Course correction due?

A couple I know recently turned a 45 minute trip into a 3 hour journey! How? They missed just one turn and, because they were in an unfamiliar area, did not realize their mistake. If my friends had consulted a map, they would have spared themselves a long detour. Years ago, when I was a student pilot, I set off on a flight on a bright sunny day and about an hour later came to the realization that I was far from the course that I had planned to fly. My airplane was pointed in the right direction, but because I was a rookie, I was not aware of the cross winds that were having a major effect on my true course. If I had kept my flight charts open and checked them, I would have quickly known about those winds. It is possible to think you’re making great progress while traveling in the wrong direction!

At this year’s end, we have the opportunity to check our progress in life. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions, make certain that we are ‘on course.’ Perhaps you think that your life is going in the right direction because you’re feeling good, having fun, and are self-satisfied. The truth is that we need a way to evaluate our lives using a guide that is outside of ourselves. That is where the importance of the wisdom of the Scripture, the counsel of mature Believers, the guidance of the Spirit, and the practice of regular corporate worship enter the picture!

More than just doing ‘good’ things, a Believer is called to live in the purposes of God. Rick Warren coined the phrase, the “purpose driven life.” He proposes that instead of letting life happen to us, reacting to situations that develop around us as we drift from day to day, that we learn what God desires of us, set our course, and fulfill His plans. Through the preacher Jeremiah God told His people who had let themselves fall far from their holy calling that He had not forgotten or forsaken them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV)

In order to find those plans and that promised destiny, we must commit ourselves to obedience and we need to do regular course corrections, asking:
“Am I making the choices God wants me to make or following my own desires?
Am I consistently doing what is right or taking the easy way of expedience?
Am I intentionally growing in character or drifting with the crowd and the current?”

December 31st is just another day on the calendar, another flip of the page. However, it is a reminder that a course correction might be due. I urge you to spend some time prayerfully reflecting on your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of those choices you’re making that need to be brought into line with the purposes of God.

Perhaps you have made a wrong turn. If you’re tolerating something that you know is not pleasing to Him, determine today to change course. Don’t wait until you’re far from the Way! And know this, too; everyone of us, even those who make good, God-honoring decisions from day to day, have to deal with crosswinds. Temptations arise and threaten to blow us off course. Illness, job loss, political change, and other factors beyond our control brings storms that effect our progress, but if we are guided by the Spirit, they will not take us from His purposes!

Here’s a word from the Word. God asks His people to evaluate their lives.
Let these ancient words speak to you today.

“Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the Lord.” (Haggai 1:5-8, NKJV)

I pray that His Purposes will become your purposes and that you will find, in Him, a glorious “hope and future.”

Happy New Year!

Reason for Joy

Imagine a world without Jesus Christ. I am not blind to the fact that many terrible things have been done in His name. However, I also know that because of Him, the world is a better place! He ended the time of brutal and blind justice expressed in the phrase “an eye for an eye,” and taught us to forgive those who sin against us. This, He said, is how God treats those who come to Him seeking forgiveness. He took up the cause of the oppressed, the weak, the marginalized and taught us the value of all persons. At a time when children did not count for much, He held them in His arms and taught us that knowing God was possible only to the one with the faith and heart of a child. He took God from behind the curtains of the Temple and brought Him to us, teaching us that He is not just the Transcendent Almighty One. He is also the Waiting Father who looks down the road for us to come home. And, yes, He erased the debt of sin by becoming ‘sin for us’ and dying on the Cross as the Final Sacrifice.

No wonder the angels prefaced His birth with the announcement of “Good news of great joy for all the people!” In Luke 4, when Jesus was beginning His ministry, we are told that He read the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth, choosing this text – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” (Isaiah 61:1-2, NLT) Before He sat down that day, He astonished the congregation telling them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21, NKJV)

The prophecy He read alluded to the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year in the cycle of 7’s that God told Israel to observe. At the end of the 7th cycle of 7’s, debts were to be forgiven, slaves freed, and society was to be given a new beginning. It was a radical plan and most scholars agree that the Jews observed it only symbolically, if at all.

