Tag Archives: Christmas

A Better New Year’s Resolution, Part 1

A Better New Year's Resolution

It’s that time again

The Christmas holidays are winding down.  Special parties and family celebrations will culminate with the ringing in of a new year.  There is only one more thing to do.  It’s time to make our New Year’s resolution.

Who created those things anyway?  Whatever their origin, regardless of our success or our failure in their creation, resolutions are intended to set a better pattern for living our lives in the upcoming year.  This may include new purpose that relate to our health, our finances, and even our relationships.

It is a time to reflect on what worked or what could have worked better.  New Year’s resolutions give us an opportunity to put our best foot forward in the coming year.  But this year, I’m taking a different approach.

This year, instead of being dependent on my resolution, I’m going to strengthen my connection with the One who can help me make more than a superficial change.  I’m going to choose a better way (Phil. 3:8-10).  I choose transformation that is only possible through Jesus Christ.

Why attempt to identify a “better way” when Jesus has provided us “the best way” (John 14:6).  Through Christ we are new creatures indwelt by His Holy Spirit.   The only thing we need to do is to embrace our identity.  In Christ, we can do better everyday in the new year.

In search of a better way

The Book of Colossians records the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Church in Colosse.  He was concerned with the reports he had received from a local evangelist, Epaphras, concerning the possible “encroaching heresy” threatening this predominately Gentile church. (Col. 1:21, 27; 2:13)

In their search to find the best way to live in their world, they were now considering a new religious system that combined elements from Greek speculation (Col. 2:4, 8-10), Jewish legalism (Col. 2:11-17), and Oriental mysticism (Col. 2:18-23).[1]    

This threat to Christ’s church is still present even now, in 2021.  It is called syncretism.

Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs and various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several mythologies or religions, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.[2]

 A better way or led astray?

As Christians, we must be careful to avoid societal pressures to combine Christianity with “other things”.  To do so can subtly lead us away from the basic tenets of our faith.  Seeking to be “socially and politically correct”, we might be led to compromise or minimize God’s truth.

The nation of Israel fell prey to this practice (1 and 2 Kings).  This practice resulted in idolatry, disobedience to God, and weakening of their faith.  Take a look around.  Do we see a similar thing happening in our world today?

Are you ready to change?

In Colossians 3:5-9, Paul admonishes these young believers to “put off” their old man.  The old man represented the person they use to be before coming to Christ.  That old man walked according to the influences of the world and the weakness of their human flesh (1 John 2:15-16).

The 21st century has mastered the art of influence.  Media (social and otherwise) tells us how we are to think and act.  We invite them into our homes and offices.  They are the uninvited passenger in our cars as we drive here and there.  Marketing bombards us with messages on who we should be.  They create great dissatisfaction with what we have, how we look, and what we know.  (That’s how they keep us spending money).   Social messaging keeps us “in our current state” by telling us what we can or can’t do.  They remind us of our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities.  So much so that we are fearful to move without their validation.

Old “dead man” walking

“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction.” (Gal. 6:8a, NIV)

We must guard against the defiling touch of the world, of sin, and of the old self-life. We stand between two worlds, each solicits us: let us yield to the influences that pull us upward, and not to those that anchor us to this sinful and vain world. Our eternal blessedness has begun, let us walk in it.  In Christ we profess to have put off the old man, i.e., the habits of our former life; now let us actually do so, in the power of the Holy Spirit.[3]

Even as Christians, we still tend to depend on our self-discipline, self-will, and self-motivation to live a sober, righteous, and godly life (Titus 2:11-14).  Just like our New Year’s resolution.  We try and try.  But we usually fall off the wagon by Valentine’s Day.  What we need is not a new syncretic way nor a more disciplined approach.  We need transformation.  We need to “put on the new man”.

[1]  The Times of Colossians, The New Open Bible Study Edition.    

[2] Wikipedia

[3] F.B. Meyers, Through the Bible Commentary, Colossians 3

Returning to Joy

 

Returning to joy

What is Joy?

Joy is defined as gladness of heart.  It is listed among the top five things[1] people desperately want in life yet “never seem to be able to get”.  Joy’s allusiveness, in many cases, is the result of our tendency to define joy as external to ourselves.  We believe it is a person, place, or thing.  Once we have “it”, we’ll have joy.  Wrong!

