New Year, New Plans

Face it, we’ve all found ourselves evaluating our lives at the end of each year, wondering what we could have done to make our lives better and figuring new ways to improve ourselves.

With the passing of each year comes the passing of old ways.  Many make resolutions in an effort to succeed in the coming months.  There are those who plan to lose weight, those that are dead-set on starting that new workout plan, and those that vow to make little improvements on their daily life.

The Christian life is one that is similar to the coming of a new year.  In the years of our lives, we face a new year when we accept Jesus as our personal Savior.  The old is passing away to the new, and our resolution is simple…to become like Christ!

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

— Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

This statement to the Romans by Paul tells us as Christians that we all have the same “New Year’s” resolution.  God calls us His children; he has known each of us since we were in our mother’s womb.  David tells us in Psalm 134 who was foreknown –

“13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

— Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV)

So we know that God has made the resolution for us, and Paul tells us what that is letting us know that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus, and we are called, justified, and glorified according to his will.  So this year make the resolution to be what God has called you to be….put away the old, and let the new come in.

“17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

— 1 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

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It’s CHRISTmas Time!

Christmas is a time to spend with your families…it’s a time when we all sit back and analyze our lives.  We reflect on family members that pass on, we reflect on family and friends, and we reflect on our lives as a whole.  A number of people use their Christmas cards to send mass letters to update family and friends on their lives over the past 12 months.  We use Christmas to reflect on a majority of things, but due to the commercialization of Christmas, are we forgetting to reflect on the reason we celebrate all together?

Christmas in many cases has become about that perfect present, the perfect tree, and the perfect light show…but with all the hustle and bustle…where is the Perfect Son in all of this?  With all the hoopla around Christmas these days, are we making time for Jesus?  I can remember when I was younger seeing signs everywhere that said, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  Now, those signs have faded into the background; those signs have been replaced by signs that read, “70% off”, “Buy one, get one Free”, and “Financing Available”.

Why have we let the materialism of Christmas override the Reason we celebrate?  Why have we seemingly become like Peter in his denial of Christ, by taking Christ out of Christmas?  What was so hard when Jesus was the Center of our Christmas Experience?  What has changed?

We can blame it on a number of things…but it all comes down to one thing…YOU and I!  We need to refocus our Christmas; we need to refocus our lives…we need to refocus on Jesus.  Not just for December 25, but everyday of our lives…if our day revolved around Christ as the centerpiece, our Christmas would revolve around the reason we celebrate.  Everyday should be CHRISTmas … Everyday we should celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Everyday we should be thankful for the love of a Father who would send his Son to this world with a plan for salvation.  God looked at the world, saw OUR sin, and knew there was only ONE way to save us from ourselves…JESUS CHRIST!  This Christmas, remember your focus…remember the reason…remember Christ this CHRISTmas.

C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S.

I can remember growing up and hearing a song that my dad sang in church once when I was a young child.  In fact, I can remember hearing the chorus and taking it all in to view the true meaning of Christmas as a young man.

The chorus was simple, yet powerful when discussing Christmas day, and I would encourage each of you to take a moment this week and truly focus on what Christmas truly means.  If you have children, share it with them, and let us all get back to the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas…let’s remember this Christmas to keep Christ in it and tell the story of a Savior that was born to save the world.

The verse of the song talks about being a child and Christmas meaning just one thing…getting presents.  I feel this is the common thought that goes through the mind of children everywhere…you can see it in their eyes when they enter a room.  For many of them, the first place they head is to the tree to count how many presents they have.  The song continues with the writer mentioning their mother sitting them down and teaching them to spell C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S. The Chorus of the song fits into the acronyms that I have been doing over the past few weeks, and goes like this:

“’C’ is for the Christ child, born upon this day; ‘H’ for herald angels in the night.  ‘R’ means our Redeemer, ‘I’ means Israel. ‘S’ is for the star that shone so bright. ‘T’ is for three wise men, they who traveled far; ‘M’ is for the manger where He lay.  ‘A’’s for all He stands for, ‘S’ means shepherds came and that’s why there’s a Christmas day.”

As we approach the Christmas season, let us look upon Christmas by remembering the real reason for why we celebrate the birth of the Savior.  Another song that can help put it into perspective during this season is “Christmas is all in the Heart” by Steven Curtis Chapman.

Chapman touches on the subject of Christmas with sincerity and heartfelt reality that can hit home during the times we are in during the Christmas season.  One set of the song’s lyrics sum it up this way:

“No, it’s not in the snow that may or may not fall, and it’s not in the gifts around the tree. It’s in the love heaven gave, the night our Savior came, and that same love can still be found wherever you are, ‘Cause Christmas is all in the heart.”