Jesus says that His ministry is a time of Jubilee – a new beginning, a time of cancelled debts, a era of freedom! And, dear Believer, that is the message He entrusts to you and to me. Wherever we go, in His Name, we announce a new era for humanity, a time of new hearts, fresh starts, and freedom. We are not people of the Letter of the Law that brings death. We are people of the Spirit, who gives Life.

It is my passion to have a ministry of grace that builds bridges for all people to know God’s Presence and Power through Christ Jesus.

There is a message of Christmas that is sentimental and sweet, centered on a young mother, a patient father, and a Baby in a manger. However, that is not the Message of Christmas. The real message was the one that God sent to the shepherds – “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”(Luke 2:9-12, NIV) He is both Messiah and Master, the Promised One for whom you have longed for ages, and the One who will defeat sin, death, and Hell!

Believer, embrace that message. At the invitation of Christ, come home to your Father. He will give you back what sin stole from you, release you from the debts that enslave you, teach you how to live as God planned for you to live, and give you hope and a future. Wow! All that, and Heaven, too.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
that Jesus Christ is born!

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TFTD will be back on January 2. It’s time to take a break, recharge the batteries, and spend some time with family.

Thank you for reading along for another year. I pray that my early morning musings on His Word are helping you to live in the Kingdom.

You’re invited to be in Worship at the Assembly on Christmas Eve at 7 PM.
In a beautiful service of Carols and Communion, we will give thanks for our Jubilee!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

"Fear not!"

I am not a coward, nor am I given to running from life’s challenges; but I sometimes experience fear! Knowing just how vulnerable I am to things as widely varied as microscopic viruses, out of control tractor trailer trucks, and the up’s and down’s of the national economy – is enough to make me quake! The best that I can do is limited risk management, trying to reduce the impact that the unplanned and the unforeseen can have on my life. That said, I do not spend a whole lot of time focusing on the potential dangers that lurk all around me. There is simply too much living to do! I will not let fear take away the joy of living.

My best ally in dealing with the uncertainties of life is the Almighty!

My life is in His hands. Either I trust Him or I do not; there is no middle ground. He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. When I am tempted to be fearful, I renew my understanding of His rule over every part of my life and my desire to live in the center of His will. I am not claiming that I understand everything that happens to me or to those around me. The phrase, “God’s will,” is much abused and misunderstood even by Believers. In a recent conversation with a person who had relocated to a new city, a new job, far from home, I asked, “so how did you come to make this decision?” Without a pause she answered, “God told me to move. It was His will.” I do not doubt her sincerity for a moment, but I found her words jarring. Inwardly I thought, “You mean to tell me that you had no part in this decision? You weren’t attracted by better money, or a different climate, or the fact that friend lived there? It was just ‘God’s will’ pure and simple?”

For me the will of God is much less concrete than it seems to be for my friend! I seldom make a claim like she made. Why? Do I lack faith? No! But I know well what He declares in the prophecies of Isaiah – “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8 NIV) I know that I am incapable of knowing all of His purposes, and that because I am still a creature of two natures – spiritual and sinful – it is entirely possible that I will get it wrong when it comes to my motives and actions. My faith is set on the fact that He is greater than my failures and that He is capable of working through, around, and in all the circumstances of life – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly!

He is God and I am not – therefore, I will not fear. He says to me, “For I am the LORD your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand— I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.” (Isaiah 51:15-16, NIV)

In the story of the birth of Christ the phrase, “Fear not!” is recorded on three separate occasions when persons encountered the messengers of the Lord.

