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.

Jesus: The Heart of Every Christmas

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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)

  • His Birth in History. “That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being the human race can boast of— He is a Being for whom the human race can take no credit at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate— God coming into human flesh from outside it. His life is the highest and the holiest entering through the most humble of doors. Our Lord’s birth was an advent— the appearance of God in human form.
  • His Birth in Me. “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside.

“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.