Why Do We Need Christmas?

Connie and Carsey opening early
presents @ Aunt Pepper's

Sure the presents and songs are great, but have we forgotten the real exciting news?

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,

I love Christmas carols! Singing about Jesus coming into the world. Singing about the birth of a Saviour. But hold on, why do I need ...
saving? There is all this talk of Jesus coming to rescue us but rescue from what?

The Answer: Sin.

The Bible tells us that we all fall far short of God’s perfect standard of living. We read that we all try to run life our own way and in doing so reject God. A letter to the church in Rome makes it very clear:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away (Romans 3:10-12)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

This rejection of God, known as sin, creates a barrier between God and us. So this is where Jesus comes in. He came to earth on the ‘first Christmas’ as a human. He was fully God and fully man. Then he grew up living a perfect life of obedience to God (that we all fail to do). Then he died on the cross, taking on all our sin and the sins of the world. He died and was buried. Then he rose from the dead and offers forgiveness from sin and eternal life with God, a renewal of our relationship with God.

Too often we can be comfortable in our own little world. We compare ourselves to murderers and thieves and think we are good people. But you and I still reject God in thought word and deed, putting idols before God, living for our own selfish ambition rather than the glory of God.

So this Christmas, sing about our saviour with repentance and joy. Knowing that you have sinned but thankful that God sent Jesus to forgive you, to save you!

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,


The Road to the Manger

The manger scene captures one of the most pivotal moments in history. But when we see a Nativity, we often forget the long road that led there—not simply the wearying trip Joseph and Mary took to be counted in the census, but also the trail blazed through history by conquering rulers and displaced peoples. As countries erupted into political turmoil or arose with new ideals, God was carving a path to the Holy Land, the perfect cradle for the Messiah.

The route began in Eden, where blood was first spilled to atone for sin. The temporary solution—animal sacrifice—would suffice until God enacted His permanent plan in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Establishment of the nation and delivery of the law marked Israel as God’s people; these, too, were steps toward the destination, as was the taking of the Promised Land, where Christ would be born.

As the Israelites turned to false gods, the Lord’s patience waned, and He withdrew His protection. They were conquered and taken captive to Babylonia, where in time, they developed synagogues—local places to worship God. The Medes and Persians defeated the Babylonians 70 years later and let Israel return home. The ones who did brought the adaptations of Judaism they’d been practicing, including synagogues.

Together, prophecy and history reveal how God continued to pave the way from the manger to modern faith. Synagogues hosted men like Paul, who preached and sent letters about the Messiah born in Bethlehem. And today missionaries still use his epistles—and all of Scripture—to lead unbelievers to faith.



The Benefit of Gratitude

Thanking God glorifies and magnifies Him, but did you know doing this also benefits us? The Lord doesn't need our thanks, but we need to give it so we can become what He wants us to be: unselfish, encouraged, and confident. Giving thanks...

Refocuses our attention: Life is filled with situations and distractions that keep us from seeing all that God has done for us. Instead of getting out of bed with the weight of the world on your shoulders, try refocusing on the Lord by thanking Him for His past provisions, guidance, and faithfulness.

Relieves anxiety: Since our fast-paced society has lots of pressure, expectations, and responsibilities, many people live in constant anxiety. But when we bring our concerns to the Lord with thanksgiving, the burden shifts to Him, and His peace comes to us (Phil. 4:6-7).

Refreshes our relationship: Gratitude keeps us from thinking that the Christian walk is all about us and our needs. Our fellowship with God is enhanced because we're focused on Him instead of ourselves.

Reinforces our faith: When we thank the Lord for His past faithfulness, our confidence in His present faithfulness soars.

Rejoices our spirit: Thanksgiving is the best way to dig ourselves out of the doldrums of discouragement.

Although gratitude is always beneficial, it's not always easy. When you're discouraged or overwhelmed, it's probably not on your radar to thank God. But I've learned from experience that shifting focus and thanking the Lord for all He's done is the fastest way to change one's attitude and reenergize.


Obstacles to Obedience

Photo by: Comanche Company, 1-81 AR OSUT- Pictured Zach Butler
Obedience is a powerful action that can unleash God's glory in ways beyond our imagination. Yet obeying is often difficult because our desires are being put to the test. Sometimes we're afraid to do what He says, for fear of losing what is important to us. But choosing not to obey may actually cost us the very thing we desire most.

Three obstacles initially kept Naaman from following God's instructions--and almost kept him from a miraculous healing.

