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WITNESS  

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That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes. . . (1 John 1:1)


As a pastor, one of my great joys is to encourage and train others in witnessing for our Lord. And I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Oh, I just can’t witness well at all.” To that I say, with all the love and kindness God has given me as a shepherd of God’s flock, “Nonsense!”

First, what is a witness? A witness is simply someone who has seen something. In our verse for today, John spoke of what “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes.” Clearly, John was talking about hearing and seeing firsthand the works and wonders of our Lord Jesus Christ. But you and I, who were born almost two thousand years after that time, have also witnessed a wondrous work: the miracle of a new birth in our own lives (John 3:3) . . . and that is more than enough to bear witness to others about!

When Jesus restored a demon-possessed man to full health by rebuking and removing the demons that possessed him, Jesus told the man He had healed, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). The man begged to accompany Jesus on His journey, but Jesus simply sent him home to witness to the wondrous deeds of God. Luke concluded his account of this encounter this way: “The man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39).

This man had experienced firsthand the miracle of receiving new life from Christ, and the Lord commanded him to go and witness to others about it. You and I are no different; we have experienced the miracle of a new birth, and we are now fully-qualified witnesses for Jesus Christ. We need simply to go forth and do what the formerly demon-possessed man did—tell everyone we meet how much God has done for us.

Let me ask you this: How much has God done for you? Have you experienced the miracle of new birth in your own life because you have, by grace through faith, placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life? If your answer is yes, then Christian, you are a witness, and all that is left for you to do is to go forth and tell how much God has done for you. That takes no special skill or power of articulation . . . only a grateful heart.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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LOOK AHEAD

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Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)


On Monday we took a brief “look back” to ponder the wonders that God had done throughout 2019. Today we will look ahead as we prepare to launch out into 2020.

A common greeting you will hear on New Year’s Day from those you come in contact with is “Happy New Year!” Yet if that was all we as believers had to propel us into a new year, it would be a meager portion indeed. Christians have much more than a “hopeful greeting” given to us by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. In our verse for today, we have the promise given to Joshua by God: I will be with you wherever you go.

You may remember that Joshua was preparing to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land after Moses had completed his ministry of service to God. Joshua knew quite well the challenges he would face in leading God’s people; as Moses’ protégé, he had seen just how difficult that task would be. But he also knew, just as Moses did, that he would not be alone in the work God had called him to do, for the Sovereign Lord had promised to be with him wherever he went.

And the same is true for you and me as we begin this new year. To be sure, 2020 brings both questions and concerns, doubts and fears, obstacles and opportunities. Will we receive a clean bill of health from the doctor . . . or a less than positive report on our health? Will we receive that promotion we’d hoped for . . . or find ourselves facing professional challenges? Will our marriage of many years march on for many more . . . or will it collapse? We will celebrate the birth of a child we’d prayed for . . . or suffer the loss of a loved one? The list of uncertainties is indeed endless. Yet we can hold on to something infinitely greater than a hopeful, “Happy New Year!” Why? Because we have God’s promise that wherever we go, He goes with us. This is a promise we have received time and time again in sacred Scripture.


So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)


In that promise, I want you to remember something. This “going with God” is not a going by chance. It is not a random roll of the dice. God is guiding, governing, and directing your every step. He is in sovereign control of everything; nothing is left to chance. Your God is in charge and in control of all things, so do not be discouraged. This promise strengthens us to brush aside every fear as we “look ahead” into God perfect plan and purpose for our lives throughout the year ahead.

One final point. More than 3,000 years after God told Joshua that He would be with him wherever he went, Jesus reaffirmed that promise for all His followers when He said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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LOOK BACK

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I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)


Today we close out yet another year of discovering and celebrating all the grace that God gives us for our race. Today I want to encourage you to pause and look back over 2019 to remember and reflect on the multiplied “wonderful deeds” God has done in your life. On Wednesday we will look ahead as we start yet another year, and, if God is pleased to give us this year, let us live it for His glory and the good of all others.

Someone wisely said, “It is difficult to climb to the summit of the mountain when you are always looking over your shoulder.” In many respects that is true, but I maintain that looking back is beneficial for Christian believers, so that we will be reminded of all that God has done. To be sure, it must be a brief look if we are to make forward progress throughout 2020, but make no mistake; to forgo that look would be to ignore another year of blessings that God has graciously bestowed upon us.

