Ron’s New Appreciation for the Holidays

Ever since his divorce several years back, my friend Ron has complained to me this time of year about the upcoming holidays. He has his reasons, to be sure, but he’s begun to sound like a broken record.

“It’s just not the same,” he moans. “With my wife gone and my kids living far away, it’s always an agonizing time for me.”

Then he typically cites the gluttony, commercialization, overspending, and other holiday sins as justification for his negative attitudes. You’ve probably met people who think like that.

“Let’s face it, Ron,” I sometimes tease him. “With your ‘humbug’ attitude, your parents should have named you Ebenezer!”

A few weeks ago, he threw in a new line that really got me thinking. “I wish I could just press the fast forward button and wake up on January 2,” he told me. Although part of me sympathized with Ron on this, I spent some time praying we would gain a new perspective.

Then suddenly it hit me: Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t just ordinary holidays. They represent two of the most important attributes of a happy, successful, and impactful life.

Let me explain…

If you asked me the most important attitudes a person could ever cultivate, my answer would clearly be GRATITUDE and GENEROSITY. Yet although I’ve lived more than six decades now, somehow I overlooked the fact that these are exactly the core principles behind Thanksgiving (gratitude) and Christmas (generosity).

Notice that gratitude and generosity are both “magnetic” traits. People in the secular world or New Age Movement call this “The Law of Attraction,” but it’s a Biblical principle too. Gratitude and generosity attract blessings and favor to our lives, both from God and from people.

In contrast, blessings and favor are repulsed  by INGRATITUDE and STINGINESS. No wonder Scrooge didn’t have many friends until his epiphany came.

Through gratitude (a heart of thankfulness) we enter into the gates of the Lord’s presence (Psalm 100:4). And have you noticed how people love to give things to a person who’s truly grateful?

Likewise, generosity is one of the primary keys to a life of blessing and impact. Proverbs 11:24-25 (NLT) beautifully points this out:

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Do you want to prosper? Then set your heart on becoming more generous.

Do you want to enter into a time of refreshing in your life? Then make it your aim to refresh others.

More importantly, do you want to become more like your Heavenly Father? Then one of the very best ways is to become more generous. You see, a central character trait of your Father in Heaven is that He’s a GIVER. “God so loved the world” that He didn’t just think more positive thoughts toward us – He GAVE His Son! (John 3:16).

If you truly see how loving and generous your Father is, you’ll be that way too. But if you view Him as stingy and miserly, you’ll end up behaving like Scrooge and having a miserable life to show for it.

So, what about Ron?

Armed with this new understanding of how Thanksgiving and Christmas mirror God’s two major character traits for a happy and holy life, I’ve been endeavoring to help Ron gain a new perspective too.

“Ron, you may not like every aspect of the holidays,” I’ve told him. “But what if you used Thanksgiving as a monumental opportunity to work on your GRATITUDE? And what if Christmas became your yearly reminder to live a life of GENEROSITY?”

In all likelihood, next year at this time I’ll have to remind Ron again. But who knows? If he truly begins to practice a life of gratitude and generosity, he may even attract a new wife by then. That would be amazing, but miracles really do happen…especially when we’re consistently grateful and generous.

#PrayForRon

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The Surprising Christmas Story in John’s Gospel

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7 Life-Changing Christmas Facts in the First Chapter of John

When we think about the Christmas story, we usually start with the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of Matthew. There we see the shepherds, the magi, and the angel Gabriel’s stunning declaration to Mary. Other colorful characters appear, including Elizabeth and Zacharias, Simeon and Anna.

But John’s Gospel presents the rest of the story. As the final of the four Gospel accounts, it reveals the deeper meaning of the events in Bethlehem that first Christmas.