Mary, when she was told that she would be the mother of Jesus, was not elated. Luke tells us that at first she was “confused and disturbed” by God’s will. But, the angel assured her that God’s favor would rest on her and then he said, “Fear not!”
Joseph heard that his fiancé was pregnant and he knew he had not slept with her. He was torn between his desire to love her and his honor. He had decided to quietly end the engagement when the Lord showed up and told him “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 1:20, KJV) Isn’t it amazing? Basically, Joseph is told, “just trust Me!” And, he did!
Zechariah was doing his priestly work, offering incense on the prayer altar, when he was told that he was about to become a Daddy. The only thing was that Elizabeth, his wife, had been unable to conceive and was now by all human accounts too old to have a child! How did Zechariah respond? “He was troubled and fear fell on him.” (Luke 1.12) And what did God say? You’ve figured it out by now, right? Yes, you’re right – “Fear not!”

Mary did not know how it was going to work out, what God’s announcement would mean for her life, but she trusted God anyway.
Joseph did not have any explanation for a virgin’s pregnancy, but he was willing to step over his lack of understanding and do what God wanted him to do as he trusted the Sovereign Lord.
Zechariah took a while to come around, but he gained a deeper knowledge of the Person of the God he served, and came to trust Him completely.

Now the question comes to you and me – will we trust Him with all things? Will we argue for fuller explanations, demand that He make His plans, even for tomorrow, crystal clear?
Or will we hear Him say, “Fear not!” and choose to live faithfully, just for today?

Here is His promise to those who trust and obey:
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV) “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)
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Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods,Rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove.
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, and wonders of His love.

Joy To The World
Watts, Isaac / Handel, George Frederick© Public Domain

TFTD today is compiled from excerpts from Stories Behind The Great Traditions of Christmas (Zondervan).

Up until about 350 years ago, the only real Christian holiday was Easter. As Christ’s birth was an important part in the Bible, folks wanted to mark it as they did their own birthdays. At first different churches chose different days, with early January being the most common. Yet the church ultimately moved it to December 25 in an attempt to erase a Roman celebration of the time. This pagan holiday centered on Saturn and involved a lot of drinking, partying and about every sin that could be imagined. Church leaders felt that if Christmas were celebrated on December 25, the depraved behavior would change. In truth, in the old Roman Empire, it did not. Folks forgot the Roman holiday, but exhibited the same behavior on Christmas. In other words, in many places, such as England, the partying at Christmas, the drinking and violence, continued for over a thousand years. In fact, the New York City police department was started to combat the criminal behavior that took place on Christmas Day. In the U.S., Congress met on Christmas Day for almost 70 years.

Believe it or not, for Americans, Christmas, the joyful day of Peace on Earth, is only about 160 years old. A Christian, an educator and a father named W. Clement Moore, first published, “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Initially this poem established Santa Claus as an important facet of the American Christmas, but that was really just the beginning of Moore’s magic. Christmas was a holiday that was all but ignored in the New World until the poem opened the door for real celebrations. When combined with the popularity of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and the traditions brought to England and America by Prince Albert from Germany, the holiday began to focus on children. Finally, in the United States, churches began to open on Christmas Day for worship. The government got with the program and closed up shop for Christmas. Business shut down as well. By the Civil War, Christmas became a day of staying with family. Also, Moore’s poem opened up the door for gifting giving to become an important part of Christmas. For English and American Christians, who for centuries had little positive to embrace at Christmas and the Church who all but ignored it, it was Santa Claus who saved the holiday and brought Jesus back into the spotlight.

Santa Claus?
Two wonderful Christian men really began the Santa Claus legend through their selfless actions and their faith. The first was Nicholas, a priest who gave presents to poor peasant children in the third century, even before the church actually recognized the holiday. The second was a devout duke in Borivoy, who became the leader of Bohemia at a very early age. Each Christmas Eve, this man would go through the snow giving out gifts to his poorest subjects. We now remember him through the song he inspired, “Good King Wenceslas.” These two probably shaped the image and personality of Santa more than any others.

Christmas ‘colors’ – The gold is easy; this is the color of royalty and the most precious metal on earth. It was also one of the gifts to Jesus from the wise men. The red and green can really be traced to several different important traditions, such as holly and ivy, wreaths, Christmas trees, as well as mistletoe, all initially pagan symbols, given new life and depth through Christian faith. In essence, the green represented life that went on through the difficult times of winter, just like faith that could not die in the difficult times of life, and the red reminded Christians that Christ’s blood was shed on the cross for sins, the real reason for His coming to earth in the first place.

