Archive for December, 2008

A Fresh Start

December 31st, 2008

“You crown the year with Your goodness.” Psalm 65:11 NLT

“A new soul is the way to have a fresh start, and that fresh start is living courageously.”

A change of calendar is a time when many reach for hope and optimism, but can a calendar change alone make that difference? Here’s a great promise from God, “You crown the year with Your goodness.” Psalm 65:11. Whatever else, your year can be filled with certainty that your past is settled in grace, confidence that the present is safely in His direction, and courage that what’s ahead is securely in God’s hands, and blessed – “crowned with goodness!”

Being certain of that truth gives you the courage for a fresh start. Without knowing your circumstances, I do know that things didn’t always go the way you planned this year. They never do. Situations are not always what you hoped. Relationships do not always endure, as you would like. And explanations rarely come when you want.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul . . unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” G. K. Chesterton. A new soul is the best way to have a fresh start, and that fresh start should be to begin living courageously. That won’t happen apart from God.

Courage is a character strength you grow into. Strong and courageous are not things that happen to you; they are qualities of character that you choose. They grow in you by every right choice you make along the way, many of them small but all of them right. What better time than right now to make a fresh start to live as God would have you live?

Courage is a choice you make to bravely face your fear for the greater good that’s ahead, often for another’s benefit more than your own. In varying degrees, everyday life demands some measure of courage. A little bit here; a lot there. There are those whose occupation requires the greatest courage, such as firefighters, policemen, and soldiers. But ordinary people show courage every day as well. People face decisions and challenges with no promise of how their situation will turn out. David sang, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26.

Courage is a conviction you hold that when you don’t know what is ahead, God does. There are times when people need courage just to get up in the morning. Life hasn’t been kind to them lately. The doctor’s diagnosis was not what anyone wants to hear, and the prognosis is not good. Life does not allow you the chance to see and prepare exactly for what is ahead. Yet God promises to always “go ahead of you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT.

Courage is a confidence born from faith, that by God’s grace and your obedience, what’s ahead will be better. Marriage takes courage. Parenting takes courage. Business takes courage. Leadership takes courage. Obedience takes courage. Doing the right thing takes courage. And you choose to do the right thing because you believe that makes a difference now, and forever.

My prayer for you is that your heart knows that God, “crowns the year with goodness.”


The Change of Seasons

December 30th, 2008

“Be ready in season and out of season.” 2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV

“Your season and situation will change but expectation and enthusiasm can be constant.”

Not many things are constant in life. Change seems to be the only constant, if you think about it. And change is to be welcomed. What would life be like if every day were the same – if every season of life were indistinguishable from another? Apparently, God values variety and diversity. Every snowflake is unique. Every fingerprint is individual. At creation He established both day and night and the lights of Heaven to rule over each. He dictated there would be seedtime and harvest. The key to life is finding the rhythm of life and adjusting accordingly.

One of the things I enjoyed as a boy growing up in the Midwest was the change of seasons. September brought the cooling temperatures and changing colors of autumn, and every teenage boy’s dreaded job of raking and burning the fallen leaves. December introduced the cold and snow of winter, ready or not, but also building a snowman and neighborhood snowball fights, and of course the white Christmases. Then spring produced the showers and flowers of new growth and life. And then came the longer and warmer days of summer, with baseball in the street until dark. Each season was distinct in its own right, uniquely to be savored and enjoyed.

Why then are you and I prone to seize upon a single season to our liking and try to make that one size fit all? When you struggle to do so and seem to succeed for a time, you make a life meant to be exciting and challenging into something dull and routine – even boring and joyless! Seasons must have beginnings and endings. Imagine if you learn to anticipate and appreciate each.

Every beginning will eventually yield to an ending – it must inevitably. And every ending assures promise of a new beginning – it does predictably. Listen to the practical wisdom of Solomon, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven . . a time to be born, a time to die . . a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Ecclesiastes 3:1:11 NKJV.

To be wise you must learn to recognize each different season, and to embrace its change as well. That’s why Paul encouraged his protégé, Timothy, to live and serve the same, whatever the season of life or circumstance. See 2 Timothy 4:2 NLT. The season and situation will change but your fervor can be constant, embracing each season equally with enthusiasm and expectation.

