New Year’s Revolution

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.
–Pastor Ken

The Difference Jesus Makes

“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.
–Pastor Ken

Simplified Christmas

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.
–Pastor Ken