Last week we celebrated Christmas, and tonight we will ring in the New Year!
Some of you may have already taken down the decorations and put them away. Some of you will wait until later, in January. And then there is me. I may have been known to take mine down a bit later than the average person!
Christmas may be over, but it is not the end, it was actually the beginning.
Let’s take a look back for a moment at the beginning of beginnings so that I can explain what I mean.
From the beginning, God had a plan. On the first day of creation, God spoke light into the darkness! After creation, the earth was full of God’s peace, the kind of peace in which everything works according to God’s plan. The world was made for man with everything we could ever need or want to live joyfully in the presence of our Creator. We would worship God by loving Him and loving one another forever. The angels were also there at creation, and they shouted for joy! (Job 38:4,7)
But one day, Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule over them. We refer to their rebellious choice as “the Fall.” Their choice affected all of us. The result of rejecting God’s authority over us is that we are dead spiritually and will die physically.
Thankfully, even though our Creator hates our sin, and we deserve death, there is good news! God loves you and has a plan for you. We are a part of His master plan for redeeming His world and rescuing sinners.
The first Christmas day changed the world. On that day, hope was born! God tucked Himself up under the heart of a young virgin in the form of a baby. This baby was Jesus, God Himself. He came to renew the world and restore His people. Light stepped into the darkness, and that Light continues to cover the darkness today!
On this day, everything changed! An angel delivered to shepherds, just outside of Bethlehem, the message of the long-awaited Messiah’s birth.
When the first angel finished the message, the sky exploded, and the angelic choir sang praises to God and glorified His name once again! They first sang at creation, and now they are singing at the beginning of the new creation.
God had a plan from the beginning. The angels and shepherds were part of executing that plan, and so are we! The angel brought the message of redemption to the shepherds, who shared it with everyone they saw. We, too, have been given the gospel to share with those God brings into our lives.
The angel’s message reminds us that everything God does is because of His great love for people. God knew that the best gift He could give us would not fit in a box wrapped in colored paper. The greatest gift He could give us is unconditional love. The greatest need people have is unconditional love. Only God alone could do that. But first, there was a barrier between God and us that needed to be removed. It was a barrier created by our own sin and rebellion.
God showed us how much He loves the world by giving His most priceless gift – His only Son – so that that we may have a new life, eternal life, life from now to forever. Christ overcame the sin that separates us from God. Jesus is the gift! Gifts, by definition, are received, not earned. A person receives it by believing and trusting in Christ. When we receive Jesus Christ, we become children of God (John 1:12-13).
God’s purpose in sending His Son is salvation, not condemnation. God does not delight in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32) God’s greatest desire is that everyone would be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9)
It was because of love that God created man in the first place. Why? Because love needs people to love! In other words, love always requires tangible expression. Because of this love, God put a plan in place to rescue us from the destructive path we chose. Love sent Jesus into our world. Hope was born.
Tomorrow is the beginning of a new year.
The days following Christmas, with all the lights of the season still shining around us, is an excellent time to share the gospel. Use the coming New Year celebrations to open conversations about New Year plans. A discussion of New Year resolutions can lead to gospel sharing opportunities. We are called to love God, and because we do, we will love people. The best gift we can give those God puts in our path is the gift of His Son so that they too can be reconciled to God and have a new beginning and eternal life. Loving God and loving people should define our entire life.
So far, we’ve seen two occasions where the angels gathered to sing praises and glory to God. The first was at creation and then again at the new creation. Jesus came into the world He created to restore us to God, our Creator. Someday we will sing our song of praise in the throne room of heaven (Revelation 5). And as we live in the meantime, we know that angelic praise teams are singing! “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
There is a lot of hatred in this world. People are angry, hurting, and desperate for real love. If we are called to be God’s hands and feet, leading people to reconciliation with Him, then love is our most powerful tool. In this new year, don’t just say you love someone; prove it!
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.- Luke 2:8–14
What is Advent?
The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is:
• the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent.
• the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent.
