Archive for December, 2011
Christmas has passed, and the New Year is right around the corner. Have you made any resolutions yet? Researchers from the University of Scranton found that 40 to 45% of American adults make resolutions each year. They also found that only 75% of those resolutions made it past the first week and only 46% past the first 6 months.
Someone said, “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” Oscar Wilde, known for being less than fond of moral reform, stated, “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”
How have you fared with your resolutions in other years? Been able to overcome your bad habits from the past?
It wasn’t easy for the apostle Paul either. He wrote to Christians in Rome: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) In the same letter, he said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
How well I know that cry! I have felt that struggle of wanting to do good, but doing evil instead. I think most of us, if we’re honest, can confess the same thing.
The Bible talks about our “flesh,” the very human part of us. Our biological self, with its drives and urges, is a powerful force that leads us to live according to the standards of this world, not God’s standard. For people like Paul, who want to do right, our flesh becomes a “body of death.” Paul also wrote, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17)
You can’t change. That is, you can’t really change yourself. You might be able to modify your behavior, but you can’t really change who you are.
However, God can change you. He can make you what you want to be, what you ought to be. In that letter to the Galatians, Paul also wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) To the Romans, he said, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
Only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit can we be changed, can we be made into the people we want to be. We can’t do it on our own. We can’t do it through positive thinking nor force of will. Only with God’s help can we be what we want to be.
And that help is there for the asking. As Paul said, “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25)
It is a strange question, but one that perplexes many people this time of year: what do you do with Jesus at Christmas? Is this a religious or a secular holiday? Since this year Christmas falls on a Sunday, do you go to church or open presents around the tree? Or both? How do you treat friends who insist that Jesus is the reason for the season? What about friends who do not believe in Jesus? How do you combine Santa Claus, baby Jesus, reindeer, and wise men into one season? What do people do with Jesus this time of year.
- Ignore him. Xmas instead of Christmas. Trees and stockings, but not nativity scenes. “Deck the Halls”, but not “Away in a Manger”. Read The Night Before Christmas, but not Matthew 1 and 2.
- Be a little religious. Be nicer to people. Focus on giving, not getting. Show up at church on Christmas day, or at least Christmas Eve. Make a charitable donation or two. Give some presents to the underprivileged. Include going to church and being a better person with your New Year’s Resolutions.
- Keep Jesus a baby. Focus on the nativity. Attend the wise men, shepherds, animals, Mary and Joseph pageants. Be sure to go to the ones put on by the little kids. They are cuter than and not as startling as the real event was. This approach does not seem to recognize that the baby grew up and died on a cross. So save that for Easter weekend.
- Celebrate Jesus just like you do every day. Realize that Jesus did not come to earth so we could celebrate a birthday. He came to save us from our sins. That is the good news. He was born to die. He was raised to live. Jesus is not the reason for the season. He is the reason for every season.
As for me, I am happy to celebrate Jesus at Christmas… and in January, and in spring, and summer… and well, every day.
I have to confess: I like looking at extravagant Christmas gifts. Not out of any desire to give or receive them. I just like to marvel at what’s available.
Some of them are amazingly expensive. Like the Ferrari FF listed at Neiman Marcus; it can be yours for only $390,000. You may want to hurry. They only have 10 available.
For mom, Amazon lists a black pearl necklace for a mere $76,500 dollars. Don’t worry… the item ships for free.
Another option is a gift card from Halcyon jets. A $5 million gift card! Actually, it’s called a Dream Card, and it gives you full access to their complete fleet of jets, as well as a private aviation specialist and a personal concierge.
For the truly discriminating, might I suggest you consider purchasing an island? You can get a lovely 20-acre island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro for a mere $8 million. Sorry… only one per customer.
Most of us won’t be spending quite as much on Christmas gifts, though many will spend more than they should. There’s something about the Christmas season that makes us want to give gifts in a big way.
However, we know that the greatest gift has already been given. No one can match the extravagance of our Heavenly Father, who gave us what the apostle Paul calls an “indescribable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15) God gave us His own Son, not as a Christmas gift, but as the gift that never stops giving. God’s Son, Jesus, came and died, to give us all the right to claim the gift of eternal life.
The apostle John famously wrote, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16–17)
In this season of giving and receiving, let’s take time to remember the greatest gift of all: God’s Son. And let’s make sure that we’ve claimed the gift He offers each of us: the gift of eternal life.
I like people who take in strays. I recently preached a funeral for a friend who loved stray dogs. He was drawn to dogs that had been abandoned and hurt. He liked to love them, heal them, and make them into functioning pets. My children had that same heart for stray animals, especially my daughter. She would bring home every stray dog and cat she came across. She thought all they needed was a good home with lots of love. Everything else could be fixed.
Of course, every stray dog cannot be healed. Some were too far gone physically, while others never could function in a healthy environment. It was as if they did not want anything better. But they got a chance at a new and different life … a life where they were valued and loved. And some of them did make it. They lived a long time as healthy pets. Loved by a family, and loving their family.
It makes me think about Jesus and people – you and me. I think in many ways we are like stray dogs in this world. Some of us feel unloved, beat down by life, unworthy to belong to a family. Others of us function well in this world, but realize that we are not worthy enough – good enough – to be part of God’s world. God is perfect and holy. We are not. Spiritually we are unlovable, hungry, mangy, and slinking through life with our tail between our legs.
But God sent His Son into this world to bring strays like us into His family. God loves us, offers us a home and a family, and gives us value. Jesus, God’s own Son, died on the cross so we could become part of God’s family. He makes the stray part of the family. It seems too good to be true. Maybe that is what some stray dogs think when they are rescued. Why would someone love them, feed them, pet them, and give them a home? It is because people like my friend and my daughter have a heart for strays.
Why would God send His Son into this dark world to find someone like me? Why would He offer me a home and a family? It is because He has a heart for stray people like I used to be. And I love God and Jesus because they found me when I was not lovable. They are looking for you. It seemed too good to be true, but I believed it. And it changed me forever. You can make that choice too.