I would encourage each of you to look over every aspect of the season, focusing on the true meaning.  You may not have the money to have a great Christmas (in the eyes of the world), but in the eyes of the Lord, you can have the best Christmas you have ever had when you realize the most amazing gift that you have ever received – Jesus Christ.

Is Jesus the focus of your Christmas season?  Are you able to celebrate Christmas, even if only in your heart?  Focus on the true meaning of Christmas this year and share it with your children and those around you.  Take the time to read the Christmas story, but remember that Christmas doesn’t end with the manger; Christmas ends with the Cross of Calvary, where the joy of the Christmas season ends with the redemption of the world.  Jesus came to the world to save the world, and it all started in a manger in Bethlehem.

Dark Days

I have become more aware lately of Dark Days that we all tend to face…the reality is that we are either entering dark days, living in them, or coming out of them…but for the most part, we are all facing them or leaving them behind, but we all tend to have them.

These days can come in many forms, disappointment, despair, distress, doubt, depression…no matter the description, dark days can truly break us down and cause us to question a lot of things.  We feel that we are alone in our battle…maybe it didn’t go the way that we had quite hoped.  Just speaking Biblically there are many stories in scripture that we see similar stories.

Job, obviously had some dark days…he lost everything, but in the end he realized that God had always been working on his behalf. When the world came against him, Job trusted and praised God.

Peter didn’t plan to deny Christ, even when he was told he would, yet, when the time came, Peter denied Christ three times and found himself in some of the darkest of days.

Uncertainty, doubt, depression can overcome us and leave us feeling less than stellar on many days, and if we begin to rest in those days we find ourselves even deeper than we could have ever imagined.  I don’t think that Mary thought that her bringing a baby boy who was God’s own son into the world would happen in a stable, but yet it did; and the reality is, no matter our circumstances, light can still pierce the darkness.

That light…Jesus.  Jesus is the light that has already pierced the darkness for us, but we many times allow things to cast shadows and leave us in a false darkness, not realizing that He is right there with us.  Today, remove those shades, and allow the light of Christ to crash the darkness in your life. No matter how difficult the struggle that you face, God can and will work through the circumstances to bring you out of those dark days.

The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always the train.

Distracted Living

Let’s face it…almost all of us have a cell phone.

Lately I have been noticing something more and more in my own life, and honestly, I have seen evidence of it around also…that is the increased usage of cell phones, more specifically, smart phones.  They’re all the rage…they’re in just about everyone’s hands from 10 to 90, and the reality of it is that it has our attention.

Many of us (myself included) feel lost without our phone attached to us in some way…we almost can’t function without our phone.  We spend more than 4 hours a day focused on that small screen looking up news, texting, calling, browsing social media, and more.  A recent study showed that the average American adult uses the cell phone 4-5 hours a day and sends and receives around 1,000 text messages daily…

Where this really started to hit home for me is that I have realized that my phone usage has begun to be such a part of my daily routine that even my prayer life has taken a hit because of this modern marvel.  This began to bother me, because Prayer should be something that we are focused continually on.  In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul tells us that God’s will for us in Jesus is to, “Rejoice always, Pray continually, and be thankful in all circumstances.”

When we begin replacing these things, they begin to suffer…we begin to allow these things to take a back seat to posting that new Facebook status or Instagram post. No matter how many times we post something and say, “#Blessed” or “#Thankful”, it isn’t the same.  We must rejoice always and be in constant conversation with God…that is His will for us in Christ.

It also tells us to be thankful IN, not for, all circumstances…that means we may be going through a difficult time, but that isn’t time for us to take it to Facebook and let everyone know how awful our neighbor is or how bad we have it…it is a time to hit our knees and pray, being grateful and rejoicing that God has given us an opportunity to see Him work in our lives.

Let’s drop the distracted living, put down our phones, and turn to Christ.  If we want to see things improve in this world, we must take steps to remove the distractions that take our focus off of Him and allow Him to lead us….it’s hard to see where He is leading you with your head down in your phone.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life…no one comes to the Father except by me.” – Jesus (John 14:6)

Who do You Want ME to Be? Becoming a Prisoner for God…

Who do You want ME to be?  A question we should all ask God everyday…

“ 1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

— Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV)

Paul wrote these words from prison, so if anyone knew what being a prisoner was all about, Paul would definitely be the guy.  “As a prisoner for the Lord…” began Paul…what did he mean?  What does it mean to be a prisoner for the Lord?  What is Paul getting at when he begins this paragraph?