Joy under Attack

As we survey the world we live it, gladness of heart is under attack.  Our attempts to navigate 21st century living seem more daunting and challenging with each new day.  Financial worries served as a significant source of stress ranking higher than three other causes of concern: work, family responsibilities, and health concerns.

Work, family, and health concerns have exploded with the advent of COVID and its variants.   So how can we find joy?   The Apostle Paul shares the secret of not only how to find joy but also how to return to it in spite of the pressures we might face.

Source of Joy

In Philippians 4:4, Paul exhorts the Church at Philippi to holy joy and delight in God.

Delight yourselves in the Lord, yes, find your joy in him at all times.  (Phillips Translation)

God has furnished us with joy even in the worst of circumstances.  Nehemiah in the midst of hostility and threats, said that “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Neh. 8:10).  David acknowledged that “in God’s presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).  Jesus instructed His Disciples “to live in The Vine”—in Jesus’ holy presence (John 15:5-11).  By living in the Vine, Jesus’ joy would remain “in them and be full.”  These same offers of joy are extended to you and I who live in the 21st century.    Jesus is the source of our joy.

Returning to Joy

It is God’s desire that we return to joy regardless of life’s circumstances or difficulties.  Jesus describes these as “tribulations” (John 16:33).  Tribulations and trials are “natural outcomes” we suffer as a result of living in a fallen world.

We experience the effects of fallenness every day.  They include death, disease, and difficulties.  However, in Christ and as God’s children, we have been provided with God’s Presence (The Holy Spirit), God’s blessings (Eph. 1:3-17), and God’s inexhaustible grace to sustain us (Phil. 1:6).

Returning to joy strengthens our resolve and helps us to continue the purpose God has set before us. Such strength can only come from Eternal God Who helps us through the worst of circumstances.   When we come into the presence of the Lord, we connect with His great and eternal power.  God’s power exceeds anything we can do in our own strength (Phil.  4:13).

We are invited to return to the joy that comes from serving God who is sovereign and who has overcome the world (Ps. 119:89-91).  As we close the door on 2021, let us prepare to follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition to find our joy in the Lord.

May the joy of Jesus fill your heart.

May His joy be full and complete in your life.

Have a blessed Christmas!

[1]  Top 5 include:   Happiness, Money, Freedom, Peace, Joy

After Christmas 2020

After Christmas 2020

For many of us, Christmas is our favorite time of the year.   We exchange cards that reflect our feelings about this very special  season.  Many cards speak of the love, joy, and peace of Christmas.  Others extend season’s greetings and happy holidays.

With Christmas comes the hope of “peace on earth and good will toward men.”  We need both after 2020.

However,  after the cards are sent, the tree comes down, and gift giving ceases, what will we do with Christmas? What happens to the spirit of Christmas?

The Spirit of Christmas

What exactly is  “this spirit” we talk about so much this time of year? It is a shift in our usual behavior that is extended to others, especially to people we may not know personally.

It is exhibited in more generosity and kindness than normally seen.  This includes but is not limited to the following.

    • Unmerited forgiveness and grace extended to irritable neighbors and estranged relationships
    • Abundant care and concern seen in special collections, gifts and other acts of human philanthropy
    • Indiscriminate displays of kindness and brotherly love for others

Unfortunately, many people confuse the spirit of Christmas with   commercialism we see in advertising  and media.  This spirit often leads to dissatisfaction, materialism, and greed.  The Apostle John described this as the “lusts of the eye” (1 John 2:16).

However, we who are in Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal 5:24).  As believers, we have exchanged the spirit of Christmas for the “Spirit of Christ” (Luke 4:18).

The True Source

It is also important that we understand the “True Source” of the spirit of Christmas—Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Christ came that our joy might be full (John 15:11).  He is our peace (Eph. 2:14).

After Christmas 2020

The COVID-19 experience has generated unbelievable acts of charity and kindness.  For these, we are grateful.  Extension of such graces will be critical as we move into 2021.

Financial uncertainty  and loss of jobs will increase hunger and homelessness in our communities.  Increases in COVID-19 deaths will require us to extend “comfort and mercies” to those in need ( 2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Organizations who are on the front line of this pandemic will need our special prayers AND financial support to provide assistance and relief.

