All I want for Christmas

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….”

A few years back, the minister of music and I decided to try something different on the last Sunday night before Christmas. We had done all the pageants and children’s musicals and there was nothing more that just “had” to be done. So, Ken and I came up with the idea of a “homespun Christmas,” where anyone who wished could come to the microphone and sing a Christmas carol.

After all, what could happen other than a few tone-deaf members grating on our ears? Hey, it was a Sunday night. What did we have to lose?

We ended up with an irregular collection of performances. A dad and his son sang a duet that hit the occasional correct note, but they were charming and everyone loved it.  A family sang harmony and blessed the crowd. There were solos and a little karaoke-type stuff. But one number in particular was unforgettable.

Someone in our congregation had put out the word that “just anyone” could come and sing. So they did.  No one knew those two teenage girls. I think they came from the other side of the metro area, maybe 25 miles away.  Their short dresses indicated they were not regulars in our church or possibly in anybody’s church.

They sang a rather seductive version of “All I want for Christmas is you” that would not have been out of place in a smoky barroom. (Anyone unfamiliar with the song will have no trouble finding it on youtube.)

Brother Ken sat there wondering what act could best follow this and what he should say about this song.

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How we know these things are true

“….(He) abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…. for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced….” (2 Timothy 1:10,12)

The Christian faith makes audacious claims, no doubt about it: a relationship with the God of the universe, an eternity with Him in His house, forgiveness of sin, and a power for living, and that’s just for starters.

The obvious question–and one every claimant to these wonders should be able to answer–is how do you know?  How can one be sure of such amazing promises and their reality?

My pastor said Sunday that he knows the Christian faith is true by the resurrection of Jesus.

I agree. No argument with that at all. The return of the Lord Jesus from that tomb confirmed His identity, sealed every promise He made, and assures us that there is One in the universe who can be trusted in these matters.  And only one so far, since no one else has returned from the grave (see John 3:13) and thus possesses such credentials. In Revelation 1:18, John sees the risen Jesus holding the keys to death, hell and the grave.  Those are the credentials!

But lately, as I edge closer and closer to the finish line of these earthly years, something else is looming large in my mind and heart. While the historical fact of the resurrection is a solid basis on which to stand, I find myself more and more holding on to the assurance of Jesus and His promises because it feels right.

That requires some explaining.

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Joy to the World!

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people….” (Luke 2)

God is a God of great joy.

There is great joy in God’s presence. (Psalm 16:11)

That joy has a name: Jesus Christ.

Wherever Jesus Christ is honored, joy is the dominant element in the atmosphere. (Acts 8:8 and 15:3)

When Jesus Christ enters a life, that person is filled with joy.

Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the King is in residence.

Joy is something other than happiness, for that quality depends on happenings.  The joy of the Lord is of a higher quality and superior to all others.

The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people.  (Nehemiah 8:10)

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Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God

“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took (Mary) as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

“Papa,” the little girl said,”How do we know when it’s God speaking to us and when it’s just us talking to ourselves?”

Her grandfather, a longtime pastor friend of mine, said, “Honey, that’s one of the great questions we have to struggle with throughout our whole lives.”

I’m confident the family asked Joseph that question and a hundred more.

“What do you mean you’re going ahead with the marriage, Joseph? Can’t you see Mary is pregnant and not by you? Doesn’t it matter to you what people are saying and how this looks? You say you heard from God? What does that mean?”

They thought Joseph was being “used,” that his “hearing from God” was his own wish fulfillment, that he wanted to marry Mary so badly he was willing to put up with anything, that the voice he was hearing originated in his own libido.

Poor Joseph.  He did two of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do who is determined to follow the Lord…

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Choices we have to make in life

“If you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).

Theodore Roosevelt was asked by a newsman if he could not control his then 17-year-old daughter Alice, who was gifted with a penchant for stirring up matters.

He said, “I can control Alice or I can be president of the United States. But I cannot do both.”

He was making a joke, but he was making a point.

He had to make a choice and he opted to run the country rather than his daughter.

