relationship to be in a relationship, is laziness and being irresponsible. Date with intentionality. Begin with the end in mind.

For many of us, there are probably things in this new year that we either need to start doing or need to stop doing, but begin with the end in mind. Maybe it is finally starting to make and live off a monthly budget. Maybe it is making a will or a trust for your family, because the end is coming whether you like it or not. Some of us need to stop a habit or addiction. Perhaps we need to get serious about losing weight, not so much for vanity, but our health. Our physician has perhaps even mentioned this to us. It’s time to get serious and real change and transformation in our lives, for the glory of God, in 2018.

Make a goal and have a plan. The old saying, “If you aim at nothing you’re sure to hit it” is true. Maybe it is starting a prayer time with your family; you’ve been wanting to do it, and what a great time to start. It could be you’ve keenly sensed the need to have a daily Quiet Time before you head off for work, where you could briefly read some Scripture and pray. Some of us need to stop arguing and fighting with our spouse or exasperating our children. What do you want them to say about you five years down the road? Ten years down the road? Twenty years down the road? Because they will say something. So begin with the end in mind.

Finally, big picture: At some point in time, Jesus will be returning. We just celebrated His first Advent, but that’s not the end of His-story. The Master is coming back, and the Bible teaches us He is coming back to settle accounts. He’s coming back to see what you and I did with all the opportunities that were given to us. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). So this year, begin with the end in mind.

Imagine what it would be like, after your time on this earth is over, when you meet Jesus face-to-face. When the two of you go through the slideshow of your life, what do want his response to be? What do you want his reaction to be? Do you want it to be like the reaction I had with Tim, or the reaction the master had with the servant who buried his opportunity in the ground? No—I think you, like me, want a reaction where Jesus will put his arm around us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness!” Our Master wants nothing more than to share His joy not just with His servants, but with His sons and daughters. So this new year, begin with the end in mind. If you desire to be greatly blessed and used of God, I hope you will keep this in mind as 2018 rolls in soon.

The Birth of Christ Defies All Odds

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Jesus Christ fulfilled over 300 specific Old Testament Messianic prophecies. If you were to simply run the odds on any one man fulfilling just 48 of these, what exactly are the odds?

Professor Peter Stoner was Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College and Chairman of the Science Division of Westmont College. Professor Stoner calculated the probability of one man fulfilling just 48 of the 300-plus Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament by chance.

“What Does That Number Look Like?”
That is a number so large that it is UNKNOWABLE. It cannot be pronounced! You have to start talking in numeric terms that few people even know exist.

We took a few minutes to type it out for your visual pleasure:

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

What are the CHANCES?
Statisticians will tell you that once you get past the 50th “0”, you have gone beyond the reality of there being ANY chance. Yet, Jesus did it! 10 with 50 zeroes behind it is a number nearly equal to the electrons in the known universe. (That number is simply 10 with 52 zeroes.) That’s a mind-boggling, staggering, astronomical number we cannot even imagine.

Professor Stoner didn’t stop there. He further calculated this; What are the odds one person fulfilling only eight specific Old Testament prophecies? The answer? One in ten to the 21st power (1021).

To illustrate that phenomenal number, Stoner gave the following example: “First, blanket the entire Earth land mass with silver dollars 120 feet high. Second, specially mark one of those dollars and randomly bury it. Third, ask a person to travel the Earth and select the marked dollar, while blindfolded, from the trillions of other dollars.”

What does all this mean for us?

It means, there is essentially, mathematically speaking, ZERO chance Jesus Christ could have fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies predicted of His birth, life, death and resurrection hundreds of years before they happened by accident. Everything foretold of Him by the Hebrew Old Testament prophets really happened. We are not entertaining fables, fairy tales, fiction or merely traditional holiday stories to make us feel good at Christmastime each year.

Everything the Scriptures foretold and recorded of Jesus’ birth occurred to the letter, just as the Gospel of Matthew and Luke documents for us. Jesus is God’s only Son; the God-Man. He is our only Savior sent from heaven. He is our Lord and our Judge of all mankind. The Scriptures tell us the angels of heaven came and announced His birth to the shepherds, the wise men traveled hundreds of miles to follow a supernatural star and give the baby Jesus the most expensive gifts of the ancient world in worship. Christmas is a big deal with startling implications for everyone on earth, whether they choose to trust and follow Christ or not. We hear the story so much we are tempted to become deafened to it’s significance, which would be a terrible mistake on our part.

