Seize The Day

December 31

 

Time is more valuable than money. It is the only commodity that you can’t make more of. Why would you ever want to waste it by not doing what you really want to do? (Norm Stoehr)

     In the film, Dead Poet Society, Robin Williams plays the part of Mr. John Keating, an idealistic English Professor at an elite prep school for boys. In the opening scene Mr. Keating takes his poetry class into the hallway. Standing in front of the school’s trophy case, filled with awards and team pictures, he says, “Now I would like you to step forward and peruse some of the faces from the past. If you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.” Then in a raspy voice he whispered in Latin, “Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem! Seize the day, you boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Then he quotes poetry, “Gather you rosebuds while you may—old time is still a flying. And this same flower that smiles today—tomorrow will be dying.” “Suck the marrow out of life,” Keating continues, “believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is going to stop breathing, turn cold and die. We are all food for worms.”

     Seizing our days and learning to manage priorities is an unremitting challenge. Once while praying for an individual I said, “Lord, help this lady to put first things first, last things last, and in between things in between.” She was struggling, not because of wrongdoing; she was struggling because her priorities were misaligned. She was breaking Buster Rothman’s first commandment for peace of mind, “Do not let the good things in life rob you of the best things.”

     Carpe Diem! Do not put secondary concerns first, align your life by priorities—in the order of their importance. It’s a good idea not to major on minor things. The Bible says (Romans 8:5), “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

     C. S. Lewis offers these insights, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first priority each morning consists in shoving it all back; and listening to that other voice, taking the other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger quieter life come flowing in.” Our thoughts oscillate from one thing to another in green and barren pastures. Your mind will wander but remember that concentration is you simply returning to the same thought—over and over again. Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Spiritual things will take the center stage of your thinking as you direct your attention to them.

Beer Money

December 30

 

Do alcoholics ever hit bottom and then climb their way up into sobriety? Of course they do. But we never know who’ll be the lucky ones or what price they’ll pay along the way. Three hundred and fifty people a day find a bottom with no bounce – death. (Debra Jay)

     Miss Edith, a little lady with a big drinking problem, showed no signs of slowing down even at eighty-seven. Of course, her daughter who lived nearby took care of her, or at least she tried. Somewhere, Edith met a group of homeless people and invited them to her house. In a matter of days her back yard had became a tent city. Her yard occupants ran extension cords from her house in order to operate their refrigerators and televisions. And yes, Edith was kind enough to allow her drinking buddies to attach a line to her cable, so they could watch television in their tents. This foolish little senior citizen lived everyday under the influence of alcohol.

     It did not take long for things to turn ugly. Edith gave one of her squatters a debit card and pen number so he could buy beer. This friend (so called) went on a spending spree and bought eighteen hundred dollars worth of stuff. A few weeks later the same thing happened again and another of her choice tenants spent nine hundred dollars before the family was able to cancel the card. Diane feared the worse and tried to talk with her mother but she would not listen. The police were called but Miss Edith refused to press charges.

     It appeared as though this intoxicated, stubborn as a mule little granny, was going to allow the homeless leeches to empty her bank account. But finally, something dreadful happened. Edith had a 12 pack of beer in her refrigerator. A tenant came inside her house and took seven beers. He tried to play it smart and turn the package around, thinking that his host was too old and too drunk to notice. Not only did Edith notice, she exploded and called her daughter in a rage. Diane went over to help. Her mom was fuming over the loss of seven beers. Her son in law said, “Edith, why are you so upset about those beers, these thieves have stolen over two thousand dollars from you?” Edith snapped, “Money is one thing and beer is another, I want those low life people out of here!

     Nationally renowned addiction specialist Debra Jay, a regular guest on the Oprah Winfrey show writes, “Different drugs affect different body systems, but all erode the pre-frontal cortex, and recent research is showing us that this damage appears to be permanent.… For example, after one night of binge drinking it takes ten days for the brain to get back to normal levels of concentration and focus. If drinking or drug use continues regularly, the brain continues to erode and may not be able to recover.

     The apostle Paul declared (Romans 7:19-21), “I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate. Though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not; the good thing that I want to do I never do. And the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do.” Paul sees addiction as a spiritual problem and offers the addict hope. He writes (Romans 7:24-25), “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me …? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Go Nite Nite Papa

December 29

 

Perfect love sometimes does not come until grandchildren are born. (Welsh Proverb)

     Two of my grandchildren, Sydney three years old and Wyatt two, spent the weekend and yes, they are the brightest and prettiest kids in the whole world. While traveling to a party we played a game called - Go Nite Nite, Papa! Our fun emerged quite spontaneously when Sydney, strapped in her car seat behind me, said, “Papa, sing Build up the Temple.” So over and over and over again we sang the little chorus. Needing to rest I stopped singing and got quiet.” “Gin Papa, Gin Papa!” Wyatt demanded. “Sing it again, Papa,” Sydney pleaded. “No!” I screamed out in jest, “Papa is tired and going to sleep.” “No, Papa gin - sing it again!” they screamed. “No, Papa is tired of singing; I’m going nite nite.” I began snoring loudly and Sydney yelled, “Wake up papa!” Wyatt chimed in, “Sake up, Papa, sake up Papa!” They kept insisting so all of a sudden I screamed, “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” They began to laugh and giggle. So for 20 minutes I went nite nite; they yelled at me; I screamed Ahhhhhhhhhhh! And they laughed. By the time we arrived at our destination my voice was almost gone. On the way back they in- sisted, “Go nite nite, Papa.” So I did. These moments are now etched in my memory for as long as I live.

     When the two, never quiet or run out of energy grand kids went home; I thought about the nite nite game. Why was that silly amusement so much fun for them. My joy came in knowing they were being entertained and taking delight in me. But what was in it for them; what did they get out it?

     In my own humble opinion, I think they took delight in knowing they controlled a strength greater than their own. They found joy in causing the one into whose care they were entrusted to act like a child. Sydney and Wyatt reveled in the fact that they could bend the arm of the one who often held them.

     We call a child's mind "small" simply by habit; perhaps it is larger than ours, for it can take in almost anything without effort (Christopher Morley). Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you are converted and become as little children you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Unless we meet, through a childlike dependency, God’s sincere need for affection; there is no place in the Kingdom of Heaven that will please us. Approach the Lord with childlike faith. Go nite nite, Father God, go nite nite!

Two Inches Closer

December 28

 

The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher. (Thomas Huxley)

     Resting on top of the beautiful oak wood casket sat a lovely centerpiece of red roses and a plexiglass box containing a pair of brown shoes. These shoes belonged to Mr. Bob McMahan the owner of a small family business, specializing in making quality mattresses.

     One day while stacking bedding supplies at the shop, Bob fell and broke his heel. He hobbled around for months and after recovering from the accident, Mr. McMahan went through countless pairs of shoes, trying to find a fit that didn’t hurt his feet.

     Being both practical and industrious he decided to use his trusty pocketknife, along with a little ingenuity, to cut the hurt out of his shoes. He whittled pair after pair, some he cut the ends off and on others he made various kinds of adjustments, all to the amusement of his family. Mr. McMahan dealt with the pain he experienced by cutting away at the part which made life uncomfortable for him. Finally, one Monday he found a perfect pair of platform shoes that made him two inches taller and that fit perfectly. There was a new bounce in his step for three days, just before he had a heart attack and died instantly.

     At his funeral, Bob’s shoes were placed on his coffin as a memorial and serve as a great object lesson for the grief, anger, guilt and loneliness we face in life. Never give in and never give up. Whittle away, with a positive faith in Christ at the things which cause hurt in your life. Walk with the Lord and you will overcome every adversity that rubs you the wrong way (Paul). Those shoes remain in the McMahan family as a memorial to Bob’s tenacity and as a reminder that only Christ can heal the often time painful steps which we must take in our journey through life. Work hard and stand tall, rise up two inches above your pain; two inches closer to God.

