Hope in Your Life

I needed some WD-40 the other day and stopped in at Walmart.

The store was filled with the look of Christmas: wrapping paper in all kinds of colors; Christmas wreaths for any door; ornaments galore; Santa Claus pajamas; socks that light up and sing. I even saw a roll of bathroom tissue with reindeer stamped all over it. Christmas has definitely arrived with all its splendor and busyness, hustling and bustling.

Did Mary and Joseph know, that night, what His birth would bring to this world?

When I returned to my car, the radio station I enjoy listening to filled the car with music, “O Holy Night.” And I joined in singing the familiar lyrics, savoring the sound, and thinking about what I just witnessed.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”

The greatest virtues faith, hope, and love according to 1 Corinthians 13:13, give us the knowledge that when we have the faith, God delivers the hope, which demonstrates the love.

Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Have you ever mumbled under your breath, “I just can’t get my hopes up this time” ?  We’ve all felt it. We don’t want to wish for something that won’t happen. It is a human emotion we’ve all dealt with at some point in our lives. Disappointment is not something we want to experience.

But Christmas is all about just that – HOPE. Hope wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Hope that was born in Bethlehem one night. Hope that lived in the womb of a virgin girl. Hope that came to deliver a weary world and deliver a new and glorious morn.

One of the greatest gifts of the birth of Christ is hope. Whether you want it or not, Christ brought to a hopeless world the opportunity of hope. The chance to either live in eternity with Him or have an eternity of damnation. He brought light to darkness. And while we may walk around thinking we can’t hope, it comes whether we want it to or not – as a thrill to a world lost in sin.

This Christmas Season, unwrap the splendor of Hope in your life.

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

An Outward Expression of His Love

I often think of Elizabeth during the Christmas Season. As the mother of John the Baptist, she takes a backseat to Mary. I don’t believe that position bothered her at all. Like his mother, John the Baptist did the same for Jesus. Each were a confirmation and preparation for Christ, our Lord; and John the Baptist and Elizabeth played their parts well.

Can you imagine when Zechariah came home from the temple that day. Oh the thoughts that must have entered Elizabeth’s mind? Probably, the story of Abraham and Sarah flowed through her heart. Scripture tells us, “Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'” Elizabeth did not doubt the possibility because she knew of God’s miracle in Isaac, the son of Sarah and Abraham. She knew what God had done before, and she willingly accepted the miracle.

Luke 1:23-25 says, “When his time of service was completed, he (Zachariah) returned home. After this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'”

It is God’s love “in action” which enabled Elizabeth to believe. She had suffered disgrace and ridicule because she was unable to give Zachariah a child. I don’t know, but I can imagine, Zachariah’s family criticized him for even keeping her as a wife. A man’s family name was extremely important. His lineage would not stand because of this barren woman. And the women of the village, the emptiness Elizabeth must have felt as they carried water with a baby on one hip, toddlers behind them, and Elizabeth worked alone. Nothing to show. No visible signs of her womanhood.

But when she realized the news, she saw it for what it was. A blessing from the Lord. A visible, outward expression of the Lord’s love for her. Elizabeth could have spent time guarding her heart, protesting the pain of an empty nest for so long. No one would have condemned her for such. The lines on her face, the gray in her hair, the lost time, all gave her a right to feel rejected; yet, she rejoiced.

How many of us do not realize the blessing because we are so caught up in the pain of the past?

It is obvious why God gave the fulfillment of Elijah’s Old Testament prophecy to Elizabeth, a woman of grace and faith, to raise the man who would prepare the way of the Lord.

Recognizing God’s favor in our lives is an outward expression of His love and our faith. Today, we need to do some counting – of our blessings – that is. And like Elizabeth, we need to express gratefully, ‘He has shown His favor.'”

Take the Time to Hear

Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

I was probably ten the first time I heard Handel’s Messiah, at least that is when I remember it. I was visiting a friend’s church and his dad promised to take us out for pizza after the concert. There are few works to compare to the spiritual power resonated by Messiah. Even for a ten year old boy, the overwhelming feeling when the Hallelujah Chorus begins is indescribable.

