It has been another great Christmas with our family and church family, and we are looking forward to 2020. We pray that you had a Merry Christmas and that you have a Happy New Year, seeking to know and follow God with all your heart.
Below are some specific ways you can pray for our family headed into the new year. Marsha and I share our primary hopes, followed by each of our kids sharing their own requests. Thank you for praying for us! If there are any specific ways we can pray for you, please let us know.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:1-5, 14
If you have not yet experienced the eternal joy of knowing and walking with the One and Only Son from the Father, please turn to Him today. God bless you this coming year and beyond!
I am a fan of the Minnesota Twins. In fact, I have been a Twins fan for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately for me and other Twins fans (and the Twins organization), the Twins have not won the World Series in 28 years. For the most part since that last World Series title in 1991, they have been fairly irrelevant in the Major League Baseball picture. Well, except that they have lost an MLB-record (and major American sports record) 16 straight postseason games. Do you realize how difficult it is to lose 16 straight playoff games?
In a sport where a series of games are played in most postseason matchups, it is highly improbable for a team to lose 10 straight games, let alone 16 straight. Being a Twins fan is hard lately – really hard. But, I will stick with them. I will continue to be a Twins fan. You might say I am “settling” for less by choosing to be a Twins fan, and you are probably right.
A couple of days ago, arguably the best pitcher in baseball – Gerrit Cole – signed a monster free-agent contract to play for the New York Yankees. The Twins would have loved to sign Cole, but he did not choose the Twins. He chose the Yankees. By the way, 13 of those 16 straight postseason losses I mentioned earlier were to the Yankees. Ouch!
The Yankees beat the Twins again. Why did Cole choose the Yankees? Well, perhaps the more appropriate question would be: Why would Gerrit Cole not choose the Yankees? With the Yankees, he gets more money, more fame, and a much better chance to win championships. If he chose the Twins, he would be settling for something clearly less beneficial for his baseball career. Sure, I would have loved for him to sign with the Twins, but I certainly cannot blame him choosing the team he grew up cheering for, the team that could pay him a lot of money, and the team that is certainly good enough to win now.
Cole chose the Yankees because, naturally, people do not want to settle for second best. God created us that way.
I say all this not only because I wish the Twins were better, but more importantly because Jesus is the best. And, settling for anything less than Him is the ultimate act of foolishness. God created us to need Him and be in a right relationship with Him, but our sin makes that impossible. He loves us so much, though, that He sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment we deserve, making a way for us to have that right relationship with Him if we will simply turn from our sins and trust in Jesus to rescue us.
So much better than a $324 million contract and a chance to play for one of the most iconic sports franchises in world history, and even so much better than a chance to win multiple championships and get inducted into the hall of fame – so much better than all of that is having a right relationship with our Creator.
Garret Cole probably considered his decision to join the Yankees an easy decision. Anything else would have been settling for much less.
Well, trusting anything or anyone other than Jesus to save you from your sins and give you eternal peace is infinitely more foolish. Only Jesus saves. He Himself said it best when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6).
On Sunday, Lord willing, I will be finishing our Advent series – The Light Has Come – preaching on “The New and Better Way” (John 1:15-18). Do not settle for less than Jesus. “No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him” (John 1:18). Settling for less than Jesus means settling for less than God, and you will only be disappointed.
Please realize, I am in no way saying that choosing the Yankees is like choosing God. In fact, as a Twins fan, I would have to say choosing the Yankees is more like choosing the devil ;-). Rather, I am simply making the point that we do not intentionally settle for less in much less important areas of life, so let us not do so in eternally important areas.
The most amazing part of the Christmas story is the part, I believe, we far too often take for granted – the incarnation. God put on flesh and became a human being!
Sure, we know Christmas is about the virgin birth of Jesus, and we sing songs about this miraculous event that changed everything. We have cute little nativity scenes and imagine the irony of the King of kings being born in a stable.
But, the incarnation… Do we really consider how incredible the incarnation was? Is it not the miracle of all miracles? You might disagree and say that the resurrection is the miracle of all miracles, but if you believe in the incarnation, then the resurrection is not difficult at all. After all, the Creator of the earth and the Ruler of life and death became a human while still being God. Of course He can conquer death!
Is the incarnation not the essence of the Christmas story and the miracle upon which the entire gospel story depends? Nowhere else is the Christmas story so concisely declared as it is in the verse I will be preaching from, Lord willing, on Sunday morning: John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.“
Throughout the first chapter of John, the truth that Jesus – the Light who has come, the One and Only Son of God – is “the Word” is abundantly clear. And, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
So, God became a man. The One and Only Son of God, who clearly is God, took on flesh. In John 1:14 alone, there are two aspects of the incarnation that are overwhelmingly beautiful and incomparably powerful.
