Another goal for 2012 has been accomplished!
I have reached 500!
Five hundred entries. Three years. That’s a lot of writing! Some of you have been with me the entire journey. Thank you! Others of you joined us in 2012. Welcome! I hope each and every one of you has been encouraged. It remains my hope that God might use this blog to edify His people. For those of you new to Christianity, the word “edify” means “build up.” I want to build others up in their faith in Christ to the end result that they glory in Jesus and glorify Jesus more and more. As you may have guessed, I have an ulterior motive in my blogging. Simply put–I have to write! I have been a writer since I was old enough to do so. As I boy, I wrote several science fiction stories. I have written thousands of journal entries. I’ve even penned an autobiography (an unfinished, rough draft, of course). If anyone has been created to be communicative, I have! I find writing helpful to my own soul. Many people do, which explains the unparalleled popularity of Facebook as a social media outlet. God made us to express ourselves. Many of us do so with words. I fall into that category. In the process of my need to share on a regular basis, I deeply hope you are blessed. As you know, I rarely stray from God’s Word. Only occasionally do you read me commenting upon the political scene in Washington or around the world. More often than not, you find me meditating upon God’s Word and my calling to live that out within the contexts in which God has placed me. I do not expect that to change. I doubt I will change much in the coming twelve months. And so–as another January 1st arrives, you will surely find me sleeping off a late night, watching some football on the television and thinking about what to write for…
blog entry 501.
It took twelve months, but I finally did it. I finished reading the three-volume Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge. Without a doubt, it can be described as a “good book.”
Did you read a good book in 2012? If so, I’d love to hear about it. It may be a book I should read in the coming year.
How would you describe a “good book”? What would be your definition? A book that keeps your attention? A volume which causes you to think deeply? Any answer is appropriate. Some books are good for our minds. Others touch our souls. On a rare occasion, we find a text which does both. Surely that would be described as a good book! Look for one to read in January! That is my goal for the next twelve months–to read one book every four weeks. That simply takes a little discipline. Before children came along, I used to read over 40 books a year. Twelve in 2013 would be a success.
That’s just one of my goals. I also need to study and pass an exam for work. Several other goals made my list.
What about you?
Have you thought about some things you want to accomplish over the next calendar year? Is there any thing you want to do differently? Any task you want finally to check off the list? I love the opportunity to begin afresh. In many respects, 2012 was a good year for me. Yet–it was challenging enough that I rejoice in its conclusion. January 1st provides me with another opportunity to start over.
As is my custom, I spent some time in the book of Philippians this weekend. Paul’s desire to forget what was behind and press on toward what lay ahead serves to motivate me as each calendar year closes (Phil. 3:13). Both my accomplishments as well as my failures are now only somewhat visible in the rearview mirror. January is now straight ahead with all of its blessings and challenges. Twelve months of opportunities. Another year in which to glory in Christ and glorify Christ.
Are you excited yet?
Happy New Year!
The top twelve of the past twelve months for our family:
January Step of Faith – We prayed and then stepped out in faith (with a bit of fear) and informed Rhea County Academy that I would be leaving at the end of the school year.
Casting Crowns Concert – Jodi and I took Celena and TJ to the concert in Chattanooga. It was a very edifying evening. Love Casting Crowns!
Concluding our fifth and final year at Rhea County Academy – With a mixture of anticipation, joy and sadness, we said “good-bye” to RCA at the end-of-the-year program. It was a good five years!
Visit from the VanderJagts – Dear friends from Las Vegas visited with us for several days. It was wonderful to renew our friendship after some six years of being apart. JJ and I were quite a team while we served together in youth ministry in Vegas.
Belhaven University – I was hired as an adjunct professor for Belhaven and was asked to teach a worldview class entitled Kingdom Life. I loved the experience.
New Job at NCITE Computers – God continues to surprise us. In June, I began working for a local IT company owned by a dear friend. I have probably learned more in 2012 than I have in the past several years combined!
Another sunny, swimming summer – The kids continue to love our pool! Once again, they spent hundreds of hours expending their energy!