X in Xmas?
Few know that using X as a sign for Christ predates even our initial celebrations of Christmas. X or Chi is the first letter of Christ’s name in Greek. Many early followers of Christ were Greek and would place an X over their doors or wear something on their persons with this letter to reflect their faith as a disciple of Christ. For more than 1,000 years, the church spelled out Christmas with just an X. It was not done to take Christ out of Christmas, but to put Him there where everyone, even those who could not read, could understand that this day of worship was for the Son of God.
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Keep Christ in your celebration!

While the Bible says nothing about December 25, blinking lights, decorated trees, or rotund jolly men dressed in red suits – it does tell us about God’s Gift – ‘wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.’ Angels announced the birth as reason for great praise and as a sign of peace and the arrival of God’s favor for all of humanity. A world without Jesus is beyond imagination. His birth and life changed history, and His death and resurrection changes our destiny, promising us eternal life.

Here’s a word from the Word on which to meditate today– “…Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-8, 10-11, NIV)

“Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the Newborn King!”

Time to follow?

In the Spring of 1971, I started learning how to be a pilot. The first flights were exciting in spite of the fact that we never left the vicinity of the airport. The instructor taught me the basics of aerodynamics, the various control operations of the airplane, and the ‘feel’ of flying. Shortly after my 16th birthday, in July of that year, we did the usual stuff – the preflight, the review of what maneuvers George planned for me to learn that day, and then off we went for a short flight in the ‘pattern.’ That means we took off, flew a short distance, made a climbing 90 degrees left turn, then another. Leveling out at about 1000′ above the ground, we flew parallel to the runway, past the end of it, then started a descending 90 degree left turn, and another, going into short final and a landing. George asked me to taxi to the office and did something he had never done before. He got out of the airplane, leaned back into the cockpit and said, “Jerry, go ahead and take her ’round the pattern a couple of times!” Then he turned, closed the door, and left behind a young man who was possessed of equal parts of terror and excitement. It was time to fly. If I would not do this, then I could abandon my dream of being a pilot. I distinctly remember the sweat of fear that dripped from my forehead as I taxied to the end of the runway. My feet literally vibrated on the rudder pedals because I was trembling! For a moment I wondered if I was ready to commit myself to the sky alone in that tiny Cessna 150. With a push of the throttle , the plane started to pick up speed, then with a bit of pressure on the yoke, I was free of the earth, and I could say I was a rookie pilot!

Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35, NKJV) There is a moment of decision when the Lord asks each one of us, “Are you ready to become my disciple?” Just as I did not become a pilot by hanging around the airport, or even by sitting in airplanes, we do not become Christian disciples by going to church or joining a ministry or learning Bible verses. Though those things are valuable parts of the process, there must be a moment of irrevocable decision to relinquish one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus with complete trust! I had to commit myself to the task of learning to fly and then actually do it!

I am convinced that many people who experience ‘Christianity’ as unfulfilling or boring feel that way because they are not, in fact, disciples of Jesus Christ. They are dabblers, inquirers, hangers-on, but not followers who have taken up the cross of self-denial and adopted the will of God as their singular passion. I read this statement recently, “Without real discipleship there is trust in God, but there is not a genuine following of Christ.. Cheap grace is a deadly enemy.” (Shane Warren, Enrichment, Winter, 2008) Cheap grace causes people to believe that they can enjoy the benefits of being a Christian without practicing the spiritual disciplines that make a mature Believer of solid character. Disciples know they are (by very definition of the word) followers, not leaders of the parade. They embrace the fact that they have few rights and many obligations. They serve the purpose of Another. So why would anyone want to be a disciple? Because Jesus Christ promises this to those who follow Him closely: life, not death!

