Tonight, we turn the calendar’s page to another year. It’s hard to believe that the year 2016 is just around the corner. I remember when the George Orwell book 1984 was a futuristic tale, and when the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was distant-future science fiction. Now it seems like both of those dates are ancient past. And if that doesn’t blow your mind, remember that the future, in Back to the Future, is now the past.
As we look back on 2015, it is not hard to focus more on the negatives that have punctuated a tumultuous year. The levels of political rancor have left our nation more divided than at any time since the Civil War. Socially and morally, it seems that the downward spiral has picked up speed, from the undermining of biblical marriage to the further devaluing of human life. Our economy continues to teeter on edge, with our government amassing debt for generations to come, all the while waiting for the next bubble to burst. And, of course, acts of terrorism have moved from foreign shores to our own land, bringing with them an uncertainty day by day.
Which leads us to 2016. The natural tendency is to face the New Year with fear and trepidation.
And on the surface, there’s plenty of reason to at least be concerned about the future. Personally, I believe things in our society will get worse before they get better. But we mustn’t give in to fear, and we mustn’t lose hope.
Someone counted–and I am sure you have seen the meme to prove it–that the Bible says “Fear not” 365 times, once for every day of the year. That could mean trouble for 2016, since it’s a Leap Year and we have an extra day. But really, aside from the symbolism, the 365 occurrences of that statement remind us that there were plenty of people who were afraid in Bible times too. Because you don’ t have to tell someone not to fear if they don’t have a reason to be afraid.
Still, the Lord speaks into our fears with those simple words: “Do not be afraid.” And very often, that simple admonition is followed by a promise, a reminder: “…’for I am with you,’ says the Lord.”In other words, the reason we need not be afraid is not because He will make all of our circumstances better, but that He will be with us through whatever comes our way. Or, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “He will never leave us, nor forsake us.”
It may be a cliche, but it is still true: We may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future.And He can be trusted.
I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us at Shelby Crossings in 2016 as we serve Him together. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me. Have a safe and blessed New Year!
And this is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown…
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 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.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
From my family, to yours, Merry Christmas! I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Still trying to find that last minute gift for someone special? With only seven shopping days left, maybe I can offer you a little assistance.
Several years back, on Good Morning America, Joan Lunden featured some gift ideas that were a little over the top. For instance, one of the gifts was a Jaguar automobile, the Jaguar 220 to be precise. If you wanted to order one, you could go down to your local Jaguar dealer and put down your $80,000 deposit. Then, when your Jag was delivered, you could pay the balance of $507,000. That’s right, the total sticker price for a Jaguar 220: $587,000 each.
Another item that Lunden mentioned was a $300,000 gold and silver toilet seat inlaid with precious stones. Of course, there were cheaper gifts for those who may be on a tighter budget: an $18,000 frisbee, a $10,000 yoyo, a $12,000 mousetrap, and even a $27,000 pair of sunglasses. And for the proud grandparent who is wondering what to get the new grandchild, how about a $28,000 pacifier?
Such gifts stagger the imagination, really. Or, they embarrass us for their gaudiness and ridiculously poor stewardship. Maybe, just maybe, they also remind us that the best give you can give at Christmas is not something you can afford anyway. In fact, the best gift we can give is a gift that has already been given.
No, I’m not talking about re-gifting. I am talking about sharing the gift that Christmas is really all about, Jesus Christ.
Though He wasn’t talking about Christmas, the apostle Paul wrote of giving in 2 Corinthians 9, as he instructed the church in Corinth to take up an offering to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He commended the Corinthians for their eagerness to help and reminded them that those who sow generously will also reap generously. Then he closes out the chapter with a reminder of the source of all of our giving: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (v. 15)
That’s what Jesus was, and is–the indescribable gift. Better than any extravagant automobile, toilet seat or yoyo…and better than any of the toys on your list this Christmas. Why don’t you share the love of Christ, and even the “good news of great joy” that His birth introduced to this dark world, this Christmas. It will be the best gift you could ever give. Indescribable, even.
I pray in this season of Advent that you and your family are cutting through the clutter and truly focusing on “the reason for the season.” I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
I was driving to the office yesterday morning, listening to K-Love Christian radio when I heard something I’d never heard about before. I thought they were joking at first, as morning radio folks are inclined to do, but then they replayed a segment from earlier in the morning and I realized what they were talking about was real. Later, I googled it and found out more details–and you know if it’s on the internet it’s true.