A teenager in the house – Celena turned 13! It is still hard to believe. We tried to make her celebration a special event. And–yes–it is an emotional roller coaster!
TJ’s Nashville Birthday – Instead of material possessions, TJ chose an experience for his birthday. We enjoyed a weekend in Nashville as a family. Everyone had a great time.
Christmas – Our celebration of Jesus’ birth was a special time for our family. We enjoyed the Christmas Eve service at Woodland Park Baptist Church and a quiet dinner at Olive Garden. The kids also enjoyed their gifts!
God’s provision for our needs – The Lord met our needs once again through various means. We remain grateful that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. It is only through His generosity that we finish each month in the black rather than the red.
Quality Family Time – As 2012 comes to a conclusion, we can think back upon our times together as a family–times at home, times at church, times here, times there. The kids are loud. The kids are messy. The kids are sinners. But we would not trade them for the world. They give us great joy. Our meal times typically cause us to laugh hysterically.
I had not planned to write anything other than a brief list of what we determined to be the top twelve experiences from the past twelve months. However, I think I should confess to you that I have not considered this to be a very “good” year. In fact, I have described it as “difficult.” But as I reflect now upon God’s blessings, I am forced to admit that He has indeed been kind to us. If I pause to truly contemplate the events and experiences, I find myself grateful. In a world ravaged by the fall, our family was incredibly blessed. I will not be sad as I say farewell to 2012 on Monday night and I am looking forward to what God has planned for us in the coming year. But tonight I utter this brief prayer: “Thank you, Lord, for everything.”
As I approached Scripture early this morning, I asked myself a question for which I already had an answer: What were Joseph and Mary doing after the birth of Jesus? They were, of course, taking care of their infant son–which—as you may have experienced—is a bit of a scary endeavor, particularly if you are on your own—far from family as was the case with this couple. They had the Word-become-flesh to take care of. And—they had the words of God to heed as well. As I prepared for work today—a day in which many were remaining home to continue their Christmas celebration—I took comfort in the fact that Joseph and Mary did what they were supposed to do “the day after Christmas.” They took care of Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God. And they listened and obeyed the spoken and written Word of God.
From Luke (NIV)
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
From Matthew (NIV)
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
From Luke (NIV)
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Did you see the listening? Did you notice the obedience? By this point in the story, it should not surprise us to find this couple desiring to do the right thing. But why? Why were they committed to doing that which is right? Where did they learn to listen and obey? The answer to that question is the fuel for my parenting as I prepare to enter another year as a father to four children.
First, Joseph and Mary saw faith modeled. Second, they heard the law taught weekly. Third, they engaged in the annual celebrations of the faith. Home. Synagogue. Temple. The focus on the LORD began at home. On Sabbath they joined with the community of believers. And each year, the family gathered with the masses to worship (Lk. 2:41). Surely there is a modern-day application! Our focus on the LORD should begin in our family and should spread to the communion of saints and–ultimately–to the world.
How’s that for a lofty goal for the New Year?!
Joseph and Mary consistently did the right thing. May the same be said of me–of all of us!
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:76-79; NIV).
“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master'” (Luke 2:8-11; The Message).
“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’ And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him” (Luke 2:25-33; NASB).
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1:4-7; NASB).
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES–THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED'” (Matthew 4:12-16; NASB).
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21; NASB).
“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY” (1 Peter 2:9.10; NASB).
Happy Destruction Eve!
Many people believe that the Mayan calendar successfully pinpointed December 21, 2012 as the last day of our planet.
Are you worried?!
Funny thing–“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”
Have you ever contemplated the words to the famous R.E.M. song It’s the End of the World as We Know It? It is impossible to deconstruct the lyrics. You cannot explain away meaning when there is none. Seeking to understand the meaning of this song is like trying to figure out the identity of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. In reality, Lucy was most likely the child of a drug-induced trance. I’d be willing to bet the farm the same is true of R.E.M.’s song!
Consider the final paragraph:
The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide. Mount St. Edelite.
Leonard Bernstein. Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom! You symbiotic, patriotic,
slam, but neck, right? Right.