You might be thinking, “But, Jerry, I am alive!” And so you are, which is a good thing. However, the life we live on this earth is a ephemeral thing, quickly passing. Just yesterday I was that eager 16 year old who thought men over 40 were really old. Now I am 52, and realize that in a blink, if I am blessed, I will be 75, and then I will be living on borrowed time! Truth is, in natural terms, no one is really living. We are dying, a day at a time. Morbid? No, just the cold reality of biology. But, I am not just a natural man, with an inevitable appointment with the grave. I am a disciple of Christ, therefore I am already eternally alive. What I do today, is invested in Heaven.

I am living the truth of the Word which declares, “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

The promise of life that comes with discipleship causes me to relinquish my desires for fame, fortune, and self-fulfillment to take hold of Christ and the calling of being His disciple. A disciple makes the pursuit of Christ Jesus his passion. Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV) Following Christ is a decision I made once, and that I make daily! At first I was tempted to hold onto the good things I knew, because my faith in the potential best was limited. The Holy Spirit urged me onward. The Word called me upward, and faith surged. I was and am obedient, therefore, I can lay claim to being a Christian disciple.

Are you a real disciple, or one of the many who live an uncommitted life deceived by cheap grace?

Surrender it all, friend. Give yourself away and then walk out the disciplined experience, discovering the adventure of living by the Spirit in this present world, while enjoying the promise of eternal life in the world to come. You will never regret it.

What a Name!

The church’s van was frozen in place in our parking lot, clumps of ice created by the snow plow earlier in the week surrounding it. The Girl’s Ministry wanted to use it, so in my usual ‘make it happen’ fashion, I determined to free it from its ice prison. Even after they said they no longer needed it, I decided to drive it out of that spot before the additional ice and snow of the storm promised the next day made it impossible to move. As I gunned the van in reverse, the tires caught traction on the salted runways I had created. Bang! Crunch! The sound of bending metal filled me with instant regret as I saw the driver’s side door, which I had left open so I could see if the wheels were spinning, catch a piece of ice and fold back into the front fender. A split second decision caused a few hundred dollars in damages and a ton of second-guessing! That moment on Saturday was not the first time in my 52 years that I have wished for an instant replay! Bent doors are repairable.

Some of my mistakes and sins have been much more serious and costly than that Saturday morning’s folly. More than once I have wanted to reach out and retrieve angry words within seconds of having them leave my lips. I have stared into the darkness of the early morning hours asking myself, “Why did you do that?” as my guilty conscience ached with pain exceeding that of anything my body has ever known. Unlike a vehicle damaged by thoughtless actions, the wreckage produced by sinful behavior cannot be repaired by a local technician. That is why I need a Savior!

In Matthew, we are told that the angel of the Lord visited Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife despite her pregnancy “…because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV) I love that last phrase – “He will save His people from their sins!”

The name, Jesus, is a transliteration of the Hebrew name, Joshua, which literally means, “God saves!” The word “save,” in the original language of the New Testament (Greek- sozo), is rich with meaning, carrying the implication of rescuing a person in immediate danger and/or restoring a person at risk from sickness to wholeness and health!

God saw me careering towards destruction, sickened unto death by the depravity of the sinful nature, and sent Jesus with an offer of salvation! He reached into my life, called me to Himself, and when I responded in faith, the Holy Spirit took up residence in me making a whole life; indeed, an eternal life; mine! I am forgiven, a new creation by the grace of God. When I sin (and I do!) I have a Savior who is my Advocate before the Righteous God of Heaven. Jesus Christ offers Himself to satisfy the justice of God so that I can live and not die. I want to shout, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

I love the story of a Baby born and laid in manger. I love the tenderness of Mary, the gentleness of Joseph, the glory of angel announcements made from the night sky to shepherds tending their sheep. But most of all, I love the declaration that He would ‘save His people from their sins!’ There is nothing in me that demands such a intervention in history. Only the amazing love of God would bring this kind of Gift to us.

Are you crushed by guilt, friend?
Does some choice made in secret make you dread meeting a holy God?
Is your life marred by failure, too great to fix by any effort or expenditure on your part?