A Billion Rejections

December 27

 

Somewhere in time and eternity God looked into the mirror of His need and saw a reflection of you and a reflection of me— that moment decided our existence. (Pastor Dan)

     Reecee Jack Russell joined the family and I hate to admit it, but he was a pretty good dog even though he drove me crazy. He chewed on everything, made our yard look terrible and left his muddy footprints on the sliding glass door. He would not sleep in the doghouse; he had to make his bed at the back door or in one of the holes he dug. He sinned by leaving piles of smelly stuff all over the place. Reecee did not understand how to be friends with a man. He was too pushy. He jumped on me and invaded my space. He did not allow me time to warm up to him and my only defense from the forward little nuisance was to close him out of my life.

     I really tried but at best our relationship was strained. A few times I even petted the mutt. Somehow we managed to get along for about eight months and then tragedy struck—Reecee dug under our fence, ran out into the road and was hit by a car—he died instantly. While driving home I thought, “Everyone in the family is going to blame me for his death. At least I have a rock solid alibi of where I was at the time of the accident.” Somewhere in the shadows of their thinking the family was entertaining the thought, “Dad, the dog hater, was responsible for the cold bloodied murder of Reecee.” Probably I deserved their suspicion. There were times I had been hard on him. One time, early in the morning, my wife was feeding him on the back porch when suddenly he burst through the door and ran to the back of the house. In a fit of excitement he jumped on my bed and licked me in the face. I yelled, “Get off me you stupid mutt!’ I smacked Reecee and threw him on the floor.

     That afternoon a cloud of sorrow hung over our house. I tried to be understanding to the kids and my wife, but no one seemed open to my concern. They knew my heart wasn’t aching and I did not relate to their grief. They wanted to be with mom who was grieving over the loss as much, or even more than they were. After all she was the one who found Reecee by our fence. Johnny lay on the sofa for a little while then got up and went outside. He went to Reecee’s grave, grabbed a stick and began raking dirt away from it. With frenzied motion he tried to get to Reecee. We all went outside to be with Johnny but he ran under the trampoline to get away from us. He didn’t know how to express his anguish. I coached him out and picked him up. His small body went limp in my arms and I took him to his bedroom. We lay down together for a while. “Johnny, we still have each other.”

     Each night before the kids went to sleep I would lay down with them. That night Johnny tolerated me for a while and then asked for his mother. Erica was cold to me when I took Reecee’s two birth certificates off her bed so I could lay down. She needed something of Reecee’s to hold as she mourned the loss of her special friend. She cried and after a few minutes asked, “Will you ask mama to come and lay down with me?”

     The next morning I got up before daylight and went to the back door. There on the ground lay Reecee’s blankets. It was unusually quiet. That little pest always seemed to sense when I was up studying or praying or doing work and he used to annoy me by jumping on the door, making all kinds of noise. Now, even though he was dead, he was still interrupting my thoughts. Now I actually missed him. My heart was filled with sorrow as I thought about my wife and kids. As the sun arose in the east, I looked towards his grave and wished he would come to the door and put his muddy paws on the window.

     Tragedy makes you think strange things. Even though I never wanted Reecee; I was grieving for him. Me—the dog hater was missing my furry friend. But now it was too late to appreciate him. I stood there looking at Reecee’s grave, and in my imagination I could hear him talking. The little guy spoke to my thoughts, “The key to happiness is love. Did you notice, Mr. Dog Hater, how alive and happy I was to see the family come home. It was even a joy to see you; even through you were not thrilled about seeing me. I lived to show your family how important you all were to me. I tried to love you, even though you didn’t love me back. I gave unconditionally. Don’t ever become weary of trying to love. Adoring others and giving affection creates positive energy in your life. Some people will reject you, like you rejected me, and even get angry, like you did, but one response to the warmth you share is worth the affliction of a million rejections.” Reecee did like everyone, and went berserk when people took an interest in him. His voice continued to echo in my mind, “Take risks and don’t be afraid to be passionate. You were willing to tolerate me and suffer the loss of some convenience because you knew the kids would find joy in their relationship with me. That is passion! Don’t ignore that part of your being.”

     Reecee went the second mile in seeking someone to love. His search for affection cost him his life. My little friend seemed to be saying, “Love never fails. The love I gave to you is causing you to feel love for me.” “You are right you little rascal, you have really gotten to me. I didn’t love you, but you never gave up on me. I didn’t give you the time of day even though you begged for my attention. You could have never made me understand this while you were alive. I am sorry.” One last thing, the pup said, “Don’t allow a bad experience to keep you from experiencing the possibility you have for joy in your life. Get over things quickly and don’t hold grudges. Remember when you were putting up the Christmas lights and smacked me with that extension cord because I was chewing on it? That hurt! Do you remember? It took me a few hours, maybe even a whole day or two to get over it. Did you notice that sooner than you wanted, I was chasing after your love and trying to win your friendship again?”

     Reecee’s life and what He meant to my family caused me to do a serious emotional inventory. If only I had reached outside of myself and been willing to give more; I would not have these feelings of guilt. After indulging in a time of intense introspection my thoughts turned upward to God. In some ways I believe that the heart of Reecee in a very small way reflects God’s heart. He seeks to give us love time and again but we push Him away, never affording Him an opportunity to get through to us. Sometimes we use His name in vain, showing our lack of respect for God. In spite of what we do, the Lord never quits trying to get our attention and love us. Obviously, the all-knowing God realized what we were going to become without Him. So sometime before the dawning of history, He created a plan in which He would step outside the gates of His safe heaven and die for us. God’s overwhelming desire for love killed Him. He died to get our attention. He realized that it was the only way. Only through His death would we be able to comprehend His love. In spite of the fact that God has been rejected, He says to us today, “One response to My love and warmth is worth a billion rejections.” Now in a moment of silent reflection, think about what is important. Look towards the sky. If you will listen carefully, God will speak to you.

21st Century Success

December 26

 

It is a good idea not to major in minor things (Anthony Robbins)

     The secret for living a meaningful life is learning how to narrow your interests so that spiritual concerns dominate all other priorities. Steven Covey wrote, “Personal leadership is … an ongoing process of keeping your vision and values before you, and aligning your life to be congruent with those most important things.” When we overindulge ourselves with activity we limit our possibility for spiritual blessing. Our common tendency is to become so involved in good that we crowd out the best. “How prevalent are divided souls who believe in God with the top of their minds, but deep down at the bottom they obey something else as the way of life,” writes Dr. Thomas Kelly. “We are trying to live several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single mastering life within us.”

     God gives us all we need from day to day; live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern (Matthew). Focus on those things that are eternally important; and God will abundantly supply everything else—food, clothing, shelter, happiness, love. Let the Lord be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant (Psalms 35:27).

     The Bible is our guide. All that is in the world … is passing away … but he or she who does the will of God abides forever (Saint John). It is impossible to please the Lord if our lives are so cluttered that there is no room left for Him. Remember—making a life is much more significant than making a living (William Willimon). What benefit will we earn or inherit if we gain the whole world and lose ourselves in the process? Henri Nouwen said, “A life is like a day; it goes by so fast. If I am careless with my days, how can I be careful with my life? I know that somehow I have not fully come to believe that urgent things can wait while I attend to what is truly important. It finally boils down to a question of deep and strong conviction. Once I am truly convinced that preparing the heart is more important than preparing the Christmas tree, I will be a lot less frustrated at the end of a day.” So the secret of 21st century success is the same as it has been from the beginning—God first.

