Advent: A Season of Preparation

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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).

How Can We Prepare for Advent?

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.

Understanding the Deeper Meaning of Advent

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.

Do you need God’s love in your life?

Take Time to Give Thanks

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A grateful heart is a happy heart!

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.

Thank God for the Material Blessings That He Gives You

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?

Thank God for the People in Your Life

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.

Thank God in the Midst of Trials and Even Persecution

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.”

Thank God Especially for His Salvation in Jesus Christ

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.

Thank God for His Continued Presence and Power in Your Life

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.

A Long Walk Down the Beach

cropped-cropped-healthygirlonbeach-1Refreshing. 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.