I want my life to be as the man God’s Word describes as blessed, “Blessed is the man who . . is like a tree planted by the streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does will prosper.” Psalm 1:3 NIV. He is fruitful in the season of fruitfulness, does not wither when a different season comes, and all the while prospers whatever the seasons bring.

I think that real spiritual maturity will evidence the character trait of diversity with consistency – an integrity that God and others can count on in you. “And do not grow weary while doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9 NKJV. God’s time for you will come. Be ready!

My prayer for you today is to grab hold of that which is unchanging and eternal.


The Night Shift

December 29th, 2008

“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness.” Isaiah 45:3 NLT

“In moments when hope is dim and help seems distant, you will discover sovereign grace.”

“Treasures hidden in the darkness.” That is not where we usually expect to find the best, nor where or when we would prefer. Yet God says there are treasures there in the dark that can be found no other place, at no other time, and in no other way.

When I was a young teen, my grandfather managed a truck stop in Cairo, in southern Illinois. While visiting there in summers, he allowed me to work the night shift alongside my uncles. At first, it was exciting to a young teen allowed to stay up all night, but after the first few hours of those night shifts the night just seemed too long and too dark before the first daylight edged over the darkened, eastern horizon. While in college, I had a summer job at a steel mill, often on the night shift from 11 pm to 7 am. I never liked going to work when others were going to bed, or going to bed as others were just getting up. It seemed contrary to some natural order of things.

There is a darkness that is not a literal or physical darkness. Some years ago, I read a book by a friend titled, “God Works the Night Shift,” which traced so many Biblical occurrences of God’s appearing in the midst of people’s lives in their darkest hours, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have since been mindful of how often God faithfully comes at the most distressing and difficult moments of one’s life and circumstance.

The darkest night of my soul may well have been the night after my father and sister died in a highway accident, and my mother was gravely injured and hospitalized in Sikeston, Missouri. After flying from California, then driving to Sikeston, I fell wearily across the bed in a small motel across the highway from the hospital. Never a night felt darker. I was newly married and just beginning my senior year in college, and suddenly the future seemed dark and uncertain.

The last sermon I heard my Dad preach was about Solomon’s prayer that God would give him wisdom, “for I am as a child and do not know how to go out or come in.” See 1 Kings 3:7-12 NKJV. As I prepared for ministry feeling ill prepared, Solomon’s words had become my confession and prayer.

I opened my Bible in a room lit only by the motel sign outside my window, and began to read. My eyes fell upon the words out of a dark night of the psalmist’s own soul, “From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made the heavens and the earth . . The Lord will preserve your going out and coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” Psalm 121:1-8.

I had found a “treasure hidden in the darkness!” There – in my darkest of life’s moments – those verses were the quiet but clear voice of God assuring my heart that in every moment when hope is dim and help seems distant my “comings and goings” would always be safe in His hands. I am glad that God works the night shift, then and now. “And He will not let your foot slip . . He who watches over you will . . neither slumber or sleep.” Psalm 112:3 NIV. Could that be a word for your heart today?

My prayer for you today is to discover the treasures in God that wait for you in the darkest of times.


After the Angels’ Song

December 26th, 2008

“When the angels had left them.” Luke 2:15 NIV

“Christmas is about seeing the Savior, not just hearing the angels’ song.”

However wonderful the experience of any single moment, how you allow the impact of that moment to shape your subsequent choices and actions will determine the influence and direction of your life more than the experience itself. It is easy to let a wonderful moment tempt you to chase such emotional highs without examining what is God’s intent when gracing your life in such a way.

That’s true of Christmas. The true celebration of Christmas can only be accomplished when you grasp the amazing love and grace of God in sending His Son to be your Savior. See John 3:16-21. Christmas can and should be filled with wonderful experiences – happiness, loving generosity, celebrating family and friends, heightened religious interest, and a general sense of emotional and spiritual well being. After the holidays, after the presents are opened, when you, along with family and friends, return to everyday life – what then? What’s left? How will you be different?