1. INCARNATION = HUMILITY
Consider, if you wanted to go and fix something and could do or be anything you wanted, what would you do or be? Imagine reviving your favorite sports franchise by becoming the star quarterback or the brilliant coach/general manager. Imagine turning around a big company as a genius CEO. Imagine fixing all that you think is wrong with our country by becoming President.
If you could be anything to restore anything, you would surely go big. You would enter the picture with power and might. We all would.
In fact, I imagine that we would all be just like King Caesar was at the time of Jesus’ birth, if left to ourselves. We would gladly want to tell the world how great we are by proclaiming the greatness of our kingdom. That is what Caesar attempted to do. He was declaring his greatness by counting all his people.
God, though, declared His greatness by becoming one of His people. And, not just by becoming one of his people but by doing so in the most humble, vulnerable way imaginable – as a baby.
Even if Jesus came to this earth as a young, powerful man, the incarnation would still be the most incredible act of humility the world would have ever seen. Why? Well, because Jesus is God. He created us. He sustains us. He is over us. Yet, He became one of us. And, the fact He did so by being born to an insignificant, unmarried couple in a no-name town in a cave reserved for livestock… Well, that only further exemplifies this incredible act of humility.
Jesus “emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
The incarnation, coupled with the most shameful death imaginable, is the greatest act of humility the world has ever known.
2. INCARNATION = GLORY
In a way only God can orchestrate, the most humble act is also one of outstanding glory. No other person to ever walk this earth embodied the fullness of God, except His One and Only Son. “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in [Jesus]” (Colossians1:19).
Jesus took on flesh, becoming fully man, but in doing so, He did not stop being fully God. Humility and glory. Again, this is why this was and is the miracle of all miracles. All other miracles can be understood, explained, and believed when you understand and believe the incarnation.
The incarnation is the complete glory of God filling the body of a man. He is the God-Man, and He proved so throughout His life and ministry.
The incarnation is the ultimate act of humility, and it is the greatest act of glory the world has ever seen. If you believe Jesus is who He said He is, and you place your faith in Him, you can receive the forgiveness of your sins and share in His glory for all of eternity. To learn more, check out the link below.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing our church’s Advent series – The Light Has Come – preaching on “Rejection for Reception” from John 1:6-13. The truth of the gospel is that Jesus had to be rejected in order for us to be accepted. Jesus had to die in order for us to have life.
In studying for this message, Ephesians 2 kept coming to mind, as verses 1-10 are emphatic on the necessity of God’s grace and God’s rescue being necessary for our salvation. No sinner can save himself, and because we are all born sinners, we must recognize two reasons why this is our reality.
1. SINNERS ARE DEAD
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
Writing to believers who had been saved from their sins, Paul was reminding them of their previous condition before salvation. This is also a sobering reminder of the condition of all people apart from Jesus Christ. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), and “The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23).
Sinners are dead – dead in their sin and dead for eternity if something does not change.
2. THE DEAD CANNOT REGENERATE
For the dead to experience life, they must be regenerated. They must be revived. The dead cannot regenerate themselves. They are dead!
Paul made clear in Ephesians (and in Romans, Galatians, and Colossians) that only Jesus can save us from our sins. Only He can bring the dead to life. As dead sinners in need of revival, we are in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace.
Without Christ, we are spiritually dead people walking on our way to hell, and only He can deliver us out of that death. Only He can revive us and give us new life, life that is eternal.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If a dead man was brought back to life because of someone performing CPR, he certainly would not brag about that revival. Rather, he would want to boast in the one who did the reviving. He would be grateful for the one who performed CPR. He would surely realize what a gift he received in being brought back to life because he would not have regenerated himself. Rather, he was saved by someone else.
BELIEVE AND RECEIVE
“To all who did receive Him [(Jesus)], He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Salvation is not achieved by family, by our ethnicity, by our sincerity, or by our effort. Salvation is received by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Have you received Him? Are you telling others about Him?
Our third son, Silas, turned nine on Sunday. Like pretty much all nine-year-olds, he was pretty excited it was his birthday. He was happy to talk about it and thrilled to get some gifts, his choice of supper, and his favorite (and my favorite) dessert – cheesecake. No one who spent any amount of time with Silas this past weekend would have failed to realize it was his birthday. He was too excited to hold in that good news!
Really, is this not the way it is for all of us? I do not mean that we all love and talk about our birthdays like children do. What I mean is that we all talk about exciting, good news. If something is important to us, we are compelled to talk about that something.
