One of the sad features of contemporary life is the number of people who have given up thinking that their lives could actually change for the better. This situation is a natural consequence of a culture that has largely lost its faith in God.
But for those whose faith in God remains, the hope of change and progress continues to prod them forward with optimism. And with good reason. God has equipped believers with all that’s necessary to bring constructive change about.
While every change for the better begins with God, realizing positive change depends on how you view yourself. If you view yourself as simply a product of your experiences or a victim of all that has happened to you, change will be impossible. You’ll be passively resigned to the status quo.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Followers of Christ have a new identity. They have been crucified and raised up with Him (Rom.6:3,4). They are new creatures (2 Cor.5:17), who are no longer slaves of sin, but servants of a new Master. Consequently, by grace they are able to say no to stubborn habits, reverse destructive patterns, and walk in newness of life. All hope for change begins here, by living in union with Christ.
But besides living in union with Christ, there also needs to be a standard and process for change. You need to know what changes God would have you make and how you are going to get there. The Bible provides what’s needed here.
God has given us His Word in order to teach, reprove, correct, and train us for righteousness. He wants us changed according to His standard so that we would be equipped for every good work (2 Tim.3:16,17). This change comes about as a process as we read and hear the Bible, and respond to it faithfully. And it’s as we submit ourselves to Scripture’s teachings, reproofs, corrections, and training that we are prepared to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
Of course, for change to stick, it must be remembered that habits play a vital role. As it’s been said, “you make your habits, and then your habits make you.” And it’s in this regard that your habits can be either your best servant or worst master. So, be sure your habits are good ones.
Creating good habits can be tough, especially if you have some bad ones to contend with — but it can be done. Success comes when you don’t merely try and shake a bad habit, but replace it with a good one. For example, impurity needs to be replaced with purity (2 Tim.2:22). Fear needs to be replaced with love (1 Jn.4:17).
It’s by way of this replacement principle that the habits we need to shape our lives for good are instilled. Combine this with regular prayer, worship, service and other spiritual disciplines, and you will be well on your way to the kind of change God intends for you.
Too many people have given up on changing their lives for the better. This year, be among those who look to God’s grace and power to bring about those changes you know you need to make.
The Christmas story is really a story within a story. And it’s only within the context of the larger story that the significance of the Christmas story can be fully appreciated and treasured.
The story of Christmas is simple, and has been recently reviewed by many of us. God sends forth His eternal Son to take on human flesh and be born into this world through the virgin Mary. And what is the larger story?
The larger story goes back to the beginning of creation. God made humanity in His own likeness to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. But in their impatience, the first man and woman disobeyed God by yielding to the serpent, and the bent toward living contrary to God has been passed on ever since.
God, though, did not leave the human race in this predicament. He immediately promised that a seed would be born of a woman who would crush the serpent and bring deliverance from his wily ways. This plan of redemption is something that God works out slowly, over the long haul of history.
Early in this plan God formed a nation for Himself called Israel. This nation was to picture, by its service, the life of a Servant to come. Continually, this nation was unfaithful. Yet God kept calling them back, and finally brought into the world the One who would provide forgiveness and deliverance.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of this One, God’s Son and Servant, Jesus Christ. As a person, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. And during His ministry, He went about doing good, proclaiming liberty to captives. At the end of His time on earth, He was put to death for the sins of His people. And after three days He rose from the dead.
After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended to the right hand of His Father where He rules over all things. From there He will continue to reign until all His enemies become a footstool for His feet. On the last day He will come again and judge the world in righteousness.
It is this larger story that sets the context for the Christmas story. Without this bigger picture, Christmas easily becomes nothing but a sentimental fun time. A time for gifts, get-togethers, and some time off. But against the backdrop of the rest of the story, Christmas becomes a necessary link in a much bigger, unfolding drama.
And it is within this drama that we find our own place. Here we find that though we have strayed from God, we have hope. God’s promise is that as many as receive Jesus, to these He gives the right to become children of God ( Jn.1:12). And it is these He delivers from the power of darkness and transfers to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col.1:13).
With the passing of another Christmas, the story of Christ’s birth will be forgotten for another year. But the larger story of His rule and our redemption remains with us. And seeing your place in that story is what shapes the story of your life for good.
“O God, who makes us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Thine only Son, Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him, when He shall come to be our judge; who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. AMEN.”
A common temptation that Christians face is to support and elect to public office those candidates who will apparently enforce their values — even if those candidates must ignore the Constitution (and the Bible) to do so. In falling to this temptation, believers end up trusting the state to do the work of the Spirit, and empowering the state in a way that will surely bring greater harm to the church and the family.
