Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Resolutions

New Year’s Eve is upon us! In fifty-nine and a half hours it will be 2022! Will you be making some New Year’s resolutions? The practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. It is not a bad thing to do so. For whatever reason, there does seem to be something about the beginning of a new year that gives us the feeling of a fresh start. We know there really is no difference between Friday, December 31 and Saturday, January 1. Nothing magical or mysterious happens at midnight on New Year’s E

Scripture is clear in both Colossians and Romans that no day is more holy than another. In fact, I just did a Bible Study on the fact that the Scriptures actually do not call for a celebration of Christmas or Easter either. At the same time, neither does the Bible prohibit these celebrations. Similarly, Scripture does not speak for or against the concept of New Year’s resolutions. The question is, if a Christian were to make a New Year’s resolution, what should it be?

The usual resolutions include quitting smoking, drinking, to be better at managing one’s money, and to spend more time with family. Of course, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, along with exercising more and eating healthy. It seems as though the overwhelming majority of New Year’s resolutions are physical things. Perhaps among Christians, this should not be the case.

Frequently, Christians make a resolution to pray more, or read the Bible more, or attend church more regularly. While these are wonderful goals, they often fail just as often as the non-spiritual resolutions. Why? The resolve to start or stop an activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation. For example, why do you want to read the Bible more? Do you want to honor God and grow spiritually, or do you think Christians are supposed to do that, so you probably should? Why do you want to lose weight? Is it to honor God with your body, or is it for vanity, to honor yourself?

Philippians 4:13 tells us, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Jesus says, “…I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If God is the center of our New Year’s resolutions, they have a much greater chance for success, depending on our commitment to it. If it is God’s will for something to be fulfilled, He will enable us to fulfill it. If our resolution is not God-honoring or is not in agreement with His Word, it will not be fulfilled.

What sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make? Whatever they may be, I offer these suggestions: (1) pray to the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) regarding any resolutions, and ask Him to let you know any He would have you make; (2) pray for wisdom as to how to fulfill the goals God gives you; (3) rely on God’s strength to help you; (4) find an accountability partner who will help you and encourage you; (5) don’t become discouraged with occasional failures; instead, allow them to motivate you further; (6) don’t become proud or vain, but give God the glory. As Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”           

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Recalculating

The day after tomorrow is Christmas Eve! Can you believe it? The wait is almost over. Millions of children will get little sleep that night just waiting for dawn to arrive and see what awaits them under their tree.

Joseph and Mary were waiting too. Waiting to become parents. Joseph certainly did not like the idea of putting a nine-month pregnant Mary on a mule and traveling three to four days from Nazareth to Bethlehem, but he had to because of the recently called census. At this time in history, everyone was required to return to the town of their birth to be counted in a census. Joseph was from Bethlehem. Therefore, he needed to travel there to be officially counted.

The fascinating thing about this census was how Augustus – a Roman Emperor – fulfilled a Biblical prophecy about the Messiah without even knowing. In the Book of Micah, the prophet says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem Ephrathah is the same place. Ephrath was the ancient name for this Canaanite city. Bethlehem was the Jewish label. So, out of Bethlehem a ruler of Israel will come. The Messiah was to be someone from the line of David. Both Joseph and Mary were direct descendants of King David. Their Son, therefore, would be as well. Jesus was also someone “whose origins are from the distant past.” John tells us in his gospel that Jesus had always existed. “He [Jesus] existed in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). This ruler is Jesus, the Messiah. So, Micah accurately predicts here Jesus’ birthplace hundreds of years before He was born. 

However, Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth. How do we get a preborn Jesus to Bethlehem? God makes that happen. He puts it on the heart of Caesar Augustus to call for a census. Joseph being from Bethlehem travels there with Mary where their baby is born, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, and laid in a manger. When God has a plan, He will see it fulfilled. God once said to Isaiah, “Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish” (Isaiah 46:10).

Have you ever wondered why you bumped into that person or how you ended up in that place? It was not in your plans. It is always good to have a plan but in the end God’s will – will be done. Whatever He plans will come to pass. If you have been diverted or forced to change direction in your life, relax. God is just “recalculating” for you. Making sure you are headed in His direction. That you end up in the place He has planned for you. So, if you suddenly have to make a three-to-four-day journey to a place you did not plan to go, do not worry. Whatever you are going through right now is preparing you for what God has in mind for you next. Be not afraid. Have faith. Trust the Lord. He will never lead you astray.          

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Anticipation

I remember counting the days until Christmas Eve. Do you? With every day that passed, the excitement grew. It reminds me of when I was growing up there was a Heinz ketchup commercial with a little boy waiting for the ketchup to come out of the bottle and onto his hamburger while the Carly Simon song “Anticipation” played in the background. It was classic. The ketchup was moving so slowly (something we could all relate to). You could see in the boy’s face how much he was going to enjoy that burger as soon as the ketchup showed up. A few years later, Tom Petty had a hit song about waiting for an answer from his girl. He sings, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

We do not do well with waiting. In fact, the rate of which our society has increased with technologically, corresponds to the rate of which our patience has decreased. We want our oil changed in twenty minutes. Our medical test results back in hours. We want our meals cooked in minutes in the microwave, air fryer, or Instant pot. No brewing a pot of coffee. I want a k-cup in less than a minute. I remember a time when everything you ordered through the mail came with a caveat, “Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery.” Today, we want our packages on our doorstep in two days, and when it takes three, we are beside ourselves! No, we do not do well with patience. In fact, I’ll bet most of us use squeeze bottle ketchup. No more waiting. Though sometimes the ketchup shows up too quickly and we end up with more than we wanted, but that’s a different discussion for a different day.  