The Spirit of Christ

The spirit of Christmas can only temporarily address the challenges we face in 2021.  We need a long-term, effectual solution.

As Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) we can extend  “the Spirit of Christ”–His grace and love–throughout the year.    This includes sharing His good news  to those experiencing hopelessness and despair.

After Christmas 2020,  how can we extend the spirit of Christ?

The Great Access: Practicing the Presence of God

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:7 (NKJ)

“For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:18

With the explosion of social media, one of the greatest assistances has been the development of technology that facilitates networking and contact with people who, under normal circumstances, would be inaccessible.   Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, have made it possible for individuals to make connections with people anywhere in the world who might assist individuals with their personal and business aspirations.  These are the benefits of the technology age.  However, one of the most phenomenal opportunities is not the result of the technology age we live in but the “grace age” Jesus provided believers via “supernatural entrée” to the Creator of the Universe.  This access can be realized through practicing the presence of God.

God is “everywhere present” (Ps. 139ff) and we live our life daily “in His presence.”  Although sin once separated us from God, our position in Christ (Rom. 5:1-2) re-established our direct access to Him. This access does not require that we travel to the temple in Jerusalem as was once the tradition of the Jews prior to Christ’s first advent (Deut. 16:16) nor can entrée to God only be found in the modern church sanctuary.  We live continually in the presence of God with potential for ongoing fellowship with Him anywhere and anytime.

Fellowshipping reminds us that God is “relational” (versus religion) and desires time with His children—those whom He loves and sent His Son to die for (John 3:16).   These are the blessings of those in Christ, which even the angels in heaven covet (1 Pet. 1:11-12).  Believers have the extraordinary opportunity to spend time with God not “doing”—presenting petitions or offering prayers of intersession but simply “being” with Him.   Practicing the presence of God is the intentional discipline whereby we pause during the busyness of our life and abide with God.

What exactly is meant by the phrase, “practicing the presence of God”?  In pursuit of an answer to that question, I found the best definitions from two renowned practitioners of this spiritual habit.  Following are their responses for your consideration.

“…to acknowledge the Presence of God who is really there is actually a form of prayer, a way of praying always as the Scriptures exhort us to do.  When we do this, the eyes and ears of our hearts are open to receive the word He is always speaking.  We enter into a path of obedience perhaps unknown to us before where we joyfully acknowledge, ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence

“…continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity.  That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.”

Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the presence of God is built on several foundational truths about God and His relationship with believers.

  • God lives within us. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16.  Before returning to His Father, Jesus promised to send “another Comforter” that would abide with them forever (John 14:16).  That Comforter was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  He guides believers in all truth—truth that He hears from the Father (John 16:13).
  • God desires to communicate with us.  “Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” Genesis 35:13.  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children’s daily affairs.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word; in response we are to listen intently as He directs us:  “this is the way walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).  Communication between the Father and His children result in unity of thought and agreement in purpose.
  • God wishes to be in relationship with us. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.  It has always been God’s desire to be in unbroken fellowship with man.  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means by which that which was lost in the Garden of Eden could be restored.  Now reconciled to God (Col. 1:20-21), man is once again free to fellowship with his Creator.

Jesus Christ was the greatest practitioner of living in the presence of God.  Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus synchronized His every move based on what He heard from His Father (John 5:30).  Living in continual communion with God, Jesus modeled the power of practicing the presence.

With these definitions and truths in hand, the spiritual reality of practicing the presence of God releases His fullness into the believer’s life.  There is peace, joy and love in abundance.   In unhindered communion with God, believers are able to live life more victoriously.

As Advent 2016 closes and 2017 begins be intentional in practicing the presence of God.  Live moment to moment in awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence means that in our heart, we proclaim Christ is Lord.  In Him “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   Acknowledgement of God’s presence means that we live our life attentively listening to His voice.  We live in unbroken communication with Him—“He in us and we in Him” (John 17:23).

Good to the Last Byte…

Want to learn more about practicing the presence of God?  Kevin Martinez of Christian Living and More offers six (6) ways to practice the presence of God throughout your day.  Click here to begin.