A Dark Place

December 25

 

No pressure, no diamonds. (Mary Case)

     Two thousand years ago humanity was consumed with the worship of pagan deities. All except the Jews, a lone and small people group, who worshipped Yahweh God. In their Holy Scriptures, the Bible, Moses declared, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth …. He created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them … male and female ….” The Jews at this time were governed by King Herod, a wicked demagogue, who ruled them under the authority of the Roman Empire with an iron and murderous hand. Wise men from the East, Priests, came to Jerusalem, entered Herod’s court and asked a question that created a stir in the city (Matthew 2:1), “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star … and have come to worship him.” Sometime before their arrival in Jerusalem an angel appeared to a young Jewish virgin, Mary of Nazareth, and proclaimed (Luke 1:29-33), “You will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a son. You are to call his name Jesus—Savior. He will be very great and called the Son of the Most High God.”

     King Herod the Great, who personified that dark time, was insanely suspicious and dubious; and the older he became the more wicked he grew. If he suspected anyone as a rival, that person was eliminated. He murdered his favorite wife Mariamne, her mother and his eldest son, Antipater. Herod assassinated two other of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. Augustus, the Roman Emperor said, “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.” His savage nature blossomed as he lay dying. At age seventy, he retired to Jericho the loveliest of all his cities. He arrested several of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem on false charges and ordered that at the moment of his death, the hostages should all be killed. He knew that no one would mourn his passing and he was determined that tears would be shed in Israel on the day he died.

     Christ could not have been born at worse time and it was only by divine intervention that He escaped an assassination attempt the king made on His life. Herod’s butchers were sent to Bethlehem and they slaughtered every male child two years old and under. Jesus survived the attack through divine intervention. God appeared to Joseph in a dream, warning him of the impending peril and Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt—the Christ child was saved.

     In the twilight of your difficulty, when the sun has disappeared over the horizon, there is still hope for you. Jesus will meet you at the point of your need. Reach out to Him and you will find that He is greater than any vice, or power, or sin or pain, or enemy you will encounter in life. When it feels as if your life is shrouded in darkness—pray. Even in death Christ’s voice was not silenced. He rose from the dead and stands at God’s right hand interceding for all who will come to Him in their time of need.

A Dangerous Emotion

December 24

 

Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way … is not easy. (Aristotle)

     Everyone faces the challenge of harnessing the energy of anger without allowing it to ruin our relationships, our health, and—in some cases—our very lives (Louisa Rogers). Anger is not a bad emotion, even God gets angry, but it is a dangerous emotion. When angry, do not sin; do not ever let your wrath—your exasperation, your fury or indignation—last until the sun goes down (Paul). Anger must be dealt with immediately. Moses, the great prophet who gave us the Ten Commandments, almost destroyed his ministry after exploding in a fit of rage.

     While leading the Jews through the desert towards the Promised Land, Moses faced many obstacles. They were in constant need of suitable drinking water. Three days into their journey the Israelites arrived at Marah and found water—it was poison. The Jews complained and lashed out, threatening to kill Moses and return to Egypt. He prayed and the Lord healed the water (Exodus 15:22-26). Later at Rephidim they were in dire need and the people went ballistic. Again God came through for them. He told Moses to take his shepherds rod and stand on Mount Horeb. At His command the prophet struck a rock and water gushed out (Exodus 17:1-7). God proved Himself to be a capable provider in the midst of impossible circumstances.

     Again Israel needed water, and as was their custom they complained and made threats. “Take your rod;” God told the prophet, “… gather the congregation. Speak to this rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water.” Moses had his fill, so instead of speaking to the rock, he flew into a rage and hit it with his rod. Fresh water gushed out and everyone was elated—everyone but Moses. Instead of taking his problem to the Lord, he allowed the attitude of the congregation to affect him negatively. He lost it and blew up. Moses quickly repented but because of his wrongdoing he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:23-29). Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame (Benjamin Franklin).

     The body is made for goodwill, not for ill will (E. Stanley Jones). Anger and resentment paralyzes our inner being, causing us to be confused and ineffective at dealing with the everyday pressures of life. When angry do not lash out; reach up to the Lord. Cry out to Him. Park yourself in His presence and pray through your problem until God’s strength and power calms your emotions. The Lord will empower you inward when you vent your frustrations upward.

Mayday! Mayday!

December 23

 

Our prayers lay down the track on which God's power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails. (Watchman Nee)

     Charles and Rose Smart were flying to Nassau, Bahamas from Freeport; but a strong headwind hammered their Cessna 172 and hindered their progress. After flying for what seemed like an unusually long time, Rose glanced at the instrument panel and exclaimed, “Is there something wrong with the fuel gauge?” Knowing they had a problem, Charles said, “I think we’d better prepare for trouble!” Rose prayed as Charlie switched to the emergency frequency and began saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Cessna 172, out of fuel!”

     They received a callback from a Coast Guard jet but he was very far away. After a few frantic minutes of trying desperately to get help, Charles called the jet pilot, “I’m gonna have to ditch this baby.” The pilot responded, telling them to keep the frequency open; he was headed towards them. Suddenly a terrifying silence filled the cockpit as the engine sputtered and died.

     “This is it,” Charles said calmly. “I love you,” Rose said, flashing a weak smile at him as their plane approached the water. Suddenly, Rose screamed, “Look! The Jet! There he is! Charles, he found us!” Moments later the Cessna slammed down. The windshield shattered on impact and the plane began to fill with water. Miraculously, Charles and Rose were unharmed and scrambled out on the aircraft’s wing.

     The plane floated for three minutes and sank. The weary travelers were now tiny specks in a great big ocean with nothing to keep them alive—they had no life jackets. Suddenly, a tiny dot appeared in the distance, so Rose threw up her arms and waved frantically at the jet. “We’re here!” Can’t you see us?” she screamed. Tears flooded her eyes as the roaring plane swished by.

     Two hours elapsed. Suddenly, Rose had an idea. She ducked underwater, pulled up her skirt and tucked it in her belt. She then laid down flat and floated so her white slip could be seen. “Please, God, let that pilot see us,” she pleaded. They prayed with all their might. Finally, the jet approached them again and dropped something. It was a life raft. Exhausted, they climbed in the small rubber boat, thanking God, and watching the jet fly overhead. “Prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly,” writes Charles Spurgeon, “others give but an occasional pluck at the rope. But he or she who wins with heaven is the man or woman who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his or her might.”

Christmas Costs

December 22

 

One individual life may be of priceless value to God’s purposes, and yours may be that life. (Oswald Chambers)

     Two Jewish families came together and arranged the marriage of their children—a custom in those days. After the terms of the union were agreed upon, Joseph and Mary entered into a covenant relationship where they were legally bound to one another. In due time the marriage would be consummated; only then would they be allowed to live together as husband and wife.

     During the course of their engagement Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, became pregnant so the young new bride traveled to southern Israel to assist in the delivery her relatives baby—John the Baptist. Shortly before Mary departed from Nazareth the angel Gabriel appeared to her. He said (Luke 1:30-31), “You have found favor with God … and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus … the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” And it happened as the angel said.

     Upon arriving home from Judea Mary told Joseph about the angel, claiming that she had become miraculously pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph did not believe her. He felt betrayed and decided to file for divorce. He did not seek revenge—he simply wanted out of the relationship so he could get on with his life. He decided to send her away secretly. Mary did not realize the cost of Christmas when she said to Gabriel (Luke 1:38), “Let it be to me to me according to your word.”

