Why Resolutions?



For better or worse, we are marching swiftly toward the end of another year. In just another day, we will say goodbye to 2015. For some this will result in a huge party and celebration. For others, the evening and night will end more quietly at home with family or a few close friends. Some will also attend services in their churches, praying into the New Year.


A great many persons are already looking at potential “New Year’s Resolutions”. A quick look at a dictionary will tell us that a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not do something”.


If I listen to most people in my sphere, those resolutions typically include three areas: exercise, diet, and finances. The funny thing about that is these are often the same resolutions in one form or another that were on their list a year ago and possibly even a year or so before that.


If our resolutions are meant to help us resolve to take action in an area of weakness or difficulty, what causes them to remain on our list year after year?


 I wonder if we miss the core issue underneath these resolutions even when we include things like daily prayer and Bible reading.


How well do we understand ourselves? How well do we understand the world in which we live, both seen and unseen?


As I consider my own year of 2015, many things occurred within the year I did not anticipate a year ago on the eve of this year. Some were wonderful surprises and paths that the Lord opened. Others were challenges I did not know I would face. Even if I had made resolutions last year at this time (I did not!), the typical ones would not have really addressed either the surprises or challenges.


If my intent is to continue to grow and improve each year in all areas of my life, I am beginning to think I should really be asking the One who knows me better than I know myself what should be on my list for 2016.


Considering He holds and knows the future as well as my strengths and weaknesses, wouldn’t He be the one most qualified to create the list?


 I confess I would like to lose some weight, exercise more, and save a bit more money, but those are largely temporal things that can fluctuate for a variety of reasons. Certainly I need to do my part to manage or steward what is mine, but not every aspect of any of them will always be under my total control.


I think the key resolutions would be those, which are eternal. As a result, today I ask myself some questions of the Lord and myself.


  • What most impedes my spiritual growth?


  • In what areas do I most often yield to temptation?


  • Where does my faith falter and fear creep in?


  • How can I most nourish my daily devotional life?


  • In what ways does my life fail to reflect Jesus to those with whom I am in relationship?


  • Which relationships are those given to me that give support, encouragement, and accountability on my journey through the New Year?


You see, I believe if I have honestly searched my heart and the Lord’s on these questions, He will point me to His resolutions for my 2016 year.


If He has appointed the resolutions, will He not also equip and provide for victory to accomplish them?


I think so if I yield to His direction.


Perhaps we need resolutions to nudge us forward, but we need to adjust what informs us of which ones to make.


“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

                                                               Phil. 3:12-14 ESV

Can We Keep Christmas?



The house is once again quiet as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree, twinkling mantle lights, and crackling fireplace logs. No wrapped gifts are any longer stacked beneath the tree and the stockings are tucked away for the year.


Has Christmas ended?


I spend weeks before Christmas preparing for the day’s celebration. Shopping, baking, card writing, wrapping gifts, visiting friends and family, and attending Christmas concerts that begin to fill my calendar to the brim. Despite all the hustle and bustle, the wearying pace of all the weeks before Christmas, something else seems to happen as well.


I see little kindnesses exchanged between strangers in malls and grocery store lines, in greeting Salvation Army bell ringers, and mailmen in Santa hats. I see more patience here and there as people stand in Starbucks lines exchanging pleasantries. The kindnesses usually cost no money, but represent attitudes of heart and mind that I wish I saw throughout the year.


It’s true there is traffic, which can cause me to flee the mall parking lots and avoid certain streets. It’s also true that selfishness and lack of gratitude does not totally disappear. Even so, I observe a shift as the days before Christmas draw near.


I see more of us focusing on others than ourselves.


I see people looking for gifts or special ways to express care and love to others. I see some making sacrifices to make trips and travel to those living hundreds of miles away. I see people remembering those in nursing homes and hospitals they may not think of on more ordinary days.


What makes the difference we feel in the midst of the hubbub of the season?


Is it possible as many turn their focus to the birth of Jesus that His Spirit adjusts each of our hearts in some way?


I would like to think so.


Then perhaps the secret to keeping Christmas beyond December 25 is to allow Him access to our hearts each day to adjust our focus, our purpose, our attitude, and our stewardship on the other days of the year.


