Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Fruit

When I was a child fruit played an important part in our Christmas tradition. My grandmother felt she had failed in her Christmas responsibility if she did not bake each of her children a fruitcake each year. Her fruitcakes were baked a month ahead of time and wrapped in cheesecloth. On Christmas morning my stocking always had plenty of fruit. I especially liked the oranges. You could cut a hole in the end and place a peppermint stick into it, making yourself a great fruit drink. Of course, it would not be Christmas without some type of fruit salad for Christmas dinner.

One fruit I have not mentioned stands out. My grandmother always seemed to provide it. It was not bought in a store or baked in an oven. It was the fruit of the Spirit. It poured from her like an unending stream. She always had a plentiful supply. It flowed in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It gave clear evidence of the One who indwelled her. This fruit was the natural outward manifestation of God’s Spirit in her life. It left memories in the mind of a young lad that still brings a smile to his face in his older years. The man now prays that someday his grandchildren may be able to say something similar about him.

The Christmas season is a time for an abundance of fruit. Along with the store bought fruit, my prayer is that in each of our homes there will also be a bountiful supply of the other fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit can’t be bought with money. It can only be obtained when we are willing to open our hearts to God’s Spirit and give Him reign in our lives. If we are willing to receive, He is willing to bestow this blessing upon us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Is for Everyone

The account of the birth of Jesus is found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Matthew records the story of the Wise Men and Luke the story of the Shepherds. The two accounts present a wonderful contrast. The wisemen were men of great wealth. They had all that money could afford. The shepherds were common men. They were simple working people. While the former brought valuable gifts to the Christ child, the latter brought only their praise and worship.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from these two accounts. It does not matter what your economic situation is; it does not matter what race you are; it does not matter what nationality you are; nor does it matter what part of the world you are from. Christmas is for everyone who is willing to stand in amazement at the birth of the Christ.

To really appreciate the full meaning of Christmas, it is important that one looks beyond the tiny stable in Bethlehem. As we gaze at the tiny baby in the manger, we need to look beyond to the city of Jerusalem and to a hill called Calvary. For it is to Calvary that this baby will go when He has grown to be a man. It was at Calvary that He would fulfill His purpose for coming. At Calvary, He would die for the sins of the world. He alone could do such a thing, because He led a perfect life. He would be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man.

His death on the Cross did not complete the full story of Christmas. We need to look farther to the empty tomb. It is the empty tomb that placed a stamp of validation upon all the claims that Christ had made. It is His resurrection that finalizes His victory over death. It was His resurrection that provided the blessed hope that belongs to all those who place their trust in Him.

As we continue to gaze at the manger, we need to see another beautiful scene. We need to see to see the group of His followers that watched in wonder as He ascended into the heavens to take His rightful place with the Father. As we observe the scene we need to hear and to believe the words that the angels spoke, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 NASB)

When we are able to see this full picture, while we are concentrating on the cradle, we will experience the full meaning of this wonderful birth that took place so long ago. My prayer is that we all will see beyond the manger and will see the entire story. For this story in its entirety is the hope for all mankind.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

It is said that as Benjamin Franklin concluded a stirring speech on the guarantees of the Constitution, a heckler shouted, "Aw, them words don’t mean nothing at all. Where’s all the happiness you say it guarantees us?" Franklin smiled and replied, "My friend, the Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness; you have to catch it yourself."

For many people the next several weeks will be the saddest weeks of the year. For them the holiday season only reminds them of the loneliness and dissatisfaction in their lives. Each special activity simply exasperates the negative feelings hidden away in their hearts. Their attitudes prevent them from experiencing the joy and happiness that comes from giving thanks and rejoicing in God’s gift of His Son to mankind. A large part of their problems come from the fact that they have been pursuing happiness in all the wrong places.

Let’s face it, if most of us are left to our own devices, we will seek our happiness from people, possessions, power, and prestige. While each of these may bring a sense of fulfillment, none of them bring the deep heart felt contentment that our hearts cry for. This is not to say these things are unimportant but it is to say they are not all a person needs to find lasting contentment.

With this thought in mind, look at Proverbs 3:1-12. In these verses you will find six things that you can do that will assist you in pursuing happiness. You may want to go to the passage and read it for yourself. Until you do, here they are in outline form.

-1- Always remember God’s teachings. (3:1, 2)
-2- Practice kindness and truth. (3:4)
-3- Trust God in all things. (3:5, 6)
-4- Fear God and turn from evil. (3:7, 8)
-5- Honor God with your wealth. (3:9, 10)
-6- Receive God’s discipline willingly. (3:11, 12)

Ben Franklin was right. The government can not guarantee anyone happiness. It can create an environment in which we are free to pursue it for ourselves. As you pursue happiness throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, make sure that you chase after it in the right places and ways. Follow the advice of Solomon and look for it in the things listed above. If you do, this may well be the best holiday season that you have ever had.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Being Thankful When Times Are Hard

For most people, Thanksgiving through New Years is the busiest time of the year, .This year the shopping, feasting, rushing, ball games, family gatherings, and other activities may be less, because of the economic downturn we are suffering. However, I imagine most of us will still find enough things to do to leave us exhausted when it is over.