  1. Pride. As a high-ranking official, Naaman feared losing his dignity, were he to obey. Conversely, his servants had the wisdom to see how pride was robbing him of life. How often do we balk at doing what God says, from fear of looking foolish?
  2. Self-centered expectations. Naaman was furious when his very specific expec-tations weren't met. We, too, often get angry at the Lord when He doesn't comply with our demands. But if we really want His perfect will, we absolutely must "let Him" do things His way.
  3. Unbelief. Because Naaman's faith only extended to his vision of how he would be healed, he initially didn't see how obeying would cure his leprosy. It took the faith of his servants to help him see the truth: that obedience was key to unlocking God's answer to his greatest need.

The call to obey often uncovers strongholds from which the Lord wants to free us. When we choose to respond in faith, He reveals Himself in a new way to us that strengthens our trust in Him--because ultimately, our greatest need is to know Him better.


The Power of a Discerning Spirit

© All rights reserved Photo by Eric Vest; portraying discernment
In a world filled with endless sources of information and opinions, believers need to develop a discerning spirit. Otherwise, how will we know what is true? Much of what we see and hear is based on a worldly perspective that is influenced by Satan, the Father of Lies. Deception is found even in the religious realm: cults mix lies with enough truth to make some people consider them legitimate Christian institutions.

The only way believers can guard against deception is to ground themselves in God's Word. The more time you spend filling your mind with the Lord's thoughts, the more discerning you will be. However, just knowing biblical truth isn't enough. You must put what you learn into practice so that it becomes more than head knowledge.

The goal is to let God's Word become such an integral part of your thinking that it guides all your decisions. Even if the situation you're facing isn't specifically addressed in the Bible, scriptural principles provide the needed wisdom for every choice. In addition, the Holy Spirit was given to each believer as a Helper, whose job is to guide you into all the truth (John 14:26; 16:13). However, your responsibility is to put God's Word into your mind so that He can bring it to your remembrance. If you neglect the Word, you'll lack discernment.

What are you allowing into your mind? Is Scripture high in your priorities? Unless you're careful, worldly thinking will overpower spiritual discernment. It's difficult to keep God's perspective in the forefront if you spend two or three hours in front of the television and only ten minutes in the Bible.


Understanding Guilt

Photo by: Shane Tarpley; Panama City Beach, FL- Parenting
it not about making your child feel guilt during correction.

Guilt over doing something that violates the conscience is a normal emotion. However, living under a cloud of remorse for no discernible reason is not. The Lord designed feelings of culpability and regret to serve as a reminder that a person has done wrong and needs to repent. But Satan twists those emotions to imprison men and women: those living in shame are uncertain of God's love and often lack self-confidence.

Good guilt--the Lord's effective tool for prompting repentance--is a gift that helps us find the right path. However, the Devil encourages false guilt, which involves taking responsibility for things outside our control and then suffering self-condemnation for not changing the outcome. This unhealthy type of guilt is also a widespread problem for those in legalistic churches or lifestyles--certain behaviors or thoughts are labeled as wrong, and then people feel ashamed for doing or thinking those things.

Self-condemnation stunts a relationship with Jesus. Instead of enjoying the peace of God, people who are trapped by shame fear His rejection and feel driven to prove their worth. Trust is nearly impossible because they are waiting for God's judgment to rain down. Their guilt even colors how they see themselves: rather than saying, "My action is wrong," they say, "I am bad."

Jesus did not come to accuse or condemn us. Christ restored our souls and made us righteous before God so that our guilt is removed. If our Savior forgave the woman caught in an adulterous relationship, just imagine how ready He is to take your shame away too (John 8:11).


