We are poised at the beginning of the New Year. As we navigate the future, some will choose a different route than you took in 2020. Others will stay on the same road traveled, perhaps for decades, following the same old ways that have failed in the past. Some will deliberately choose a selfish course while others will make a new commitment to God’s best.
After my time in the 101st Airborne, I was a mapmaker for the Army Corps of Engineers. An accurate map has often meant the difference between life and death, escape and capture, rescue and loss.
My father’s B–17 in WW–II was on night training across the USA. Somehow, both compass and radio failed. There they were, roaring across the sky in a huge bomber (the B–17 was nicknamed “Flying Fortress”) and their only contact with the real world was gravity. Fuel was running low; their lives were in the balance.
By chance (unless you believed, as the crew did, that God was flying with their Christian tail gunner, my Dad), one of the pilots saw a familiar pattern of lights from a previous assignment. They found the runway and landed safely!
If you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, it can be fatal—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially.
The paper roadmap has gone the way of the dinosaur! Today’s maps are digital and don’t provoke the notorious map–folding problem. They save time, expense and frustration. They can also save lives.
Moment of Truth: If we aim at nothing, we are sure to hit it. What does God want me to aim for in 2021?
Spiritual age should reflect ‘growth’
Hebrews 5 says longevity equals maturity (“By this time you ought to be teachers …”)
My father worked as a social worker in an Ohio children’s home. There were four siblings there, including one age 12. Hermie was a pathetic kid. Though almost a teen, his parents had babied him all his life. They carried him, fed him, dressed him, did everything for him. Hermie could hardly do anything for himself.
When he came to the children’s home, he was required to do everything for himself. But he had not matured as you would expect from a kid that age.
Some of his efforts were hilarious, if you were an insensitive 15–year–old, like I was. Occasionally his big sister would try to help him, but the staff required him to take care of himself, in age–appropriate ways, for his own good. I remember him crying like a baby because he had to do things for himself that others used to do. Looking back, it was sad, and maturing out of it must have been painful for the poor lad.
Hermie reminds me of Hebrews 5:12, the longer we are Christians, the more mature we should be. It’s really that simple.
Christian maturity is demonstrated by intake of solid food, not just milk. And one result of mature Christianity is having a godly sense of right and wrong. It is developed and matured by practicing right versus wrong. Our measuring stick has to be the Bible. This process can be explained by the expression, “Right living according to God’s Word.”
NEXT Time: What does Hebrews 5 mean by ‘Milk’ and ‘Solid Food’?
My Bible College theology prof had a piano in his classroom. We’d sing one of the old hymns of the faith before each class, and he would elaborate on the theological lesson taught in that hymn. Some lament the loss of hymns in church because they teach doctrine so well.
Christmas season is special for many reasons, including the wonderful Christmas carols. Box stores can’t seem to expunge from their Muzaktm the familiar Christmas carols about Jesus and His birth. Some of the most agnostic members of Hollywood and Nashville sing about the baby Jesus, this time of year. Christmas texts from the Bible are everywhere. The poor atheists just can’t avoid hearing a steady stream of “Jesus.”
Christmas Carols can become so familiar that we sing them without really hearing the lyrics. To avoid that mistake, here is a look at HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING.
The music for this classic was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840. The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley a hundred years earlier. This is one of his best. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has been named, more than once, the most popular hymn in the English language.
This carol is based on Luke 2:8–20, where the angels appeared to the shepherds. Wesley packed a theological ‘wallop’ into the three verses of this wonderful carol. It shows that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, a basic doctrine of Christianity.
This beloved carol can teach us the basics of Christology (doctrine of Christ) and Soteriology (doctrine of salvation). John 1:10–16 is a dynamic teaching about Who Christ is, and it fits perfectly with the advent of Christmas. It’s not the most traditional Christmas Scripture, but this theological treatise set to music answers many of the questions about Jesus Christ and His preeminent place in Christmas.
How Jesus came
“Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful all Ye Nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies.
With th’ angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”
Angels are mentioned more than 100 times in the Old Testament, 182 times in the New Testament (in the New International Version). Angels were created before human beings, with powers greater than we have; they are not limited by time and space, as are we.