Perhaps we don’t need stacks of gifts and a glittering tree. Perhaps we don’t need tables laden with goodies, cards to write, or things to bake. Perhaps we don’t even need candles in windows or manger scenes on lawns to remind ourselves of Him whom we celebrate or those dear to us.


To keep Christmas every day means we keep our focus on the One whose birth we celebrate and live each day accordingly. When we do, we become more like Him. Our hearts soften, our focus clears, our choices reflect Him and His love a bit more and hope continues to flicker even during hard times and difficult seasons.


It is good to celebrate Christmas and savor each part that is dear to our hearts, but this year as so many challenges and uncertainties stack up in headlines and in our own homes, let’s keep the One whom we celebrate in clearer focus remembering once more in whom our hope lies.


Let us take comfort from the truth of the Babe who is now King and celebrate Him every day. That is how we keep Christmas!



Christmas Morn


And so it has come…


Whether you have a large Christmas tree, a small one, or none at all, Christmas has still come.


Whether you have heaps of gifts, just a few gifts, or none at all to unwrap, Christmas has still come.


Whether you are filled with joy surrounded by  loved ones, or alone and grieving, Christmas has still come.


The best gift needed no tree, but died on one so you can receive the gift of eternal life with Him.


He simply loved you that much! It had nothing to do with who you were or where you were from, whether you were rich or poor, educated or illiterate.


On this day we celebrate the birth of Jesus,


He brings you the gift of new life in Him, with Him. He wants to dwell in your heart and walk with you through life’s ups and downs. All He asks is that you open your heart to Him.


When you are given a gift, your part is to open and receive it.


I have so much enjoyed sharing His story, the Christmas story, with you these last few weeks. I pray the Lord allowed you to sense Him in a special way through the retelling of the story.


Merry Christmas!

Wise Men Follow the Lord


When I consider what we hear about the wise men, the magi, following the star, it seems puzzling to me that if the star were so evident why did Herod ask when the star appears. Was it not seen by the naked eye to other people?


Is it possible the Lord allowed a star to be seen by only the wise men possibly via an astronomical tool known to them and not others?


 Or was “the star” a sign in the heavens of the miraculous sort for their eyes alone by God’s design?


What Matthew tells us is that they left Herod and the star they had seen went before them and they followed it. This is certainly significant curiosity or interest in this sign from heaven to wise men who do not appear to have been Jews. Even so, they may have known the sign was of importance or some aspect of ancient prophecy spoke of such a sign.


The sign appears to have led them to Bethlehem and now is leading them again. Their commitment to follow where it leads is evident.


How committed am I to follow where He leads? How committed are you?


 If these wise men were astronomers, they would be aware of the constellations, the galaxies, to the extent their instruments allowed them to see.


What made this sign significant enough for them to follow it from the east?


What a testimony of who this was! Jesus was born not only in this small town of Bethlehem in seeming oblivion, greeted by lowly shepherds, but his birth brought men from other parts of the world to honor Him and acknowledge the significance of His birth who were not Israelites.


If the sign in the heavens had been visible to just anyone, certainly they would not have come alone, but as with the shepherds, God had designed and set in place those who would first see Him and then tell the news both near and far. God knew Herod was cunning, a tyrant, and the babe born in the manger needed protection from his potential schemes and designs.


But follow the star wherever it would lead them, they did. And Matthew tells us the sign led them to where it “rested” over the place where the child was. This passage does not say He was a baby, but a child. It leaves me wondering as I move on in the passage what the timeline was between the manger scene and this one because I read the wise men went into the house where they saw the child and Mary.


Carefully reading this tells me there is no reference to three wise men or even camels. Scenes depicted on cards, in plays, and in paintings of three wise men riding on three camels that arrive at the stable sometime after the shepherds have gone doesn’t exist in the text. Perhaps these were efforts of men to tie the story together between Luke and Matthew’s accounts.


The sign from God clearly spoke to the magi for when they went into the house where the child was, scripture tells us they fell down and worshipped Him. They also brought Him gifts worthy of a king, standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world.


Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh.


What do many suggest about the gifts presented?


