Listen To Linus!

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

As a little boy growing up, A Charlie Brown Christmas was my favorite Christmas special. It still is to this day, now that I am a husband and father of four. When I was a boy, Mom and I would search the TV Guide to see when the special was on so that we wouldn’t miss it. Today, we just pop in the DVD and watch it whenever we want, which we do frequently during the Christmas Season.

Long before I was a Christian, my heart was always touched when Linus responded to Charlie Brown’s plaintive plea, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus’s answer was taken straight from the pages 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’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown: the birth of the Christ Child — the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Jesus is the Reason for the Season. He is the greatest Christmas present the world has ever received, a gift so glorious that the angels in heaven burst forth into joyous song.

May we rejoice in having received this indescribable gift, by grace through faith, and may we respond by sharing God’s great gift of love with others . . . because, after all, that’s what Christmas is all about.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. From the Boland family to yours: May your day be filled with the transforming power of the glorious good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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ADVENT, Part Four: Love

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)

What begins with waiting, advances through preparation, resulting 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!

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 sin so that we can 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 the Scriptures emphasize that Christ died for us “while we were still sinners.” God did not wait for us to get right with Him. He did not wait for us to clean up our lives. He did not wait for us to “get our act together.” He demonstrated His love for us while we were still sinners. Christian, 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 amazing love of God, a love so high and long and wide and deep (Ephesians 3:18), while we are waiting and preparing for Christmas to arrive? It’s simple . . . yet profound. We are to rest in God’s love and respond to it. First, to rest in His love is to rest assured that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:23). 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 sin – can come between us and the love that our God has for us in Christ Jesus.

Second, to respond to God’s love is to share 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 – and when we were separated from Him and alienated from Him. Because God has poured out His love on us, we can go forth and share that love with others. This is what is called the Great Commandment: loving God and loving others.

During this Advent Season, I hope you’ll take some time to share the love of God with those around you. Invite a neighbor to your Christmas Eve service. Bake some cookies for someone. Write a note of encouragement to someone. Visit someone you have not seen in a long while. Remember, love is the primary way we are to be recognized 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 needs to be answered by all of us this Christmas Advent Season is this: Does everyone know that we are disciples of Jesus by our love? May this be the confession of our lives.

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

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ADVENT, Part Three: Joy

The angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10)

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, but true joy is rooted in Jesus 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. We can choose to live in joy . . . or in something less.

What was the “great joy” that the angel promised to the shepherds? It was the coming of Jesus. Jesus is our joy. And since we know that He has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), we can be assured that joy is to be a continual experience. Joy sees problems as possibilities. Joy sees obstacles as opportunities. Joy sees life from God’s perspective, not our own, and when it does, we can echo David and exult, “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 it as something much more than a simple feeling. If joy was only a sensation, how in the world would we be able to experience it during those inevitable storms of loss and grief that come our way? It is only when we understand joy as Jesus, and see ourselves as the branch in union with Jesus the vine, that we will be able to experience unspeakable joy. And, as we saw on Wednesday, our preparation will increase our experience of joy through the time we spend in prayer and in His Word.

Here is one more thing to think about: 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 grave for us. Jesus is coming back from heaven for us. Jesus has loved us unconditionally and forgiven us completely for all eternity, and the more we consider His character, the more joy we will experience in this life, regardless of the circumstances we are currently facing.

And this brings us to our final Advent message on Monday: Love.

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

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ADVENT, Part Two: Preparing

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

Today is the second installment in our series of Advent messages: PREPARING. And it makes sense, does it not? While we are waiting, we should be preparing for what we are waiting for. No one just plants seeds in the garden and sits back to wait for the harvest to come in. They plant, water, nurture, and prepare in every way in order to maximize the harvest that will come in the fall.

So how should we prepare for all we are waiting on from our Lord?

SIMPLIFY

Life is full of distractions and countless voices vying for our attention. Those voices amp up during the Christmas season, with one advertisement after another hawking the latest products to enhance our lives. It’s easy to forget the reason for the season when we are so busy being busy!

So how do we simplify as we are preparing in our waiting for Christmas? We emulate the way of our Lord in two vital areas of our lives.