     The first Christmas was not celebrated with lights, tinsel and mistletoe. It was plagued with anger, shame and fear. Joseph eventually believed Mary, and took her to be his wife after the Lord appeared to him in a dream. He and Mary demonstrated their love for God through obedience. They did not intend to change history but they did—they changed the world through faith. It was the obedience and openness of one young woman that forever changed the course of human history (Encyclopedia Britannica). Mary’s humility and obedience to the message of God have made her an example for all believers.”

Lovely Branches

December 21

 

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself. (Charles Dickens)

     The Christmas tree has a long history dating back almost four thousand years. The ancient Jews, set up Yule Trees (as they were once called) outside their houses in mid-winter, decorating them with apples, nuts, wafers and cookies to help birds survive the winter seasons. About 1500 years before Christ, after the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage; they began bringing the Yule Tree into their homes on special holidays. The shape of the tree reminded them of the Egyptian pyramids and served as a fitting symbol of freedom. Red apples were placed on the tree to symbolize the blood sacrifice offered during the Passover (Exodus 12:5-14). It also served to remind the Jews of the fall; that terrible event surrounding the rebellion of Adam and Eve who defied God by eating the forbidden fruit in Eden (Genesis 3:6). Unleavened wafers that spoke of Israel’s redemption from bondage were placed on the tree.

     After Christ’s coming the early Christians adopted a similar practice, carrying the Jewish traditions over into their newfound faith. After choosing to embrace the Yule tree as a sign of their deliverance from sin these followers of Christ put red and green ornaments on the tree, calling it the Christmas Tree. The green ornaments symbolized their new life in Christ and the red ornaments represented the blood of Jesus that dripped on the cross. An angel, candles and star were added as decorations representing the details surrounding Christ’s birth. The angel on the tree pointed to Gabriel appearing to Mary, announcing the fact that she would miraculously conceive God’s Son, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world (Luke 1:26-33). The star represented the divine light that led the wise men to Bethlehem. The candles spoke of Christ as being the light of the world. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Red and white candy was displayed as ornaments signifying the blood and purity of Christ. Madeline L’Engle comments, “When we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating that amazing time when the Word that shouted all the galaxies into existence … came to us in the powerless body of a human baby.”

     The Christmas tree is a symbol of God’s goodness and speak of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the wrongdoing of humanity. The Christmas message—there is hope for a ruined humanity: hope of pardon, hope of peace with God and hope of glory.

Face The Heat

December 20

 

A believer’s peace is peculiar; it flows from Christ, it is heavenly, it is a holy peace. His warfare is as peculiar: it is deep-seated, agonizing, and ceases not till death. (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)

     We are racing through the universe at an incredible rate of speed. Our world rotates on its axis and is revolving around the sun at a speed of 66,600 miles an hour. You are always on the go. And not only that but matter, the substance from which all things are made, is composed of billions of electrons and protons that are always moving.

     The natural world we see is a reflection of the unseen world surrounding us; the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. As it is in the natural; so it is in the supernatural; things are constantly moving. Supernatural activity is responsible for our blessings and our battles. Many adversities occur when the Prince of Darkness attempts to negate the blessings God is preparing for us to receive. It is difficult for me to understand how I can love the Lord and yet struggle in my spiritual walk with Him. The Lord gave me vision that helped me discern the nature of my trials When God intends to bless us, the angels and the power of the Holy Spirit create a stir in the spiritual world. Satan, the enemy of all good, is running to and fro on the earth, monitoring all that happens here. When he observes blessing activity, the devil immediately launches an attack against us. His goal is to destroy and steal every blessing the Lord desires to give us (John 10:10). The good news—if we remain faithful to Christ and resist the enemy, God will bless us with His best. We will stumble at times, but falling does not make one a failure; quitting is what causes us to fail the Lord.

     All our difficulties are platforms for the manifestation of God’s grace, power and love (Hudson Taylor). Movement creates friction; it’s a scientific fact applicable in both the seen and unseen worlds—the material and spiritual parts of life. You will experience friction as you grow spiritually and move forward. You will also experience friction if you retreat and go backwards. You will experience friction if stand still. The Kingdoms of Light and Darkness are advancing. Motion creates heat; it’s an unavoidable reality affecting every living being. So when you feel the heat, let it be because you are moving forward in your walk with Christ. It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing (Thomas a’ Kempis)

Head Banging

December 19

 

Self-injury is a sign of distress not madness. We should be congratulated on having found a way of surviving. (Cory Anderson)

     Roberty Britt reports, “A new study suggests that self injury among teens is more common than thought. Some 46 percent of high school students surveyed said they had purposely injured themselves more than once in the past year. Among those who said they had injured themselves, more than half said they had cut or burned their skin or given themselves a tattoo or engaged in other acts the researchers labeled as serious. Others engaged in comparatively minor acts such as pulling out hair, biting themselves or picking at areas of the body until they bled.”

     Fifteen year old Josh wept bitterly, describing one tragedy after another that adversely affected his life. His mom and dad went through a bitter divorce, and on the heels of this pain another calamity emerged which gnawed at the seams of his sanity. He lost two of his grandparents in a murder suicide.

     His dad began drinking and his mom moved in with the man with whom she was having an affair. Joe felt abandoned; he had no where to turn. The ache he felt inside his heart seemed unbearable and he vented his anger, lashing out at the one closest to him—he attacked himself. Being livid with rage, he threw fits of fury beating his head against a wall until it was bruised and bloody. Time and again he tried to deal with his pain and escape it; but the more effort he put forth into coping with it; the more he felt the need to hurt himself. This resulted in fear, confusion and heartache. No one knew about what he was doing until now. One mother in the room was so moved by what this young man was feeling that she stepped over and put her arms around him. That day Joe opened up, sharing his pain with others; that day he began walking on the road to recovery.

     Corie Blount writes, “How will you know I am hurting, if you cannot see my pain? To wear it on my body tells what words cannot explain.” And how do we know that God really cares? He wrote His concern for us in blood on the body of His Son Jesus Christ. Christ was wounded for our wrongdoing; His flesh was cut and torn; He was bruised so that we might be healed of our pain through relationship with God. The Lord experienced your frustration and took it upon Himself; He felt our agony. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for us; that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Vent on Him today and He will take your pain away.

Addition And Subtraction

December 18

 

The propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained. (George Washington)

     In 1687 Sir Issac Newton, building on the work of Galileo and Kepler, published his theory of gravity in Principia and received credit for developing the first quantitative theory of gravitation. Newton held that every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Simply stated, gravity is defined as the universal force of attraction that affects all matter. Most of us cannot explain the intricate details of Newton’s law, but we have experienced it working in our lives; when we were learning to walk and ride a bicycle.

     There is another law working in our lives. It is the Law of Addition and Subtraction which the Bible, our textbook of Spiritual Science, defines in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” The law of addition says that when we seek the right thing first than the values which make life meaningful, significant and worth living are added to our lives. The law of addition causes us to experience fulfillment that exceeds even our ability to comprehend (Paul). The law of subtraction states that when we make a priority of things other than God, everything that makes life good, worthwhile and fulfilling is subtracted from us. The law of subtraction causes life to be unfulfilling and empty. The law of addition and subtraction are always at work.

     A tragedy that we repeat with almost every passing generation is that when our ways fail to work, we hesitate in taking God’s way. We become so accustomed to the wrong way that the wrong way seems right, and the right way seems wrong. Our textbook of Spiritual Science, the Bible, reveals that the laws which guided us in this life will remain constant and decide our eternal destiny in the next life. If we seek the wrong thing first, then the Law of Subtraction will direct our eternal existence. The opposite occurs when we seek the right thing first. The laws mastering us in this life will direct us in the next. What will you seek first?