The Dave Bolten Story

Photo by Jennifer Foster

Occasionally, something happens in your life that shakes you to the core. Something so disturbing and convicting that it never leaves you. It is a conviction that haunts you. The memory serves as a reminder that we are not here to "go through the motions".
About a year and a half ago, a homely looking middle-aged black man walked into my office for a cup of coffee. He made his cup of coffee, cleaned up his sugar papers, said thank you and left. I did not think anything of him coming into the office for a cup of coffee. It was not uncommon to have shoppers and medical patients stop in from time to time for a cup or two. Little did I know that one cup of coffee would change my life!
Our office is located in the middle of town, adjacent to a physician’s office and a few department stores. We keep a few refreshments out at all times just for those types of occasions.
A few days passed and the stranger entered my office again. This time, God was prompting me to minister, but I did not say a word. He politely asked permission to make himself a cup of coffee, thanked me and left. I noticed that he was wearing the same baggy, homely looking clothes he was wearing the last time. I decided to make an effort to talk to him the next time he came in. I prayed and asked God to give me one more chance. I purposed in my heart that I would make every valiant effort to minister in any way that God led me to do. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?)
This time, a few weeks passed before the stranger entered my office. I thought that I had lost my chance to minister. Looking back, it was God’s perfect timing. I paid careful attention to those that passed by our office. I was continually coming out of my office to walk around the lobby and outside the door to make sure I didn’t miss him. Finally, the stranger came in the office. Trying not to seem too eager, I walked up to him and formally introduced myself. We shook hands and he said: "My name is Dave Bolten."
Hoping not to sound too blunt, I told him that I noticed that he was wearing the same clothes that I had seen him wearing the previous two times. That was the open door that we both needed. Dave began to explain how he was having some marital disputes. I asked him where he lived, to which he replied, "Wherever I can find a comfortable place." This man was homeless! I asked Dave where he was living and what he was doing for food. (He never asked me for money.) Dave told me about the house he and his wife had together, but due to the marital strife, she kicked him out. (I know what you’re thinking – please tell me you didn’t contribute to his cause!)
We talked for what seemed like hours. I didn’t make a forceful effort to Bible beat him or tell him "the way". Before he left, I asked him if he would like for me to pray with him, he gladly accepted. That day began a relationship that I will always cherish. From that day on, Dave Bolten frequented my office at least three times a week for coffee and conversation. To this day, I can’t recall one single time when he asked me for money. He did most of the talking and I did a whole lot of listening. There would be opportunities that would come up when the Lord would prompt me to say a few words, ask him a question, or pray. But, for the most part… I just listened.

I think a lot of people- especially ministers- think ministering means leading as many people as they can to Christ through a formatted prayer. If I recall, Christ commanded His disciples to go out and make more disciples. To me, that’s more than just a formatted prayer. It seems nowadays Christians are more concerned with adding another spiritual notch to their belt than making a difference in someone’s life and actually making disciples.

An entire month passed by without a single appearance. I was starting to think this was just a testing of my boldness and openness to minister. I started asking myself if Dave Bolten was even a real person. I looked for him in the park behind our office, on the side of the road as I was driving, and a few other places - nothing! But one morning, unexpectedly – Dave showed up.
Elated to see him, I quickly made a fresh pot of coffee and had small conversation with him. He told me that he hadn’t been around because he was trying to find a job. He was walking up to 15+ miles a day putting in applications and having small interviews… WEARING THE SAME CLOTHES. He was getting a bit depressed because no one wanted to hire a homeless man… or so he thought. He told me that he had an interview the next day with Walmart.com and didn’t think he would get hired because he didn’t have proper clothes. I asked him what size shoe he wore and, from my experience working in a men’s clothing store, I sized him up. I went home that night feeling a little confused about what I needed to do.
My wife cooked us an awesome dinner that night but couldn’t stay to eat with us due to a previous engagement. So, it was the youngest and I to fend for ourselves. As my wife and our oldest daughter pulled out of the garage, the rain began to fall. It was pouring in a matter of minutes. As I fixed our plates full of fresh, hot food, and wearing comfortable clothes in a great big house keeping us dry and warm - Dave Bolten’s face came to my mind. I prepared our youngest daughter’s plate and told her we were leaving as soon as she finished her food. While she ate I went into my closet and neatly folded dress shirts, pants, and flannels into a duffel bag. Along with those items I grabbed a few dress belts, some hats, toboggans, dress shoes, blankets, and a poncho and stuffed it all into the duffel bag. The bag was packed so tight, the zipper barely closed. I came back into the kitchen and grabbed a to-go Tupperware plate and put some of my wife’s gourmet, southern cooking in that plate.
While getting things ready, our youngest ask me where we were going. I told her to find a man and give him some clothes and hot food. Her curiosity provoked an onslaught of questions. "Why are we going to find a man?" she asked. "Where is he? Why did you get clothes out of your closet?" The questions were more than I could keep up with. I told her that Mr. Dave didn’t have a house to live in or food to eat or good clothes to wear. Her eyes widened and looked at me in disbelief. She asked me: "Why doesn’t he have a house? Does his mommy not cook him food or buy him clothes?" My eyes filled with tears as I attempted to explain to a three-year-old, extra-privileged girl why Mr. Dave was homeless and hungry.
We set out that night expecting to find Mr. Dave (as our youngest called him). We looked in an old abandoned van that he had mentioned to me weeks earlier that he was living in. We searched the park where he said he frequented. We searched and searched for about an hour and a half and found nothing. Rain was pouring down. My youngest asked, "Do you think he’s okay daddy?" … What could I say? I replied, "God is watching after him." And we headed back home.
Feeling discouraged and defeated, I prayed for Dave Bolten and lost sleep thinking about what I could do to help him. The next morning, I arrived at work with the stocked duffel bag and food. I put the food in the refrigerator at work and carried the duffel bag in my truck for weeks.
As the weeks passed, the feeling of defeat crept in more and more. As I rode around, I made every effort to look for Mr. Dave. Carrying the duffel bag with me everywhere I went, I made it my mission to deliver what God had moved me to do. With every fleeting day the green Wilson duffel bag annoyed me as it stared me down from the floorboard of my truck. From that morning forward, my mission became filled with more intentionality than the previous morning. I had to deliver this "Gospel"! I had to give away the great blessing that God has entrusted me to do. I began praying that God would remove whatever was hindering this arrangement and open the door for us to meet again.
As the year was ending, I received a job offer to manage a new clinic. Taking the opportunity, I couldn’t help but think about the missed opportunity to bless Dave Bolten. It was the beginning of October 2011, nearly 8 months since I had first met Dave Bolten, and I would be leaving at the end of October to take my new job position.
One day before my scheduled departure – I saw Mr. Dave Bolten. I explained to him how my youngest daughter and I frantically searched for him in the cold rain, and how we had prepared food and clothing for him. He started to cry and explain that things had gotten better at home. He had been living back at home, gotten a part time job and seemed to be mending a broken relationship with his son. Wow! Great news - but it did not end there. He was now homeless again living in a near by park and "camping out" in a nearby wooded area.
I invited him over to my truck, explained that I was leaving for a new job and gave him the duffel bag full of clothes. His eyes filled with tears and he gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever received. I gave him my contact information and told him to call me anytime he needed something. Inside that duffle bag was one of the first Bibles I had been given. There were special remarks from youth pastors, and friends in that Bible, that I felt it needed to bless someone else. It has served me for years as a source for encouragement. We prayed together and departed.
One year has passed since our emotional parting and I have very few encounters with Dave. I see him, occasionally, walking along the side of the road. I pray for Dave and hope to one day reconnect with him. Reflecting back on those months of ministering, I feel like Dave ministered to me so much more than I ministered to him. Perhaps, God used Dave to convict me as much as He used me to bless Dave.
What should all ask ourselves- What Can I Do Now?