This special time of year is filled with favorite songs, smells, sweets, and stories. As we enjoy and savor all that makes this the most wonderful time of the year, let’s remember the greatest story of all – the story of an infant King born in Bethlehem, bringing a lifetime of hope and salvation. Yes, the big story of Christmas is not Kris Kringle, but Jesus Christ. In all our gift-giving and merriment, let us remind ourselves that behind all the colorful wrapping paper, twinkling lights, festive celebrations and tasty food is a reality that transcends every Christmas season you and I will ever experience. This reality is summed up in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever trusts in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” 

 

Merry Tifton!

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Friends, this is a famous story written by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, Pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Boca Raton, Florida. Please enjoy!

Once upon a time, long ago and far away in a strange land, there lived a man by the name of John Baresford Tifton—a man of incredible wealth beyond the furthest dreams of human avarice—who had the strange habit of bequeathing a million dollars to individuals of his inscrutable choice. His associate, Michael Anthony, replete with briefcase, umbrella, and hat, made his way to the objects of this munificence and bestowed upon them the gift from their great benefactor. Of course, their lives were transformed. At first there were just a few, but soon there were dozens, scores, hundreds, and finally thousands of people in his land and in lands around the world.

At his death, Mr. Tifton left explicit instructions in his will that from the incalculable holdings of his vast estate, this practice was to be continued down through the years. So it came to be that, all over this Earth, there were those who had their circumstances unbelievably transformed, as they were suddenly catapulted into the rarefied atmosphere of the millionaires who received the gift.

Now it came to pass as the centuries went by, that these people (who had also received his name, because he had adopted them into his family and had granted them other perquisites as well) decided it would be well if they would get together occasionally—because they did have so much in common now. It would be especially good if they had a celebration of the birth of their great benefactor.

So they celebrated. Of course, it’s obvious that the only people who had the slightest interest in celebrating the birth of Mr. Tifton were those who had received his gift. They were virtually a club for millionaires.

As the years went by and the celebrations continued, there were essays written about Mr. Tifton’s great character and benevolence. There were hymns written and sung to his praise. There were pictures drawn and many other ways devised to celebrate the memory of this man who had altered so many lives by his gift.

In the process of time—sad to say, it happened in America—at one of the celebrations of Mr. Tifton’s birth, a couple of people (who not only had not received the gift but didn’t have the foggiest idea that such a gift even existed) somehow wandered into a Tifton birthday celebration. You know how Americans are about crashing parties. This couple didn’t quite grasp what was going on, but they did pick up the idea that somebody had given some wonderful gifts to these people who were celebrating.

Although the couple didn’t understand at all, they did think it sounded like a good idea, so they told their friends, and they told their friends, and they told their friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. And believe it or not, the idea spread. Before long, almost everybody was celebrating Tifton Day.

The department stores even picked up the idea. (They had a keen eye for that sort of thing.) Before you know it, there were Tifton specials all over the place. And other things arose. There was the Tifton card, of course, and then came the Tifton tree. Strange to say, the tree didn’t even grow in the land where Mr. Tifton was born. You may not believe this, but it is actually true that in time Tifton Day became a national holiday. Everybody was celebrating.

In Search of the True Tifton Day

One day years later, on Tifton Eve, two gentlemen who had been recipients of the Tifton gift happened to land in New York Harbor. As they walked down the gangplank, one of them said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find someone in America who is a Tifton recipient? We could celebrate tomorrow on the birthday of our benefactor.”

The other said, “Ah, yes, but in such a large land as this, it’s highly unlikely that in so short a period of time, we should be so fortunate.”

To their utter amazement, as they walked down the street and looked into the window of the first department store that caught their eye, there was a sign shouting out, ONLY ONE MORE DAY UNTIL TIFTON! And in the next window, TIFTON SPECIALS: HALF OFF.