On the way to the local pizza restaurant, my friend’s dad asked us how we liked the performance. He told us about the man who had written Handel’s Messiah and then he asked us what we thought it must have been like to be the shepherds, when a host of Heavenly voices sang to them.

The other day Connie and I were doing some Christmas shopping. As I walked around the mall with her, I thought about what it would be like to hear angels sing. I wondered if they practiced in Heaven. I can almost imagine the announcements, “Choir practice today in the east cloud room! Please bring your Handel’s Messiah book.”

One day we will hear the choir of angels singing but until then, we have the next best thing. I want to encourage you to take your children to Christmas concerts. Make it a family affair. Our local churches have many Christmas cantatas advertised. Take a friend or your spouse to enjoy the music of Christmas. Play Christmas songs in your car and home. Enjoy the music of the season.

One of the families’ in our church makes it a rule to only listen to Christmas music from Thanksgiving until after Christmas. Whatever you choose to do to celebrate the season, make sure you take time to hear the sounds of Christmas.

Random Acts of Kindness

We hear about people doing these random acts of kindness – those feel good, touching events when someone goes out-of-the-way to be kind to a stranger. I love those stories. They brighten my day. While random acts of kindness are special, they are limited in their power. This morning I was trying to think of a story I’ve heard recently, but I couldn’t remember all the details. It frustrated me. It reminded me, while the randomness of the act was touching, the reality of it is, it was fleeting.

The real power comes when we demonstrate Relentless Acts of Kindness.

Kindness must be an everyday part of our existence. It has to be something we choose to put on every day. It has to become a part of ourselves.

During the crucifixion, Jesus continued to demonstrate kindness even though He was in excruciating pain and under intense torture and humiliation. During this horrific time for Him, He asked God to forgive those who were hurting Him (Luke 23:34). He took the time to bring another person into the Kingdom of God (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus suffered and died on the Cross so that we would be in eternity with Him – the ultimate demonstration of kindness and love.

Before His trial, Jesus encouraged His disciples in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

He attended to Mary, His mother, in John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,”and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” He made sure His mother would be cared for. 

For Jesus, these weren’t random acts of kindness, these were a part of His core. His every day kindness – servanthood – was demonstrated from the time He was born until His death and Resurrection from earth.

We have a duty to demonstrate Relentless Acts of Kindness because our Father in Heaven expects no less.  Kindness shouldn’t be seasonal, but intentional, each and every day. As we prepare for Christmas Day and into the New Year, make a plan to daily exhibit kindness to those around you.

The News

Luke 1:5-7 reads, “5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”

While the story of Jesus’ birth actually begins at the creation of the world, fast forward with me to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was 1 of 7000 priests in Israel. The job of the priest was to serve the temple twice a year, and by casting of lots, on this particular day, Zechariah was chosen to do the job. Only the priests were allowed in the inner chamber of the temple, the Holy Place, to burn incense on behalf of the people in Jerusalem.

For years, Zechariah had prayed for a child; however, his wife Elizabeth remained barren. After Elizabeth reach an age beyond childbearing years, Zechariah must have been desperately discouraged.

How long have you prayed for something you desire? Something that is terribly important for you? Maybe it is a child, yet month-after-month, there isn’t one. Maybe it is a spouse, yet you can’t seem to meet the right one. Maybe it is for healing, yet visit-after-visit to the doctor reveals your miracle hasn’t come. Maybe it is for the salvation of a loved one, yet day-after-day you watch and nothing. Have your prayers seemingly fallen on deaf ears?

As Zechariah entered the Holy Place to light the incense, the angel of the Lord appeared before him standing at the right side of the altar of incense. “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.’

Can you imagine his delight? His surprise? And yet, when Zechariah hears the news, he actually argues with the angel. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Some of you might read his words and think, “What a nut! This angel is standing right in front of him! How could he doubt?” But some of us understand. There are times in our lives when we desperately long for something. We hope for it; pray for it; believe for it; and the disappointment, the heartache, the anguish overpowers our heart to the point that we just can’t allow ourselves to hurt again. We can’t allow ourselves to believe.

