Reflecting on What Christmas is All About

As we enter into the month of December and all that the Christmas season brings, I know that this time can be different for everyone. Some of us are full of excitement and joy in anticipation of what this year will bring, while others of us dread this time and can’t wait for it to be over.

I used to be one who always dreaded Christmas. As a pastor in ministry, you might think that I would love the Christmas season. The problem is that Christmas had become more about all the events and programs and things we had to do. Just the thought of December and the Christmas season approaching would wear me out.

Then one year I found out that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. My senior pastor at the time was working through the same feelings. So one year we decided to take back Christmas. It’s the year that simplicity became a core value for me.

We started asking the question: What are we doing that we shouldn’t be doing? What are the things that are causing us to dread Christmas? And we realized that Christmas had become more about the things we did and less about Jesus. It’s interesting how we can be so busy doing Christmas stuff that we forget what Christmas is all about.

In the excitement of the season, we can actually miss the true meaning of Christmas. And if we’re dreading Christmas, then perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong things. Now, I understand that the struggle of this season for some may be the pain of remembering lost loved ones. And I definitely don’t want to make light of this reality. But that is the amazing thing about our Savior. His presence can bring us comfort in these times. The Christmas season should be full of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We can’t let the hoopla or the dread get in the way of what Jesus did by coming to this earth.

So, whether you’re excited and eagerly anticipating what this Christmas will bring or you’re dreading Christmas altogether, I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what Christmas is all about: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” -Luke 2:11.

Continuing to Give Thanks

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Hopefully you were able to take time to stop, reflect, and give thanks for the wonderful blessings we have in and through the Lord. But now that Thanksgiving is over, we shouldn’t stop giving thanks. Psalm 118:24 tells us: “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Every day is a day that the Lord has made and every day is a day for us to rejoice and give thanks. There are actual studies that show that the attitude we have for the day is set in the first eight minutes after we wake up.
The question is: How are we kicking off our day? Are we rolling out of bed, complaining and griping about the day ahead or are we choosing to be grateful and giving thanks that God is with us and will be our strength regardless of what the day might bring.
I’m not perfect in this practice, but several years ago I made a decision to try to start each day off with a positive attitude. So most mornings when I wake up, I quote that scripture saying, “This is the day the Lord has made.” And I make it a little more personal as I continue by saying, “I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I…am choosing to rejoice and be glad in it.
Every day we have a choice: we can to choose to rejoice or we can choose to grumble and complain. So when we wake up each morning, my encouragement is that the first thing we do is rejoice in the Lord. That we take time to thank God for His unconditional love and remember all the things He’s done for us. And let’s strive to make every day a day to give thanks—not just that last Thursday in November.
So, what are you thankful for today?

Being Thankful for What We Have

I was reading the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15 this week. It’s an amazing story of a father’s grace and love for his son. And it reminds us that we have so much to be thankful for. If you’re not familiar with the story, I would encourage you to read it.

The main person in the story is obviously the “prodigal son”. And one of the key highlights in the story is the father’s unconditional love for him. But I realized as I read through the story again that, many times, we skip over the part the older brother plays in this parable. When you take a closer look at his role in the story, there’s actually a powerful lesson about learning to be thankful for what we have.

The older brother stayed when the prodigal son left but, when the prodigal returned, this older brother wasn’t as welcoming and forgiving as the father. At the celebration of the prodigal son’s return, the house was packed and every seat was taken, except for one. The seat next to the prodigal son was empty because his older brother refused to attend. Instead, he stood outside angry and upset.

His father saw him outside and went to him and urged him to come in and celebrate the return of his little brother. This just seemed to upset him even more. It brought about a flood of emotions not just towards his younger brother but towards his father as well. And we see in the story the resentment he had towards his father for welcoming his brother back.

In the midst of their interaction, the father reminded the older brother that he’d always had his father’s blessing and that everything the father had was already his. If anyone had reason to be thankful, wasn’t it the older brother? He had been experiencing his father’s inheritance every day. He never had to experience hunger or servitude.

It’s interesting to me that we can do all the right things, possess all the benefits of our Father God, and still fail to be thankful. How often are we blind to the blessings that we actually have? The older brother had everything but he failed to see it. The truth is that many of us miss our share of joy at times because we fail to look for the blessings we already have. Yes, times are hard right now and there may be many things that upset us or that we can complain about. But as we enter into the week of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take some time to look around, take stock, and reflect on the many blessings that we have. And then, give thanks to the One who has blessed each of us so richly.