Advent is much more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. Advent is a season of preparation. Not only is Advent about preparing to celebrate the first coming of Christ as a baby, but it’s also about preparing for Christ’s second coming as judge. In Advent we are reminded that the Christmas story began thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, with the people of Israel. In Advent we are reminded that the Christmas story is not over; Jesus will return. (more…)
It is a scary world that we live in and with each passing day the headlines tell of shootings, severe weather, terror threats, political unrest, economic upheaval and global instability.
In our personal lives we are faced with job insecurity, financial loss, health issues, broken relationships, prodigals, disobedient children, drama and the list goes on and on.
How quickly we find ourselves wringing our hands, trying to “make things work”, working hard to fix people, worrying about those we love and ourselves. Fear slithers in, like the one who uses it to pierce the heart and mind, and drains us of all peace.
How are we to respond?
When life begins to crumble you find yourself drowning in a sea of circumstances, when the world is swirling and the noise is deafening REMEMBER
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear… Psalm 46:1-2
The pressure to embrace the fear is great! But, our Refuge is even greater! As believers it is possible to be strong and confident no matter what is happening in today’s headlines, in our families or in our personal lives.
The way to overcome that fear is to trust what God’s Word says is true and cling to it, the way a child who is afraid, wraps their arms and legs around their father and refuses to let go. Why do they do that? Because they KNOW they are safe in their daddy’s arms. He is their refuge in times of trouble.
We live in a sinful, broken world and the one thing we can be certain of, is that our days are uncertain!
BUT, God’s Word is crystal clear – we serve a BIG God who is ever present and personal. While the nations are raging and kingdoms totter, the Lord of Hosts is with us – He is our fortress! (Psalm 46:6-7)
So what do you do when you are struggling with fear and uncertainty?
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! – Psalm 46:10
There are three parts to this verse
Be Still (cease striving)
It carries the idea of – stop struggling against, stop fighting, stop trying to figure things out. In other words we are to rest, relax, chill out, drop our weapons and stop fighting!
I don’t know about you, but it is very hard for me to be still. When I am struggling with fear and feeling out of control I want to do something. I want to take matters into my own hands and do whatever it takes to “make it right” – in doing so I often find refuge in all the wrong places. I trust in myself or others rather than resting in God.
But, there is another aspect to being still – that is learning to be quiet.
We live in a noisy world, one that is not only filled with sounds but with a multitude of voices. If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would confess that we are “plugged in” 24/7. The TV is on 24/7 (even if it is just for noise), iPods are plugged in, fans are blowing, Sirius XM enables us to listen in the car, at home or anywhere we happen to be!
There is also the multitude of voices: friends, family, foes, teachers, mentors and other sundry voices. Which ones do you listen to? Who carries the heaviest weight? We need to discern if this is God speaking through them or is it just the flesh?
When we are free from outside turbulence we are better able to hear the still, small voice of God’s Spirit. He speaks to us, but sometimes we aren’t quiet enough to hear Him.
One other voice that needs to b quieted is the voice of our flesh, the one which speaks in the language of worries, doubts and fears. By taking those thoughts captive and resting in God’s Word, peace replaces the turbulence. That doesn’t mean the storm has passed, it means the storm is no longer within you. The storms may still rage, but you will be free from their effects.
Learn that He is God, or you might think of it as “see that I am God”, or “Get to know Me better”. The way to get to know God better is to consistently be in His Word, learning who He is, what your relationship with Him is and how He operates. There is no better way to get to know someone than by spending time with them.
The more you get to know God, the easer it becomes to step back and see that He is who He says He is!
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth
Often I exalt myself and try to be my own god. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it! I take matters into my own hands. “I do it!”, as my granddaughter says.
However, there is only one god! (Deuteronomy 6:4) I am not He and neither are you!
When we become still and get to know Him we can stand in confidence no matter what is happening around us. And when we do, others will see and they too will know that He is God – and hopefully want whatever it is that we have!
Where do I start?
I would like to suggest you read Psalm 46, implant its words deep down in your heart so that you can stand firm on them when your circumstances try to consume you.
Actually, I think it would be a great exercise to not simply read Psalm 46, but to engage with it.
- Print out a copy of the text. (Double spaced to give yourself some room to work.)
- Read Psalm 46
- Mark God by drawing a triangle over every reference to God, including synonyms and pronouns.