WOW–How deep! Neck, right? WRONG! I wish you could correctly accuse me of pulling that verse out of context. I almost wish you could call me naive, being unable to grasp the significance of the nihilistic thought expressed by a rock and roll poet. But truth be told–the song is logically ridiculous. It is complete boom…
…save for the admission that–in spite of the impending doom–there is no need to worry.
“I feel fine.”
The Mayans may be right.
But I feel fine. Why? Because my death is only a gateway to glory! Because Jesus made it possible for the ancient words of Psalm 23 to be true for me. My Good Shepherd will lead me beside quiet waters with His rod and His staff. Knowing these truths both objectively and subjectively cause me to admit that I really do feel “fine.”
And I’d probably feel even better with some of that R.E.M. cheesecake! That wouldn’t be such a bad last meal.
See ya on the other side of destruction!
For family devotions on Sunday, we watched a video based upon the birth of Jesus. It was clear again that my children understand that Jesus is the reason for the season. They grasp that our annual celebration in late December is centered upon the person of Christ. I shared that as a child, even I knew that something special happened so many years ago in Israel.
I just didn’t know why.
My kids know the why–to a point. They can articulate that a Savior needed to come. They comprehend that man is incapable of saving himself. They even believe that which is self-evident–that they are sinners by birth and by choice. They know the why. And they know the why applies to them.
But I remain convinced that they have not willingly bowed their knees to Christ, asking the Savior to save.
I first heard the gospel in December of 1984. A black pentecostal preacher and a white methodist chaplain on two consecutive Sundays boldly proclaimed the truths related to my sinful condition and the sinless Savior who willingly died that I might live. I have said it many times–I did not need to be convinced that I was a sinner. My list was long. My guilt was tangible. What I needed was a work of God in my heart that I might indeed cry out to Christ. That’s what we all need. The wind of the Holy Spirit must blow upon us if our conviction is to translate to confession.
Christmas is a season of joy. Joy to the world! Do you remember how the line continues? “The LORD has come!” And the next? “Let earth receive her King.” And that is how happiness turns to joy at Christmas. My kids objectively know that Jesus Christ is the King of kings. However, they have yet to experience His kingship in their lives. They almost seem content in knowing about Jesus rather than desiring to know Jesus. I trust that this happens within many Christian homes. Believe me when I state that I will continue to challenge them to receive Christ–the King (John 1:12)!
I’ll ask the question. Are you content in knowing about Jesus? Or, have you received your King? Have you willingly bowed your knees?
See the example. Hear the challenge.
“The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
“After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshipped Him” (Matthew 2:11).
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
I watched a video the other day which showed pictures as a song played about the meaning of Christmas. One picture which caught my attention depicted three individuals each having a halo–Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
In reality, none of them were glowing that cool night in Bethlehem.
And–only One was holy.
Mary’s famous “Magnificat” in Luke, chapter one is truly amazing. What is perhaps even more amazing are the doctrines taught by the Roman Catholic Church about Mary. The popes, councils, and theologians have distanced themselves from the assertions of the humble bondslave of the Lord (Lk. 2:48). Mary exalted the Lord (2:26) and rejoiced in her Savior (2:27) because He was doing great things for her (2:49)! Though not the holy mother, she was indeed the humble mother! Her next words are telling:
“And holy is His name” (2:49).
You see, Mary wasn’t the one who was blessing. She was the one being blessed (2:48)!
Isn’t that why Christmas is Christmas? God the Father blessed us all by sending God the Son to save sinners like Joseph and Mary and Tim and…
This advent season, my soul exalts the Lord! My spirit is rejoicing in God my Savior!
“Holy is His name!”
I close with the words of a song with which Mary was familiar–Hannah’s hymn of praise.
“My heart exults in the Lord; My horn is exalted in the Lord, My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation. There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed there is not one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:1-2).