There is a Savior! Receive the gift He offers to you today. Perhaps you once did, but you have forgotten the place where He found you and drifted from a place near His heart. Go to Him. He will not push you away. He is full of mercy. Ponder the promise of the Word.

“God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. …

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:4-10, NLT)
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Come, Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer; (a monument of remembrance!)
Hither by Thy help I come.
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Hither to Thy love has blest me;
Thou hast bro’t me to this place;
And I know Thy hand will bring me
Safely home by Thy good grace.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.

Come Thou Fount© Public Domain, CCLI License No. 810055

Don’t miss the real Christmas!

Christmas is great! I am as excited as a little kid over all the things that get packed into December; special services at church, shopping for gifts, decorating the house and the tree, cooking big meals, going to parties, staying up too late, eating too much. Already I can feel the anticipation building over the arrival of the our sons and daughters and their tribes in seven days. I know that by January 1, I’ll be spent, ready for a few gray days of winter and the usual slowdown after the holidays. I am determined, however, in the middle of all this excitement, that I will not forget why it’s all happening.

Last night I enjoyed two hours that I know will be one of the highlights of the 2007 Christmas Season for me. The King’s Brass performed at the Assembly, presenting a concert that was outstanding; world class, in fact. As they played a selection from Handel’s Messiah, I wept, touched by the music that declared, “for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given!” After the concert, Phil, one of our church’s elders, and I were chatting about how much we enjoyed the music when he made a statement that still echoes through my mind this morning- “and we know Who this was really for….” He is right! The brass ensemble’s music, the preparations of our building to host them, the expenses involved were not for the audience in the pews. We did it to honor Jesus, the Christ! It was part of His celebration. Sure it was expensive and time consuming for all who were involved. It was just as it should have been, appropriate to celebrate the birth of our Savior and King!

Have fun this Christmas. Enjoy the garish decorations of tinsel and blinking lights. Listen to the songs of the Holiday – secular and sacred – joyfully. Buy gifts that are appropriate and affordable. Just do not forget the why of it all! Plan to attend worship services. Build ‘down time’ into your schedule, for prayer and reflection. “But, Jerry, you are adding to the long list of things I am already committed to doing in the next two weeks.” Perhaps I am. My intent is not to add, but to encourage you to prioritize. Put first things, first. Wouldn’t it be a sorry thing to announce a birthday party and not acknowledge the person who is the reason for it?

Millions will forget Jesus and make Christmas into a Santa holiday extravaganza. Don’t be one of them. I do not have any issues with the whole “Santa Claus” deal. It’s fun, but despite his ubiquity, he’s not ‘it!’ The good news is old, yet new, news – “Jesus, the Savior, is born!”

It is all but impossible to come to the end of December without being weary, but if your efforts have a purpose, it’s a good kind of tired. Engage yourself with others. Listen to the Spirit. Focus and then re-focus on the story of God becoming Flesh, a baby born in a manger who brought the Word to us. Ponder this passage prayerfully:

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9-14, NIV)

________________________
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o’er the plains;
And the mountains in reply,
Echoing their joyous strains.

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say what may the tidings be;
Which inspire your heav’nly song?

Come to Bethlehem and see,
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See within a manger laid,
Jesus, Lord of heav’n and earth;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
With us sing our Savior’s birth.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

© Public Domain

The ripple effect

Going negative! That was a headline in the news yesterday. As the first primary electoral contests near, races tighten, and the candidates start looking for a way to hit the opposition. So the ads have gone from smiles and being about how much Mitt will do for you in Washington to grim warnings that Huckabee is a wild spender, a liar. Ah, yes; it is the ugly side of American politics; going negative. Hillary Clinton, sensing the momentum shifting to Barack Obama, raised the issue of his past use of drugs yesterday, as if he had been a street addict, smoking crack! The trouble with going negative is that it usually is answered by more negativity. Issues are obscured by person attacks and the truth is dragged into the mud along the way.

