It’s that time of year when a lot of folks make promises they can’t keep. We call them New Year’s “resolutions,” because we are supposedly resolved in our hearts to change our ways, and improve ourselves as the fresh start of a new year approaches.
Or, you may be one of the many who have finally given up on making resolutions. I read recently that only 37% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions any more, and that means that almost two out of three people are either satisfied with the way they are or don’t want to fail again in 2017.
Of those who do make resolutions, they are usually pretty predictable. The number one resolution people make is to get control of their money. Next is to stop smoking, followed by losing weight and exercising more regularly.
It’s not hard to figure out the general theme of all those typical resolutions–discipline. And perhaps that’s why 63% of us don’t resolve to do anything different, because we realize it requires discipline.
May I make a suggestion for a good New Year’s resolution for 2017. Choose to take seriously the Scriptural call to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Tim. 4:7, NAS). Or, as the NIV translates that verse, “train yourself to be godly.” In other words, make up your mind and resolve in your heart that by God’s grace you will make the effort to get your spiritual life under control in 2017. I have a feeling that the other areas of your life will follow if you do.
It all comes down to getting your life in order, beginning with the priority of your relationship with God. That’s the kind of resolution that can cause a revolution in every area of your life, and in the life of your family.
I pray that you’ll make a renewed commitment to follow Jesus in the year ahead, and then follow through as you walk with Him day by day. May you and your family have a safe and blessed New Year.
“I want to live again, I want to live again,” George Bailey cried out as he stood on the snow-covered bridge in Bedford Falls, the river dark and swirling below. With the help of Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class, George had discovered, to his horror, what life would have been like had he never been born.
No doubt you recognize that’s the pivotal scene of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which makes its annual appearance on television this time of year (and will be showing tomorrow night, in fact). Of all the Christmas classics, I would have to say that one is my favorite. Clarence the angel sums up the compelling theme of the movie so well in his words: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole.”
With that in mind, I asked our Wednesday night small group a question last week, and I’ll ask it again here on this Christmas Eve eve. What if Jesus had never been born? What difference would it have made in history or in our daily lives if a Bethlehem stable had not served as a makeshift delivery room for the promised Christ-child a little more than 2,000 years ago?
Dr. D. James Kennedy wrote a book with that very title–“What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?”–several years back, in which he gave persuasive evidence that people inspired by Jesus are responsible for everything from mass education, modern science, representative democracy, the elevation of women, the end of slavery, respect for life, and the creation of universities and hospitals. “Jesus Christ, the greatest man who ever lived, has changed virtually every aspect of human life–and most people don’t know it.” the author asserted. His truly was a wonderful life!
I doubt anyone would argue that the birth and life of Christ has not had a radical impact on world history. But my question for you today gets a little more personal.
What difference does His birth (and life, and death on the cross, and resurrection) make in your daily life? Is the promised “peace on earth” the angels sang about evident in your life, even in this stressed-out season? Does the hope of the coming of the promised Messiah sustain you in difficult times? Do the “glad tidings of great joy for all the people” show in the way you live your life?
If we celebrate only the birth and life of a historical figure from the first century without realizing His impact on our daily lives personally in the 21st century, then I believe we have missed the meaning of Christmas. He came to give us life, and peace, and hope and “great joy,” not just in December but all the year round. I hope and pray, especially this holiday season, you have experienced those gifts of Christmas He came to bring.
So, from my family to yours, may you have a most blessed Christmas. I hope to see you Sunday at Shelby Crossings as we gather in His name to worship our Savior and King.
We played Christmas movie trivia in our small group Christmas gathering this week. It was plenty of fun, and I wish you could have been there. It is amazing the trivial details that we know about our favorite Christmas flicks, and the memories they stir up this time of year.
One of the timeless traditions of many families this time of year is watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special together. It’s such a simple story, with an unlikely ending for a program airing on a major network television. I read someone’s comment on Facebook earlier this week that they wondered if the show, with it’s reading of the Christmas story right out of Scripture, would be allowed on television if it came out today. I think we all know the answer to that.
According to a recent account about the special from the National Review, it almost didn’t come to pass the first time around.
