Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preparing for Christmas

There are probably hundreds of articles and blogs being written on the subject of preparing for Christmas.  Obviously it is something that is on people's minds right now, and a lot of us are probably feeling pretty overwhelmed by all that needs to get done.

When we talk about preparing for Christmas our thoughts probably rush to the idea of gifts that have to be bought and wrapped, food that needs to be prepared, cards that need to be written and sent and parties that need to be planned or attended.  But I want to encourage you to take your foot off the accelerator and if necessary leave some of those things undone.  That's right, I did just say that, Christmas will still come even if the cards don't all get written, and it is still possible to love your children without buying that one extra gift.  In fact why not take what you were planning on spending on gifts for everyone this year and cut that number in half, and then as a family use that money and take a gift card for groceries and deliver it to a family that you know of who may be struggling this Christmas time.

Tragically, our preparations for Christmas can involved that we actually forget to prepare for Christmas.  That is, we forget the reason why we celebrate.  I know the the sayings "Keep Christ in Christmas" and "Jesus is the reason for the season" are plastered in peoples yards and on bumper stickers, but the message is a good one.

Perhaps the best way to rightly prepare for Christmas is the way that generations of believers who have gone before us have used.  Observing the season of Advent.  Advent this year begins on Sunday, December 2 and runs through Christmas Eve.

Advent (def.) The coming of Jesus, either in the Incarnation of Biblical times or in the Second Coming at the end of the world.  Also, a time of reflection observed in many Christian churches to focus and prepare for Christmas.

Why not plan to observe Advent this year, here are a few simple ideas of how you can begin:

  • Use an Advent Devotional (Click here to get a free one from the Billy Graham Association)
  • Read through the words of some of your favorite Christmas Carols and use them to prompt you in prayer and thanksgiving (as well as in personal worship).
  • Make your own Advent Wreath with 5 candles.  The candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ come into the world.  Then set aside a meal time once a week to and invite members of your family to read some passages of Scripture on that subject and light the candle.
  • Set aside a daily time to reflect on Jesus as God's Ultimate gift of love, and ask God to help you to put the other preparations for Christmas in their proper perspective.
  • Send out Advent Cards to friends or those in need of encouragement.  Simply write out a verse about God's great love or a word of encouragement about the difference that a life lived with Christ makes.

You can probably come up with plenty of other great ideas - but whatever you do, this year, prepare for Christmas in a different way and celebrate with meaning this year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Obstacles to a Heart of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is here again, but where does it go the rest of the year?  Why is it that we can come up with something to tell people we are thankful for while sit around the dining room table on the 4th Thursday in November, but have such a hard time with genuine thankfulness the rest of the time?

At the root of the problem lies 3 obstacles to true thankfulness:

1. "I deserve it!"  Whether it is clearly stated or just implied, just about every commercial that you see aims to tell us that we "deserve" to have this product.  It is hardly surprising that this is such a widely used marketing ploy, because it is one that we so eagerly believe.  We have been taught that we deserve food, we deserve a home, we deserve an education - what about the child in Bangladesh, don't they deserve these things?  I'm not making a political statement here, but our notion of being deserving is utterly warped.  The truth is, we are phenomenally blessed.  What we deserve is the wrath of God because we have rebelled against Him, what we get instead is His patient mercy, and through Jesus Christ, His righteousness.
Next time you are tempted to say or to think, "I deserve this," remember: no you don't, but thanks be to God you have been blessed beyond measure.

2. "I earned it!"  This is often an extension of the "I deserve it" obstacle.  Most of us work hard at what we do and have been led to believe that what we have is entirely because of our own effort.  We are able to make a living, only because God has granted us the strength and the abilities to do so, and only because He has given us favor with an employer and seen fit to allow our employer to prosper, and so on.  At the heart of thanksgiving is the realization that we can only be truly thankful when we recognize the one to whom we are thankful.  When we recognize God as the source of all we have, any notion that we are deserving or have earned something for ourselves falls by the way side and we are left simply declaring, "Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good, His steadfast love endures for ever."

3. "I need more!" The third obstacle is all about contentment.  Most of us wrestle with truly being thankful for what we have because deep down we have come to believe that it is not enough.  "Maybe when I have just a little more," we reason, "I will be content."  But even when we get more, there is still more that we want.  This obstacle takes us full circle back to the first one, "I deserve more."  But the problem with a lack of contentment is that it will keep us from truly enjoying the blessings that we do have, it will poison our ability to be thankful, it will cause us to call into question God's goodness (if He was truly good, He would give me more).  What's more without contentment, our desire for more will never ever be satisfied.

When we turn our focus to God and remember that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights and that "Your heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to His children," then we begin to move to a heart of thankfulness.  This thanksgiving, remember that God is your source and your provider.  Remember that everything that you have ultimately belongs to Him, but He graciously allows you to enjoy His blessings, and entrust your needs and desires to Him, asking that He will give you a heart of contentment and will meet every need in His way and His time.  Declare your thanksgiving, declare your dependence and declare your trust, because He is good!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pathway to over coming deeply rooted sin in our lives

The following is taken from a message I gave.  It provides some of the practical and necessary steps to overcoming besetting (deeply rooted) sin in the life of the believer.