Growing in Our Faith

We read in Genesis 12 that Abraham was called by the Lord. In verses 2 and 3, God says to Abraham, “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

What an amazing word from the Lord. I’m guessing most of us would love to receive a word like this from the Lord. It would be so encouraging and life-giving. And I’m guessing it would increase our faith beyond measure.

The interesting thing, though, is that later in the chapter when they go to Egypt, Abraham actually lacks faith. Since his wife Sarah is so beautiful, he worries that the Egyptians might kill him and take her for themselves. Apparently he forgot the promise God had given him. So what does he do? He devises this little lie about Sarah being his sister, which ends up causing big problems for them and the people of Egypt.

Today Abraham is known as this great man of faith, but when you read these scriptures in Genesis 12, it’s obvious he wasn’t always as full of faith as he should have been. It’s a reminder that our faith is something that can actually grow over time. The more and more we put our trust in the Lord, the greater our faith becomes. Over time we see that Abraham’s faith grew and the same can be true for all of us. We will have those times where we try to take things into our own hands and we will have those times where our faith isn’t as strong as we feel it should be. But when we take time to remember the promises of God and hold on to the truth found in His Word—it’s then that we’ll see growth like Abraham and become the people of faith that God desires us to be.

He is With Us Always

I read in an article this week that depression among adults in the United States rose from 8.5 percent to 32.8 percent in 2020 and 2021. That’s 1 in 3 adults who are dealing with depression. I know that many people feel alone and afraid in the midst of all that’s going on in our world. And I know that there are many factors that can contribute to depression—and it’s good to seek professional help when we experience hopelessness. But I also know that God is always with us, and we need to continually choose to remember that. It doesn’t just happen naturally.

In my devotions this week, I was led to 2 Timothy 4:16-17 where Paul talks about being alone in prison. Listen to what he says: “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…”

I imagine this time for Paul was depressing, having no one show up to support him. I would guess he felt alone and maybe even afraid. But he points out the fact that the Lord stood at his side. And Paul goes on to share that, because of God’s strength, he was able to share the Gospel in that very place of hardship…and God eventually delivered him from that place of desolation.

I know these times we are in can be depressing and isolating. And I know we can feel alone and afraid at times. This is why more than ever we need to turn to the Lord. We believe Jesus is the answer to every human need, which means that He is the answer for depression and loneliness. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

We are never alone. God is with us and His desire is to meet us right where we are. When was the last time we called out to Him? When was the last time we prayed for Him to meet us where we are and to be our strength and comfort? God is here and I encourage you to take time to pray and to talk with Him. Let Him help you with whatever you’re experiencing. Let Him stand by your side and be your strength!

Breakthrough Miracle Power

This past week we sang a new worship song in our church called Breakthrough Miracle Power.As someone who was raised in a Christian home, with a Pentecostal background, I found myself at a young age believing in God’s miraculous healing power. As a little boy, I believed that God could do or heal anything.

I’ve shared the story numerous times with our church, how my dad broke his leg when I was six. And when he came home with a cast, I told him that he didn’t need a cast because God could heal him. And He did! After unsuccessfully trying to cut the cast off himself, he went to his doctor and had him remove the cast. The doctor thought he was crazy, but my dad walked out of his office without a cast and a leg that was completely healed. So how could I not believe?

All throughout the Bible, there are stories of God doing the miraculous: stories of Him moving outside the laws of nature to bring about something that logic would say is impossible. But Jesus told us in Luke 18:27 “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Do we believe in the breakthrough miracle power of God? Do we believe that God can do the same miracles today that He did in the Bible? We’re told in Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

I have seen His breakthrough miracle power and I know that He continues to do the impossible. Are you in need of a miracle? I believe God wants to do the miraculous in our lives. He wants to meet us where we’re at and bring healing in ways that we’ve never imagined.

We’re told in James 4:2 – “You do not have because you do not ask.” Maybe it’s time we start praying and asking God to open up the doors for His breakthrough miracle power to be unleashed in our lives.

Letting Him Renew Our Strength

This week my devotions led me to Isaiah 40:30-31, which says: “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

There were two things I noticed as I read this section of scripture—two things that I think can encourage us and help us in these challenging times that have left many of us weary and exhausted.

The first is the reality that God knows we’re going to experience weakness and fatigue in this fallen, broken world. We’re told in these verses that even youth become weak and tired.

My son Toby has always been high energy. From day one (19 years ago) it took everything I had to keep up with him. The thing is, that energy would eventually run out. It wasn’t uncommon when he was little for him to fall asleep in the car on the way home from a long day or to fall asleep on the couch in the evening after playing hard all day.