Cost Of War

December 17

 

It is well that war is so terrible; else we would grow too fond of it. (Robert E. Lee)

     An article appeared in the April 1988 edition of Plain Truth Magazine quoting a Dutch professor who calculated the cost of an enemy soldier's death at different epochs in history. He estimated that during the reign of Julius Caesar it cost less than one dollar to kill a rival soldier. At the time of Napoleon, it had considerably inflated—to more than $2,000 per death. At the end of the First World War, it had multiplied and reached $17,000. During the Second World War, about $40,000 was spent to kill just one soldier. In 1970 during the Vietnam War it cost the United States $200,000 to kill an adversary.”

     In April of 2006, a Congressional Research Service inquiry reported that $261 billion dollars had been spent on the Iraq War. This report also indicated that before it ends, the Iraq war will likely cost more than the $549 billion spent (adjusted for inflation) in the Vietnam War. The shocking truth, according to Linda Bilmes, a leading Harvard budgetary expert, and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, that if one applies the Congressional Budget Office's basic assumptions about the duration of the conflict; it will cost the United States nearly $1.27 trillion dollars to finance the war in Iraqi. This number defies human comprehension. A trillion is what you get if you spend a million dollars a day … for a million days. That is 2,737 years—a million a day “every day” until the Year of Our Lord 4743. Given the human stakes, it may seem crass to worry about the dollar cost of a military conflict, but what will it cost us if we fail in the war against terrorism and injustice everywhere? The Holocaust of World War II may only be a small example of what will follow if we do not succeed in our fight.

     The most tragic of modern man’s decadent blunders has been the worth ascribed to life. Our value can only be determined by the creator of life; He is the only one capable of placing a price on the soul. To God people are everything and this is how much He loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Today we have sacrificed love and sentiment for the religion of science which has pushed us to the brink of possible extinction. Without faith we can only conclude that we came from nothing and are going nowhere. O God, please save us from ourselves. The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he or she has obtained liberation from self. I conceive that the great part of mankind’s miseries are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things (Benjamin Franklin).

Unhappy Holidays

December 16

 

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. (Helen Keller)

     Christmas is celebrated by billions, even among societies who do not consider themselves Christian. For multitudes this holiday season is surrounded by festivities enjoyed with family and friends. Beautiful songs telling the story of Christ’s birth fill the air: Away in a Manger, Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel …. But for many this holiday is anything but joyous; commercialization of this sacred season detract from its message, creating stress and anxiety in families. Some even find themselves being pushed over the edge and they explode. None will soon forget how Bruce Prado, stinging from an acrimonious divorce, dressed up like Santa Claus, went to his former in-law’s Christmas Eve party and rang the doorbell. When an eight year old girl opened the door he shot her in the face and then slaughtered seven people before killing himself.

     Christmas has a dark past. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was for a moment esteemed as an unfaithful adulterer. She left Nazareth, traveled to souhern Israel for three months and returned pregnant; claiming that her child was a male and concieved by the Holy Spirit. She called Him Jesus the Son of God. Joseph her fiancee, heartbroken and crushed, did not believe her and decided to end the engagement. But God intervened. Three wise men bearing gifts traveled from the east to King Herod’s palace. They had seen a star, a divine sign, proclaiming the birth of a great king. Herod, the tryant ruler of Israel, wanted the magi to reveal to him the identity of the Messiah, whom he planned to kill. But after worshipping the Christ child, they fled and did not return. Herod was livid, sending soldiers to Bethlehem who killed every male child two years old and under.

     But the pain of those who suffered at Christ’s coming was not in vain; their sacrifices became the seeds for the hope of change in the world. The message of the Gospel of Christ brought light to the eyes of people, causing nations to abandon idolatry, human sacrifice and mythical gods. The practice of witchcraft and the worship of demons diminished; those civilizations who embraced the message of the Christ advanced. Christmas changed the world. So what is this holiday all about? Amges M. Pharo says, “It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future."

Listen

December 15

 

Whenever God gives a vision to a believer, it is as if He puts him in the shadow of His hand. Our duty is to be still and listen. (E. Stanley Jones)

     Hannah Moore accurately describes our response to love, “Love never reasons but profusely gives; gives like a thoughtless prodigal its all, and trembles lest it has done too little.” To momentarily lose touch with this world and become excited with the greatness of God’s person is an experience above all others. It’s easy to envision ourselves accomplishing some great feat during these times. It happened to Christ’s disciples.

     The Apostle Peter was one of three disciples who accompanied Jesus to the top of a high mountain. His countenance was transformed and He began to glow as the noon day sun. Then Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain and talked with Jesus about his death on the cross (Luke 9:30-31).

     Peter, enraptured by God’s glory blurted out, “Let’s build three temples here: one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah. This was a defining moment but Peter missed the point. He began making plans for God instead of allowing God to make plans for him. God corrected Peter for his impulsive and impetuous idea saying, “This is my beloved Son … listen to Him!” One perceptive individual said, “It takes a great deal of security to go into a deep listening experience because you open yourself to be influenced. You become vulnerable. It’s a paradox, in a sense, because in order to have influence, you have to be influenced.”

     God got Peter’s attention. He fell on his face in fear and did not speak another word. One second in God’s awesome presence changed everything. Peter’s focus shifted. He became enraptured with God and abandoned his presumptuous plans. And this is the place, that place of awe and reverence for God, where we discover the purpose for our existence. Oswald Chambers said, “We must grow beyond the place of spiritual excitement and abandon our pretensions of thinking we know what it is that God should do.” Refuse to allow yourself to become like so many who never rise above the spiritually excited mind stage and miss the point. Do yourself a favor: quit talking—listen; don’t make plans—take notes.

Morning After Midnight

December 14

 

On Christmas Day two thousand years ago, the birth of a tiny baby in an obscure village in the Middle East was God’s supreme triumph of good over evil. (Charles Colson)

     Although King Herod the Great was a remarkable builder and Israel enjoyed times of prosperity under his leadership; he was a ruthless and cruel leader. When the three Magi (Wise Men) arrived in Jerusalem, announcing the fact that they had seen the star of Israel’s newborn king, the Jews were greatly distressed (Matthew 2:1-12). They know this proclamation would result in misfortune. There was no reason for them to think otherwise. Herod had murdered Mariamne, a Jew who was the favorite of his ten wives. He also killed the two sons he conceived with her. Herod executed Mariamne’s brother, her grandfather, her mother and his first born son, Antipater. This evil king possessed an unquenchable thirst for blood and multitudes had been slaughtered by him. Remaining true to his character, Herod put to death all the children (two years old and under) of Bethlehem. This horrible atrocity was the king’s futile attempt to destroy Jesus Christ, the incarnate son of God (Matthew 2:16-18).

     Herod was a dark spot in the history of Israel and he personifies the enemy of our souls; the Prince of Darkness. Satan’s perverse influence is behind the chaos prevalent in our world today. There are times when most of us experience more sorrow and pain than it seems we can bear, but as the old saying goes, “There is a silver lining behind every dark cloud.” Chill and darkness may proceed the dawn, but there is always a morning after midnight. John Calvin said, “Whatever sort of tribulation we suffer, we should always remember that its purpose is to make us spurn the present and reach out to the future.”