Prayer

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

No one lived a busier life than our Lord Jesus Christ, yet He made sure that His life was saturated in communion with His Father in heaven. Jesus continually retreated to pray; we read that there were times when He would spend an entire night in fervent prayer. Notice that Jesus went to prayer early, before the demands of the day encompassed Him, and He went off to a solitary place to minimize distractions. Is this the confession of your life?

WORD

“It is written . . .” “It is also written . . .” “For it is written . . .” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10)

When Jesus was battling against the temptations of the devil during His wilderness experience, He fought back and conquered the tempter with the Old Testament Scriptures, which was all men had at that time. In order for Jesus to continually quote the Scriptures, He had to know the Scriptures, and to know the Scriptures, He had to be meditating on and marinating in them. Is this the confession of your life?

One of the best ways to prepare for Christmas is to simplify our lives, and the very best way to simplify is to go regularly to our Lord in prayer with the Bible in hand. Our God has promised us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Let us commit to prepare our hearts for Him.

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

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ADVENT, Part One: Waiting

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14)

I am planning to use the next four blog posts leading up to Christmas Day to focus on Advent. Many churches use the four weeks leading up to Christmas to focus on the real meaning of the season. The word advent means “coming” – that time of expectant waiting and preparation for the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as the babe in a manger . . . and His second coming as the conquering King of kings.

Today we will sharpen our focus on WAITING. I have never been good at waiting. As a child, the hardest thing for me was waiting for Christmas Eve, when each of the Boland children would be allowed to open one of our Christmas presents that lay so tantalizingly under the tree. After we completed that family tradition, I had to endure the long night of tossing and turning, “counting sheep,” and waiting for the sun to come up one that one day I had waited every day of the year to arrive.

Waiting today is just as difficult as it was for me as a child, for a variety of different reasons. Impatience is deeply ingrained in my sin nature. I have to keep reminding myself that waiting is one of God’s great graces in our lives, because waiting is a big part of God’s perfect plan for each one of us to mature us and grow us up in our faith.

What have you been waiting for from God this year? The prophet Isaiah said, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV). Clearly, Isaiah was talking about the Source of our power. When you picture the eagle in flight, you see that he is completely dependent upon the Lord, who has given him wings and the unseen currents of air on which he soars.

To wait upon the Lord is to live a life of dependence and trust in a power infinitely greater than our own. It is to trust God even when we cannot trace Him. It is to know that God’s will often requires waiting. And how are we to wait? We are to wait expectantly, filled with confident hope, knowing that whatever we receive from the hand of our God is always what is best for us, and it always does its best work in our lives when it comes to us in God’s perfect timing.

So as you are waiting for Christmas this year and waiting on your God to answer your prayers, let the unseen currents of life’s pressures, challenges, and difficulties lift you higher and higher, knowing that your strength is being renewed by your Redeemer . . . day by day and moment by moment. 

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

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The Seduction of Stuff

He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:22)

The “stuff” of this life can blind us to what matters most, especially to our intimate, personal relationship with our Savior. The Bible relates the heart-wrenching story of a rich young man who had an unsettling encounter with Jesus Christ. So important is this story that we find it in all three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

A man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:16-22)

This man had what most people want. He had money and possessions. He had social status. He had an education. He had his youth. In the eyes of the watching world, this rich young man had it all! But deep down in his heart, he knew there was still something missing that all the stuff in this world could never satisfy. At the end of the story, we learn that what he did not have was the one thing he really needed: a Savior.  

The young man could not see his own sin. He claimed to have kept the law, yet, we know he actually had broken every commandment, starting with the first: “You shall have no other gods before me.” His stuff was his god, and his stuff had blinded him to what he needed most. Surely when he was speaking with Jesus about the commandments, he should have recalled verses from the Old Testament Scriptures:

There is no one who does not sin. (1 Kings 8:46)

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 103:3)

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

Jesus pierced the man’s misplaced confidence and went straight to the heart of the matter: “Sell your stuff and follow your Savior!” It is important to understand that this is not a command to every Christian. Many who follow Jesus have great wealth; they understand that the reason they have this wealth is to witness to the One who has given it to them. You may remember that Zacchaeus offered to give half of his money away (Luke 19), and Jesus was pleased with this response.

