Monthly Archives: December 2012

Endings

The new year brings enthusiasm, hope, and the potential for change. As a pastor of a church, I am beginning a series of sermons on New Beginnings – fresh starts. Like all my sermons, it comes with tremendous thought and prayer. Before I can utter a word, I know I must hear from the Lord.

This morning I was thinking about how we start over. How we undo what has been done, regroup, and start again. In Northeast Georgia, it is a cold morning. As I walked my dog, I could see my breath in the air before me; my fingers felt tight from the temperature; and the wind chilled my body. I thought of spring.

But you and I both know, in order for spring to come, winter has to end. I can’t have both seasons. The fresh green grass and spring flowers could not thrive and grow in this kind of weather. No, in order to start new, something has to end.

Really, it is more about ending than beginning. We have to let go of what we are holding on to so that we can start fresh. One cannot exist when the other is around. How do we let go so that we can start new?

The words “Love Me” came clearly to my heart. When we commit our hearts and lives to God fully, the love we have for Him overshadows the grip of sin and death. When we sell out to God, like the thawing of the ice upon the ground, new life pushes through, fresh and green.

When God spoke to Moses and instructed him to go to Pharoah, Moses asked Him, “Who do I say sent me?”

God responded, “Tell him, I am.”

I am ______________ (fill in anything you wish). He is more than enough. He is the answer to every problem. He is exactly what we need. He is our portion.

Make this year the year you commit daily to a loving relationship with God. Make this the year you study His word every day. Communicate with Him throughout the day. And make Him front and center in your home. Make this the year you end your former self and begin fresh and new in the love of God.

Happy New Year! May you love God deeper and experience the wonder of a fresh new start in Him.


A Fresh Start in the Lord

1 John 5:4, “…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

For a person who has not accepted Christ as Lord and Savior of his or her life, when he or she determines to do so, a rebirth, a new beginning, a fresh start, is apparent. God tells us that when we come to know Christ, we are a “new creation before Him.” But what about when you already are a Christian? What about those of us who have received our fresh start already? Have we blown it? Can we have another?

Hebrews 12:1 tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

Sin is a hinderance. It is a gripping, crippling, entangling act that builds a wall between us and God. The cleansing so necessary of our souls is not a one time sinners prayer. Repentance must come every day and true redemption is about starting over and not returning to our old ways. So many of us do not understand the weight of sin. We continue to justify our actions either out of stupidity or denial. Sin leads to death but redemption through Christ leads to eternal life.

I remember well a time when I asked my dad how I could know that God had forgiven me of my sins. He quizzed me for a moment, insuring that I had prayed to God of my concerns and reminding me of Christ’s blood shed for me; then, he handed me a broom. The shed needed sweeping. Now, I knew that shed had not been swept in months and the thickness of the dust was almost unbearable. As I began to push the 1/2 inch thick layer of dirt off the floor, I noticed a white floor underneath. Excitedly, I pushed forward, sometimes stopping to fan the air thick with dust. After several hours, my dad returned to examine the job I had done.

“Looks like new, Michael! Nice job,” he said patting me on the back. “Did you learn anything?”

As I looked down at the cement floor and thought of the thickness of the dirt before, I smiled. We are like that cement floor. Daily sweepings sure would make it easier, but even when our sins cover us like that 1/2 inch layer, God can sweep them away by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Some of us are hanging on to sin that we need to take to the Lord for a fresh start. A new look. A new beginning. Some of us need to do a 180 degree turn and march the other way from the lifestyles we’re living. Is it easy? No! But neither was the Cross for our Lord and Savior.

If you are uncertain about what sins are in your life, ask God to search your heart so that you will have a fresh start in Jesus Christ today. For those of us who might look like the shed’s floor, there’s no time like the present to start removing the filth on our hearts.


The new is here

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

One of my favorite Broadway productions is Annie. It is a story of an orphaned girl who is eventually adopted by Daddy Warbucks, a very wealthy business man. From rags to riches, Annie is given the opportunity of a lifetime – to start over, fresh and new, clean slate. It doesn’t come without trials and struggles though. Annie believes her parents are still alive and before she will consent to the adoption, Daddy Warbucks declares a global search for her parents, reward money is offered. Sadly, thousands of parents line up claiming to be “the one.” The little girl is heartbroken seeing the deception of people as couple after couple cannot answer the one question that identifies them as Annie’s true mom and dad.