     The prophet Moses described Christ as being a light in darkness (Numbers 24:17), “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Adversity will not last forever. The sword of the Spirit, the shield of faith and prayer are effective weapons against all that threatens our relationship with God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Don’t be afraid of the dark—be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

Cradle Of Desire

December 13

 

God often takes a course for accomplishing His purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views prescribe. He brings a death upon our feelings, wishes and prospects when He is about to give us the desire of our hearts. (John Newton)

     Far too many are quick to lose sight of their spiritual priorities when the answer to their prayer does not come immediately. Remember this fact, the Lord wants to give us more than we desire to receive from Him. God’s gifts put our best dreams to shame (Elizabeth Browning). Our Heavenly Father lovingly cradles our desire in His arms, anxiously waiting for the right moment to give us His best. A perfect example of this truth is seen in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They prayed and pleaded, year in and year out, asking the Lord to give them a child, a son, but all to no avail. God did not act as they anticipated or requested. But He did answer them in His own way and at the just the right time.

     Zechariah, was a priest, and while serving in the Temple an angel appeared to him making this announcement (Luke 1:13), “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.” The baby whom the angel spoke of was not ordinary by any means. He was none other than John the Baptist an individual who represented God’s greatest possible blessing for them. His ministry prepared the world for the coming of Christ.

     Everything that is important to you matters to God. His timing is crucial so don’t become weary as you wait for Him to bless your life with His best. The Bible declares (Isaiah 49:15-16), “Can a woman forget her nursing infant and not have compassion on the child of her womb? Yes, they may forget but I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” Your desires and hopes are cradled in the hands of God; He will not disappoint or fail you. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalms). Our challenge is to remain steadfast in our faith and refuse to waver when delay is attached to our requests.

Never late

December 12

 

I have learned at least this by my experiments: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. (Henry David Thoreau)

     A lifetime of disappointment for a faithful couple was wiped away in a few short months by the goodness of God. Month after month and year after year Zachariah and his wife prayed for a son without result. Finally, after it was impossible for Elizabeth to conceive, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah and said, “I’ve got good news for you, Zachariah. God has heard your prayers and your future is going to be better than your past. All I have said will happen, you will have a son, in spite of the impossibility of your situation. The loyalty that you and Elizabeth have demonstrated will serve as an example to future generations.” God had a plan for this man and woman and He also has a plan for you. Not only were they going to have a son, their baby boy would grow into a mighty prophet named John the Baptist. Even though it appeared like bad timing on God’s behalf, we learn through this event that He is seldom early; but never late.

     No one can outline the specifics of the Lord’s will for another, but it is His will that your future be brighter than your past. No matter what you’ve been through, good or bad, things can be better for you by following Zachariah and Elizabeth’s example. They were faithful to God’s Word, to God’s house, to God’s work and they were diligent in cultivating a relationship with Him through prayer. There were many things they did not understand, but in spite of that fact they did not waver (Luke 1:5-13). Making God the priority of your life pays off in the end.

     The Bible declares in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Do not allow yourself to become bitter. God will reward you. Don’t ever give up on your dreams. The will of God will not take you where the grace of God cannot keep you (Author Unknown).

A Greater Yes

December 11

 

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen. (Author Unknown)

     Many have been set aside for a miracle tomorrow who have seemingly been overlooked for a blessing today (Luke 1:11-18). We should often remind ourselves that God is extremely attentive to detail. He will not neglect the faith of those who walk with Him. It is impossible to please God without faith. So anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him (Hebrews).

     An angel said to Zechariah (Luke 1:13), "Do not be afraid, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” This couple had prayed for a child all their married lives and had no idea that the Lord was preparing them for a unique blessing. And long after it seemed their dream had sunk in the icy waters of impossibility, something supernatural happened—God showed up. They conceived a child at a time in their lives when it was absolutely impossible for them to do so. Nine months later Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist and it was his preaching that prepared the Jews for the Christ’s ministry (Isaiah 40:3). God just didn’t give them a son; He gave them John. And Jesus declared (Luke 7:28), “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”

     So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Paul). Timing and order are of utmost importance to God. The Bible is filled with examples of the Lord temporarily withholding blessings in order to prepare people for greater things. Our Heavenly Father will at times say no so He can give us a greater yes. Some of us believe that God is almighty and may do everything, and that He is all-wisdom and can do everything; but that He is all-love and wishes to do everything—there we stop short. It is this ignorance; it seems to me, that hinders us most (Julian of Norwich).

A Matter Of Petition

December 10

 

We must wait for God…in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait and he will come. All things come to those who wait. (F.W. Faber)

     Guard yourself from the propensity towards discouragement when God does not move in accordance with your expectations. Just because He hasn’t given you something, or fulfilled the desire of your heart today, doesn’t mean that the Lord is not going to do it tomorrow.

     Zacharias and Elizabeth prayed and wanted the Lord to bless them with a child; they longed for an answer to this prayer more than anything else in the world. They made it a matter of petition and sought the Lord for years, but they remained childless. Finally, they gave up on their dream.

     God didn’t answer their prayers but Zacharias and Elizabeth did not allow what God did not do for them, to become a hindrance to that which He was going to do (Luke 1:5-10). They yielded themselves to the Lord, walking in His commandments and ordinances (Luke 1:6). They refused to become bitter. They served in the ministry and gave their lives for the cause of others (Luke 1:8). They were not idle. They made the Temple of God a priority and Zacharias served as a Priest (Luke 1:8). They were generous with themselves—not self centered. And they prayed often, sincerely worshipping the Lord.

     Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish (John Quincy Adams). Zacharias and Elizabeth transformed adversity into opportunity. They gave, made sacrifices, served others and worshipped. They chose to deal with their disappointment by exemplifying a positive faith in God. They knew intuitively what Eleanor Roosevelt believed, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.” Just when it appeared as though they would never realize their desire, the Lord moved and supernaturally gave them a child. A child who played a part in changing the world—John the Baptist.

Steer Fear

December 9

 

The man or woman who fights life’s battles without fear fights one enemy—the real thing they are confronting. But the one who fights with fears within fights three enemies—the real thing to fight, plus the imaginary things built up by fear, plus the fear itself. (E. Stanley Jones)

     General George Patton, a man esteemed for his courage in World War II writes, “I am not a brave man … I have never been within the … sight of battle … that I wasn’t scared … but I learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.” We have the ability to transform negatives into positives. When you are facing an overwhelming circumstance, causing fear to arise in your heart, allow that emotion to stimulate your faith. Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind, and if encouraged it cuts a channel into which all thoughts are drained (Robert Albert Bloch). Fear does not have to be bad.

     Jehoshaphat faced a trial that resulted in him being taken to a new level of faith. The mighty Israeli empire that his forefathers, David and Solomon, had built was on the decline. After several decades of spiritual instability Israel’s enemies united and formed a vast army that was determined to destroy the Jews; the situation looked hopeless. Israel was greatly outnumbered and when Jehosphaphat saw the multitudes coming against him, he trembled with fear and turned to the Lord. God worked a great miracle and delivered the king from his enemies.

     Trials can help us learn to trust God. David said in Psalms 56:3 (NLT), “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” There is no such thing as a hopeless situation. Pat Riley made this comment, “Fear will lead you toward despair, wrong decisions and incomplete performance. It’s one of the last hurdles between any person … and their greatness.” Over and over again the Jews found themselves in circumstances that threatened their existence. Every time they were afraid and turned to the Lord, He moved mightily in their behalf. “Anxiety has its use,” said Augustine, “stimulating us to seek with keener longing for that security where peace is complete and unassailable.”

Be Filled

December 8

 

It is not enough for us to try to strengthen desire and to hold fast our confidence. The principle thing is to set ourselves in close contact with God (Andrew Murray)

     Being filled with the Holy Spirit is the first step that every believer takes in becoming a mature follower of the Lord. John the Baptist came to prepare people for Christ’s coming. He said, “I baptize with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than me … I am not even worthy to be his slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

     Jesus chose twelve disciples who He mentored for leadership. These men spent time with Him and He became their whole reason for living. But while standing at the foot of the cross, they watched their dreams and hopes for a bright future die. Feeling alone and abandoned in their pain they lost hope. Then after His resurrection Christ appeared and gave them specific instructions, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you what he promised …. John truly baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power.”