In the first chapter of John, we see 7 important facts about the true meaning of Christmas…

  1. Christmas is about eternity, not just about Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

You see, Christmas didn’t start with Gabriel’s appearance to Mary or with the manger scene. The Son of God stepped out of eternity as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Numerous Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Him, and these amazing predictions came through several different people over the course of five centuries from 1000 to 500 BC. Twenty-four specific prophecies were fulfilled in just the 24 hours before Jesus’ death.

Just as your Heavenly Father could look down through the centuries and foresee the details of Jesus’ life, nothing in your life is catching Him by surprise. The same God who fulfilled His promises in intricate detail in the life of His Son Jesus will be faithful to fulfill every promise of His Word for YOU today!

  1. Christmas has been under attack since its inception, but Jesus and His message are invincible, destined to prevail.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [overcome] it.

King Herod massacred babies in an attempt to eliminate the newborn King (Matthew 2:16-18). Throughout history, others have tried to diminish the memory or message of the Messiah.

But John’s Gospel points out the wonderful fact that darkness is powerless to overcome the light. That’s very good news if you are facing some kind of darkness in your  life today.

  1. Although we love the Christmas stories about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi (people who loved Jesus), many people either were unaware of Jesus’ coming or else completely rejected Him.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

Even today, there still are billions of people in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus even once. Others know about Him, but have rejected His message.

Instead of being offended by this rejection or taking it personally, we should be motivated all the more to proclaim the name of Jesus, the only One who can save humanity from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

  1. Christmas ultimately is not just about a baby born in a manager; it’s about His power to give a new birth to anyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

As C.S. Lewis well said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Our physical birth is not enough, Jesus told religious leader Nicodemus. We must receive a spiritual birth too, being “born again” in order to see and enter God’s kingdom (John 3:1-7).

  1. Christmas is the story of Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14), and His presence is always characterized by both grace and truth.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

God loved the world so much that He didn’t just send a letter, a postcard, an email, or an Instagram. He became flesh, personally stepping into our world.

In contrast to the example of many of His followers today, Jesus was full of BOTH grace and truth. This is a great reminder that we’re called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)—never shrinking back from sharing the truth, but always communicating it with grace.

  1. Christmas would be a meaningless event if it hadn’t been for Jesus’ death and resurrection.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The baby in Bethlehem grew up! John the Baptist accurately discerned His calling as God’s sacrificial Lamb—the Savior who was born to die (Isaiah 53).

  1. Christmas illustrates the promise of an open heaven, with God not only sending His Son, but also every other blessing we need (Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:19).

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus was referring to Jacob’s vision of an open heaven, with a ladder between the heavenly and earthly realms (Genesis 28). As John’s Gospel unfolds, we’re told clearly that Jesus Himself is the ladder or bridge to heaven, and there is no other pathway but Him (John 14:6).

Yet Christmas is about more than just getting people to heaven. Jesus also brought some of heaven down to US, and He told us to pray for heaven to be revealed through our own lives as well (Matthew 6:10).

Along with Jesus, we’re privileged to receive everything else that’s included in God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). That’s why Paul could say in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us ALL things?”

This Christmas, I hope you’ll remember that the God who loved you enough to give you His Son will also hear your prayers and give you the other things you need in life. The next time you hear someone say, “Merry Christmas,” keep in mind that it’s not just about a historical event in Bethlehem. It’s a transcendent reality meant to change your life today—and your future in eternity as well.

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The Presents and the Presence

My precious daughter Molly will turn 30 next month, but I’ll never forget one of her first Christmases. It was 28 years ago, when she was about to turn two.

We had purchased some great presents for Molly, who was our only child at the time. It would be exciting to watch her reaction to the carefully chosen gifts we had purchased.

However, to our amazement, Molly showed very little interest in the toys, clothes, and educational materials we had wrapped for her. Instead, she was fascinated with the shiny bows, labels, and wrapping paper. Rather than appreciating the actual presents, she was having a blast as she tore apart the wrappings.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed in her reaction. Didn’t Molly realize that the wrappings were insignificant in comparison to the gifts on the inside?