The reality is even youth with all their energy grow weak and tired. And it’s no surprise to God that we do too. He knows we are human and our physical bodies can only take so much. The key is how we deal with our fatigue and exhaustion.

This leads to the second thing we see in these scriptures, which is the fact that we renew our strength in the Lord. It says as we wait on the Lord, He gives us the strength we need to “mount up with wings like eagles”.

When we find ourselves weary and exhausted, do we take time to wait on the Lord? When was the last time we actually took time to Sabbath? And Sabbath isn’t just going to church, it’s actually taking time to put everything else aside to rest our bodies and connect with the Lord. It’s something we’re called to do weekly. “Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy” is one of God’s Commandments. This is because God knows we need to rest and He knows that He’s the only one that can truly renew our strength. If you’re feeling tired and weary today, I encourage you to take time to wait on the Lord and rest in Him!

Learning to Keep Quiet

This week I was at our denomination’s district conference and heard an amazing message on Joshua and the story where they defeated Jericho. The speaker pointed out the fact that the Israelites were told not to fight but to simply march around the city’s walls.

And on top of that, they were told not to talk. Listen to what it says in Joshua 6:10 “But Joshua had commanded the army, ‘Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!’” 

The truth is that until hearing this message, I hadn’t really given much thought to why God would ask them not to talk. But the fact is the Israelites were known for their grumbling and complaining. It was their grumbling and complaining that lead to them wandering in the desert for 40 years.

I can almost imagine the conversations that might have taken place while they walked around Jericho had they not been told to keep quiet, especially by the fifth or sixth day. Who knows what kind of grumbling or complaining they might have done.

When God doesn’t do things the way we think He should or in ways that don’t make sense to us, how do we respond? Do we grumble and complain? Like I said, the Israelites were known for their grumbling and complaining. To be honest, I believe we as Americans can do a pretty good job of complaining and grumbling ourselves.

But what if we didn’t? What if we chose to keep quiet and trust that God has a plan? What if we chose to look for ways that God is at work instead of focusing on the negative things in our world? Grumbling and complaining have never benefitted anyone. It just stirs up confusion and anger. Joshua said to not say a word until he told them to. What if we learned to keep quiet until God tells us to speak?

Improving Our Relationships

This week I read an article by Rick Warren that talked about how we can improve our relationships. His key point was that we must learn to serve others. The fact is we often focus on our own wants and needs, which can make it seem like life revolves around us.
And if this is how both people in a relationship are viewing things, it’s going to cause challenges and conflicts in that relationship. This is why we must learn to serve others. Serving others will change our heart, which will ultimately change the way our relationships look.
One of the key values God desires for all of us is to learn to be selfless instead of selfish. It’s the example that Jesus set for all of us. Matthew 20:28 tells us: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
All we have to do is look at the Gospels and read the stories of Jesus. There we see Him show love and compassion time and time again as He graciously serves others. He would always put others before Himself.

We are called to imitate the life of Christ. To love like He loved, to serve like He served. When we live in this way, we live our life not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others.
And if we can learn to live life this way, there’s no doubt that our relationships will improve. People enjoy being around those who genuinely care about them and who put them first.
My encouragement for all of us this week is that we seek to do a better job of serving others. We need to ask the Lord to show us how we can improve. We need to read the stories of Jesus and let His life inspire us. Because I truly believe that learning to serve others better, will improve and transform our relationships.

God is Love

As a pastor, I get emails and letters every so often from people telling me what I need to be preaching on or what I’m doing wrong. I find this especially strange when it’s from someone who doesn’t even attend our church.

I received one of those letters this past week. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only pastor in my city that received this letter because they seemed to be addressing churches in a broad spectrum. In the letter were these words, “The church has allowed the devil to take over your pulpit and dictate that you only preach the ‘love verses’ because, God forbid you should offend anyone.”

I find this statement so odd and ironic because the last thing the devil wants is for us to be preaching about the love of Jesus. We’re told in 1 John 4:8 that God is love. So if all we ever do between now and eternity is preach the “love verses”, I think it would be wonderful and pleasing to the Lord.

In his book The Signature of Jesus Brennan Manning writes, “Jesus, as the revealer of the Godhead, defines God as love. In light of this revelation, we have to abandon the cankerous, worm-eaten structure of legalism, moralism, and perfectionism that corrupts the Good News into an ethical code rather than a love affair.”

1 John 4:7-8 tells us: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

I honestly think that love is what is lacking more than anything in our world today. We need to better understand and receive the love of God so that we can live out the two greatest commandments: LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and LOVE your neighbor as yourself. Let’s continue to preach, speak and demonstrate the love of Jesus.