You see, Jesus knows exactly what we all need. He knew that the stuff this rich young man possessed had lured his heart away from a personal relationship with his Savior. What had given this man such great social status — wealth — stood in the way of a saving relationship with Jesus. If the rich young man had let go of his stuff, he would have received unimaginable riches in his Savior (Ephesians 3:8). And along with that, he would have acquired a new family with whom to share what matters most in life: the love of God and the God of love.

Is there anything standing in the way of your right relationship with your Savior? Remember, it is never what you possess, but what possesses you.

One final thought: I don’t believe this young man went away sad just because he had great wealth. He loved his great wealth; if he hadn’t loved his stuff so much, he would have been willing to set it aside. The gospels are telling us that he went away sad because he was choosing to walk away from the only thing he truly needed: the love of Christ.

This account reminds me to heed the exhortation from the letter to the Hebrews:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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

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Your Trust Account

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. (Psalm 24:1)

Did you know that you have been given a trust account? Everything you have you have received from God – your gifts, your talents, your abilities, your relationships, your opportunities, your resources – EVERYTHING! All that you have is a gift from God, and it has all been entrusted to your care and management. The term for this is stewardship; a steward is one who oversees the affairs and assets of another. Because God owns it all, we are given the responsibility to steward and care for all we have received from Him.

David, who was inspired by the Spirit of God to write Psalm 24, knew this truth well. He understood that God owns everything, and that he, David, was simply the steward over whatever God had given to him. Here is the way for you and I to look at it: It was God’s before it was yours, and it will still be God’s after you are gone. God will simply loan all of it to someone else to steward for His glory and the good of human flourishing.

When God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He entrusted all of His creation to their care. The first job for mankind was to manage and steward all that God had given to them, and that role Adam and Eve were privileged to live out has never been rescinded.

Even after the fall, we are still given the responsibility to take care of all God gives us. We are to treat everything we have as a trust, because God has entrusted it to our care. Here is an important point to keep in view: The wisdom of the world says, “If we don’t own it, we won’t take care of it!” But the Word of God says, “Because He owns it all, we must take the best possible care of it!” And the more we have been given, the more we are in debt to the One who gave it to us, and the more responsible and accountable we must be for how we care, manage, and steward it.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

How are you doing at managing the trust account God has given you? Are you using it all for God’s glory and the good of others to expand the cause of His kingdom? Do you need to make changes in any area of your life? The key to living as God’s steward is to live in the light of eternity and to see life from God’s perspective throughout the brief span of time we have been given on this side of the grave. When we do that, we can be assured that one day we will hear those two most remarkable words from our God: “Well done!”

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

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The Limitation Of The Limitless

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)          

When we think of God, we think of the omniscient, omnipresent God who is also omnipotent — the all-powerful One who can do anything. But did you know there are some things God simply cannot do? Let’s take a look at the limitation of the Limitless One.

Skeptics like to ask, “If God is all-powerful, can He create a stone so heavy He cannot lift it?” To which someone rightly replied, “Yes. Then He would pick it up anyway!” Clearly, it’s a silly question; When skeptics ask this, they are posing a logically incoherent question, equivalent to asking, “Can God create a square circle?” What they are attempting to do is throw doubt into the mind of the believer, similar to Satan’s sly insinuation in the Garden: “Has God really said . . . ?” If God cannot create a stone that He cannot lift — or if He cannot lift what he created — then God is not all-powerful. So goes the reasoning, such as it is.

To be sure, for God to be God, He must be all-powerful. Yet there are some things He simply cannot do.

  • God cannot act contrary to His character and nature.
  • God cannot leave a promise unfulfilled; He cannot lie.
  • God cannot change.
  • God cannot allow sin to go unpunished.

You see, there is nothing outside of God that can limit Him. This is what the word sovereign means when it is applied to God. He is absolute in power and authority; there is no external force that can act on God or limit Him in any way. But God can and has limited Himself, and He has done this for His glory and our eternal good. The fact that these limitations are voluntary, not a result of some outside force in the universe, makes it abundantly clear that God Himself has set limitations to His own limitlessness.

Why should this matter to you and me? Simply because we can always count on God to be who He says — He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. You see, God is not like us; He cannot act contrary to His nature and character, something which you and I do quite often. God cannot lie, meaning we can take Him at His Word. God cannot change, which means we can trust in His amazing love for us always. And God cannot allow sin to go unpunished, so He sent His son to pay the penalty for our sins. The limitation of the Limitless One is a source of cosmic comfort for every Christian believer.

