Christmas is here and I love this time of year. Like most of you I want to carve out time to sit and reflect and ponder the meaning of the season. Even if you can only take five minutes a day, please pause and meditate on the source of true joy. Look up the words of some Christmas hymns and worship songs and just read and think about the truths that are proclaimed in those words.
No matter what our culture may try to impose on us, the reason for the season is Jesus and the celebration of his arrival in human form on earth. Our world history is divided into B.C. and A.D. (Before Christ and Anno Domini – in the year of our Lord). The arrival of Christ on earth is the turning point in all of world history.
The arrival of Christ on earth is the turning point in all of world history.
Why is Christmas such a big deal? The coming of Jesus (God in human form) in our world was planned from the beginning of time. A traditional Christmas hymn proclaims the coming of the long-expected Jesus was reason to rejoice because he was “born to set his people free.” Another well-known Christmas carol, The First Noel, proclaims,
“Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord, Who hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with His blood mankind hath bought.”
In the beginning ….. God created the world from naught (that means nothing). Think about that; it is much more logical and believable to accept that God created all the beauty and symmetry and order and detailed intricacies of our world than it is to assume that somehow on accident or boom or bang it just happened.
God created all that is, including us. When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s choices to disobey God, he even had a plan for that. Thus the world waited long for Jesus, the Messiah, and when he came to earth he provided freedom from sin to those who believed him. As the hymn above says, “with His blood mankind hath bought.”
The Messiah did not come as the people expected him to come, but he came as God designed, and he fulfilled all the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament during the centuries B.C. Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for our sins; if and when we accept his sacrifice, he frees us from the bondage of sin and fills us with purpose and joy and contentment and peace way beyond what things of the world can offer. He does not force his salvation on us but it is hard to believe that any would reject such a great gift.
I want to sing of this joy and encourage everyone I know to believe and receive. As one of the most well-known songs proclaims,
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.
He is King, whether we accept him or not, and the Bible assures us that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord….” (Phil. 2:10-11)
At church yesterday our pastor reminded us that we belong to the largest organization in the world and that is the church. Followers of Jesus Christ in our world are literally the largest group that exists. Currently, in many countries of the world people are receiving the gospel and accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation as never before! Those of us in the USA may feel more and more under attack because we are Christians. Pressure to water down God’s word and to be tolerant as the culture defines tolerant is prevalent and even creeping into the church. But the power of the gospel is stronger; let’s don’t forget that!
Here at Christmas as we remember and celebrate the plan of God, I want to encourage you to trust God, obey his word, resist temptation to conform, and rejoice that Christ came. He did not have to die, but he willingly sacrificed his life for you and me. That is worth celebrating and Christmas is a great time to accept or renew commitment to him.
Love as Jesus loved; consider the needs and feelings of others; reach out and share kindness with someone you know who is struggling or is lonely. The joy that comes from Jesus living in your heart gives strength for hard circumstances and hope that is eternal. Share that strength and hope with the people God puts in your life.
In my Bible reading this week I came across this passage in Isaiah and it keeps resonating in my heart and mind. God’s word is relevant and alive and active. Hear this word from God: “The Lord is exalted for he dwells on high . . . and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge . . . .” Isaiah 33: 5-7
he will be the stability of your times
A great deal of my peace and contentment comes from knowing that it is in him we will find stability in this crazy old world!
In closing, read afresh the timeless words of truth from the hymn, He Lives:
“I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see his hand of mercy; I hear his voice of cheer. And just the time I need him he’s always near.
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, he lives, salvation to impart (aka give/provide).
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”
My sister-in-law has Alzheimer’s. It is awful. I hate it. She does not deserve it. She was diagnosed in her early 60’s – too young, way too young; but then, who is ever ready for this dreadful disease? Jean is one of the sweetest people I have ever known. She welcomed me into JB’s family with open arms and, even now, her favorite thing to do is to hug everyone.
When our kids were little Jean and Ronnie took them home to north Louisiana for a week most summers. JB and I would drive from Orlando and meet them in Pensacola where we made the exchange. The two of us drove home in a quiet van to a week of re-discovering what we enjoyed and had in common when the kids were not the center of attention. Our children made great memories with Aunt Jean and Uncle Ronnie and those two drove them all the way back to Orlando to bring them home. (Don’t get Ronnie worked up telling how many times he had to listen to Adventures in Odyssey cassette tapes with our kids in his Suburban!) We all were blessed by this sweet annual tradition. Jean and Ronnie have always showed up for us. With three kids that’s lots of graduations – high school and college, scattered all over the map. But Jean and Ronnie have always come.
So, why, why, why? Why does someone like Jean get “the big A”? The answer is “I do not know.” This I do know: Life is Tough; if it is not Alzheimer’s it will be something else. Everybody has hardship at one time or another; sometimes it seems like an avalanche. But this too I know: God is Good. God is not the cause of our hardships; rather, he is the one who helps us survive them. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” I know this to be true and you can too.
In the world you will have tribulation.
I probably don’t have to convince you that Jesus was right when He said, “in the world you will have tribulation.” You can fill in the blank with the tragedy or hardship or hurtful situation you are facing. But perhaps you struggle with Jesus’ promise, “in me you may have peace.” Here are a few tips I have learned about finding his peace in the midst of something that stinks:
in me you may have peace.
Count your blessings; even when things are awful you can find much for which to be grateful. I am so thankful Jean has Ronnie; he cares for her with strength and grace and patience that he does not have on his own! It is amazing to see how God equips us with what we need when we need it, never early. I am grateful for her sitters who care for her so lovingly and make daily life easier for her and for Ronnie.