     Oswald Chambers declared, “God is as honorable as you … you have given what you have, now He will not do less—He will give you what He has.” But let us keep in mind that the primary purpose for the baptism of the Holy Spirit is relationship with God. There can be no true worship except through the unceasing operation of the Holy Spirit … only those who are thirsty will drink water with eagerness, only those who are sick will desire a physician …; it is only when believers acknowledge the defective nature of their spiritual condition that the preaching of the full blessing of Pentecost will find an entrance into their hearts (Andrew Murray). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was a by-product of the disciple’s fellowship with God; this is the true pattern God established for the modern church as well. Jesus spent three years preparing His followers for the day they would receive the Holy Spirit. Mike Bickle says, “We know that the last days began on the Day of Pentecost. But only the down payment of God’s power was released then. Ongoing visitations of God’s power have been released over the last two thousand years. But before the Lord’s return, a deluge of power will be poured out on all flesh, upon the redeemed in every nation of the earth.” Get ready, seek the Lord; experience the power of God working in you as the Holy Spirit moves in your life.

Fight The Thought

December 7

 

The love of God is the principle and end of all our good works. (John Wesley)

     The spiritual life, like a yard, needs constant attention if it is to be healthy and beautiful. Failing to consistently nurture your faith is the same as failing to cultivate your lawn, eventually weeds and bugs will consume and destroy it. Neglect is the worse form of abuse (Crandall Miller). The Apostle Paul, gives the following instructions to a young Pastor whom he was mentoring (Titus 3:8-10), “These things I want you to affirm constantly that those who have believed in God should maintain good works … avoid foolish disputes … and reject a divisive person after the first and second warning.”

     Many people struggle in their spiritual lives because they entertain themselves with things which are not good for them. They put unhealthy things into their minds and then try to fight the thoughts that arise in their hearts. The children of Israel became entangled with this issue. Ezekiel 14:7-8 says, “Anyone … who separates himself from Me [God] and … puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity … I will set My face against that person.” Don’t be guilty of emulating the behavior of the foolish Jews who did not make a priority of their faith in God; instead they focused on wrongdoing. Don’t fuel the dark side of your weak nature. We have a call to do good, as often as we have the power and the occasion (William Penn). We are susceptible to many things so resist and run from anything that has the potential of enticing you towards bad behavior. Run away from anything that stimulates youthful lusts (Paul). Psalms 101:3 says, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” Choose carefully what you watch in movies, on your phone and computer screens. Spiritual growth does not just happen; we must work at it by narrowing our interests to the will of God and learning to be led by the Holy Spirit. Each of us was put here to help dilute the misery of the world (Dr. Karl Menninger).

     Frank Lauback said, “Fellowship with God is … like a tender infant or a delicate little plant, for long nurturing is the price of having it, while it vanishes in a second of time, the very moment … one’s eyes ceases to be devoted or focused.” Do not feed your passions with that which you will one day have to fight.

Real Love

December 6

 

Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others. (Barbara Bush)

     Diphtheria was once a common and greatly feared illness in the United States. In the 1920s there were 100,000-200,000 outbreaks each year; the annual fatality rate was 13,000-15,000 persons; a large majority of these deaths were among children. Diphtheria causes the neck of an individual to swell and block air passages, and thus it was sometimes referred to as the “bull neck” disease. One of the most famous occurrences of this illness happened in 1925 in Nome, Alaska. In an effort to save lives twenty mushers and 150 sled dogs relayed diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles across Alaska in a record-breaking five and a half days, saving Nome. Both the mushers and their dogs became heroes and are honored for their bravery each year by reenacting the serum run to Nome (the Great Race of Mercy).

     This once debilitating disease respected no person and was very much prevalent in the British royal family in the late nineteenth century. One well-known case includes Queen Victoria’s second daughter, Princess Alice of Hesse. Four year old Maria, the daughter of Princess Alice, contacted diphtheria and was seriously ill. The doctors told the princess to be very careful and not endanger her life by inhaling Marie’s breath. She tried to be obedient to the caution but when Marie was grasping for air through her grossly swollen neck, Alice forgot herself, taking the little one into her arms. Rasping and struggling for life, the child said, “Momma, kiss me!” Without thinking, Alice tenderly kissed her daughter and contacted the disease which claimed her life some days later.

     This tragic drama has often been seen on the stage of human history, demonstrating the fact that real love forgets self and knows no danger. Nathan Hale, a brilliant young scholar and hero of the American Revolution disguised himself and went into New York City to spy on the British. He was captured and made this statement before being hanged, “I regret that I have only one life to give for my country.” Princess Alice loved her daughter; Nathan Hale loved his country. But the greatest love story of all—God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, loved the world so much that He gave the life of His only Son on a Roman cross for us. Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose from the dead on the third day. Through Him we can receive the gift of eternal life. No hero, not even God Himself, can love and be limited. The divine Father of the universe gave His life for us so that we can find eternal life in relationship with Him.

Everyone Goes To Hell

December 5

 

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. (C. S. Lewis)

     Isaiah the prophet was given a divine revelation of the New Heavens and New Earth. What he saw was both mind-boggling and astonishing. Isaiah 66:22-24 says, “As surely as My new heavens and earth will remain…. All humanity will come to worship Me from week to week and from month to month … they will see the dead bodies of those who have rebelled …. For the worms that devour them will never die, and the fire that burns them will never go out. All who pass by will view them with utter horror.” Hell is an eternal reality and not a topic that many discuss today. But if I never spoke of hell, I should think I had kept back something that was profitable, and should look on myself as an accomplice of the devil (J. C. Ryle).

     Jesus declared (Mark 9:43-44), "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.” Satan who is the Prince of Darkness, his followers and all offenders who reject God’s forgiveness will spend eternal life in this prison without the possibility of parole. The story does not end there. All redeemed persons, in the new heavens and earth … will gather at the edge of the lake of fire at appointed times and look upon the corpses of those who transgressed God’s law (Isaiah the Prophet). Everyone will go to hell, but not everyone will be in hell. The opening to the lake of fire will stand as an eternal memorial of the dire consequences of sin. This experience is a prophesied reality. You will either be on the outside looking in, or be on the inside looking out, but you will be there.

     Chuck Colson writes, “The doctrine of hell is not just some dusty, theological holdover from the unenlightened Middle Ages. It has significant social consequences. Without ultimate justice, people’s sense of moral obligation dissolves; social bonds are broken. People who have no fear of God soon have no fear of man, and no respect for human laws and authority.” The whole purpose of life on earth is to prepare for eternity. Our choices today determine our destiny tomorrow and forever and ever.

Watch Me Work

December 4

 

What we actually learn, from any given set of circumstances determines whether we become increasingly powerless or more powerful. (Blaine Lee)

     My schedule was full that mid April day in 2005 so I didn’t have time to process the troubling call I received from Nancy. It was 5:30 A.M. and I had just enough time to get ready and be at Liberty Correctional Institution by 7:30. The sun was just coming up when I pulled out of the Holiday Inn at Quincy, Florida, heading out into the middle of a North Florida forest. The Chaplain met me at the gate, and in a few minutes I was at the work camp greeting men as they entered the visitor’s park for the worship service. It was a little after nine o’clock when we went over to maximum security where I preached in the early morning service and then again right after lunch. In three services I had ministered to about two hundred men; several made decisions for Christ.

