Sunday, December 16, 2018

What is the True Meaning of Christmas? The Christmas Tree & the Candy Cane

Merry Christmas season! This brings to mind the important question: What is the true meaning of Christmas?  Why do we celebrate Christmas?

The truth is Christmas is all about Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born into the world.  God who made Earth, who made the stars, the moon, and all the galaxies, He came to Earth as a little baby. 

At Christmas we partake in traditions that remind us of Jesus. 
Look at the Christmas tree. Traditionally the Christmas tree is chopped down and brought into the house for the Christmas season.  In fact in my family each year it was our tradition to go out to a tree farm, pick a tree as a family, cut it down, and bring it home together.

But why?  Why do we do this?  The Christmas tree represents the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  The tree represents Jesus.  Yet despite the fact that Jesus was killed for our sins, he reclaimed his life three days later.  In the same way, we cut down the Christmas tree, but then put it in water, and it remains alive for the Christmas season.  This represents how Jesus rose to life, to give us life.

We decorate the Christmas tree, to remind ourselves that Jesus is alive right now, in heaven with God the Father. And Jesus is glorified.  He is “decorated” in a way, with great glory, and honor, and majesty because of His great victory to free us from sin.
And Jesus is coming again soon to be king of the Earth.

Unfortunately, in our country many of the people here have lost touch with these traditions.  Everything we have in the USA is because of God.  All the technology, medicine, food, entertainment, and freedom, it’s all from God.  But sadly people in America have forgot that fact, and they’ve started to believe that all this wealth we enjoy is from themselves, and not from God.

But I encourage you children today to realize and believe and know that all we have is because of Jesus Christ.  He is the one who gives every blessing.  Honor God during the Christmas season, and worship Him. 

What about the candy cane? Let it be a reminder of Jesus.  The candy cane is shaped like a “J” to remind us of Jesus.  When you flip it around the other way, it’s shaped like a shepherd’s staff. Jesus is our shepherd, and we are his sheep. It’s striped the color red, because Jesus our Lord bled for us on the cross. Its striped white as well, because Jesus washed away our sins and made us white as snow. The design of the stripes reminds us that Jesus was scourged, whipped, terribly, and by his stripes, we are healed.

When we eat the candy cane it’s sweet, which reminds us that Jesus’ love for us grows sweeter every day.

So this Christmas season children, as you eat good meals, and receive gifts and give gifts, remember that we give and receive gifts because we’ve been given and have received the greatest gift imaginable: Eternal life, to live forever, because Jesus Christ, our God, the one who made the world, came into the world He made, on a rescue mission to save you and me from our terrible sins.  Jesus loves you.  

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Lifelong Journey of Christian Lifestyle

One of the most important things about the Christian life is that we understand it's a lifelong journey.  It starts the moment we receive salvation through Jesus Christ, but it doesn't end there.  That is just the beginning.  The hard part comes after we get saved, and we begin to live the Christian lifestyle. 

That is where many believers fall short, and end up drifting away from the message of truth!  Don't let that be you.  Recognize that you will have to fight for your Christian faith, and fight hard for it each day.  Jesus never said it would be easy, but He did promise to be with us through the struggles.  

One of the best things you can do is to order your life by developing a detailed schedule for each week.  Make sure you're attending church services locally at least once a week.  Why?  This helps you stay connected to the gospel message, and receive spiritual energy for each week ahead.  That's why God commands his people to come together for fellowship.  

Secondly, make sure you are attending a weekly Bible study or small group.  The bear minimum for a Christian believer is weekly services and weekly Bible study.  You may see some church members who don't regularly attend Bible study and only occasionally attend Sunday meetings.  Don't imitate their practices!  Find the people in your church who really deeply desire to live out the Christian faith, and gather together with them.  Use each other to encourage each other toward deeper practices like lectio divina, deep prayer, fasting, confession of sins to one another, evangelism in the community, and discipleship groups.  

Develop your Christian life into a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly lifestyle of obedient faith. Determine in your mind that you're in it for the long haul.  Set up a weekly pattern of prayer, Bible reading, small groups, volunteer work, and worship.  And get ready for the ride of your life.  God is going to take you places you can hardly imagine! 

Here are seven practices for genuine Christians to truly live out their faith. These are various practices that are basic tasks for Christians.  Many do few if any of these, once again don't follow the example of those who are half in and half out.  Instead find the godly and mimic their activities.  Let's look at the basics for Christian lifestyle practices...

1. Evangelize to the lost - this means to share the gospel, your testimony, and encouragement with others throughout the week. Find ways to make it happen! The souls of lost humanity hang in the balance.

2. Read your Bible daily - The Bible is our daily bread, we need the words of God to strengthen us in this broken world. Set aside time each day to read a chapter or several, and study them carefully.

3. Pray everyday - prayer is oxygen to the Christian. Learn techniques to pray effectively and develop a pattern of practice. As you mature, add in weekly times of fasting.

4. Tithe properly & give regular offerings - Tithing as a general principle is that you give 10% of your income back to God. 10% is the minimum, but the New Testament standard is to give all, so begin to give more as you are led by God to do so. Give where you are fed, give to your church. Also give offerings as you feel led, for other ministries and for world missions. 