A look back is not the same as walking back. We cannot go back, nor should we want to. God is moving us forward into His perfect plan and purpose for our lives, even though we live it out imperfectly. We should always treat the past as a school; we are to learn the lessons from our past but not live in our past. Far too many people, Christians and unbelievers alike, live in the past, and that prohibits any measurable forward progress. But this is not for you!

Take some time today to reflect on the past year and make sure your look back encompasses both your successes and your storms. There is much to glean from both life experiences, because God has delivered both to us in order to conform us into the image and likeness of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Let your look back bring to mind God’s . . .

  • Faithfulness and Friendship
  • Discipline and Devotion
  • Mercy and Ministry
  • Love and Leading

Your brief look back should encourage you and strengthen you to set out on another year of life with Jesus sitting upon its throne, guiding you through every twist and turn, growing you through every up and down, walking with you every step of the way.

Let your look back fill your heart with wonder and love, and let it strengthen you to share that love with everyone you meet.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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POST-CHRISTMAS CONSIDERATION    

  everydayischristmas


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only . . . (John 1:14)


For many people, the first few days following Christmas are spent taking all the gifts we don’t really want back to the stores. We breathe a sigh of relief that another Christmas day has come and gone . . . even though we feel a bit guilty for feeling this way. Soon we will begin packing up our Christmas decorations and putting them away, and, in some strange way, we may sense that we are setting aside the real Reason for the season until next year.

How do we keep this from happening? It’s simple, really; we must remember that the days after Christmas are just as important as Christmas.

A little more than 2000 years ago, Jesus came into this world as a baby on that first Christmas Day. He lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and rose supernaturally from the grave. He paid the penalty for our sin and is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father. But when He ascended into heaven, He promised to send to us His Holy Spirit. All who claim the name of Christ now have the presence of Jesus in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Millions celebrated Christmas without any thought about the Christ, but for the believer Christmas is just the beginning . . . a beginning that has no end.

Our Lord Jesus came the first time (First Advent) as a suffering Servant. He accomplished His mission and paved the way for our eternal life. But that is not the end of the story! He is coming back as the conquering King, and then every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. At that time, He will consummate His Kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth, the place where we will live with Jesus and all His people forever and ever.

Consider this truth as you are packing up your decorations this year: The meaning and message of Christmas lasts throughout the entire year. We do indeed put away our lights and decorations, but we never put away our Divine Savior. Jesus is available to you every moment of every hour of every day, and He will meet you in your deepest place of need over and over again. He is hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary, healing for the hurting, and a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Remember, whatever you end up going through this new year, you will never go through it alone. When John said, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,” he was making it clear that what he saw was not something you could pack away. The glory of Jesus Christ was ever before John. May this be our truth every day until we stand before Jesus on the other side of the grave.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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LISTEN TO LINUS

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“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” – A Charlie Brown Christmas


As a little boy growing up, and still to this day as a husband and father of four, of all the television specials that have aired during the Christmas season, A Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite. When I was a boy, my mom and I would search the TV Guide (younger readers may be surprised to learn that one actually had to consult a magazine or newspaper to see what would be on TV) to see when the Christmas special would air so we would not miss it. Today, we just pop in the DVD and watch it anytime we want . . . especially during the Christmas Season.

The segment of the show that always caught my attention—and this was decades before I became a Christian—was when Linus responded to Charlie Brown’s despairing question: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus’ reply was taken directly from the King James Version of sacred Scripture:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

(Luke 2:8-14 KJV)

And with that being said, Linus picked up his blanket and shuffled off the stage. Why? Because he had said it all! That is what Christmas is all about: the Christ Child, the Babe born in a manger, God’s amazing gift of grace. Jesus is the Reason for the Season. This is the greatest Christmas present the world has ever been given. And this precious gift is available to all those who will but place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Early on in my Christian walk, I was instructed to personalize the Scriptures. Here is how you apply this instruction to John 3:16. When you come to the word “world,” insert your name: “For God so loved . . . you!” Think about it this way: God so loved you that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to die for your sins so that He could have an intimate, personal, loving relationship with you for all eternity. That’s right, with YOU!

Jesus was like no other child ever born into this world. He was supernaturally conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, as Isaiah 7:14 promised: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This would be “the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” that Linus spoke of—a babe that was God clothed in human flesh.

Jesus, that little baby in the manger, was born to die. That manger, which is so much a symbol of Christmas, always stood in the shadow of the cross, where God’s justice would be fully satisfied by God’s only Son.