One final point: God cannot make wrong right. Yet God has promised to take all the wrong that has been done to us in this life and work it together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:29). God is conforming us into the image and likeness of His Son Jesus, and He has imposed limits on His limitlessness in order to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Let this truth set you free today.

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

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His Pain . . . Our Gain!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Growing up in the competitive world of athletics and later inside martial arts dojos (schools), I became quite familiar with the saying, “No pain, no gain!” The phrase simply means that training for athletic performance is often difficult and painful, but without that pain, we will never make any significant improvement (gain). The concept makes sense, and it is indeed true. However, when it comes to our salvation, it is only through His pain that we receive our gain. But “His pain” might not actually be the pain you are most likely to think about.

The 2004 movie The Passion of The Christ depicted in graphic, moment-by-moment detail the gruesome, agonizing nature of the crucifixion of Jesus: the beatings, the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the nine-inch nails. It was a terrible way to die, the most dreadful form of torture devised by the sinful mind of man at that time. We get our English word excruciating from the Latin cruciare—to crucify. Victims of crucifixion might hang on the cross for days before succumbing to asphyxiation. And the scourging that preceded crucifixion was so brutal that some died without ever hanging on the cross.

But has it ever struck you as odd that when you read the gospel accounts, there is very little said about the physical pain our Lord endured? The four gospel writers record our Lord’s ordeal rather matter-of-factly:

When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Matthew 27:35)

When they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:20)

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. (Luke 23:33)

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes. (John 19:23)

I believe there are two primary reasons for the lack of details regarding the physical pain Jesus suffered. First, there were thousands of unfortunates who endured the agony of the crucifixion process during the first century. Remember, Jesus was crucified between two criminals who were suffering similar physical pain. Second, and most importantly, the most painful part of the crucifixion experience for Jesus was not physical, as terrible as that must have been. No, Jesus’ worst suffering was spiritual, which He expressed by His despairing cry, quoting Psalm 22 while He hung on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Jesus uttered these words during the three hours of darkness that covered the land, a picture of the judgment and cosmic abandonment Jesus endured while paying the penalty for our sin. Here is an unimaginable agony that no one has ever experienced: the pain of enduring the wrath of God the Father poured out on God the Son as punishment for the penalty of the sins of all those men, women, and children who have ever and will ever put their trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life.

That was the greatest pain . . . the greatest suffering . . . the greatest torture . . . and it was all for our gain. Remember, Jesus endured all this pain and punishment and terror so that you and I will never have to. His pain . . . is our gain. Let that truth set you free to be all God is calling you to be.

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

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The Greatness In All Of Us

“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

The disciples who walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus and served alongside Jesus often found themselves arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. While walking along the road to Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, and they were embarrassed to answer Him. They knew that what they were arguing about – greatness – was silly, shallow, and shortsighted.

Now, it is not wrong for disciples of Jesus to be ambitious and industrious, as long as it is God who is getting the glory. But what those first-century disciples were missing was where greatness is found. It is not found in accomplishment or achievement or advancement; rather, greatness is only found in service to others. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for others (Matthew 20:28). The disciples wanted position, power, and prestige, when they should have been praying for the privilege of increasing their service in the lives of others.

The key that unlocks the power in today’s verse is to remember who was correcting the disciples’ misguided motivations: our Lord Jesus. The people of God were expecting a conquering king to free them from the oppression of Rome, but Jesus came as the Suffering Servant, who would free them from sin, Satan, and death. On Good Friday, Jesus provided the ultimate act of service for all the world to see as He laid down His life to secure our salvation.

Jesus cared nothing for position, power, or prestige; His passion was to conquer our last enemy: death. And He did exactly that on the morning of the third day after His crucifixion, when He walked out of the grave alive and well as the Savior of the world. That is the picture of greatness. Jesus is the only person who was ever truly great, and all of His greatness shone most brightly through His sacrificial service to save us all from the penalty of our sins.

So . . . have you been demonstrating the greatness that is deep within you through your sacrificial service in the lives of others? Where the world teaches success at the expense of others, the Bible makes it clear that true success comes only in the service of others. Is this the confession of your life today? If it is, then you are great in the Kingdom of heaven! And you will prove that greatness, not by shouting it to the world, but by showing it through your service to others.

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

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