Angels worship and serve God voluntarily; we know this because Lucifer, the most beautiful and powerful angel, chose to “Un–volunteer”—he defied God and rebelled—so was cast out of heaven with “a third” of all angels. In the Bible, angels appeared in many different forms, and perhaps so also today. For example, Hebrews 13:2 says, Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Everywhere angels appear they inspire awe, and often fear; hence, “Fear not…” Charles Wesley’s hymn calls them ‘herald’ angels (not because they’re named ‘Harold’). A ‘herald’ is one who proclaims or announces important news. The Christmas ‘herald’ angels were supernatural beings who came from God with a divine assignment: announce the arrival of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. We see from this that they were bearers of good news—the best news humans ever received: God is coming to rescue us all from the mess we’ve made of His creation.
These guys were your average, everyday, working stiffs. They were the very blue–collar, common folk in Israel’s workforce. They symbolize all who are common, ordinary, nobody–special people.
These shepherds were huddled in the cold, breathing air fouled by stinking sheep, no hot meals, no 401K retirement plan, no hope of promotion, no fame or wealth, and no appreciation from those they served. These are the men to whom the angels announced, “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all Ye Nations rise!”
Thank God for shepherds, smelly, ignorant, uncouth, faithful, service–minded, obedient, rejoicing shepherds . . . may we all be like them (minus the aroma).
Qualities Christ possessed and brought with Him
Wesley’s carol names some of Christ’s wonderful traits: Peace, Mercy, Reconciliation and Joy. It doesn’t include the ubiquitous qualities that we prize today:riches, fame, me–first happiness, pleasure. That’s because He came to help us overcome these flaws. God sent Christ with qualities that matter eternally; not the qualities we would ask for, perhaps, but ones that make eternal sense.
Prioritize your priorities
God’s priorities in sending Christ are not necessarily the ones we have.
A parishioner inadvertently revealed his priorities: “Listen Pastor, what I’m trying to say is that certain people might think Noon is too late to be getting out of church; that you don’t need four weeks of vacation; that your huge office is offensive. They might be thinking that a guy my age doesn’t need a guy your age telling me how to raise my kids; and that if it weren’t for your crazy African missions projects, we could have repaved our parking lot by now. I’m not saying those are MY priorities, of course. I just thought you should know what other people might be thinking.”
NEXT TIME: From “How Jesus came” to “Who Jesus is”
Heavenly treasures never depreciate
Jesus instructed His listeners on the mountainside, “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Likewise, The Apostle Paul instructed his readers, “…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”(Colossians 3:1–2).
Heavenly treasures never disappear
Jesus spoke of “…treasures in heaven…where thieves do not break in and steal.” We need never fear that the heavenly treasures we have invested in will be taken. They are protected by God Himself (how’s that for security?). We invest in heavenly treasure by trusting Jesus Christ to be our Savior from sin.
The abundance of our heavenly treasures will completely satisfy
God wants to give us a life filled to overflowing with good things like joy and peace and satisfaction. That’s why Jesus came to earth, as it says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Heavenly treasures are the focus we need at Thanksgiving time. If we put our hope in God, not in things or money, God will richly provide us with everything we need, and many things above and beyond our needs.
A friend was driving along behind a motorcycle and saw the most startling thing. She watched as the bike and its riders—a man, a woman and a baby—flipped off the road and careened into the ditch. The biker jumped up and anxiously examined his motorcycle. Satisfied that it wasn’t damaged, he went to check on the woman and baby.
If you’ve ever been in love, you know that we pay the most attention to the people and things we value the most.
In my High School graduating class was Big Joe; he was 6’8″ tall and the star of our basketball team. During classes, he would sit and doodle his girlfriend’s name on everything from his textbooks to his notebook to his hand—even the desk itself. Joe and that girl never did get married, because he was soon “in love” with someone else and presumably doodling her name on everything in sight.
Our thanksgiving will be just like our treasures
If our treasures are on earth, our thankfulness will vary with our fortunes. If our treasures are in heaven, our thankfulness will be constant and plentiful, just like our heavenly treasures. This Thanksgiving season, be sure to thank God for whatever He has chosen to give you. And don’t blame God for what you ourself have wasted. The wisdom of Solomon again: “…give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God”(Proverbs 30:8b–9).
The beginning point for a good Thanksgiving season is this: Trusting Jesus as our Savior!
The Plan of Salvation:
Just the right amount: Probably most of us would like to have more money than we have; on the other hand, some don’t even have the minimum needed. But I for one will give thanks to God for the modesty of my earthly treasure; because if I had too much, it would undoubtedly take me further from God, rather than closer to Him.
Some wise poet wrote:
Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains;
Food but not appetite; finery but not beauty;
A house but not a home; medicine but not health;
Luxuries but not class or culture; amusements but not happiness;
Religion but not salvation—
Money will buy a passport to everywhere but heaven.