Here’s the deal: there’s a 24-hour telephone “hotline” called “Dial-A-Carol.” You can call it, any time the week of Dec. 10 through Dec. 16, and a live person will answer the phone. They’ll ask you what Christmas carol you want to hear, and if they know it, they’ll sing it for you live over the phone. I’m not making this up. It’s really a thing.
Dial-A-Carol is a student-run holiday program at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. It was started in 1960 by a university office secretary, and the residents of Snyder Hall on the Illinois campus who wanted to spread some holiday cheer. This is the 56th consecutive Christmas season that the students of Snyder Hall have hosted the program. Dial-A_Carol runs 24 hours a day for seven days and is held each year during finals week of the fall semester. Last year, students sang more than 6,800 carols to callers from all over the world.
The University’s housing webpage tells us, “This program is possible because of many volunteers who sacrifice their study time for finals in order to help us. We pride ourselves in being a community service program and enjoy many calls from children as well as university students, faculty members, and alumni.”
On the radio program I heard on Thursday, after the radio host made the request (“Holly Jolly Christmas”), the student who answered the phone in the residence hall rounded up three other students who were awake at that time of morning and they joined in and sang the song. (With great enthusiasm, I might add.) All the while, you could hear another group of students in the background serenading a different caller with a Christmas melody.
I don’t know what it is about music and the Christmas season that go together so well. Maybe it’s because, as Buddy the Elf reminded us, that “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” I think it may have something to do with that inaugural Christmas night, when the coming of the Christ-child was celebrated in song by the heavenly host of angels, singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
We sing this time of year because there is “good news of great joy for all the people.” Our Savior has been born! O come let us adore Him. This Sunday night, we’re going to “repeat the sounding joy” as we celebrate Jesus Christ at The Church at Shelby Crossings with wonderful singing, from voices young and old. It promises to be a fun night, with some great music, and I sure hope you can be with us for this special time with our church family.
Oh, and if you still don’t get enough Christmas music, you can always call Dial-A-Carol. Their number is: (217) 332-1882
I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, morning and evening, at The Church at Shelby Crossings.
There was a crazy development in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting on Wednesday. In the midst of the expected politicization of the tragedy, and the speculation of whether this was yet another terrorist attack, there was an unexpected onslaught on social media of what The Atlanticcalled “prayer shaming.”
Everyone from U.S. congressmen to media pundits and bloggers took to the internet to make bold statements that “prayer is not enough.” They proceeded to suggest that while one side was wasting their time praying, the other was trying to do something about the senseless tragedy of gun violence and mass shootings.
One Connecticut senator posted this on Twitter: “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage.Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.”
Now let me say that on a couple of sides, I agree with them. For one thing, the now popular and politically correct version of offering prayer–“sending thoughts”–is one of the silliest concepts I have ever heard. I’m not sure what it accomplishes, unless someone believes their “thoughts” somehow impact others telepathically. Let me just say that if I am ever in need, please pray for me, tell me you care even, but don’t bother sending me your thoughts.
These hashtag cries for prayer also ring a little hollow to me when we as a largely secular and prayerless nation so quickly start speaking the language of intercession during times of tragedy, when we surely don’t practice it much the rest of the year. Then, when the tragedy subsides and we get back to business as usual, prayer becomes an afterthought once again.
Likewise, prayer, without action, can sometimes be empty and self-righteous. The book of James tells us clearly that if we come upon someone without clothes or food and say to them, “Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed–i.e. “I’m sending you my thoughts and prayers”–and do nothing to help with the physical need ourselves then our faith is lacking. Faith, without works, is dead.
On the other side, I wonder what these people think the “action” we should take is, other than more gun control. I have no interest in jumping into the political fray of gun control in this space, but it’s obvious that illegal gun use is the least of concerns for those intent on doing such evil acts. And that is the point–whether it’s radical Islamic terrorism, nut-case abortion clinic terrorism, or crazed lunatic in a movie theater terrorism–or whatever next week’s terrorism will look like–the problem is not so much the instrument used to carry out the evil, but the depraved motivations of men’s hearts. And that’s where the real change must take place.
We live in an increasingly secular, intentionally Godless society that has lost its moral and spiritual bearings and is rapidly spiraling into the abyss. We have devalued life, we have mocked faith, we have discredited the Word of God, we have undermined the family, and on an on…and now, as Scripture promises: “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; A man (or nation)reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
And with that, we come full circle. I would submit to you today that our ONLY answer is prayer. Not social media prayer, not hashtag calls to prayer, but followers of Christ on our faces in genuine, fervent, desperate, shameless prayer to God for revival in our land.
“If My people, who are called by My name shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.