Don’t gripe; that is wasting good time. Your mama was right when she said, “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” You may be amazed that the less you gripe, the more joy you are able to recognize all around you.
God is in control; not me or you. When you finally give up trying to fix everything yourself and realize you are not in control, down deep inside, great freedom and peace await you. God has been in control since he created the world, but sin brought heartache and trouble. Tribulations are real, but God is always for us and working for our good and his glory. He wants to redeem all people to himself. Everyone else may fail and disappoint but God is forever faithful.
Hope comes from God and his peace is available to each of us. One of my very favorite scripture passages is Lamentations 3:21-23 “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Knowing these things about God and experiencing his peace in the midst of storms does not change the fact that life is tough. But it makes all the difference in how we cope.
Jean and Ronnie and two sweet sitters came to visit us last week. While Jean knows us and hugs us (a lot!) and occasionally cries on our shoulders, she does not talk much. Her sparky personality is not so sparky anymore. But she is still our Jean and we love her dearly. We tell old stories and remind her how much she has meant to our family. She may pace the house and change chairs in the living room repeatedly but she is still our Jean. We are grateful she is not in pain and she is still very kind toward everyone. Even in our sadness we feel blessed.
We feel blessed.
Walking this hard road has brought out good in all of us. We pause and smell the roses; we tell each other what we love about each other; we thank each other for things said, things done, memories secured.
Back to the last line of that passage in John 16, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” Yes He has, and I am so glad to know that this world is not my permanent home.The troubles of our world may be hard, but Jesus has indeed overcome the world and those who know Him personally have the promise of eternal life in heaven F.O.R.E.V.E.R. No more war, no more disease, no more elections, no more chains that tie us down. Eternity is real – either with Jesus in heaven, or in hell, forever separated from God, a place of fire and destruction. Praise God for Jesus and for the eternal home he has prepared for all who believe and receive him.
If your focus has been on the reality that Life is Tough, try looking up and around and recognize that, even so, God is Good.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These first lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities were the introduction to my speech at high school graduation a long time ago. I realize now that every generation seems to think things were much better years ago. The truth is no generation gets it all right; life just somehow appears better in hindsight. Currently there is much concern about what is going on in our world and in our culture. And I would agree there are a lot of shifts and many are not good. Terrorism is growing; innocent people are being killed and fear is escalating. Character and integrity are not held in honor; pressure to tolerate unacceptable behavior is forced upon people; speaking up for good and moral choices is often frowned upon. What’s wrong in our world? How did we get here? What are we to do in times like these?
First let me suggest that we should not be so surprised. All that we see today and what other generations have moaned over is represented and forecast in the Bible. I continue to be amazed at the timeless nature of God’s Word. When sin entered our world, trouble began, and sin still trips us up today.
Deceit: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” (Jeremiah 17:9) Hearts were deceitful in Bible times as well as today.
Pride: Referring to King Uzziah of Judah, we read, “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper….But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.” (2 Chronicles 26) Pride and arrogance and an “I don’t need God” approach to life is nothing new.
Idolatry: One of the ten commandments is, “thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Every time people have chosen money, prestige, power, other people over God Almighty, the results have been disappointing, if not disastrous.
Sexual Sins: These are rampant now and, quite frankly, have been for centuries. There are many varieties of sexual sins. First Corinthians 6:18 states, “Flee from sexual immorality.” That verse would not have been necessary without sexual sin being a problem.
So what do we do in times like these? A book I read years ago is entitled The Heart of The Problem. Author Dr. Henry Brandt was a respected psychologist, counselor, and educator. His premise was quite simple – the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart — sin. When a person quits blaming problems, addictions, and bad choices on circumstances and other people; and he/she accepts sin as the root of the problem, freedom is not far away. Because, as Brandt affirms, there is a solution for sin!
Heart of the problem is problem of the heart
The Bible affirms that we are all sinners – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) That’s all of us, none can claim to be sinless.
The good news, also known as The Gospel, is God’s provision for our sin. He sent Jesus to live and to die to pay the price for our sin so we could be accepted as righteous before God. The life Jesus lived is recorded in history; the fact of his death and resurrection is also unquestionably documented. He was not one of many good teachers or prophets; He was and is the Son of God and He offers freedom from sin to E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. It is a free gift – seems too good to be true, and yet it is true.
We do not have to remain trapped by sin and its consequences. And we do not have to live in fear and discouragement regarding the state of our world and culture. We can have hope and joy and peace, in spite of times that seem desperate. My opinion is not worth much, but when asked about all the hot topics, my best answer is, “let’s see what God says in His word.” It is with great confidence we can stand on His word and obey His commands. But nobody said that would be easy. People will not always like or agree with the truths in the Bible; God’s word convicts, redeems, teaches, and leads us into righteousness. I am convinced that God is for us and He is for our good.
God is for us and He is for our good.
As a sinner saved by God’s grace, it is my duty and privilege to live in a way that honors Him. That means I should love others extravagantly, give my time and gifts and resources to help people in need, and share the good news of Jesus with a world that desperately needs what He offers.
Focusing on God and His love for this world changes us and infuses us with His power. There is no time for getting caught up in arguments and controversy; our time is best spent seeking God and allowing Him to use us in His plan for our world.
An old hymn says, “In Times Like These, You Need a Savior.” Yes. We. Do.