5. Keep the sabbath rest - We are no longer under the Old Testament law of Moses. But the sabbath rest is still an important teaching from God.  We should be taking one day a week to rest, seek God, and abstain from work. 

6. Care for the needs of the poor - There are various ways to care for the poor. Food pantries, soup kitchens, visiting shut-ins, giving out clothing, visiting those in jail, homeless shelters, and giving out water to those on the streets. These are express commands in scripture from Matthew 25:31-46. 

7. Serve in various ways in church ministry - Serving in the church is an effective way to minister to those of the body of Christ.  Don't be part of the dreaded "80-20 rule" which says "20% of the people do 80% of the work."  Don't be a martyr either, but please do serve.  Ask to speak to your pastor or a lay-leader one on one and ask about how to get involved or how to start a new ministry.  

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ten Reasons Why You Should Give to the Salvation Army this Christmas Season

The views in this article do not necessarily represent the positions or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's partners or affiliates.  The statements made belong solely to those making them.

The Salvation Army is a great organization to support during the Christmas!  Full disclosure, I work for the Salvation Army and have for the past four years.  But I'm very careful about where I donate my money.  It's always wise to consider carefully which organizations you give your money to.  Here are ten reasons why I think you should support the Salvation Army this Christmas season!

1. The Salvation Army has a proven track record going back over one hundred and fifty years.  In fact the famed economist Peter Drucker said, "The Salvation Army is the most effective organization in the USA."  And he also said, "The Salvation Army's goal is to turn society's rejects alcoholics, criminals, derelicts into citizens." In fact the co-founder of McDonalds Joan Kroc so trusted the efforts and effective results of the Salvation Army that she donated 1.9 billion dollars to the Salvation Army to build community facilities today known as "Kroc Centers" across the USA.

2. 82 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to help those in need through feeding programs, housing, rent assistance, clothing, homeless shelters, and rehabilitation programs among dozens of other programs.

3. The Salvation Army is a biblical Christian organization with a mission statement indicating, "the mission of the Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination."  The SA is not just focused on material needs, but spiritual needs as well!

4. Disaster services is a key service of the Salvation Army, where volunteers and officers will serve those directly affected by disasters, severe weather, and other concerns through giving out food, providing housing, and spiritual counseling.  If it's on your heart to support those affected by disasters, please give this season!

5. The Salvation Army assists over 25 million people each year in the United States.  There are thousands of corps facilities around the USA serving those in need and preaching the gospel.

6. One of the great ministries of the Salvation Army is prison ministry, and the hope of helping those who are lost in crime, addiction and sin is a great hope indeed when considering where to give during Christmas season.

7. Children's After School activities are one of the cornerstones of Salvation Army corps facilities across the USA.  The SA serves children through daily after school programs, character building activities, band classes, singing companies, vacation bible school, and other ministries as well.

8. When I began working for the Salvation Army and saw the thousands of kid's toys that they distribute during Christmas, I realized that being in the SA is kind of like being a mini Santa Claus!  Children ought to have gifts to open on Christmas, SA makes that possible.

9. I think the single most exciting and dynamic ministry of the Salvation Army are the Adult Rehabilitation Centers. These facilities house those attempting to break free from drug and alcohol addiction. I've worked in this ministry personally, and I've seen how these men and women are hungry for hope and change, and the word of God, and how Jesus Christ saves them from addiction.  It's amazing! 

10. The Salvation Army preaches the gospel to many in our society who might otherwise never hear the gospel.  One of the chief goals at the founding the SA in London was to reach those unreached by other churches.  This continues to be an important goal of the Salvation Army, to preach the gospel of Jesus to those who might otherwise never walk into a church. 

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Encouragement for Church Leaders

1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

We are all witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. We’ve studied his life, and how he lived and suffered for each of us.

Since we identify with Christ’s sufferings, we are also partakers of those sufferings. We suffer for Christ. And so we also have access to the glory that is going to be revealed.

Christ charges each of us, to shepherd the flock of God. Pour your heart and soul into the work of the ministry. Don’t do it because you have to, or because God is making you, or you feel obligated. But simply serve willingly.

Don’t serve for any earthly gain, not for status, or for power or money, but eagerly serve for Christ, to the glory of Christ, humbly, because you love Jesus.

It says 'do not be domineering over those in your charge.' But instead be an example to them.

Why should we do this? Because, as shepherds, we know the chief shepherd will appear, and he will judge us impartially for how we’ve conducted those placed in our care, during our time on Earth. We will be held accountable. 

It amazes me and fills me with holy awe that God would entrust such a vital task to people like you and me.  But God seems to choose the least likely people to press forward his plan for humanity.

One of the most thought provoking and evocative scriptures for me is from James 3:1 and it says: “Not many of you should become teachers my fellow believers because you know we who teach will be judged more strictly." 

This scripture fills me foreboding, and well it should. We’ve got a general judgment, and then there's the judgment God will render on teachers and leaders of the church, which will actually be a more strict judgment. There will be more guidelines and rules and higher standards that we were suppose to meet. I'd be worried that I wouldn't make the cut in the first one, much less the second! 

But God is faithful.  He makes the impossible, possible.  If we respond in obedience and prayer through this life, He will ensure we make it home safely.

My concluding thought to all of us, is that we tremble at this thought, and so conduct our business before God that we are found to be without reproach, and working impartially to bless God’s people. 

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