The two men said to each other, “Ah, we are in luck. We have found a Tifton. But isn’t it strange that he calls himself Macy? Well, these Americans are an odd lot.” They started into the store to find the owner, when across the street they heard someone cry, “Merry Tifton!” Startled, they turned. Then from their own side of the street came a chorus of voices all around them saying, “Merry Tifton and a Happy New Year.” With that they were absolutely dumbfounded.

“Certainly,” they said, “Mr. Tifton has been very prodigal with his gifts in America, unlike anything we have ever seen in his own land.”

It came to pass in the providence of God that, in the evening, they found themselves invited into a large home where there was in progress another American innovation, a Tifton Eve cocktail party, in full swing. They noticed as they were standing in the corner that some of these people were absolutely falling-down drunk, which they thought very strange, because they were quite confident that Mr. Tifton would not approve of that sort of conduct, and they could not see how this would be honoring to his memory.

One of them said to the other, “My dear brother, this afternoon on the street when all of those people were shouting, ‘Merry Tifton,’ did you notice the way some of them were dressed?”

“Why yes, I did. I didn’t want to say anything, but surely they did not look like millionaires to me.”

“That’s just what I thought. I can’t understand it. Have you noticed here on the mantelpiece all of these Tifton cards? I’ve just been looking at them, and the thing that absolutely astounds me, and I find it completely baffling, is the fact that most of them don’t say anything at all about Mr. Tifton. In fact, they have this picture of this fat man in this green suit in a chariot drawn by eight reindeer, one of which has a very bright nose.”

The other man said, “Oh yes, I noticed that. I inquired about it, and it seems that this is some character they have invented. His name, I believe, is Surper. Yes, St. Surper. I think his first name is Uriah. I believe they call him simply by his initial, uh, U. Surper. St. U. Surper, I believe, is the full name. It seems that so many of their Tifton songs are not about Tifton but about Mr. U. Surper. I find this very difficult to understand. Perhaps one of these people here at the party could enlighten us.”

And so they turned to the man who was closest to them and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Tifton.”

The fellow looked at them and said, “You must be tipsier than I am. Mike’s the name—Michael Mythology. What can I do for you?”

They said, “Would you kindly explain something to us, sir? We’re a little bit confused. I do suppose that you have received the million dollars.”

“The what???”

“The million dollars? The gift from Mr. Tifton?”

“A million dollars? Man,” he said, “I had to borrow three hundred dollars from the finance company to buy my Tifton gifts this year! What are you talking about?”

They said, “Well, why are you celebrating Tifton Day? What is it all about?”

“Oh ho!” he said. “Well, that’s easy. You understand that there was this fellow, they say, named Tifton, who had a way of giving presents to people. I don’t know what they were—ties, neckties, handkerchiefs, pajamas, that sort of thing. And, uh, of course, uh, some people think that he really lived, but we, in our sophisticated, modern world know that it’s all a myth. Nevertheless, it is a nice idea. We picked up the idea and we give gifts and we sort of change it around a little bit. But that’s basically the idea. You don’t really think there’s anything to that old idea that he really lived and actually gave some important gifts to people? Of course we don’t, but it is nice.”

“Yes,” said the visitors, “I can see from that purple tie with the orange stripes you’re wearing that this is a very significant day in your life.” Mike staggered away, leaving them even more baffled than before.

They said to another gentleman, “Sir, could you please help us? Could you tell us, have you received the gift of a million dollars?”

“Huh?” he said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

They said, “Tell us, Sir, why do you celebrate Tifton Day?”

He said to them, “Well, that’s an absurd question. Everybody celebrates Tifton Day. When I was just a child, I used to hang my Tifton stocking on the mantelpiece. My parents and my grandparents celebrated Tifton Day. Everybody celebrates Tifton Day. What’s wrong with you foreigners coming over here questioning our customs?” And he sort of wandered away.

The two still could not understand. They decided they should make one last effort. Having talked to this gentleman, Mr. Traditional, and not getting much help, they asked one other man who introduced himself as Mr. Bootstraps. “Benny Bootstraps,” he said his name was, and he’d be glad to help them. Sure, he could explain the meaning of Tifton Day.