So, what is important to you? What good news are you sharing with others?
If you have believed and experienced the Good News – the gospel of Jesus Christ – then you will long to talk about this Good News. Advent – the Christmas season when we Christians celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ our Savior and longingly anticipate His Second Coming – begins Sunday. Do those who know you see in you a love for the Christmas story, the gospel story? If you have placed your faith in Jesus, the answer is surely yes.
On Sunday morning, I will begin a new Advent sermon series – The Light Has Come. Jesus, of course, is the Light of the world, and He came to our dark world to bring salvation to all who turn to Him. In this series throughout December, we will be considering the Christmas story according to the gospel of John and challenging one another to respond rightly to the Light.
If you respond rightly to the Light by turning away from your sins and trusting in Him for forgiveness and eternal life, is there any better news in all the world to share with others? What would a close examination of your life tell others about your greatest convictions, commitments, and passion? Is new life – eternal life – in and through Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, at the center of top of those priorities?
Again, I sincerely believe that if you have experienced new life, the answer surely has to be yes. When you have new life in Christ, you are either passionately talking about Him, or you are convicted that you need to be talking about Him.
A week ago tonight, I returned from a great trip overseas with a couple brothers from our church and some other brothers in the area. I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with friends to visit old friends in Turkey. Praise the Lord!
One of the things all seven of us men wanted to do while we were in Turkey, was get gifts for our wives. Why? Well, not only because we love our wives but because we are grateful for their sacrifice in letting us go.
Five of us have small children at home, so our wives graciously agreeing for us to leave the country for two weeks is no small thing. And, when you realize that and are filled with gratitude, you want to give. While we did not have a lot of extra time while in the country, it seems like every little bit of extra time we did have was spent trying to figure out how we could bless our wives.
Although I do not believe I did a very good job in the gifts department, I am definitely reminded of the truth that grateful people are giving people.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing my short Thanks & Giving sermon series, preaching from Exodus 35-36 on how “Gratitude Leads to Giving.”
Do you desire to give of your treasures, your time, and your talents for the glory of God? Do you long for the gospel to advance and, as a result, long to be a part of that advancement (via your treasures, your time, and your talents)? If you cannot answer those questions with an enthusiastic yes, I believe something critical is missing in your life. Only a changed heart and life – a new heart and a new life – will generate what is necessary to experience this kind of passion for God’s glory and God’s gospel.
Turn to God and to His Word today. Surrender your all to Him. Let us be grateful people who, as a result, are giving people.
No one wants to be known as someone who has a bad attitude. Well, at least no one in his right mind wants to be known as someone with a bad attitude. And, part of having a good attitude is having a grateful attitude.
Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will continue our Thanks & Giving sermon series and be preaching from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, talking about how “Gratitude Is Ongoing.”
1. GIVE PRAISE.
The Bible does not put conditions on God’s commands for us to be joyful and thankful. You will not read anything like, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes. Again I say rejoice sometimes,” or, “Rejoice when you feel good and healthy, and rejoice when life is comfortable.”
Instead, you can read commands like, “Rejoice always!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) and, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
What does “always” mean? Well, it means always. In fact, we are to “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
That sounds impossible, does it not? Rejoice always? Give thanks in everything? How can we possibly do that? We cannot, not in our own strength and ability. We cannot possibly, by ourselves, rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. Unfortunately, we tend to be too quick to complain, be discouraged, and be ungrateful. For that reason – because of our sinful nature – we need the next step, too.
2. GO IN PRAYER.
“Pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). By this simple and yet critical command, Paul is reminding us of our constant need for God. To “pray constantly” does not imply that we ought to have a 24/7 quiet time. What it does mean, though, is that we are never in a situation in which we do not need the Lord’s help, the Lord’s wisdom, the Lord’s grace, the Lord’s mercy, and the Lord’s favor. Thus, we need to always be looking to Him, depending on Him in prayer.
Prayer is not our last resort; prayer is our first priority. And, when the Holy Spirit takes hold of your heart, you realize that. As God transforms our hearts, he transforms our attitudes. He grows in us a desire for fellowship with Him and with His church, growing in us a recognition of our need for constant prayer and dependence.
Pray on your own. Pray with your family. Pray with your church. We need to go in prayer – all day, every day.
Please realize, though, that none of the above is possible unless you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Only His sacrifice on the cross can take away our sins and make a way for us to truly rejoice and rightfully go to the Lord in prayer. Only His resurrection from the dead secures our victory from sin and death, giving us the ultimate reason for praise. If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, please click HERE for more information.
If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, give praise and go in prayer – always.