Lets look at it for a minute…Paul, a man who knew what it was to persecute the church, who had put people in prison for claiming the name of Christ; was now, himself, suffering the same fate as many he had put away…imprisoned for the carrying the name of Christ.  But as he accepted this, he wrote to the church at Ephesus, “then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” What is that call?

Paul had written before that the call on a Christian’s life was one of mimicking the life of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

— Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

By looking back to Psalm 139 where we see David claim to be fearfully and wonderfully made, and also note, ”You knit me together in my mother’s womb…”; we realize that God knew each one of us before the world knew us, therefore we are all part of the group of the known, we are ALL predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, and therefore called.  What is the likeness of Christ?

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

— Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)

Jesus took the role of a servant…the same role we are called to, service.

Paul was explaining that we should all live a life worthy of the call, a life that would cause others to take notice of a difference…a life that is similar to that of Christ Jesus himself.  Paul then goes on to tell four ways that life can be achieved:  Humility, Gentleness, Patience and Bearing one another’s burdens.

Paul states that we should be humble, not proud…the life of a servant is one of humility.  To serve others, they must come first in our life…not second to us.  If we consider ourselves to be better than another, we will never serve them, because we don’t feel they are worthy of that…but Christ humbled himself to wash the apostles feet…shouldn’t we practice that same humility when it comes to others?  Shouldn’t we lower ourselves to the level where we can be most effective in touching someone’s life?  Humility is putting yourself last.

Along with this humility we are to have is Gentleness.  What Paul is stating is that we much approach each other with a gentle spirit…do not look for a fight, look to stop the war; don’t go into a conversation expecting confrontation…go in expecting reconciliation, expecting peace.  Be kind, practicing the golden rule – do unto others. Serve others, give without expecting in return, be kind, be gentle, be Jesus to the world.

Third, we are to be patient…which is one of the hardest things for a person to do, especially when they feel they have been wronged.  People have trouble with patience, because being patient means looking past faults…looking past disagreements…looking for the good in another, so that we don’t react in a way that is detrimental to our relationship with them…in a way that can ruin even the best of friendships.

And Last…bearing one another’s burdens.  When we band together as a group of Christians, no one can pull us down…no one can take the joy that comes in seeing someone we love come through a tough time in their life, only to enjoy the fruits of their sufferings.  Paul told the Ephesian Church that they needed to bear with each other, because no one can do it alone.

Paul then states that all four of these must be unified within the Christian so that the full work of the church can be completed.  You must find a way to take these four principles and apply them as a unified group to your life…it’s the only way a prisoner for the Lord can survive.

Not only do we need to unify these principles, but we also need to unify as a body of Christ…we are all called to the same purpose…we are all called to be Christ to the world.  Too many times these days the Church is only out for what they can do for themselves…the members are loyal, but their view of the church is the four walls they enter every Sunday morning…for us as Christians to change the world…we have to unify peacefully and work toward the same cause.

What are you doing today?  Are you loyal to the call on your life?  Are you willing to unify with the church as a whole in bringing the name of Christ to the world?  Or are you content sitting back and missing the blessings that will come your way when you choose to live in the way Paul did…in unity with his brothers and sisters in Christ.  Paul explains it in further detail over the next few verses…

4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

— Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV)

Seven “one’s” to show us that it is all about becoming ONE in unity.  Become one with the Church today, become unified for the cause of Christ…become one prisoner who is devoted to joining with other prisoners to serve the ONE who thought we were worthy enough to die for us…ask God who He wants you to be.

Today

I came across a short writing from Wayne Eads that left me completely overwhelmed by the beauty of what God does for us.  It is a writing that helped me to understand even more so how he takes care of each of us.

“There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is YESTERDAY with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said—Yesterday is gone……

“The other day we should not worry about is TOMORROW with its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and poor performance. Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control. Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet unborn….

“This leaves only one day—TODAY! Anybody can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities—YESTERDAY and TOMORROW—that we break down.

“It is not the experience of today that drives people mad; it is remorse or bitterness for something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.”

This left me thinking about how we get so wrapped up in what has happened in our lives, or in many cases, what we think will happen.  Matthew 6:34 tells us this way “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)”

Let’s focus on today and leave those other two days where they lie. We cannot change what has happened to us in the days that are gone, and we have no control over what will happen to us tomorrow.  I encourage each of us today to take today as it comes, do not let the past determine how your day will go; in the same way, do not let your anxiety over tomorrow keep you from experiencing the blessings that God has for you today.  Let today be today! Let today be a day of blessing and happiness.  Let today come and go, and in the morning, experience another TODAY!

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)