The Effects of Unforgiveness
One of the most dangerous things a person can do is to hold onto resentment. Clinging to unforgiveness has far-reaching and often unexpected consequences.

Although bitterness takes root in the mind, it doesn't stay contained. Acrimony can spread into every aspect of a person's life. For example, the hostility a man feels toward his father can color his relationship with his wife, his willingness to perform at work, and his involvement in church.

It's probably not surprising to hear that resentment impacts the mind and spirit, but you may not have realized what a physical toll it can also take on us. An attitude of bitterness ratchets up tension and anxiety, which can affect everything from muscles to chemical balance in the brain. Over time, that kind of mayhem weakens the body.

Because unforgiveness is a violation of God's law, it also causes spiritual turmoil that hinders a believer's growth. Prayer is stifled because of harbored sin that should be confessed. And worship is dry and hypocritical because it's difficult to effectively honor the Lord while trying to justify or hide a wrong attitude. What's more, a resentful person's witness is damaged, as others are prevented from seeing God's glory shining through him.

Forgiving someone means giving up resentment and the right to get even with him or her, even though you were wronged. God insisted this was the only way to go through life. One reason He commands us to forego hostility and vengeance is that these things cause so much damage to our own lives.


Causes of Rebellion

© All rights reserved  by auraneurotica photo
In God's eyes, anyone who sins is rebellious. And Romans 3:23 tells us we all are guilty. Now, it makes sense that an unbeliever would choose to act apart from biblical teaching. But what about those of us who have committed our life to follow Christ--what would cause us to stray from our heavenly Father's will?
There are two powerful human tendencies that lead to disobedience: doubt and pride. Both can be dangerously misleading.
  1. Doubt is a mental struggle over whether or not to believe God's promises. From our limited perspective, we cannot understand how God works. Sometimes His way does not feel like the right path, so in order to obey, we must step out in faith. Then it can feel as though we are jumping off a cliff and trusting God's invisible rope to hold us. If we listen to our doubt, we will surely transgress.