Preparing the Way

How will you celebrate Advent 2016?  What will you intentionally do differently to usher in the most phenomenal event to enter into the history of mankind—the incarnation of God?   Advent should be more than participating in special Bible studies or in the lighting of Advent candles.  I’m afraid to say that I was guilty of both.  While thinking I was really doing something “spiritual” to usher in the true meaning of Christmas, I had allowed this sacred season to become “ritualistic routine”.  Advent, celebration of Christ’s explosion into human history, should be a time of excitement and spiritual awakening.  Just as Simeon and Anna faithfully awaited the long prophesized Messiah (Luke 2:34-38), we too should be faithful and watchful as we hopefully prepare the way for the arrival of our Lord and Savior during this season of advent.

In our text, the first word for “prepare” (kataskeuazo) is a Greek word that means to construct or create as well as to furnish or equip. It often has the sense of making a building, vessel, or object ready for use in the preparation of household goods, containers, and other kinds of commonplace items.  Mark uses the second Greek word for “prepare” (hetoimazo) which means to make the necessary preparations for an event that will happen later.   Throughout the Gospels, it describes the imminence of a great wedding or banquet feast, or even what will happen at the second coming of Jesus (Matthew 22:4,25;34,41).  Matthew, Mark, and Luke commonly used that word to describe Jesus’ and the Disciples’ preparations for the Passover and the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16 Luke 22:7-13).  So Mark by using the two difference aspects of the word “prepare”, calls his audience to:   1) make themselves ready vessels or homes to receive Jesus and 2) participate in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.[1]

Living between Jesus’ First and Second Advent is a place of tension for believers.  Although we know that Jesus’ first advent has occurred, how can we “prepare the way” to celebrate Advent with renewed focus and excitement? For this year and beyond, even until Christ’s second return?

Joyful Anticipation.  Anticipation is the act of looking forward or visualization of a future state.  We need to rekindle this emotion that generates joy and pleasure as we remember what Christ’s presence has meant to us in the past as well as allow our imagination to create new scenarios of possibilities as we think about “what is to come”.  Sadly, we have diminished those moments of richness and fullness that only come with anticipation.  What will Christ’s presence in your life mean in the upcoming year?

Attentive Waiting.  This is not mankind’s strongest attribute as attested by our impatience with people, places and things.  Frustration and tempers must be guarded as people wait in grocery lines.  We feel we are exempt from waiting too long for anything.  We even complain that time moves too slowly.  Our busyness and overscheduled calendars have pushed us into believing that waiting is an indication of either a problem with “the system” or flaw in others.  Our obsession with self and the need for instant gratification has stolen from people the virtue of being “long-suffering and forbearing” with one another (Col. 3:12-13).  We have become blinded to the fact that some things are worth waiting for—Jesus is worth waiting for.

Faithful Preparation.  How do we faithfully prepare for Christ’s return?  First, we must make ourselves “ready vessels” to receive the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.  This requires period of solitude in which we can be alone with God, meditating on His Word, and praying with “listening ears”.  These periods of preparation may result in confession of sins or exposure of behaviors and thought patterns that are hindering our spiritual growth.  Secondly, we must make ourselves “living sacrifices” to God—in humble submission to what is His “good, acceptable, and perfect” will for our life, including service to others.  Finally, we must faithfully prepare by aligning our thinking with “things above” (Col. 3:2).  It is our future hope of glory that will motivate us to be conformed to the image of Christ.  We should remember to focus on things of eternal value versus those things that are “temporary and fading” away (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Advent, the coming of Jesus Christ, brings something the world alone can never provide—unconditional love to those who trust in Jesus as their Savior, unwavering faith that trusts in the sufficiency of God to meet every human need, and unquenchable hope that guarantees an inheritance in eternity future.  Love, faith, and hope—these are key benefits that come with the advent of Christ.  Joy and peace then follow as we abide faithfully in His presence.  All this and more is ours as we prepare the way for Christ.

Prayer of Advent

Eternal God, we are seeking signs of your presence in our lives. Open our eyes, open our ears, open our hearts to receive some word of hope as we anticipate the coming of the One whom you are sending.

[1]  Awaiting the Already, Magrey R. deVega