It seems to me that once this temptation is recognized that believers ought all the more desire a candidate that is faithful to the Constitution and promotes maximum liberty. Such a candidate would help reduce the level of funny business that government power brings as well as assure the freedom necessary to bring about cultural influence through personal persuasion and example rather than government force.
Unfortunately, the last twenty years or so have not produced a lot of candidates who see themselves as chained by the Constitution. This is especially true when it comes to the presidential race. And as our culture because more distinguished by its waning faith in the Triune God, the tendency to look to a man to deliver us and secure us becomes greater and greater.
This go around there is a man who is willing to govern within the limits of the Constitution and turn back the civil government’s encroachment on personal liberty. That man is Ron Paul. Sadly, though eminently qualified, Ron Paul is being written off for supposed pragmatic reasons. One of these is that he is viewed as unelectable. But this may not be for long. The hunger for honesty and holding elected officials to the law of the land appears to be on the increase, and Dr. Paul’s record in this area makes him attractive.
As a pastor, my interest is that elected officials perform their God-ordained role as a minister of justice, and no more. My interest is also that Christians and the church would have the greatest liberty to proclaim and apply the whole counsel of God. As a champion of freedom and the Constitution, I believe that Ron Paul is the best candidate to assure these interests.
If you know little about Ron Paul, I encourage you to check out his website, which can be located here.
A couple of weeks ago I asked a good friend of mine whether or not he thought a particular opportunity was worth pursuing. I wasn’t so sure that effort put in this direction would bear any fruit, so I wanted his advice. And he gave it to me.
What he said took me by surprise. He didn’t go into the intricacies of cost-benefit analysis. In fact, he didn’t ask anything at all about the cost involved or the time it would take. Instead, he simply said this: “It depends on how many people you want to help.”
The more I thought about that answer, the more it made sense to me. And it still does – for a number of reasons.
For one, it makes sense in light of the person that said it. The friend who made this comment is a service-oriented person. He’s always involved in activities that help people. And when he sees a need in an area that he knows little about, he’ll learn all he can about that area so he can help.
You might think a person like this would appear weighed down and worn out by all his serving. But not so. He’s actually energized and made joyful by his service, because he knows it’s his purpose. And because he waters many in the process, he’s watered much in return.
Another reason it makes sense to think about how your opportunities might help others is this: it’s such a refreshing contrast to the spirit of our culture. Yes, today we still hear talk about the virtue of service, but it no longer distinguishes our attitude and habits. People no longer think in terms of “I serve.” Rather, they think “I deserve,” and are pre-occupied with ingratitude, self-pity, and thoughts about not having what they think they’ve got coming. Thoughts that kill any motivation to serve.
How refreshing it is to adopt attitudes and habits of service for their own sake. Not calculating what’s in it for me, but serving because it’s right.
And it is right. Because serving others through your opportunities is in keeping with God’s design for you. Looking throughout the Bible, the service theme looms large. Not only is service extolled as a way of life, but we are to view ourselves as servants – first of God and then our fellow man.
When sin entered the world, humanity’s focus shifted from service to self. And God’s design for service, though remaining, became corrupted. But God has provided a remedy to restore us to lives of service through His Son, Jesus Christ.
During Advent we prepare to celebrate the coming of the One who came not “to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt.20:28). And why do we celebrate this? Because it’s through His life that we are delivered from slavery to self and brought into the joy of His service.
Remember, as you think about your life, it’s about serving. And it’s in serving Him we find simplicity, joy, and purpose.
“Modern man seeks rootlessness; his love of urban life is grounded in the desire for anonymity. When he shows a taste for rural life, it is not neighborliness and roots he seeks, but Nature, so that his anti-urban motives are as rootless as his urban life. The family means roots; it means relationships, responsibilities, children, parents, in-laws, relatives, and the rooted routine of a household.”
~ R. J. Rushdoony
“As the astronauts soar into the vast eternities of space, on earth the garbage piles higher; as the groves of academe extend their domain, their alumni’s arms reach lower; as the phallic cult spreads, so does impotence. In great wealth, great poverty; in health, sickness, in numbers, deception. Gorging, left hungry; sedated, left restless; telling all, hiding all; in flesh united, forever separate. So we press on through the valley of abundance that leads to the wasteland of satiety, passing through the gardens of fantasy; seeking happiness ever more ardently, and finding despair ever more surely.”
~ Malcolm Muggeridge in “The Great Liberal Death Wish”
If you’re over forty, one thing the rapid approach of another Christmas will do is make you realize that you are getting older. And for many, the thought of getting older is not a pleasant one.