  2. Pride is the sin that caused Satan to fall from heaven, and it is a deceptive obstacle for believers as well. Pride has to do with thinking that our way is best, putting more faith in our ability than God's promises, and desiring praise. Anything we do out of pride is rebellion against the Lord.
Whatever the cause, sin leads to death. God's way is the only road resulting in fulfillment, peace, and life.
The Enemy wants to lure us with doubt and pride: both feel right and are easily justifiable from our human perspective. He loves to intice beleivers to rebel within the church against spiritual heads of authoirty. Any act of rebellion towards a spiritual head of authority, or those that spiritual rule over you can disrupt your life and cause cataclysmic reactions.
Believers should follow Joshua's wisdom instead: "Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).


God's Ordered Authority
God's plan for each one of us has our best interest in mind. His way leads to fullness of life. Yet He did not create us to be robots that blindly and lifelessly live their godly life. No, the Lord grants us the choice of whether or not to obey Him. Our human nature tends to choose a self-centered path that turns away from God's authority. But in doing so, we miss His best for us.

Consider the life of King Saul. God chose this man to be king and provided guidelines for him to follow. Though Saul knew the Lord's instructions, he chose to do things his own way. At times his sin was unquestionably deliberate, such as his attempt to kill David out of jealousy. At other times, however, his rebellion seemed less clear-cut. For example, despite God's order to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites and their animals, Saul spared the best of the herd, with the justification that they were "to sacrifice to the Lord" (1 Sam. 15:3, 21).

His disobedient choices cost him the throne and eventually led to his destruction. This man chose the road that satisfied his immediate fleshly desires, but as we know from history, the end result was hardly fulfilling. We can learn from Saul's mistakes. Partial obedience is actually disobedience. And any disobedience falls in the category of rebellion, which is sin.

Each day, we face the same types of choices. Though the details are different, both large and small temptations lure us. We can live according to Christ's will, following His lead and listening for His voice. Or we can refuse. Choose today to live God's way--which leads to fullness of life.


Confidence in Troubled Times

Photo by Wallpaper Avenue: © All rights reserved
During difficult times, I cling to the Lord's promise that He is in complete control. This comforting truth is a reminder that nothing is left to chance. It also takes away the pressure to try and control life. Yet at the same time, knowing that God has ultimate authority can leave us wondering why He would allow our painful circumstances.

I wish I had an easy answer. Truthfully, the Lord's ways are beyond our ability to understand. However, we have certain assurances that help us endure:
  • Some difficulty is the direct result of sin. Just as loving parents train their children, God teaches us from our mistakes.
  • The Lord promises to work all things for our good. There's a far bigger picture than what we can see, and God weaves circumstances together in beautiful ways.
  • Trials are often necessary to draw us close to the Lord. As a (youth) pastor, I have seen many Christians with comfortable lives become self-reliant. Slowly, these believers drift away from a close relationship with the Living Water. They become spiritually dehydrated but fail to recognize their need.
Our loving Father allows trials so that we will stay near to Him. We can be confident in difficulty when we rest in the fact that Jesus is in complete control, and He works everything out for our good. God's glory must become our first priority.
From our perspective, life sometimes seems to fall apart. Using spiritual vision rather than our human ability to understand, we know God is in control. He promises to use our circumstances for good, and He will strengthen and guide us in every step. Take heart and trust.


The Promises of God

The Christian life rests on a foundation of God's promises for today and for the future. We can trust everything that our heavenly Father has said because His Word shows Him to be...

Truthful. The Lord knows what is true and speaks honestly in all matters. We can be assured of this because He is holy; there is no sin in Him. He is also omniscient and understands everything (Heb. 4:12-13). His promises are based on His infinite knowledge and truthfulness.

Faithful. Scripture compares the Lord to a shepherd who "gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart" (Isa. 40:11 niv). What He has planned for us, He will bring to fruition (Rom. 8:28). Our heavenly Father does not waver in His intentions or will.

Loving. God's love for us was demonstrated at the cross. He sent His Son Jesus to die by crucifixion and thereby take the punishment for our sins. The Savior experienced God's wrath against iniquity so we might know only His love. This is the ultimate proof of His devotion to us.

All-powerful. Divine power created the world and raised the Savior back to life, so we know God has the ability to carry out all His plans. Our omnipotent Father can keep every one of His promises.

A promise is valuable only if the one making it has trustworthy character and the ability to carry through. Our heavenly Father is truthful, faithful, loving, and all-powerful. We can base our entire life on His promises, secure in the knowledge that He will do just as He has said.
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