Imagine the shepherds’ emotions – angels singing boisterously and gloriously, with the glory of God enveloping them on every side. Read Luke 2:7-20. Trust me, they were caught up in the moment, in every sense of the word. Routine was broken, the common became sacred, adrenalin was pumping and their nerve endings were pulsing with sensations. But as suddenly as the angels came, the angels left. The songs ended; the dark of the Judean night returned. Things were again as they had been, or were they? What would these shepherds do after the angels’ song?

After the angels’ song, “The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem, and see this that has happened (‘a Savior has been born to you today’), which the Lord told us about.’ So the shepherds hurried off and found . . the baby, who was lying in a manger.” Luke 2:15-16 NIV.

I notice several things in those phrases. Their experience prompted them to make choices and take actions impacted by what they had seen and heard. They shared their experience, encouraging one another to make right choices. They accepted the angel’s words as the Lord’s word, and as surely “happened.” What trust and pure belief! These simple, ordinary men gave first priority to seeing the Savior, of Whom the angels sang.

They had other options, like the ones you have today. They might have fled from such a surprising and frightening sight and sound. What surprises you can also frighten you. They could simply have dismissed the experience and returned to their safe and familiar routines. They could have relished the exhilaration, forever attempting to capture or recreate the emotional rush they felt, allowing a spectacular heavenly visitation to distract them from the preeminent Heavenly visitation of all history. That would have been tragic, yet it happens to a lot of people.

Here’s what they did, and what you and I should do if we truly understand Christmas. They responded immediately to a new reality, “So they hurried off and found the baby.” It is not about hearing angels’ songs; Christmas is about seeing the Savior! And having your life changed. Joseph and Mary could never again be the same, nor were the shepherds, nor the Wise Men, nor any among the generations since who have truly seen the Savior and received Him into their hearts. How about you?

My prayer for you today is: be satisfied with nothing less than kneeling before the Savior in wonder and worship.


The One Who is Never Late

December 24th, 2008

“I am old . . and my wife is also.” Luke 1:18 NLT

“The calendar of eternity is aligned with the purposes of God, not the random clocks of mortal plans.”

Christmas is a good time to thoughtfully re-examine your life. With fast paced lives and overcrowded schedules it is not easy to be on time. Usually we are hurrying from one thing to another with little time to spare, borrowing a few extra minutes from the next thing on our schedule. Does that sound like you? In a hurry, and wanting everything in a hurry.

God’s plans rarely, if ever, line up with your timetable. Nor does He submit them for your approval. Get used to it! But God is never late, though sometimes it may feel to you like He is. Finally, the psalmist understood the right relationship between his times and God’s timing. “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands.” Psalm 31:15 NIV. The objective is to get in synch with God, not vainly struggle to persuade God to be on pace with you. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” Psalm 37:23 NKJV.

Today’s verse is from the story of Zachariah, a priest of the Levites, and his wife, Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary. Zachariah and Elizabeth were elderly and she had long been barren (See Luke 1:6-7 NKJV), unable to have children – until God startled Zachariah with the news that they would be blessed by a son for which they had prayed, who was to be named John.

As a young, loving couple they anticipated their first child as so many others have. Year after year they watched and waited, until their dream slowly faded and there came the time to adjust to their reality. They had apparently long desired a child that they could not have. Their dream could not become their reality until it was God’s time for them. When it is God’s time, your circumstances, however long it has been and whatever they may be at that moment, will not hinder God from doing what He willed to do.

God is neither cruel nor unfeeling, never unsympathetic or uncaring about your dreams and desires, but the calendar of eternity is aligned with the purposes of God, not the random clocks of mortal plans. Your Father knows how to best fulfill your prayers, and precisely when and where His eternal plan intersects with His blessings and intentions. The issue is trust, “But as for God, His way is perfect.” Proverbs 18:30.

God’s plan was much more vast and far reaching than their hopes and plans. God was coordinating the birth of John to become the forerunner – the herald of the Savior, Messiah. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John . . to bear witness of the Light, that all through Jesus might believe.” John 1:6-9. They wanted a child; God gave them a messenger of the Messiah. While they may have thought the answer to their prayers was late, God was right on time – exactly on time, never late. That will be true in your life as well. Christmas came exactly, “when the fullness of time was come . .” Galatians 4:4. God works the same today.

My prayer for you is that you will expect God at any time, yet wait for Him every time.