People are quick to believe the worst. Frightening tales of impending doom gain an audience much more quickly than good news. There is a story in the Bible about some men who went negative. It is found in the book of Numbers. The Lord told Moses to send 12 men into Canaan to scout the land for the invasion. What they saw was amazing! “A land flowing with milk and honey,” they reported. They were intimidated by the people of the land who lived in fortified cities. Ten of the men “spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.” (Numbers 13:32, NIV)

In the next chapter we read about fear spreading throughout the Israelites literally overnight! Out of that fear, came an irrational desire to return to slavery in Egypt, as they preferred the familiar past to God’s promised future! In days, they were plotting a rebellion, even attempting to kill Moses at one point! Then, God drew the line and pronounced His judgment – “You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. The only exceptions will be Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. ” ‘You said your children would be carried off as plunder. Well, I will bring them safely into the land, and they will enjoy what you have despised. But as for you, you will drop dead in this wilderness.” (Numbers 14:30-32, NLT)

For the next 40 years, the Israelites remained a refugee nation as the entire generation died off, one by one.

Such is the ripple effect of negativism! Twelve men saw the real difficulties that were part of the process of owning the Promised Land, but only two had faith. Ten failed to remember how God had met their needs with manna, opened the Red Sea, and led them day by day across the Sinai Desert. Those ten let fear own them. Their negative report destroyed an entire generation. It is sobering, isn’t it?

Do you realize the power of your example, of your words?
What kind of influence are you spreading?
Is it positive, faith-filled, encouraging? Or, is it negative, fearful, and leading to despair?

Remember this. God doesn’t ask us to ignore reality in order to be positive. Some mistakenly think that acknowledging that life is hard, or that circumstances are not favorable, or that the future is unclear are evidences of a lack of faith. Not at all! The mission of the men sent into Canaan was to get a truthful, reality-based view of what was ahead. Moses told them to “See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps?” (Numbers 13:18-19, NLT) Then, that report would be wrapped in faith in the God whose Word had proven true again and again. God had already said, “Go up and take the land!” Their mission was not to be a feasibility study. It was to prepare a strategic plan to implement the will of God. When we really know what we are up against, but choose to be obedient to God’s direction – we show the most authentic faith!

So, what is the real situation in your life today? Not so great? You can complain, react in fear, and refuse to follow the Lord. If you do, the ripple effect in your family, your church, and your community will be tragic.

Or, you can choose faith. You can say, “I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what He’s trusted me to do right to the end. ” (2 Timothy 1:12, The Message)
Faith, too, has a ripple effect, infusing entire communities with hope, stirring people to accomplish wonderful things with God’s leading.

Genuine faith is never founded on mere optimism. It is anchored to the unchanging nature and promises of God!
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Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Many of us still have people on our gift list without a matching present! We will venture out to make our purchases motivated in many different ways.

Consider these…

There is the CHEAP giver.
He is driven by one goal – buying something, anything, that satisfies the imperative for gift giving -while spending as little money or energy as possible. My one question to this person is – “Why bother?” You have missed the meaning of Christmas entirely. Save yourself the effort because the person who receives your ‘gift’ will only be obligated to write an insincere ‘thank you’ note!”

There is HURRIED giver.
With hummingbird-like rapidity, she darts from store to store, grabbing this and that, checking off the names on her list. Obligation, not love, is the primary motivation forgiving a gift, so most any gift will do, just get it and wrap it up.

There is the “PAY MY DEBTS” giver.
This person foolishly believes that with one gift, usually one that costs way too much, he can make up for his failures through the year. Yes, it is particularly a ‘man’ thing! Men are much more likely, according to published reports, to overspend to compensate for misdeeds than women. But, the truth is, no single gift can erase a year’s worth of inattention or emotional distance. This shopper is in for disappointment!

There is the “I’D SURE LIKE THAT” giver.
He buys things he would like to receive and presents them to others! His gifts are often very nice, but they don’t ‘fit.’ Why? Because, his gifts are not thoughtfully chosen with the recipient in mind. Even his ‘giving ‘reflects his preoccupation with himself. To me a 1 Gig USB Flash Drive is a fine gift, but if I buy one for my wife, she’ll say, “What’s this?” She has no use for it, and probably doesn’t even know what it is.

