Meanderings of a Minister

How Do You Prepare for Christmas?


As Thanksgiving has passed, I have noticed people in various stages of hanging Christmas lights and decorating for Christmas.  As I have watched people climb onto the roofs of their houses to hang lights, haul boxes from their storage sheds, or buying decorations at the store, it has led me to ask myself if I am also preparing for Christmas.  No, I don’t mean have I hung my lights, which I haven’t.  I also don’t mean have we gotten out our Christmas tree, which we haven’t.  What I have been reflecting about is, “How do I prepare for Christmas?”.

I know that some people will not think of lights and trees in response to this question.  Others will respond with Christmas shopping, making lists of gifts for various relatives and friends.  Still yet others will respond with baking for preparing food for various parties and get togethers throughout the Christmas season.  Others will respond with stories of rehearsing for Christmas Cantatas at church, concerts at school, or sales at their businesses.  These are legitimate preparations as well, but still not what I am talking about.

How do I get my heart in a place where I am ready to think deeply about the miracle that the King of the Universe left glory to become a man?  Actually, to become an unborn baby?  How do I prepare my mind to absorb and concentrate on the real reason for the season so that Christmas is a time of renewing my commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior as my gift to Jesus on His birthday?  How do I prepare my soul to be still and content with what God has provided?  How do I prepare my senses to notice the things of God amongst all of the glitter and glamour?

I don’t know what others will do to prepare for this, but one way I can do so is to get an Advent Devotional and spend some time, at the beginning of each day, reflecting on some aspect of the Christmas story.  Our church has produced one such devotional, but any devotional will do as long as it encourages you to spend time in the word and time in prayer.

Another way to prepare my heart for the Christmas holiday coming is to spend some time going through all of the stuff in my home and picking out some of the good stuff that I don’t use that often anymore and donating it to Stepping Stones Shelter, Center for Domestic Violence, or some other worthy charity.  It makes room in my home, but also makes room in my heart.

After thinning the overwhelming flood of things I own, another way to prepare my heart for the Christmas season is to pull out a book that I have bought, but haven’t read and actually read it.  Maybe it is a CD of music for you, or a DVD movie you bought but haven’t watched.  Perhaps it is a massager that you haven’t used or another gift that you deemed important enough not to donate, but haven’t use it.  Get it out and use it.

Another way that my family prepares our hearts for Christmas is to buy gifts for Angel Tree kids, provide shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, donate money to the Christian Motorcycle group from Trinity Faith, give toys to Toys for Tots, or some other means of giving to others so that I am reminded that Christmas isn’t my birthday, it is Jesus’ birthday.

While none of these suggestions may work for you, do something to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap that Christmas is merely a holiday from work, it is a Holy Day to worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I need to get ready for that even more than I would to see the president, queen of England, or some Hollywood star.  He is the Bright and Morning Star.  He does not have 15 minutes of fame.  He is eternally famous.  Let’s prepare to meet Him and meet with others about Him at Christmas time.


Battle of the Heavyweights
December 5, 2017, 1:52 pm
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When I was little, my Grandfather used to love to watch boxing.  We would sit in the living room and he would explain to us why this boxer or that boxer wasn’t as likely to win as the other one.  He would go into lengthy explanations about why one had the advantage and was a sure win.  Most of the time, he was right, but once in a while, a boxer would surprise him.

In Nahum 2:1-3:19, we see God speaking to the people of Israel and telling them that, although they were convinced that the strongest government on earth could not be defeated, they would be.  Although Assyria controlled the entire known world of their day, they would not stand forever.  God was trying to tell Israel to hold on to their faith in Him and He would stand triumphant.  They had to decide if they would be on His side of if they would continue to rebel and trust in their earthly masters.

This choice is the same choice that faced the Jews in the days when the announcement came that John the Baptist would be born.  They were under the tyranny of the Romans and wanted out badly.  The temple worship had been reduced to mere religious exercise and they were badly in need of a national reform and revival, but they thought that their situation was controlled by their captors.  They considered Rome stronger than any force on earth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The people thought they needed someone to throw out the Romans before they could worship God.  What they needed more than anything was for them to turn to and trust in God and stay right there and wait on Him to move.  He was moving anyway, but they needed to focus on Him to find that out.  They needed to see the power of God for what it is…invincible!

This is the same choice you and I have every day.  Do we believe God is all-powerful, or do we need to take things into our own hands?  Do we believe God is all-knowing or do we need to help Him out?  Do we believe God loves us or do we need to earn it?  From this passage, we should see that God is sufficient for all of our needs.  No matter how big the problem, mountain or situation, God is bigger.  If we will trust Him, we will be victorious in the end.

Ever Wish You Knew the Bible Better?