Gold was a precious metal in those days even as it is now and symbolically it represented kingship. Frankincense was a perfume or incense, which served as a symbol of his priestly role. Myrrh was anointing oil and symbolically prefigured his death and embalming.


Some others wonder if the gifts were also a bit more practical since researchers have learned that frankincense has an active ingredient that inhibits inflammation and was used as an herbal remedy in communities of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where the trees grow that produce this aromatic resin.


The detail and symbolism God set in motion evidenced from the angel’s visit of Mary onward in conjunction with Old Testament history causes me to choose and believe the symbolical representations of the gifts.


After the gifts were presented and worship had ensued, the wise men went on their way. But it was not back to Herod to tell him they had found the child. A dream warned them of Herod and they returned to their own country.


Joseph also had a dream and was warned to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt and remain there until they were told to return home, By this time I would guess Herod had figured out the wise men were long gone so in his rage, he sent his henchmen to kill all male children two years old and under.


So I come to the end of the beginning of the Christmas message given first to Mary and Joseph, then lowly shepherds, and then wise men.


But the very best news of all is those who were entrusted with the message of the gospel did prevail and brought it to me and also to you so we might also with them more than two thousand years later glorify the King of kings and Lord of lords. 



Wise Men Follow A Star



To continue the story of Christmas, the scene must shift to the book of Matthew. His telling started with the long genealogy to share the lineage of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and give us the clear line from Abraham and Isaac. This retelling of the lineage confirms the prophecy regarding Jesus and the connection to David, but in the retelling I get caught up in the others in the lineage as well.


My memory pauses with the story of Jacob and Joseph and the turmoil in that family as well as how the Lord used Joseph to save the people of Israel. Two of my favorite stops as I read through the names are when I come to Rahab and Ruth. Here I see two women who were not themselves of the royal bloodline of the Jews. Rahab, a harlot, cooperates with God’s plan when the spies look for shelter and is given a place of honor in this royal line leading to Jesus.


Ruth, a Moabite, also is honored and “adopted” into the heritage when her hesed love causes her to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel after her husband has died. The beautiful story of Boaz and Ruth unfolds and I see God’s providence and provision for Ruth. I also see His reward to her for her faithfulness.


These stories remind me of my own grafting into His story as generation after generation of God’s own continues.


 Matthew shifts the scene after this review of the genealogy by simply stating, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king”. He brings me into the throne room of Herod in Jerusalem by letting me see Herod has visitors from the east. Wise men.


These wise men or magi have arrived seeking Herod’s help to show them where “the king of the Jews” has been born as a result of seeing “his star when it rose”. They tell Herod they have come here to worship this new king. Initially, it seems the wise men do not know that this will definitely not please Herod.


Herod assembles all of his priests and scribes together to ask them what they know about this. They share with him the prophecy that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem and that He would shepherd the people of Israel, which confirms what the wise men already know.


This is clearly not good news to Herod who recognizes this will pose a threat to his leadership and that of all Rome perhaps. He hopes to thwart that possibility of a plan he cunningly shares with the wise men.


He calls them secretly together and asks them when the star appears and then sends them off to nearby Bethlehem asking them to find this child and then let him know so he can also come and worship this new King. He hopes this scheme will work and they will find this child, soon to be king, and bring back the information he seeks so he can kill Him and neutralize the threat rather than to worship Him as he has said.


I wonder if the wise men trust and believe Herod. At this point in the story there is no evidence to say they did not.


Who were these unnamed wise men?


Magi were a name originally used for priests and wise men among the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians. I would be looking at the modern day areas of Iraq, Iran, portions of Turkey, and Armenia. Later, the name was presented to the Greeks as a foreign system of divination and the religion of a foe the Greeks had conquered.


By the time we get to the place in our story in the New Testament the magi or wise men were likely seen as astronomers and astrologers. This would fit for me if the line were traced back to the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians.


It was not the first time that God used these cultures and peoples in connection with His chosen people. Nebuchadnezzar quickly comes to mind.


What a paradox! God brings lowly shepherds and magi of another culture and faith to testify to and acknowledge the Son of God, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been born to bring good tidings of great joy!


Truly, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!