Sin is serious business and when we deal with it seriously we can overcome even besetting sins in the power of Christ.
I want to give you some specific and practical steps to overcoming besetting sin, that stuff that is deeply rooted and seems so impossible to be free from:

1.     Stop Making Excuses!
We all do it.  One of the reasons why sin is so difficult to dislodge is because it is so deceptive, and we each become masters of deceiving ourselves.
·    It’s no big deal.
·   It’s not hurting anyone.
·   I deserve it.
·   It’s just who I am, I’ve got to stay real.
·   If God wants me to stop… He can just take this desire from me.
·   I can just confess it afterwards and be forgiven.
·   Everyone else does it.
·  That’s an impossible standard.  Nobody can do that, so why try?
·  It’s not my fault if it offends you (you’re the one with the problem not me).
·  That’s not sin, it’s just your opinion and I don’t agree with it.
·  I’m just really tired and vulnerable right now – so cut me some slack.
·  I can’t help myself.
·  It’s what I grew up with.
None of these, or any other that you might care to throw into the mix are legitimate – sin is serious business, quit making excuses.

          2.    Call it what it is!
We tend to soften sin not just by making excuses for it but by watering it down.
·  I messed up.
·  I’ve made a mistake.

Give the sin it’s proper name:
·  Pornography, masturbation, lustful thoughts isn’t just watching stuff or thinking about stuff that I shouldn’t it is adultery in my heart and mind.
·  Cussing someone out or getting mad and calling names isn’t just speaking to someone inappropriately - it is hatred and devaluing and even murderous thoughts toward someone who God loves and who is created in His image.
·  Taking office supplies for your own use isn’t just – retasking – it is stealing.
·  Ignoring God’s commands isn’t just “doing my own thing” it is rebellion.

We will never take sin seriously while we make excuses for it or try to water it down.  It’s like dressing up the prize pig.

3.   Ask God to give you a holy-hatred for your sin.
Ask God to help you to see your sin as He sees it, to hate it, to weep over it and to desire it no more.
The truth is that we love our sin, we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t so we ask God to turn the deceiving love for our sin into a holy-hatred of it.

4.   Make your sin a subject of a devoted time of prayer and fasting.
John Owen the great puritan in his book the Mortification of Sin says, “Assure thyself, unless thou longest for deliverance, thou shalt not have it.” (p125.)
Set aside a day, several days, a week or if the Lord leads even longer and pray and fast and confess and beseech the Lord.  Get serious about sin and deal with it seriously.
“But that sounds like hard work, that’s not easy for me to do.”  Yeah, and your point is?
Nobody ever said that the Christian life is supposed to be easy – in fact if you’re not breaking a sweat in your walk with Christ you aren’t growing!

5.   Equip yourself with Scripture with which to confront temptation.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, at each point of temptation he responded with the Word of God.  The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 tells us to daily put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the fiery darts of the enemy – because we are in a very real battle.  I encourage you to go away and read Ephesians 6 and look at and think on the armor that it speaks of, but one thing you will notice is that the only offensive weapon in our arsenal is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  It’s called the Sword of the Spirit because when we plant the Word of God in our heart the Spirit of God brings it to mind and wields it masterfully in the fact of attack and temptation.  So memorize Scripture…
A lot of Bibles have section in them either in the front or the back with a list which says something like, When You are feeling… discouraged, tempted, afraid etc. and then it will list a couple of verses that you could go to in order to find encouragement.  If your Bible doesn’t have that then grab a concordance or ask a friend or just get reading and jot down passages that speak to your temptation or trial.

6. Confess your sin to 1 or 2 trusted friends in repentance and for accountability.
This may sound pretty daunting, and I stress that you ought to choose another believer that you can trust.  If you are a guy, choose another man, if you are a woman make sure it is another woman.  You may think, but I don’t want anyone knowing about this sin.  Yes, this does take some courage, but you’ll be amazed, first of all you’re not the only one who struggles with sin and your stepping into this may well be powerfully used of God to not only help you but the other person too.

Also, James 5:16 says, Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.

When we confess our sin to another person, we begin to cut at the root of the hold that it has over us, we solicit their prayers, accountability and challenge and their help, and what’s more, God honors it.
You cannot overcome sin in your own resources, but one of the resources that Christ gives to His people, are His people!

7.   Set-up safeguards.
An accountability partner can be a part of this, either by suggesting practical ideas or by simply being available saying, “hey if you are feeling really tempted pick up the phone right there and then and call me and we’ll be pray.”
A safeguard might be moving the computer into a public room in the house or installing filters which you don’t have the password to, or it might be getting rid of the computer or cable tv altogether and ditching the data plan on your phone.
The safeguards are probably going to be different depending on the besetting sin, but deal radically with your sin, take it seriously.  John Owen says, be killing sin or sin will be killing you.  He goes on to say:
“Rise mightily against the first actings of thy distemper, its first conceptions…If it have allowance for onestep it will take another.” (p129).
In other words deal with temptation before it starts, don’t allow yourself to even entertain the thought of the sin.

8.   Renounce sin, turn from it and seek God for daily strength to walk by the Spirit.
Galatians 5 tells us that if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  So begin each day by reporting for duty, asking that God will lead and guide and direct your every moment and interact with Him in prayer throughout the day.

9.      “Think greatly of the greatness of God” (Owen)
Ponder, worship, give thanks, fill your mind with thoughts of God and of His greatness and His mercy.  As the Psalmist says, What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him. 
When we think rightly about God and allow His truth to fill our minds, so we will experience the renewing of our minds that Romans 12 talks about and we will be led to hope even in our battle with sin, because when we think on the greatness of God, when we think on the power and the work of Christ we will confidently and with full expectation discover He is able and willing to grant us freedom and victory when we entrust ourselves to Him.

What’s more when we think greatly of the greatness of God, the deceptive and empty pleasures of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.