It all started in 1965 when Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz put together his first TV special, on very short notice and with a shoestring budget. In fact, Schulz was asked on a Wednesday to put write a special…by the following Monday. What he came up with was nearly rejected at first, and CBS executives were sure it would be doomed if it ever aired at all. However, to their surprise it was well-received the first year, and 51 years later it is still one of the most-watched shows of the holiday season.
Other than nostalgia, what makes the Charlie Brown special so…special? For one, Schulz insisted that it would have no laugh track, which was unheard of in that day. It was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get show, with no external cues on when to laugh. The backdrop is sometimes eery silence which accentuates the simplicity of the whole program.
Another peculiar part of the show is that all the voices you hear are children. Not adult actors playing children, but real-life kids. Again, that hadn’t been done when Schulz proposed it, and network executives suggested it would never work, but Schulz knew that the simple, innocent voices of children would be the key to presenting the message.
But the most controversial part of the special was what bothered CBS executives the most, even in 1965. As the bumbling Charlie Brown, with his puny little Christmas tree, tries to discover the true meaning of Christmas, it is Linus who comes to the rescue in the climax of the show. And he does so by reading from–of all places–the Bible. He reads familiar account from Luke 2 about the birth of Jesus.
“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
In a mid-1960’s time of rebellion and questioning of all “truth”–when Time magazine’s cover would ask the Nietzsche-inspired question “Is God Dead?”–Schulz and Charlie Brown would answer that question with a resounding “No.” The hope in the midst of the chaos was our Emmanuel, God with us, a simple baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Like the Charlie Brown special, we would all do well this season to move away from the noise of our modern holiday, to approach Christmas with the simple faith of a child, and to focus our attention not on the trappings of the busy, over-commercialized season, but on the One who came to give us peace and joy and life in the midst of it all. Yes, that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Don’t let the world trap you into an over-extended, over-spent, over-stressed Christmas. There’s still time for you to simplify, and enjoy the wonder of Emmanuel this Advent season..
I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we celebrate the “peace on earth” that Jesus came to bring.
I have walked by Salvation Army bell-ringers all my life, but this week I finally got a chance to be on the other side. Our Community Group volunteered to man the Salvation Army collection kettle at the Alabaster Walmart on Tuesday, tag-teaming it for the afternoon and evening. It was a little cold and rainy, but it was also fun and inspiring, and admittedly, quite a lucrative day for the Salvation Army ministries. If you have never done it, I would certainly recommend it.
It doesn’t require much. I just stood there in my red Salvation Army apron and rang my bell and smiled at people and said “Merry Christmas” about a thousand times. There were a few conversations, some kind words in return, and I even let a few kids ring the bell for me, though I’m not sure if that was according to regulations. There were more than a few people who really didn’t want to make eye contact, and some obviously felt like they owed me an explanation for why they weren’t dropping cash into my kettle, as if I had a stake in the deal. I was content to just offer them a kind Christmas greeting, whether they contributed or not.
You can learn a lot watching the “people of Walmart,” and I’m not just talking about the folks on the website by that name. Mainly, I saw a general population of people who for the most part seemed very serious, and troubled, and perhaps already tired of the Christmas season. You could feel the burdens on people’s faces, and sometimes you could feel those burdened lifted, if only for a few seconds, when they heard the words “Merry Christmas.”
I discovered, at least in my time at the kettle, that people were far more generous than I would have expected. Many saw me and my kettle not as someone to be avoided, but as an opportunity to give. What a blessing that was, and what a blessing it will be I’m sure to the folks who are the recipients of the good ministry that the Salvation Army offers to those in need.
I also realized a few things about myself, too, from my perspective on the other side of the bell-ringing. I had to wonder how much I have appeared bothered and angry and exhausted when I have passed the bell-ringers in public places. And do I see such opportunities to give as a blessing, to be a giver like Jesus has called me to be, or a distraction to be avoided?
I did notice one thing that happened when I took a break between shifts and went into a couple of stores, and then made my way up to Chick-fil-A to visit one of our other group members who had to work that night. I was officially “off duty” from my bell-ringing responsibilities, but out of habit, I still found myself smiling at people and wishing them a Merry Christmas. And since I was no longer wearing my Salvation Army apron and ringing a bell, there was no suspicion that I was only doing it to get them to give me their money.