Zechariah is no different from you and me. It really didn’t matter if the angel was standing right in front of him. His human nature forced him to protect his heart from the pain of possible rejection and disappointment yet again. I’ve been there. Some of you have as well.

Doubt, fear, anxiety, and disappointment can be crippling. God wants us to know, His plan is better. He wants us to believe our answer is on the way!

Today, take your desires to Him. Believe in His ability to deliver you in His way, His time, and with His plan.

Our Prayer Life

I remember as a boy receiving the Sears Roebuck catalog in the mail.  The thicker it was, the more excited we all became. The arrival of the catalog for me marked the starting of the Christmas season. I loved sitting on the sofa with pencil in hand and flipping through the pages. “I want this…oh! I want that… Wow! Look at this… look at that…” My sister and I used to fight over whose turn it was to gaze upon the many items and wish and dream of the possibilities.

Sometimes, our prayer life can be the same. It’s like we are giving God a check list of catalog items to make our lives better. “God, I need this. Its found on page 920 of the Sears Roebuck catalog.” Some of you may not even know what the Sears Roebuck catalog is! It was the “booster chair” of the 60’s when you visited grandma’s and couldn’t reach the table.

Prayer is not intended for a litany of desires. Prayer is intended to communicate with God; to get to know God better and learn His ways; and to change us inside to out. Most answers to prayer actually start with a change in us. Either God changes the way we see our situation or He changes our direction or He changes our circumstance.

Prayer is a means to praise and thank God for all that He is allowing us to use of His. The house you live in – His; the car you drive – His; the clothes you wear – His; the money in your pocket – His. It is all on loan to us. Shouldn’t we thank Him repeatedly for the use of it? Think about it, if you didn’t have a car to drive, and your neighbor said, “Drive my car,” not only would you be grateful, you’d probably take extremely good care of it, and thank your neighbor regularly for its use.

Prayer gives us redemption. We go to God to renew ourselves. We seek forgiveness for the mistakes we make. We ask for guidance and direction to prevent us from committing the same error again. Prayer keeps us “right” with God.

As you pray today, consider what you are asking of God. Is He like Santa Claus to you? Or are your prayers an instrument to allow God to change YOU so that God can change the circumstances around you. He is looking for willingness, faithfulness, and obedience.

What should Christmas Mean to You?

Christmas gives the world a softer glow – the lights, the music, the giving, the sense of family and the atmosphere of kindness. It is as if the weight of the world is lifted, even if for just a moment.

As a boy, I remember decorating the tree with my sister, arguing over who gets to hang what ornament, untangling lights, climbing the ladder, and watching as the tree stood in its finished product. There is nothing more beautiful than the first look at the newly decorated tree. The smell of cookies seemed to linger in our kitchen even after my mom had finished cooking them. Even now, my mouth waters just thinking of it. Christmas cards were a huge deal when I was growing up. My mom labored over addressing the envelopes and finding the perfect Christmas stamp. My dad made sure we were aware the day was all about Jesus’ Birthday – a child born to be the Savior of the world. For a little boy, I did not fully grasp the significance of the day. To me, He was the figurine in the manger between Mary and Joseph. And while there is nothing like the magic of Christmas for a child, as an adult, I realize there is nothing more important to our lives than Christmas.

What should Christmas mean to you and to me?

It’s a celebration of really good news. The angels, in their opening words to the shepherds in Bethlehem, told us of the excitement in Luke 2:10, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” I love the words “all people.” Not just some – all. But even more important are the words, “I bring to YOU” – ahhhh – its personal. It is news for you and for me. I love that because it tells me how God thought of me and He thought of you when He sent His Son to us.

And then, it’s GOOD news. It does not matter who you are; where you live; what you’ve done; who you know; or even where you are going – this GOOD news is for you.

God so loved us, that He came, so that we could be with Him forever. So, what should Christmas mean to you and to me?

God loves us! God is with us! And God is ours!

Celebrate the Season for the good news it brings.