“Well, you see there was this fellow named Tifton; started out very poor, I understand. His whole life was written up in a big, black book. Most of us have them, but nobody reads it much anymore. Anyway, it tells the principles of success he used to make a million. The idea is that we will read that book and follow those principles so we can become rich, too. I think that’s the basic idea that’s found in the book. You know, sort of reach down and give yourself a good tug.”

They said, “What about the gift?”

Mr. Bootstraps says, “What gift is that?”

About that time, there was a knock at the door. And when no one answered, the door opened, and there appeared the perennial descendant of Michael Anthony, umbrella under his arm and briefcase in his hand. Our two faraway friends were delighted to see that here at least at this party someone was going to receive the gift. And since no one paid him any mind, Mr. Anthony said, “Excuse me.” Still, no one heard him over the laughter and the hubbub of the party and the tinkling of glasses.

Mr. Anthony spoke again, “I beg your pardon, but I have here with me—” His voice was drowned out. He made one more effort, and then disgusted, he turned and left, closing the door behind him. No one had seen him come. No one listened to his voice. No one received the gift.

Conclusion

That is my modern parable of Christmas. I wonder how many here fast approaching Christmas Day,  ready to rip off all the ribbons, tear off the wrappings, and open all of the boxes, will find that something is still lacking.  After everything is said and done, and the excitement of newly opened Christmas gifts wears off, what next? Every Christmas do we not always long for more? There is still a disconcerting sense emptiness in unsatisfied hearts after the seasonal production of the holidays end. Something is still missing.

I wonder how many of you have received the Gift? I wonder how many of you have heard His voice, silently deep in your hearts? When the Christmas music is over, the carols have ended, and the last strains have faded away, I wonder how many of you will be left with the same silent emptiness you had before. I wonder how many of you have received the Gift?

I wonder, most tragically of all, if there are those in our midst today, in this so-called Christian nation, who are so spiritually blind they do not even know what the Gift is?

Our parable has a text, and it is this: “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable Gift!” Do you have the Gift, my friend, or are you here today a spiritual pauper in the midst of millionaires?

What is the Gift? If you do not know, God’s Word tells us: “The Gift of God is eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Have you received that Gift? If you have received it, then you know it. If you do not know it, it is because you have not received it. Do you know for sure that you are on your way to Paradise? When you leave this life, will you be with Christ forever? Do you have that ironclad assurance, doubtless confidence and unquestionable certainty?

If not, then, my friend, you are still a pauper. I have Good News—there stands at the door today One who offers to us that Gift and declares, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, and if any man hear My voice and open the door to his heart, I will come into him.”

This is a Gift that was not paid for with paltry cash in a department store. It was paid for with the precious blood of Christ on Calvary at infinite cost. Having taken upon himself our guilt and sin, He endured the wrath of his Father in our place, so that we might be freely forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. If you have received that Gift, then this Christmastime you’re saying with the apostle, “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!”

If you have not received the Gift, then you can receive it today by placing your trust in Christ and receiving Him as Lord and Master and Savior of your life. The Gift can be yours right now. If you are not willing to receive it, then I suppose the only thing I could say to you sadly is “Merry Tifton.”

Christmas Peace at Checkout

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🎄 Recently, a frazzled, frustrated checkout clerk asked me, as she was ringing up a few items, “Why are so JOLLY? Don’t you know it’s Christmas, the WORST time of the year to work in retail?”

I paused, looked into her stressed, tired face and said, “Yes, you may be right, however, the first Christmas wasn’t in retail, it was in a little, peaceful town of Bethlehem, where’s there’s no long checkout lines. Love was born there with a baby, not a box.”

I thought she was going to start crying right then and there in front of the whole store. I then leaned forward, looked at her with compassion and said, in a lower tone of voice, “I wish you more than a Merry Christmas—I wish you Jesus, the Prince of Peace.”

She just stared at me in shock with a little smile starting to crack her frown and said, “Thank you. I needed that.”

Be on the lookout, this Christmas, for those “God moments” He gives you. The more your joy shows, the more the world wonders. And, the more the world wonders, the bigger your door of opportunity to share the reason for this season: Jesus.

David Crews