Have you ever wanted more out of your Bible reading, or have you ever wondered why it seems that others get so much when you get so little?  Perhaps you should do more than read.  Perhaps you should think deeply about scripture, spend time with it, replay it throughout the day, or meditate on Scripture.

I know that you might be thinking, “That is too hard or complicated!   I wouldn’t even know where to begin!”  Actually that is the very reason that Robert J. Morgan wrote the book, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation:  Find True Peace in Jesus.  Morgan’s book is like having a master walk beside the reader to help with Biblical Meditation.  The book is a treasure trove of information, inspiration, illustration, and rumination, with absolutely no condemnation for any who have not tried to spend more or more serious time in God’s Word.

Each chapter is designed to give the reader a benefit of Biblical meditation.  In the chapter, Morgan tells the reader why they should meditate on scripture and gives examples that flesh out the ideas into actual life lessons.

In addition to the chapters, there is also scattered throughout the small volume, on the green pages, specific suggestions for how to get started.  This helps to make sure that the whole process does not seem to be just for the professionals, but puts the cookies on the bottom shelf for the rest of us.

Additionally, there is a 10-day meditation guide at the back where Morgan walks the reader through the method with helpful pointers and suggestions along the way.  Each day gives the reader a scripture, context, and some thoughts to help with the meditation process.

As bonus, at the end of the book, Morgan gives the reader an additional list of scriptures so that the process can become a habit for life.

I have been meditating on scripture for years, and I found this book to be simple, yet helpful.  I found it to be inspiring without being so far above everyone’s heads to make it unreachable.  I also found it so immediately applicable and practical that there really is no reason that a person could come away from the book questioning the importance, impact, or impassable process so crucial to Christian Growth.

This would be a great book to read on your own or with your children.  It would also be great to be used in church or in a small group setting.  It could also be incorporated into a discipleship strategy for new believers, but that is only the benefit to be had outside of the reader’s heart and mind.  Inside the heart and mind, there is no way to estimate its value or exhaust its uses.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Anything Repeated Is Worth Remembering

Don't Forget

It seems like I have been in school almost the whole 48 years I have been alive.  My brother is two years older than I and he did not want to learn how to read, write or do math as my grandparents were attempting to prepare him for Kindergarten, so I learned instead.  That began a life of learning in one educational environment or another.  I learned to work jigsaw puzzles at 2.  I learned to read at 3.  I learned numbers and math at 4.  I then attended K-12th grade and went off to college.  I dropped out of college and went on active duty with the Navy where I went to a number of schools there.  I went back to college and got an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in business.  I went on to Seminary and got a master’s and a doctorate in ministry.  I finally went back to Seminary and got a second master’s degree in Church Planting.

Why do I share all of that?  To somehow impress you with my pedigree?  Hardly!  It is simply to layout for you why I know, when learning, anything repeated is worth remembering.  I cannot tell you how many teachers, professors, graduate assistants and administrators have told me that.  Even my Navy instructors told me, “If you hear it once, so what.  If you hear it twice, remember it because it will be on the test!”

What does that have to do with anyone not in school?  I am glad you asked.  Many people struggle with God’s will for their lives, but only because they have not applied this principle.  In Micah 6:8, the prophet, verbally and plenarily inspired by the Holy Spirit, told the people of Israel, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8, NASB)  First, in this verse, Micah says that the people have already been told this truth.  Search your concordance and you will not find these words verbatim, but you will find it repeated over and over throughout the Bible in many ways.

First, the Ten Commandments address this concept.  Remember the Ten Commandments?

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol…
  3. You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet…

If you look at the pattern, you see that the first four Commandments deal with walking humbly with your God.  The last six deal with doing justice and loving kindness to your neighbor.

Second, Jesus would later say all the law and prophets hang on loving God with all your heart mind soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:34-40) Third, a careful study of the Old Testament shows God punished the people when they got either one of these wrong.

What is God’s will for your life?  “To do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”  It is often repeated, you better remember it because it will be on the test.  The first and foremost way to walk humbly with God is to submit to the Lordship of His Son, Jesus.  This requires admitting to Him that you are a sinner and surrendering to His plan of dying on the cross for you.  You must give over control of your life and live out His instructions.  When you give your life to Him, you will have passed the test.  Remember…if you have ever heard this plan before, you have heard it twice now and it WILL be on the test.

Voices from the Past
May 22, 2014, 4:59 pm
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hear from one of the apostles directly?  Have you ever wondered what they might tell you?  Which would you most like to talk with?  Peter?  James?  John?  I have often wondered what it would be like to hear from Judas Iscariot.  What would he say to defend his devilish actions?  As I have researched the man, here are some things I believe he would say.

 Hello.  I am Judas Ish-Kerioth.  My name is simply Judas, the man of Kerioth.  It is in South Judah.  Joshua settled it, but no one remembers or cares about that where I am now.