Getting older can be tough. Not only does the wearing down of your body become more evident, but your past failings, missed opportunities, and concerns about the future all seem to crowd your thoughts as well.
But does realizing you are growing older mean you’re washed up? Does it consign you to a future of hopeless stagnation? No, it doesn’t. But for most people, looking to their coming days with a sense of joy and purpose means they’re first going to have to clear a few hurdles.
The first hurdle that must be cleared is that of past failures. Everyone has failed in the past, and those with tender consciences can be haunted by these failures for years. In fact, with age, the foolishness that often accompanied these failures can seem even more burdensome. For this reason, adjusting to the idea of getting older requires those failings of the past to be resolved.
Advent and Christmas presents an opportune time to do this. Jesus Christ came as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And it is in looking to Him as our Savior that we find ourselves able to look to the future unencumbered by oppressive guilt.
A related hurdle that must be cleared is regret. Sorrow will immobilize you quickly when you begin to dwell on how you might have done things differently if you had it to do over again. But since we can’t do it over again, wallowing in regret is a snare we must avoid.
The Apostle Paul is instructive on this point. Here’s a man who had his regrets as he realized that he had been zealous for what was false and destructive. But he did not allow this to mire him down. Instead, he resolved to put his error behind him and press forward with his life in a way that would honor Christ (Phil.3:13,14). We must do the same when it comes to our regrets.
The last hurdle to mention has to do with fears. As you grow older, what you fear tends to change. For the first time ever you may have serious fears about a debilitating illness or death. But again, it’s at this time of year especially we must remember that Christ came to set us free from the bondage of these fears (Heb.2:15).
Another common fear that goes along with getting older is that the rest of your life will lack fulfillment and will be a waste. How is it that you ensure that the remainder of your days – be they few or many – not be spent in futility? You live them out by faith.
Without faith, everything this world has to offer – from food, to work, to pleasure – is nothing but vanity. But when we receive these things in faith from the One who gives them, we find our fulfillment and our joy.
And how is it that we show this faith? By fearing and obeying God. As Solomon said, “The conclusion, when all has been said, is fear God and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecc.12:13).
Good words for everyone, whether you realize you are getting older or not.
This season of the year presents many opportunities for eating — and overeating. But it’s also a good time to practice some fasting. While the spiritual discipline of fasting is always in season as a way of humbling the flesh and growing in grace, an occasional Advent fast is in order as we think about Christ’s coming and seek to prepare for it.
George Grant has written a couple of excellent posts about fasting. They can be found here. . .
The season known as Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and runs until Christmas Eve. During this time we are to focus our lives on the coming of Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that we play a spiritual game of “make believe,” pretending that we are waiting for Christ to be born. Rather, we are to focus on the totality of His coming, which is past, present, and future.
During Advent we remember that Christ’s first coming was in obscurity, as He was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger a little over two thousand years ago. At the same time, we thank Him for His coming to us in the present as we worship Him and live our lives for Him. And finally, we look forward with anticipation to the day He will come again in glory to judge the world in righteousness.
By observing Advent, an otherwise draining time of year can be turned into a spiritually enriching season. Without Advent, preparing for Christmas will easily leave you spiritually wrung out. But with it, you will find ample opportunities to cultivate your soul, leading to true peace, hope, and joy.
The first of these opportunities is that of reflection. While many will exhaust themselves by the hectic pace of decorating, shopping, party going and distractions of all kinds, you have in the midst of it all an occasion to be renewed, as you reflect upon the undeserved favor God has shown us in the sending of His Son, Jesus.
The Advent season also provides an enriching opportunity to gain perspective. The word “advent” comes from a Latin word which means “coming,” and was often used to refer to the arrival of a dignitary or emperor. In our day, when men can seem so big and God so small, we need to maintain the perspective that the sovereign Lord over all has come — and will come again.
And this leads to another opportunity Advent brings: preparation. Since Christ has come the first time – just as God foretold it – so will He come again. Because of this, we are not only to expect His coming, but prepare for it.
The Apostle Paul addresses this need for preparation when he says, “it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (Rom.13:11). From there he goes on to say that we are to put off the excesses, the lusts, and the contentions that so easily overtake us, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ in their place.
The busyness of this time of year leads many to long for the time that Christmas is here an over. Others, while happily involved in the activities of the season, soon become worn out. And with all of the demands upon us, it’s no wonder.
But remember, it’s Advent. . . a time to reflect, to gain perspective, and prepare. Don’t miss the opportunities that Advent brings.