Eventually, Annie has to choose. Does she hang on to the past? A past that has caused her heartache and sorrow? Or does she let go of it and start new? Annie sings a very familiar song called, “Tomorrow.” The chorus says, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you’re only a day away.”

Aren’t we all a little like Annie? We have a fresh new start available to us, yet we want to hold on to a part of our old self ? An old habit? Bitterness? Anger? Betrayal?

But if we are willing to let it go, God has a new day for us! A fresh start! A do-over, and it is all ours simply by asking Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of our lives.

There is no greater tragedy to me than a person who is not willing to change. Sadly, I see it often. “Well, Pastor, I know what I’m doing is wrong and I need to stop it but I can’t. I’m stuck. It is just too impossible.”

Do you know that NOTHING is impossible with God? So, what is holding you back? What has you stuck in a past that will get you NOWHERE fast?

Some of us think that by holding on we are made stronger. In actuality, the greatest strength may come by the ability to let go. The new is here! Embrace it. Give yourself a fresh start.


What Your hands have done

During the reign of King David, Israel was surrounded by enemies. Very much like modern-day Israel, the nations around her were thirsty for the blood of God’s people. David’s job was not easy. Being under the constant threat of war must have caused him anxiety and fear; yet, he writes in Psalm 143:5 – 7, “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works, and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.”

It’s hard to imagine that the slayer of Goliath knows panic. Consider, if God had given you the power to take down a giant with a stone and a sling, wouldn’t you walk a little taller. Prance like a peacock? Stick out your chest and pound it? But even David struggled with doubt and when he did, he considered all that God had done for him in the past.

God equips us with the resources we need to defend ourselves every day, not so much against blood thirsty warriors as in David’s day, but against temptations; against financial burdens; against marital break-up; family disorder; and against sickness. See, we need the “armour of God” to defend us today just as much as David needed it to defend his people against the violence of other nations.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go,  for to you I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8.

The weapons we fight with today have the power to demolish the strongholds of our lives. You do not have to battle it alone. You do not have to fall into the pit like others. God not only knows what you are battling but He already has a way out for you. “Show me the way I should go, Lord…I spread out my hands to you, O God.”

Someone asked me the other day, “Are you really as calm as you seem to be about life?” I’d love to answer unequivocably, “Yes!” but I am just like you. I struggle with issues just like you do. Every morning, I have to look at the beautiful sky before me as the sunrises and renew my strength in the Lord, just as King David did. Battles rage around us, no different from Israel. But how we prepare for those fights makes all the difference in the outcome. “I consider, Lord, what Your hands have done for me in my past, and I trust in You, O God, for what I need today.”


What are you sowing?

Galatians 6:8 reads, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

I had a teacher once who told us, “If you plant watermelons, you’ll grow watermelons. If you plant beans, you’ll grow beans.” She often used this analogy while referencing homework. “If you do your homework, you’ll grow in knowledge.” Funny, I never commented to her about it, but I used to think, “Well, if what my teacher says is true, then if I do my homework, I should grow homework. I don’t want that!” Fortunately for my behind, I never made that connection to her apparent.

Recently, I heard a woman as she walked the aisles of the grocery store, “I am getting stronger every day. I can do this!” While her conversation to herself seemed strange, there is a great deal of wisdom in her words. We are what we think. And our actions are a reflection of who we are. Positive affirmation builds confidence. Negative builds destruction.

Have you ever counted the rings on a tree stump? Most of us have. The interesting part about the rings is they represent the year of the tree. Wider rings indicate nourishment; thinner rings indicate drought. The year of the tree is ingrained in the wood of the tree. Our yesterdays are a huge part of who we are today: the choices we’ve made; the attitudes we’ve maintained; the actions we’ve taken; all combined to give us the people we are.

An obvious thought is, if we are today what we are because of our past, then what we are in the future will be about our todays. What we plant today, we will harvest in our futures. Who do you want to be? How do you want to grow? What do you want to sow today to harvest in your tomorrows?

Change doesn’t come over night. Change is a process. When I was a boy, there was a campaign to plant more pine trees. At school we received a tiny pine tree to take home and plant in our yards. The roots were wrapped in a paper towel, and I was careful to bring that tree home in one piece! My mom showed me the best place to dig a small hole; water it; and put some mulch around it. The next day, I jumped out of bed and ran to my tree in the yard – nothing. It looked the same. Day-after-day – nothing. Finally, I asked my mom when it would grow. I was tired of waiting on it. She laughed and told me, “One day, when you least expect it, you will realize the tree has doubled in size, then tripled in size, and before you know it, you won’t even notice it anymore.”