“I will run in the way of Your commandments when You enlarge my heart!” Psalm 119:32
“Though God has graciously given us, through Christ, a new heart with a ‘habitual and heavenly temper’ (quote from John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart), let us not forget that our hearts have not yet been completely made perfect. Often the long song we desire to play for our Savior is not a sweet, melodious sonnet, for the sin around us and, indeed, in us causes it to be off-key. Often we even fail to realize how bad we sound for many of the songs around us are hopelessly out of tune also. This is why we need to step aside by ourselves for a quiet reflective time of tuning (self-examination). Using God’s Word as our pitch fork, out of tune souls will be set again. Strings that have become loose (by neglect of Bible reading and prayer) need to be tightened. As conscientious musicians, we will avoid sinful circumstances that we know will cause our hearts to sound a sourer note. Fellow Christians, before we play another melody, let us ask God to train our ears to hear and to delight in His song–His will and His ways. And by the Holy Spirit enabling, may this orchestra of redeemed sinners play a fine tuned cantata with the sweet notes of holiness for the world and our Savior to hear” (Worthy is the Lamb, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2004 [the poem below is also found in this same text]).
Those are the insightful words of Maureen Bradley. Consider now these words from poet Augustus Toplady:
For the Morning
My soul, canst thou no higher rise,
To meet thy God, than this?
Yet, Lord, accept my sacrifice,
Defective as it is.
Tune all my organs to Thy praise,
And psalmist’s muse impart;
And, with thy penetrating rays,
Oh, melt my frozen heart.
Give me Thyself, the only good,
And ever with me stay;
Whose faithful mercies are renewed
With each returning day.
Ah, guide me with a Father’s eye,
Nor from my soul depart;
But let the Daystar from on high
Illuminate my heart.
This day preserve me without sin,
Unspotted in Thy ways;
And hear me while I usher in
The welcome dawn with praise.
Far as the east from west remove
Each earthly vain desire,
And raise me on the wings of love,
Till I can mount no higher.
I love that!
We have confused the events. Christmas is “about” Jesus! It is a day set aside to celebrate His incarnation–His putting on human flesh for over thirty years in order to exalt His Father by saving His sheep.
Why do we think we need to lavish our children with gifts every December?
Wouldn’t it be a better idea to save that for their birthday?
That’s exactly what we plan to do this coming Saturday. TJ will turn ten this weekend. Rather than to choose a pile of gifts (which he could have done without guilt), TJ decided upon an experience we could all enjoy. The kids are very excited to be able to go to an animal-themed restaurant for lunch and the amazing Gaylord Opryland Hotel for the afternoon. The day will end at a hotel with an indoor pool! It looks to be a great weekend as we celebrate our son.
We are all also eagerly anticipating our upcoming celebration of THE SON–Jesus Christ!
As the holiday season amps up, it is always helpful to remind ourselves of why the birth of Jesus Christ is worth our remembering. What makes Him so worthy of our attention? Seriously–why such the big fuss?
Simply put–Jesus is worthy of our worship because of who He is and because of what He has done, is doing, and will do! As the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe (Col. 1:16,17), every blog in the world would prove to be insuffient space to proclaim the His excellencies (1 Pet. 1:9) or to record all of His specific works (Jn. 21:25)!
Although many try to compete, none compares to Jesus!
Unlike my own children, I knew very little about Jesus. I vaguely remember hearing of a baby being born in a manger as we sang Christmas carols in our public school each December (such evil practices have since been abolished). But this particular holiday took on genuine significance for me when the Holy Spirit introduced me to the Person-in-Question–Jesus! My quest to get to know Him and know about Him began at Christmas in 1984. That journey has not ceased. Each and every year I grow in my appreciation of Him. Each and every year I grow in my gratitude for all that He did for His Father’s glory and my temporal and eternal good.
We are going to enjoy our celebration of the birth of our son. We are also going to enjoy our celebration of the birth of THE SON–JESUS CHRIST!
My final word of exhortation is aimed at parents and grandparents. Don’t confuse the events. Giving gifts at Christmas is fine. Each of our children receives a gift from us. We enjoy the festivities (we have two trees up and decorated). We spend quality time together. And we repeatedly remind ourselves of why Jesus came and of all the amazing events surrounding His incarnation. Each year it is–for us–an Advent Adventure! I hope the same is true for you.