And, there is the “BECAUSE I LOVE YOU” giver.
Finally, we find the heart of Christmas! This person thinks carefully about the tastes, the needs, the personality of the person for whom he is getting a gift and, after a careful search, prepares a gift that he presents with no strings attached. This kind of giving reflects what the Bible says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NLT) This is how God gave to us. John says, that “God so loved the world (you could insert your name in place of ‘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)

God’s Gift to us was –
costly,
prepared from eternity,
based on our greatest need, and
shaped by love!
What a gift!

“Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24, The Message)

In your gift-giving, make LOVE the reason.

Having trouble finding a gift for someone on your list?
Relax and think about who they are, what they need, and how you can express love in a language they’ll understand. It will come to you!____________________

The wellspring of life?

Melina, a young woman who works in our office, reminds me frequently about taking care of my physical health. Last year at Christmas she gave me a book- YOU, the owner’s manual, which outlines the basic principles of healthy living. As a result of getting educated I do not drink diet sodas or catch a quick burger for lunch very often these days. I have a better understanding that ‘junk’ food is called that for a good reason! Over time I retrained my tastes so that I no longer enjoy a fast food meal, preferring the complex flavors of a great salad; really! Now if only I could get myself disciplined to exercise more regularly.

Let me take up Melina’s role and encourage you to consider the nutritional value of what you feed your mind and soul. As surely as the body will grow diseased when fed a constant diet that is high in fat, sugar, salt, and carbohydrates, the soul that is fed a steady diet of TV sit-coms and pop music will not grow deep in the ways of the Lord! I know how easy it is to get home weary from the day and to flip on the TV and let two or three hours go by thoughtlessly. The flow of images and sounds from that box distracts us from the problems of the day or offers us a brief escape into other worlds. It’s not all bad! Some programs inform us, others teach us. But, many are truly ‘junk’ food that feed us materialism, greed, and lust.

Then, too, let me ask – what is the soundtrack of your life? Most of us are not consciously aware of the music that underlies the movies or TV programs we watch until it is missing! The soundtrack is just part of the background, but it makes a huge difference in the way we ‘see’ the story. Music is everywhere today. Our cars and trucks have music systems that let us enjoy a mobile concert hall while we travel. Stores play music while we shop. Many of our homes are filled with the sound of music. What’s playing right now? I am not speaking so much to the style of music as I am the content. If the soundtrack of your life is full of sex, rage, and/or despair – as so much music is – it will most certainly have a negative effect on your spirit!

America’s primary health problem is unique in history. Up to this era, the greatest concern was maintaining a supply of food to avoid starvation. Now, we are a ‘fat’ nation because despite having an abundance of quality foods available at amazingly low prices, many of us choose to eat ‘junk!’ So, when we could have the best quality of life ever known to humanity, we are eating ourselves to death! The same situation exists in terms of the mind! We have access to education, to resources, to music of amazing quality. We can attend university without leaving our living room. We can visit an exotic culture and learn with a click of a TV remote. We can read fourteen different versions of the Bible! We can buy and read books that explain the Christian life in detail. But, too often, we fill up our mind with ‘junk!’ Change the channel, change the tune. Buy a book, interact with your family. Spend time in thoughtful prayer. Pick up your Bible and a good book that contains some solid soul food regularly.

The Scripture urges us to a good diet for the soul, so we will become able to know the Truth. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” (2 Timothy 2:15-16, NIV)
In another metaphor, the Word speaks to the need to mature our understanding. “You need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:12-14, NLT)

Do you want the ability to be creative?
Do you want to really know how to worship the living Lord in a way that goes beyond superficial emotions?
Do you want to be able to overcome sin and live a noble and holy life that honors God?
Do you want to meet temptation and beat it?

Start by choosing to nourish your spirit with good food!
Here’s a word from the Word to take with you today – “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)