Start today to sow a life grown in the Word of God. Obey His commandments. Make the scriptures ingrain in the wood of your life like the rings on a tree stump. Grow who you are strong and tall in the eyes of God.


Holding on to the sWord

Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

In Samuel 23 we read about King David’s Mighty Men. Although the story is brief, it is one of my favorites. Eleazar was considered one of three of David’s mightiest men. A warrior for David and servant of the Lord, Eleazar fought even when the Israelite army retreated. Samuel 23:10 says, “…but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.”

One Sunday morning my Sunday school teacher told us the story of Eleazar. As an example for us, he recalled an incident when he was in high school. There was a boy named Zane who was mentally retarded. He functioned at a very low-level mentally but was able to attend school. Zane loved baseball, and for Christmas that particular year, he had received a bat autographed by none other than Babe Ruth.

Any time my teacher told stories about Zane, he totally held my attention. Zane was a big guy, and the coach of the high school allowed him to be a part of the baseball team as the equipment manager. Each afternoon after practice, Zane, escorted by a few members of the baseball team, walked the few blocks it took to get to his home. The coach preferred for some of the guys to go with him just to make sure he made it to his house. That particular day, Zane had taken his autographed bat to show the team. Some bullies from his school started taunting him on the walk home and telling him they were going to cut him if he did not give them his bat. When the gang produced the knives, Zane’s teammates ran, leaving him to face five of them, alone.

No one knew that Zane was not only a big guy and loved baseball, but Zane had a heart for the Lord. His dad read him the Bible every night before bed and every morning at breakfast. Zane couldn’t read but he could memorize and he shouted, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty,” from 1 Samuel 17:45.  He pulled up his bat, started swinging, three went down, and the other two ran.

When the coach arrived on the scene, the players having run to get his help, Zane was still swinging at the air, quoting scripture and praising God. It took about an hour to pry Zane’s fingers from the autographed bat, a modern-day Eleazar.

The Lord brought about a great victory that day,” not only for Eleazar, son of Dodai the Ahohite and mighty man of David, but also for Zane, a devoted son of God and equipment manager for the baseball team.

Was it the sword and the bat that made the difference? If I were a betting man, I would wager against it. The sword that brought victory for the Lord both days was His word – the Sword of the Spirit.

What battles do you face today? When we arm ourselves with the Word of God, adding an “S” to the beginning is easy to form our weapon and ultimate victory in Him. Set the Lord before you. Know that with Him at your right hand, ‘you will NOT be shaken’.


Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. “

I once had a horrific dream. In the dream, I was speeding down a highway, the police were chasing me, and I was driving a really fancy, expensive car. As I changed gears and accelerated, the view in my rear view mirror looked dismal. Twelve cop cars with flashing lights were barreling down on me. At this moment in my dream, I realized I’d stolen a car. Panic filled my heart. Why would I do such a thing? I was a pastor of a church! I glanced in the seat next to me and saw bags filled with $100.00 bills – more money than I’d ever seen. I was a bank robber too?

Suddenly, the 5:00 a.m. blare whistled in my ear. My body jolted forward, and my eyes opened to familiar surroundings – my bedroom. My wife slept beside me, and all was right with the world. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I accepted the relief. I wasn’t a bank robber, and I hadn’t stolen a fancy car. What a dream!

Today is Christmas morning. My heart smiles.  And I remember my dream.

As my feet slowly find the floor, I choose to think of Christ. He came to save us from the grip of sin and death. I almost laugh out loud remembering my dream. Remembering the crippling fear of being caught; of realizing my mistake; of dealing with the enormity of what I had done.  Then I remembered Scripture.

1 John 1:7-9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Colossians 1:13-14, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Today, we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Christmas is an awakening. A rebirth. A new direction. Like awakening from my nightmare; the realization that I was free from the police; free from the sin in my dream; free from imprisonment; so it is when we turn to Christ and become new creations in Him.

How grateful I am that “Christ the Savior was born.” Celebrate today the joy of the significance of Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

My dream;  it is more than a dream.  It clearly illustrates a truism in our lives.  We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Merry Christmas to all of you as you recall this truth:  Christ came to give us life, to forgive, to heal! Praise God for giving us a fresh start each and every day through Christ!