- Make a list of everything you learn about God in this Psalm. For example:
1. God is our refuge and strength (verse 1)
2. A very present help in trouble (verse 1)
- Evaluate your list and see how it applies to you.
When I find myself in trouble, I need to act on what I know know is true. For example:
I can run to God my refuge and strength and not to my friends.
I go to His Word for strength and direction.
I cling to the truth of the Bible even when I don’t understand my circumstances.
Often we create our own drama because we don’t know how to live quietly, how to be still at the proper time. One of the marks of a mature believer is being still and confident, trusting God no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, as the result of being in the Word.
Stillness and confidence will be your strength and will reveal the One you serve!
Does this sound familiar? (click here)
Have you ever felt like you were in a box and desperately needed out?Perhaps this box was a box of someone else’s design . I am not talking about a physical box necessarily but one constructed with rules and laws someone else made and held together by very strong emotions.
Recently I found myself trapped in one of those boxes. I was simply strolling along in my thoughts, meditating on the goodness of the Lord and the journey He has taken me on. A journey like nothing I could have even imagined where I’ve climbed the highest of mountains, stood breathless amazed by the view and captured by the euphoria of it all. And yet while on that same journey found myself pulled into the deep unfathomable depths of discouragement, swirling, swirling headed for despair.
As I was contemplating the mountain tops and how quickly you can plummet to the depths and how it is possible to pull out of the plunge, God spoke in that still small voice. I pressed in so I wouldn’t miss what He was saying, “Tell them what you have learned.” I ponder that for a moment, and I ask “What I have learned?” “Yes the things I’ve taught you, teach others also.”
I’ve learned a lot over the years, just what am I to share? And again I hear His voice, “those things that enable you to pull out of the plunge.” I began contemplating what those were.
In the middle of this time of contemplation David and I were writing a blog on Spiritual Disciplines. It’s really a shame that is not emphasized in our church’s much, but is key to the spiritual growth of believers. Jesus and Paul have a lot to say on the subject so imagine how surprised I was to hear the lid slam shut on a box that, up until that point, I didn’t even know existed.
We found ourselves in a dark and suffocating place, where the walls kept squeezing relentlessly waiting to hear us cry “Uncle”! I was frustrated and kicking at the sides for all I was worth. The harder I kicked and the more I tried to explain, the more pressure the hand that was clamped over my mouth exerted and the louder the hissing was in my ear. The voice that claimed to be protecting the family of God from wolves in sheep’s clothing, yet at the same time accusing us of being “one of them”.
At the point of exhaustion, I sat down, sucking in air and not wanting to let any escape.
It was then that once again, I heard that still small voice. Lest I run the risk of being stuffed back into a box I had previously been trapped in I admit, I believe God spoke to me. He said “Don’t let them distract you from what you know to be truth and what I’ve told you to do and stuff you into their box. Stand firm in the truth you know, it doesn’t need defending and you’ll never convince them otherwise.”
You know them. They are self appointed guardians of a truth of their own understanding. They make up rules and dare you to break them and when you do they go straight for the juggler ready to take you out before you even know what hit you!
But isn’t that what the Pharisees did? Throughout His entire ministry the Pharisees followed Jesus around trying to cram Him into a box that they had designed, with special attention paid to the details.They had created their own rules, 633 to be exact. They dared Jesus and His disciples to break them.
But break them they did! He
- healed on the Sabbath.
- ate with tax collectors.
- touched the coffin of a dead man when He raised him from the dead.
- spoke to an adulterous Gentile woman.
- prepared and ate grain on the Sabbath.
- didn’t wash hands before eating.
Jesus valued people over man made rules! He came to rock their world and kick the lids off man’s homemade boxes. He came to set the captives free!
Boxes come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are designed according to:
- How you should look or act
- What you say, not only verbally but in writing as well
- Where you go
- Who you hang out with
- What church/denomination you are a affiliated with
- What Bible translation you use and the list goes on………….
Do any of these look like boxes you have designed? Yes, I did go there. You see if we aren’t careful we all have the potential to create boxes. That is one of those things The Lord has been teaching me and wants me to teach others also. :)
So be on guard lest you find yourself designing your own line of boxes!
Let’s start a conversation! Share with us a time you found yourself inside another person’s box!