Throughout the month of December, I pray that you and yours will listen to Linus and have a very merry, Christ-centered, hope-filled Christmas season. Perhaps you will take some time to share this glorious gift of hope with someone who does not yet know the real reason for this Christmas season. You will not be sharing a cleverly invented story, like the ones created by Dickens or Dr. Seuss, as charming as they are; you will be declaring the irrefutable truth of the Good News of the birth of a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” That’s what Christmas is all about: that God so loved you.

From the Boland family to yours: We wish you a very merry, Christ-filled Christmas!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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ADVENT IV – LOVE

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)


Today I will present the fourth and final message of this series of articles on Advent; it focuses on love. What begins with waiting, advances through preparation, and results in the experience of great joy is rooted in the love of God in Christ Jesus. God is love. God created love. And God loves us with a love that is difficult to describe.

 

How much does God love us? So much so that He sent His Son to die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could be with Him forever. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Notice that this took place “while we were still sinners.” God did not wait for us to get right with Him. He did not wait for us to get cleaned up. He did not wait for us to “get our act together” or even to promise that we would do so some time in the future. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Now, if that doesn’t light the fire of your faith as you approach Christmas day . . . your wood is wet!

 

So what are we to do with the knowledge of this love that is so wide and long and high and deep (Ephesians 3:18) while we are waiting and preparing for Christmas to arrive? We are to rest in it and respond to it. First, to rest in this love is to rest assured that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). When Jesus said “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), He meant what He said. Nothing—not storms, not Satan, not even our own willful sin—will ever come between us and the love Jesus has for us.

 

Second, we respond to this love by sharing it with others. We love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). God loved us when we were incapable of loving Him—while we were still sinners, still actually enemies of His in our minds and alienated from Him because of our sinful thoughts and behaviors (Colossians 1:21). Our hearts were dead to him, blind to the truth of Scripture, and utterly incapable of loving Him. But because God poured His love out upon us when we were utterly undeserving and undesirous of it, we can now share that love with others. This is what is known as the greatest Commandment: loving God and loving others.

Perhaps an excerpt from the great 18th-century hymn, “And Can it Be?” by Charles Wesley, will cause some of that love to race through your heart.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

As I say so often from the pulpit, let’s go out and share this love with a lost and hurting world that desperately needs to know about the love and hope that is theirs in Christ. I hope you’ll take some time during this Advent Season to share the love of God with those around you. Invite a neighbor to your church’s Christmas Eve service. Bake someone some cookies. Write a note of encouragement to someone. Visit someone you haven’t seen in a long while. Remember, it is the primary way we are to be recognized as Christians by others: Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

 

The question that you and I need to ask of ourselves this Advent Season is this: Does everyone know that we are disciples of Jesus by our love? May this be the confession of our lives!

 

Have a blessed Christmas season, and please bless others as well.

 

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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ADVENT III – JOY  

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)


This is the third of four Advent messages I will be presenting to you. During this blessed Advent season, what begins with waiting and advances through preparation ultimately results in the experience of great joy.

 

From a biblical perspective, joy at the deepest level is something altogether different from happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances and what is going on around us, while joy is based on Christ and what is going on within us. While we wait and prepare for Christmas, we must remember that joy is an inside job, and it is always a choice for the Christian.

 

What was the “great joy” the angels promised to the shepherds? It was the coming of Jesus. Jesus is our joy. And knowing that He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, we can be assured that joy is to be a continual experience. Joy sees problems as possibilities and obstacles as opportunities. Joy sees life from God’s perspective, not our own, and when it does, we can echo David, saying, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4 ESV).

 

When the Bible speaks of the joy of the Lord, we are to understand that joy is something much more than a mere feeling. If that was not true, how in the world would we be able to experience it during the inevitable storms of loss and grief that will pass over us? Only when we understand joy as Jesus, seeing ourselves as branches in union with the vine, will we be able to experience unspeakable joy. And as we saw on Wednesday, we increase our joy during our time of preparation through time in prayer and time in the Word.

 

Here is one more thing to consider: When we consider the character of Christ, we make deposits in our joy bank. Jesus lived a sinless life for us. Jesus died a sacrificial death for us. Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead for us. Jesus is coming back from heaven for us. Jesus has loved us, eternally and unconditionally, and He has forgiven us completely. The more we consider His character, the more joy we experience in this life, regardless of whatever we may currently be facing.

 

And this brings us to our final Advent message on Monday: Love. God is love (1 John 4:16). I hope you’ll be back to join me in reflecting on His amazing love, expressed so powerfully in the birth of the baby Jesus.

 

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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