Tuesday, December 15, 2015


                There is something about the Christmas season that stirs up my emotions. I find myself getting teary eyed over relatively insignificant things. Every time I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” I get choked up. A beautiful light display can bring tears to my eyes. On Sunday, as we were singing some familiar Christmas songs, I had to stop several times to catch my breath and regain my composure. There is something very powerful about this season of the year.

                Although having my emotions stirred up makes me uncomfortable, I am thankful for it as well. It demonstrates the power of the Christmas story to get behind our defenses and touch our heart. One of the big problems with Christmas is not the commercialism, but the familiarity. It is a story known around the world. People who have nothing to do with the church can tell you the Christmas story. Because this story is so familiar, it can lose its significance. For many people, the Christmas story is a nice fairy tale to tell to children, but not something to be taken seriously. The message of Christmas has been diluted to peace and love, with no mention of a need for a Savior.

                The amazing thing about Christmas is that God won’t allow it to fade into the shadows. He continues to work around people’s defenses to reach callused hearts. Christmas makes people think. It catches them off guard at times. It stirs a long forgotten emotion within them. The truth about Jesus won’t go away.

                Matthew and Luke give us the details of the story. They are the framework upon which Christmas hangs. But it is John who goes behind the story to give us the heart of God’s message to us. This was no ordinary baby born in a stable. This was the very Creator of the world, taking his place within His creation. This was no sight-seeing trip for God’s amusement. This was a spiritual invasion, with the purpose of recapturing the hearts of humanity. This is not a nice children’s story, but an escalation of the struggle between good and evil; between God and Satan.

                In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5

                He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
                The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:10-14

                The central message of Christmas is not peace on earth. It is “unto you today, in the City of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” 

Thursday, December 3, 2015


                We live in a world filled with noise. All around us is a cacophony of sound. We are bombarded with many conflicting messages. We live with constant information overload. As a response to this attack on our ears, we have developed several defense mechanisms.

                One of the most common defense mechanisms is selective hearing. We develop a sophisticated set of filters that only allows certain things to penetrate. The rest is filtered out. This is very common in the political arena, as well as common discourse. Paul warned us about this in 2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

                Another defense mechanism is to just shut out all of the noise. We see people doing this in a very tangible way. We have all seen someone walking down the street, ear buds in place, oblivious to what is going on around them. Bose has developed noise cancelling head phones that will allow a person to sit in virtual silence, even while surrounded by noise. In a spiritual sense, many people have done this very thing. The writer of Hebrews warns us against following this course of action. See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." Hebrews 3:12-15

                The third common defense mechanism is to fight noise with noise. It is common today to just shout louder than the other guy. Instead of meaningful dialog, whoever can broadcast their message the loudest wins; or so they believe. At the end of Paul’s summary of our world’s spiritual condition, he hits on this tactic. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:32  It has rightly been stated that a lie repeated enough times is taken as the truth.

                The counterpoint to all of these approaches is to learn to truly listen. Listening is far more than hearing. It is taking in the information, processing it, and responding in appropriate ways.

                The place where we need to start is tuning our ears to the voice of God. The Psalmist understood this clearly.  "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10 Until we take the time to listen to God’s voice, we cannot put anything into its proper order.

                God reinforced our need to listen on the Mount of Transfiguration.  After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
    Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
    While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" Matthew 17:1-5

                Peter and the other disciples with him were overwhelmed by what they saw. They didn’t really know how to act. So in true form, Peter decided to take matters into his own hands. God stepped in and stopped Peter in his tracks. You can almost hear God says, “Peter, stop talking and listen!”

                Our need to genuinely listen must be transferred to our relationships with others as well. We most often get into trouble when we fail to listen. James challenged us to listen first and act later. My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

                It is easy to hear, but hard to listen. We all need to develop a listening ear so that we can hear the Master’s voice when He speaks.  "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." John 10:1-5


Wednesday, December 2, 2015


My wife and I just returned from some vacation time. We visited our son and daughter-in-law and got to meet our first grandchild, Levi Spencer. It was awesome. As a part of our trip, we visited another close friend in Cincinnati, Ohio. We went to church with him and heard a challenging message about responding to the Holy Spirit. As I have reflected upon that talk, I thought about how important it is that we keep our head in the game, spiritually. So hear are just a few thoughts along that line.


                We are rapidly coming to the end of the college football season. A sad time for some of us. Most teams are already looking ahead to next season. Some are looking ahead to next week. One of the dangers for every player in college football at this time of the year is to get distracted. They may get distracted by the possibility of going to a Bowl Game. They may get distracted by the disappointment of a less than great season. Whatever the cause, a distracted player makes mistakes that often cost his team.

                This time of the year, it is very easy for us to get distracted by all the busyness and demands of the season. The Christmas season is amazing; it holds many delights for us. It is a time when people are more open to spiritual things. It is also, at times, overwhelming.  We can get so caught up in the season that we lose our perspective. We can lose our opportunity to shine the light of Christ into our world.

                I think it is great that Thanksgiving precedes Christmas. It gives us a reason to stop and reflect upon our lives before we rush into “The Holidays.” Thanksgiving can help us adjust our perspective on life. It can help us keep our head in the game.

                In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul challenges his readers to keep their head in the game. Look at what he has to say.

                Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
                Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
                May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

                As Paul concludes this letter, he uses a number of short, pithy statements to help his readers stay focused spiritually. In these statements are words of encouragement, challenge and instruction. They are the final words of a coach before he sends his team onto the field. You can almost hear Paul saying, “People, keep your head in the game.”

                With all that is going on in our world today, it is imperative that we keep our head in the game. We need to counter discouragement with the joy and hope we have in Christ. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to light a spiritual fire within us that will move us from paralyzing fear to bold encounter with our world. We need to yield to the sanctifying work of God in our lives, as He reshapes our lives for His glory.