But God convicted me that day about my tendency to do the very same thing with His presents in my life. I’m often more caught up with the wrappings of the Christian life than with the presents He has prepared for me on the inside. If I like the wrappings, I may proceed to examine the gifts as well. If the wrappings are unimpressive, I sometimes fail to even open the packages.

I remember a Christmas Eve service I attended several years ago. The church had gone all out in preparing a dazzling display of special effects. The huge screens up front were filled with a wide array of specially created graphics. To the normal worship team, the church had added a full orchestra of extremely talented musicians. The overall effect was an astounding “shock and awe” experience of holiday lights and sounds, with high energy and an even higher decibel level.

The pastor preached the gospel that day too. I’m sure he did. But I’m having a hard time remembering anything about his message. It all seemed to get lost in the glitzy wrapping paper surrounding it.

I’m certainly not against creativity and modern technology in presenting the gospel message. But it’s sobering to remember that there weren’t any fancy wrappings around the baby born in a manager 2,000 years ago. The scene surrounding the newborn baby Jesus was starkly simple. Basic. Humanly unimpressive.

The point of the Christmas story was clear, and it should be the point of our church services as well: “They shall call His name Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

You, see God’s PRESENT to us was His PRESENCE with us. That’s why it’s such a tragedy when we get caught up in the shiny bows and wrappings and end up missing the miracle of His presence with us.

Yet I’m afraid this happens all too often. After our church services we typically comment on the quality of the music or the pastor’s message, when the more important issue is whether we ever encountered God’s presence during our time together.

I encourage you to take a few minutes today and examine your own spiritual life. Are you distracted by all of life’s activities…events…people…duties? Or are you enjoying an intimate relationship with the Savior who came to open the gateway to God’s miraculous presence?

Don’t be content with the ribbons and wrappings of the Christian life, my friend. Jesus is the Present who unlocks God’s Presence. We can’t settle for anything less.

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Secrets of the Magi

We don’t know the exact time frame of the journey made by “wise men from the East”  in search of young King Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). It may have been several months or even a few years after Jesus’ birth when they arrived at Herod’s palace and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  (v. 1)

But while some of the details of their journey may be unclear, there’s much we can learn from the wonderful example set by the magi:

1.   They made it a priority to pursue the Lord  (v. 1). These men came from a great distance to encounter the Savior. They weren’t just casual  believers, but were committed  to having a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we  make it a priority to pursue the Lord and spend time in His presence?

2.   They came to worship Him  (v. 2). Right from the beginning, the magi made the purpose of their journey clear: “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  May that be our focus as well during this Christmas season. Instead of being distracted by all the trappings of the holidays, let’s take time to worship Jesus!

3.   Nothing could divert them from their mission  (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with a “King Herod” who tries to distract us along the way. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,”  able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. In the same way, we must avoid the influence of toxic people and naysayers during the holiday season.

4.   They not only worshiped Jesus with their words and their time, but they also worshiped Him with a generous offering.  “When they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh”  (v. 11). If we have a genuine encounter with our Savior, the King of Kings, how can we not honor Him with our possessions? True worship demands nothing less. Our treasure  and our heart  are always linked together (Matthew 6:21).

5.   They returned home “another way”  (v. 12). Genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path than we started on. If necessary, we’ll even be given supernatural direction or “divinely warned in a dream.”  As you worship Jesus this holiday season, He wants to instruct you, change your life, and give you the breakthrough you need!

This Christmas, may the Lord give you a fresh revelation of His LOVE for you—love that took Him from the glories of Heaven to a dusty stable in Bethlehem…to a Cross on a Jerusalem hillside…to the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven…so that you might spend eternity with Him.

Take a few moments right now to give God thanks for all He has done in your life. Like the magi, your journey may seem long and difficult at times. But peace and joy will rise in your heart when you put your focus in the right place this Christmas: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy”  (v. 10). That can be your  experience as well.

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