My point is – patience is tough for us. Verses like Psalm 27 are a challenge. “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). When we are in need of the Lord, we do not want to wait. We often see prayer as like calling 9-1-1. We expect God to show up immediately with lights flashing and siren blaring. That’s not always how He operates though, is it? I don’t know about you, but there are some things for which I have prayed for a long time before the Lord responded. And when He did respond, it was not always the answer I was hoping for. Apparently, there are things I need to learn, some experiences I need to have, before God decides to show up. He knows that. I do not. It is really a matter of trust as much as it is patience. The Bible says in Proverbs 3, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:4-5). God is omniscient (all-knowing), so He often has a plan unfolding that we cannot see. Look, I never expected to be a pastor! I was the last person I would have ever seen in that capacity, but God sees things in us that we often cannot. The same goes for our lives. The path we walk will sometimes not be the one God has in mind, and so He will do whatever it takes to help us realize we need to change direction. It is the “whatever it takes” that can sometimes be hard. 

The waiting is the hardest part but try to have patience. Trust Him. Hey, the Israelites waited for thousands of years for the Messiah to come, and He did. Finally. “The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – [was] born in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11) We are so blessed that He did! Enjoy the anticipation of the next nine days as we wait to celebrate that holy night! He is so worth the wait!

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Little Drummer Boy

For those of you who know my story. You know that my plan was to be a world-famous rock and roll drummer. I pursued that path for over fifteen years. I wrote songs and made records. My band “Solstice” played venues from Boston, MA, to Portsmouth, NH, to Portland, ME, and anywhere in between, just trying to “make it.” Music was my focus, my passion, my heart, my plan. 

It took a while but eventually I realized, that was apparently not the path for me. After I was saved in 1989, I came to understand I was not the one in charge. By 1997, I was in seminary in Bangor, ME. I have been a pastor for twenty-four years now and I often say to others, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him YOUR plans for the future.” I was the last person I ever saw God using in this way, believe me. I am not alone. Moses resisted his call repeatedly. Moses protests, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh?... What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?...O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” Eventually, Moses pleads with God in Exodus 4:13, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.” In Jeremiah 1:6, the prophet reacts to his call this way, “‘O Sovereign Lord, I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!’” When Peter realizes who Jesus is, his first reaction is, “Oh, Lord, please leave me – I’m such a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). 

Surely, neither Joseph nor Mary felt qualified for the task God was asking of them, but they responded in faith. God’s hand was in it all along. In fact, when Augustus called for a census, he had no idea he was fulfilling biblical prophecy. The prophet Micah said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Unlike the census questionnaire we fill out every twenty years in the comfort of our own home (or online nowadays), at this time in history, a census required men to register at the town of their birth (so they could be taxed by the Romans). Mary and Joseph therefore travel to Bethlehem because Joseph was a descendant of King David and Joseph’s family came from Bethlehem. While there, the time came for Mary’s baby to be born – in Bethlehem – just as Micah had prophesied. Yes, God’s hand was in this. 

God’s hand is in your life’s as well. Perhaps you had plans or have some still, and yet you hear a small voice deep in your spirit calling you to do something else, to go in a different direction. To do something for which you feel completely unprepared. Welcome to the club! Just like me, you can feel unqualified, incompetent, and ill-equipped all you want. It will not matter. God’s will will be done. “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him YOUR plans for the future.” Interestingly, I later discovered that idea was biblical! Solomon wrote, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

O Christmas Tree

Today is the first of December. Can you believe it? Christmas is but twenty-four days away. Wow. It does seem as though 2021 just flew by. Tonight, we light the South Church Christmas tree out in our front courtyard. This is a tradition I started soon after coming here to Hartford. We planted a pine tree about five feet tall back then. It has now grown to over ten feet! There is an interesting history to the Christmas tree.

First of all, why an evergreen tree? Well, pagans (non-Christians) had a tradition of decorating evergreen trees at the feast of the winter solstice. They believed the evergreen tree was a sign that winter would end. For Christians, evergreen trees symbolize everlasting life. As we read in Genesis 2, “Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground – trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life” (Genesis 2:8-9). (Notice also the needles of evergreen trees point up to heaven.) 

No can say for certain who was first, but there is a legend about the German Protestant reformer Martin Luther and the Christmas tree. It is said that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, Luther was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. Martin cut down the tree and carried it home. He then set up the little fir tree indoors so he could share this story of everlasting life with his children. They decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth – the light of the world. John recounts in his gospel, “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Jesus, Himself, later said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12).

There is an interesting Connecticut connection to the Christmas tree legend as well. You see, like Martin Luther’s Christmas tree, a number of our Christmas traditions originate in Germany. At the Revolutionary War Battle of Bennington, British forces, consisting largely of Hessian troops (German mercenaries) were defeated. Hundreds of the Hessian mercenaries were taken prisoner mostly to Boston, but one, a Hendrick Roddemore, ended up in the custody of Samuel Denslow on his 100-acre farm in Windsor Locks, CT. Denslow allowed Roddemore to live in a small cabin on his property what is now the current home of the Windsor Locks Historical Society, and in that small cabin in Windsor Locks in 1777, a German POW put up the first indoor Christmas tree in America.

As you put up your Christmas tree this year, remember the offer of everlasting life you have been given through the Christ child. During the week, when you come home and see the lights shining, reflect on the light of the world who gave His life so that you could be forgiven. After all, that is what Christmas is really all about. It is not about gifts, food, flying reindeer or a chubby, plump, jolly old elf. It is about the good news the angel announced that will bring great joy to all people, and that is, “The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).     

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.