And I wondered, do I really have to be a bell-ringer to be an agent of joy in this season where so many are joy-less? If the “good news of great joy, which will be for all the people” that we celebrate this Advent season means anything, then it means everything. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” is not just a song, it’s the very point of Christmas. Jesus came, as He later said, so that His joy would be in us, and our joy would be made full. And as His followers, we are carriers of that joy into a world that is stressed-out, worn-out and often burned-out.
May you and I be filled with His joy, not just during this “season to be jolly,” but all the year round. And may we share that joy with a world that is hurting, searching and often running right past the very One who can bring that joy to their lives.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, morning and evening, as we celebrate the joy of Christmas at Shelby Crossings! And one more thing:Merry Christmas!
I don’t mean to be cynical, really I don’t. But I will have to admit that when I got more than two dozen emails from organizations and ministries on “Giving Tuesday” soliciting funds, it did feel a little gimmicky and it did make me question the manner of those who are asking for my money.
If you don’t know much about Giving Tuesday, it was earlier this week. The special-emphasis day itself is actually only four years old, having been created in 2012 when two organizations in New York, the 92nd Street YMCA and the United Nations Foundation, came together “to set aside a day to celebrate the generosity of giving, a great American tradition.” Others saw the genius of the fund-raising effort and have joined in.
It’s not hard to see how the day developed. Organizers originally were responding to the commercialization and consumerism of the post-Thanksgiving season, but also wanted to get in on the rush when the cash was flowing, following up on Black Friday and Cyber Monday with a day aimed at kicking off the charitable season. And it has been a very effective emphasis, as billions of dollars have been raised the last few years for non-profit organizations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
No doubt, you received your share of Giving Tuesday correspondence, either electronically or by old-fashioned “snail mail,” asking for your contributions. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking for support for worthy causes, and there are so very many good options of ministries and missionaries and organizations that do good and need our support. But I am always skeptical of people seeking to get in on the gravy train instead of trusting the Lord for his provision for a ministry that He leads.
It didn’t help that I also got several emails the past few weeks from organizations that wanted to help me as a pastor appeal to the masses with our own Giving Tuesday campaign, to make sure we didn’t miss out on any charitable dollars that may be floating around out there. They offered techniques and properly-worded appeals–for a price, of course–to make sure we tapped into the giving spirit of our parishioners and community to get people to dig a little deeper and pony up some more cash. To get it, while the gettin’ is good, as they old saying goes. Sorry, did I mention I really don’t mean to be cynical?
I will have to admit, one of my favorite emails came from Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries, who I enjoy listening to as much because of his self-proclaimed “contrarian” viewpoints as anything else. Dr. Brown approached Giving Tuesday with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek appeal, though I wonder if he may not have been using reverse psychology instead. Here’s what his email said:
Hey, we’re sending out requests for donations today because it’s Giving Tuesday.
Don’t ignore it. Okay?
Key Life will go down in flames, thousands will never hear the Gospel, and the Kingdom will suffer great loss if you don’t give.
Uh… well, not really… but that seems to work for some ministries.
So instead of that, let me just say: Be generous and we’ll be faithful.
And of course, we’ll rise up and call you blessed as will a whole lot of others.
I do like that next-to-last line. “Be generous and we’ll be faithful.”That’s a good appeal, and it’s God’s will for every Christian not just on a single day of the year, or as year-end tax deductions are staring us in the face: to be a generous giver. To give, as it has been given to you. To release, with open hands, the blessings and bounty the Lord has provided to you, as a means of blessing others. Hence, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9 that we are not to give reluctantly or under compulsion, but freely, as “a cheerful giver.” (And especially not a cynical giver!)
This Advent season we are reminded of the motive behind it all: “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life.” (John 3:16) That’s what Christmas is all about. God gave to us His Son, out of His great love for us. And to whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48)
I trust that you will be generous in your giving, investing first in the local church and also in some of the very worthy ministries that need our support. More than that, I hope you have a giving heart all the year round that reflects the One who gave so much to you, and does so every day. May He bless your life as you give and love and serve Him this Christmas season.
I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.