     At three o’clock I finally pulled onto I-10 and began the five hour drive home. Now that I had time to think about the distressing news I received. A cloud of sorrow enveloped my heart as I thought about my son being in jail again. So there I was alone driving, crying and calling out to the Lord. On one side of my emotional globe I felt a peace from God’s presence and on the other side of my world; distress and agony. The charges were serious; assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest with violence and battery. These allegations were extremely grim in light of the fact that he was already on felony probation.

     Later that night Nancy and I met with our son and listened to his story. He was broken and cried saying over and over, “Mom and dad, I am not guilty!” He and several friends were celebrating a birthday party at Ebor City in Tampa. A fight erupted and he was in the middle of it. He was taken down by a police officer, tazored several times and—of course he was innocent.

     The next morning I was up at 5:30 praying for him. He would be lucky to get off with five years in prison. In the beginning I had high hopes for our bright and talented son, but he chose to waste his gifts. The Lord spoke to me as I lay on the floor crying. Three words drifted up from the depths of my inner being, “Watch Me Work!” That was it—Watch Me Work!

     My son’s probation was violated, his bond revoked and he went to jail. While incarcerated he made a commitment to God. For the next forty-five days we prayed; then the miracle came. The arresting officer who worked security at the club bragged to several people before the fight broke out that he was going to take the Polk County Kid down. Witnesses came forward, depositions were filed and all charges were dropped. The story we heard initially seemed fabricated, but in this instance truth was stranger than fiction. He received time served for probation violation and was freed. In April of 2006 he was off probation altogether, married, living for the Lord and working full time. Nancy and I saw a miracle unfold before our eyes—we watched God work.

Go To Hell!

December 3

 

One reason a dog is such a lovable creature is his tail wags instead of his tongue. (Source Unknown)

     On a windswept hill in an English country churchyard stands a drab gray tombstone. Bleak and unpretentious, it leans slightly to one side, beaten almost smooth by the blasts of time. But if you stoop over and look closely, you can still read the barely visible epitaph: "Beneath this stone a lump of clay / Lies Arabella Young who on the twenty-fourth of May / Began to hold her tongue.” Arabella Young has become famous; her name being proclaimed from lecterns and pulpits; written in books and spoken on the airwaves. Her epitaph, whether fictitious or real, is summed up in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Better slip with foot than tongue.”

     One thing requiring two lifetimes to master is the tongue. If your lips would keep from slips; five things observe with care: to whom you speak, of whom you speak—and how and when and where you speak (William Norris). The tongue is incredibly hard to domesticate; all kinds of wild animals have been tamed but the tongue is the most difficult and problem causing organ in the human body. There should be mandatory classes in education on tongue control and recovery programs for those hopelessly addicted to negative word use.

     Still vivid in my memory are two scenes that transpired on the same day. One morning Ronnie, Johnnie, Wayne and I were walking to Frostproof Elementary School, practicing our new cuss words and discussing their definitions. Wayne challenged me to use the Lord’s name in vain and I did. On the way home we were taunting two girls and I called one of them a bitch. After that the stopper was pulled from the obscenity bottle and vile filth flowed. Six years later I took my first step of faith in God and everything changed, beginning with my mouth. At times I slipped, but less and less frequently as I matured.

     One does not outgrow the possibility of failure. Seventeen years later my wife and I were arguing. She was in the living room letting me have it; and I was in the bedroom speaking rather loudly, giving her a piece of my mind. I was losing the war of words. Finally, I blurted out, “Go to hell!” With that inappropriate remark I went down in defeat and the battle ended. We laugh about it today but it was not funny then. I failed to guard my heart and heed the advice of Josh Billings who said, “The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust.” A knife wound heals, but a tongue wound festers (Turkish Proverb).

Body Armor

December 2

 

When you are too sure of yourself, you are less on guard against the enemy. (Saint Bonaventure)

     It was 1:30 A.M. on Friday, December 6, 1991; Officer Tommy Garrison was on Highway 309 in Byhalia, Mississippi. He had stopped a gray Monte Carlo occupied by three men because the car did not have a tag. Garrison approached the vehicle and asked the driver for his license. “I don’t have my license with me,” the driver stated, “but I do know my number.” Garrison shined his flashlight into the car and noticed three VCRs stacked in the back seat. "Where did you get those?" he asked. Suddenly, catching him off guard the three men jumped out of the car. Before he could draw his weapon the first man attacked him with a knife. As he fought the assailant a second man shot him twice. The first bullet struck Tommy in the stomach and knocked him off balance. The second round hit his chest, knocking him to the ground. The three men jumped back into the Monte Carlo and spun out, heading north toward the Tennessee line. But before they were out of sight, the dazed policeman was able to get on his feet and run back to his patrol car. He announced on the radio, “Shots Fired … Officer Down!” Almost immediately, help arrived and an all points bulletin was issued. How did Tommy Garrison survive this brutal attack? Before going on shift that evening he put on his bullet-proof vest. This seven-year piece of equipment was cumbersome and reeked with the smell of sweat. He did not wear it regularly because it was constricting and a nuisance. But as fate would have it; the weather was cool that morning so he put it on to help keep him warm. That smelly cumbersome vest saved his life and since the attack he has never been on duty without it.

     Congress found in 2001 that the risk of dying by gunfire is 14 times higher for a law enforcement officer not wearing body armor than for one wearing it. One individual conducting the study commented, “To be out in the field without a vest is like playing Russian roulette; the more you spin the chamber and pull the trigger, the more likely you are to get shot.”

     Opposition is a fact: the person who is not conscious of being opposed had better watch himself for he is in danger (J. I. Packer). We have an enemy lying in wait, a great perpetrator who is out to destroy our souls. Satan is wandering throughout the whole earth, killing, stealing and destroying. His footprints are everywhere: war, terrorism, lust, pride, molestation, murder, addiction, violence. We must protect ourselves with the shield of faith in Christ and the vest of right standing with God. No ammunition the enemy possesses is capable of penetrating God’s armor; so wear it constantly and protect yourself from every lethal weapon in the enemy’s arsenal.

Inward Outward Upward

December 1

 

If afflictions refine some, they consume others. (Thomas Fuller)

     The majority of people handle stress related difficulties in two naturally instinctive ways. Many deal with anxiety by internalizing their emotions. But there are risks associated with inner venting because bottling negative or harmful emotions will not make them disappear. Warehousing an unconstructive disposition will only transform it into some other trouble. This is a common cause of depression in men and women. Depression has been defined by some as anger turned inward. Inward disturbances adversely affect our emotional well-being and can even affect us physically and that is why many today are imploding; falling apart from the inside out.

     Another way we deal with problems is by directing our agitations outwardly and spewing on others—usually those closest to us. A host of professionals feel that venting our feelings outward is better than bottling them inside. But the danger in venting externally is learning how to set proper boundaries for the expression of our sentiments. Many explode and let out their frustrations in ways that adds to the aggravation. They lash out, hurt others and destroy their ability to develop meaningful relationships. A relatively new concept in today’s time that is related to spewing anger is road rage. We become as pleasant to embrace as a cactus if we develop a touchy and irritable character by erupting on others.

     We must not implode or explode—spew or stew from the pressures of life. The best way to deal with our emotions is to turn them upward. Charles Woodson writes, “The important and decisive factor in life is not what happens to us, but the attitude we take toward what happens. Circumstances and situations may color life, but by the grace of God, we have been given the power to choose what that color shall be. The effect that misfortunes … and sorrows have upon life is determined by the way in which we meet them.” Every negative can be transformed into a positive by venting upward. Pour out that which is inside to God. “The gem cannot be polished without friction,” says the old Chinese Proverb, “nor humanity perfected without trials.” God delights in mercy and will consume the agony of our pain in the power of His presence. If we give expression to our pain without directing it towards God it will fester.