If our celebration is dampened by the bad economic news of late, we can choose to wallow in self pity or we can use the situation to lead us to count the blessing we do have. Regardless of our financial situation, we can experience the wonder of God’s bountiful gifts of grace and the wonder of God’s incarnation displayed to us in the birth of the Christ Child. We can appreciate our faith, family and friends. These are the blessings that last.

We can experience these things when we see our world through God's eyes. He wants us to see a reason for thanksgiving in every circumstance. His Word admonishes us to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB).. There is a big difference between being thankful for something and being thankful in something. While I may not appreciate a circumstance in my life, I can give thanks for not having to endure it alone. I can know God is always present and He is able to bring good out of the worst of situations.

I can be thankful God does not change whether I am in the middle of a crisis or on a mountaintop. I can take comfort in His word that says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NASB). The stock market may tank, my body may give way to aging, people close to me may break my heart, but Jesus does not change. He is always available to comfort and to see me through.

If your life seems to be filled with more sorrow than joy, more want than plenty, more difficulties than blessings, ask God to show you the things for which you can give thanks. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him to help you to develop the attitude reflected by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am” (Philippians 4:11 NASB). On the other hand, if your bucket seems to be overflowing with blessings this year, consider that God did not give them to you to hoard. He gave them to you to share. Your sharing, your gift of kindness, may well be the thing that He wishes to use to place a spark of thanksgiving into the life of someone that is having a difficult time. Not only, will you be an instrument of God’s grace; you will experience first hand the truth in the saying that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remember the Source of Your Blessings and Be Thankful

In the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, you find a stern warning from God to the Hebrews. He warned them against forgetting who had been responsible for the prosperity that they had received. Verse 17 reads, “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth’” (NASB). Later in verse 19, God says, “It shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you shall surely perish” (NASB). If we read through the entire Old Testament, we find that time and again the Hebrews failed to heed this warning.

It is important to note that the Hebrews never denied God. In fact, they prided themselves on being His chosen people. However, they did forget that their God was a jealous God and they sought after other gods. Their forgetfulness brought God’s discipline upon them over and over.

There is an important lesson to be learned here, as we enter into the Thanksgiving season. This is the season for us to reflect upon our blessings. We are the most powerful nation in the world. Our poor would be considered middle class in most of the third world nations of the world. God’s fingerprints are all over our success. From our inception to the present, God has clearly blessed us.

Unfortunately, from all appearances, we have made the same mistake the ancient Hebrews made. We seem to have forgotten who is responsible for our strength and wealth. We give lip service to our God but our actions show that we are prideful about our accomplishments. Like the Hebrews, we have not denied God but we have allowed Him to become irrelevant to us, while we chase after the gods of power, prestige, pleasure and possessions. If we do not come to our senses and return to the God who has made this a great nation, we invite His discipline upon our nation.

You may ask, what can I do. You can make sure this Thanksgiving season that you and your family give God His proper place around your Thanksgiving table. Take time to give Him the thanks that He deserves. Remember that everything that you have comes from Him, either directly or indirectly. You can reaffirm His place in your life and turn from the gods of the world that seek your affections. You can give Him your thanks and give Him first place in your life. If enough people across our country will do that this Thanksgiving season, God may relent and we may avoid the discipline that is sure to come, if we continue down the path that the Hebrews of old followed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

An Anchor or a Launching Pad

Most athletic locker rooms are covered with posters. Each poster has a saying that reminds players of the importance of working hard and being committed to their task. During my coaching days, my favorite saying was, “It’s not how hard you get knocked down but how quick you get up that counts.” Anyone who has played sports realizes being knocked down is a part of the game and each new week brings a different set of challenges. To be a success you can’t feel sorry for yourself when things go wrong, and you can’t become complacent when success comes your way.

While these two principles are secular in nature, there is also a spiritual component to them. The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul are perfect examples. Peter was willing to die for Christ until the time came to do so. Then, he denied Him three times. Later, he repented and Christ used him in a mighty way. The Apostle Paul had served Christ faithfully, but his past service did not keep him from looking to future work. He wrote, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 3:14). His past successes did not allow him to stop looking forward because he knew there was much to do. The point is that neither man let the past define who he was. Their thoughts were not anchored in the past but they were looking to the future.

We should not allow our past failures to be an anchor around our neck, nor should we let our past successes become a source of pride. Our past, good and bad, will always be with us. Whether it becomes an anchor that holds us back or a launching pad for the future good works depends upon how we deal with it. An anchor or a launching pad, the choice is ours.