The business section of your local bookseller will offer plenty of selections on how to become a multi-millionaire, rise to the top of one’s profession, or “make your mark before you are 40.”  But almost all will point out that in order to achieve such a lofty goal, one must sacrifice a lot of other things in life, including recreation, hobbies, and quality family time.

We make our choices.

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What to do in the midst of your storm

“So amid the conflict, whether great or small, do not be discouraged God is over all…”

It’s a conflict, storm, nightmare, or maybe just a small flareup.  To anyone else, it might be nothing, but to you it is serious business. Anything could happen, and you want to be very careful and to handle this well.  See if any of this helps….

Someone came up to me Tuesday evening at the conclusion of my fifth and final Christmas dinner/banquet where I had tried to draw everyone present and deliver a message on living by faith.

“You have no idea how appropriate your message was for us tonight.  It was sent from God.”

That’s what keeps preachers going. It’s better than any tonic.

How does that line go?  Everyone is either just coming out of a battle, in the middle of a battle, or about to go into one.

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It’s Sunday, you’re the preacher, and you feel out of sync

Ever have one of those days?

Ever have one of those Sundays and you’re the preacher?

I sat in church last Sunday wondering if my pastor was struggling in his sermon.  He’d chosen a difficult subject, one I’d had trouble with during my years in the pulpit, although Pastor Mike on a sub-par day is like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees when they’re less than a hundred percent:  still very good.

Every pastor has those times, Sundays when they don’t feel good physically, maybe they had trouble sleeping, perhaps something in the church is troubling them, they’re worried about a relative, or it’s nothing they can identify.  We’ve all been there.

What is a pastor to do then?

Answer: You preach.

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The ongoing, ever-living Christmas

I sat in the congregation listening to the Christmas sermon.  Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

The minister selected one aspect of the Christmas story and read the text, then brought his sermon from it.  His points were properly related to the text and no doubt most people in the worship center felt satisfied that they had been spiritually fed.  It was only later that something occurred to me, what was the missing ingredient in that morning’s service.

The worship leader and musicians and the pastor all drew our attention back to that night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and they did a fair job of opening the text, explaining its message, and praising the Lord. But they omitted one major element as far as I could tell.

They forgot to give us the “so what” of the Christmas message.

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I went to church today, but didn’t have to

“On the first day of the week, let every one of you….” (I Corinthians 16:2)

A heavy snowfall had paralyzed the city. By church time only the janitor and the preacher had shown up.  As they stood there, trying to decide what to do, the pastor said, “People today just aren’t as dedicated as they should be.” The janitor said, “No sir, and we wouldn’t be here either if they didn’t pay us!”

Today, the second Sunday of December, I’m at the halfway point of five banquets in a six-day period.

Thursday night, it was the “President’s Christmas Dinner” at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.” I wasn’t the speaker or anything, but they set me up a table and I sketched a lot of people.  Then, the next night, after driving nearly 400 miles, I did the annual “pastors and wives Christmas banquet” for two associations around Minden, Louisiana where my buddy Randy Hales is the director of missions.  I sketched nonstop for a couple of hours and did my stories for 30 minutes and drew some more, then drove over two hours back to Vicksburg, Mississippi where I’d reserved a room.  Came home Saturday. Then, that night, I did the “Christmas family dinner” a few blocks from my house for Grace Community Bible Church, drawing everyone and sharing my stories.

I slept like a baby last night.

Two more to go.

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The Unexpected Christmas

“That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.” –C. S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”

Nothing about the Christian faith is as we might have expected. Get into the business of a virgin birth, a sinless life, a vicarious death, and a resurrection, and have it happen to a Jew in First Century Roman-dominated Judea and all bets are off.

Consider just the unexpectedness of the Christmas event itself, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1) Matthew 1

–The lineage of Jesus contains an interesting lineup of characters, including several women of questionable character: Tamar who seduced her father-in-law, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho, Ruth who was the subject of gossip in Bethlehem, Bathsheba who was the “other woman” of David’s fall from grace, and of course, Mary herself, the target of malicious gossips throughout Nazareth.

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