I was one of the twelve called to Jesus and given powers.

I was the only one that did not come from Galilee, but I came from Judah.

Matthew gives an account of my calling in the book that bears his name in chapter 10 and verses 1-4.

I was sent out with His power-we would heal in His name.  People would make themselves unclean to see their friends healed.

I could speak Jesus’ name and demons would come out with hissing.

I was important as the treasurer – sometimes I stole from Him, but we had nothing, not His way.

Some gave to assuage guilt, some from devotion, like Lazarus and Mary and Martha.

I had it better than you.  You worship someone you only read about, an invisible Lord, but I walked and talked and ate with Him.

I thought He was a conquering king, but I soon began to doubt it.

I couldn’t argue with miracles:  Peter on the water and the 5000 fed, why did he not bless $?

I was the only one from Judah and I just knew I would be the minister of finance and second in command, if only he would set up His Kingdom like He was supposed to.

In Matthew’s book 22:15-22 Jesus talked to us and I knew He was not going to exert His Kingdom without being forced.

Psalms said His heal would not be bruised.  I came up with my own plan.  Lots of people here do.

What made me snap?  Matthew tells of it in 25:17-25.  He had embarrassed me in front of these hicks and fishermen.  Next, he instituted the Lord’s supper, but my plans would change that.

I sold him for 30 pieces of silver, the common slave price of the day.  I had more than that in the purse, it wasn’t the money, but a plan to make Jesus be Who He was to be.

My plan was better than a broken body and spilled blood.  But; alas, all I do is get to remember now.

The rest of the story?  Very well.  He went to the garden.  I knew He would.  He could have sent word, but He did not.  I got the authorities.  I promised a sign because Jesus was just like us.

I kissed Him on the cheek.  He didn’t rise up.  They tied Him up, He did not rise up.  They abused Him, He did not rise up.  The rest fled, one naked, I stayed because I was out of danger.

I realized He was not going to rise up when He entered the High Priest’s courtyard.  I knew what they planned and He was going to let them do it!  The only thing good about me in Matthew’s book is found in 27:1-5, but it was too late.  I didn’t get it!  I was bereft of hope, so I killed myself.

The last thing I remember is closing my eyes to the thoughts, “what have I done?”  I opened them and I was here.  Where is here?  Hell!

Fire, worms, darkness, stench, fear, sounds, pain, separation from God, remembrance of the same story every day of how I could have spent eternity with Him, but thought I had a better plan.

I would not surrender to Him, but wanted to use Him for my gain.

If I can leave you with one last thought…Don’t come here!  In Hell, there is no party!  The devil is not in charge here!  There is no rest in Hell!

I could have been there, but I am here because I could not get the gospel, good news, from my head to my heart.  Don’t you make the same mistake!

What’s that?  Oh yeah…I have to go tell the story again.  I have been here for 2000 of your years, but this is forever!  This is forever!

Bye!  Hope I never see you again!

How Do You Get There From Here?
May 15, 2014, 4:56 pm
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What Are You Standing On?

This morning, I was reading out of 2 Chronicles 12-16 and read about a king of Judah that does not get mentioned often.  His name was Asa.  He was described as a good king who followed God with all of his heart.  He tore down the shrines used to worship other “gods”.  He cleaned up the spiritual landscape of Judah.  He enjoyed ten years of peace as God protected him from the nations surrounding them because of his faithfulness.  As a matter of fact, God delivers Asa from the Ethiopian army, numbering over 1,000,000 and protects Asa in response to Asa’s faithfulness.

One day, Azariah, another little known figure from the Old Testament, a prophet, tells Asa “the Lord is with you when you are with Him.  And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (2 Chronicles 15:2b, NASB)  Asa responded to this prophecy by redoubling his efforts to lead his nation to the worship God.  He restored the altar in the temple, destroyed more of the places and items used for worshipping other “gods”.  He led the people to swear an oath to follow God with all of their hearts.

In the middle of the glowing description of Asa, there appears a crack that is the pivot point from faithful to faithless.  2 Chronicles 15:17 says, “But the high places were not removed from Israel; nevertheless Asa’s heart was blameless all his days.”  In other words, Asa began to pull himself back from leading others into faithfulness and simply retreated within himself and made his faith in God private and personal. Where did that lead?

In 2 Chronicles 16, Asa is challenged by Baasha, king of Israel (the other ten tribes of the nation Israel that had split off from Rehoboam and followed Jeroboam).  What does he do?  He offers money to the king of Aram to defend himself and his nation instead of turning to God for deliverance and protection as he had always done in the past.  From there, he actually throws Hanani (a prophet) in prison because he corrected Asa’s lack of trust in God.  He goes from that to a disease that takes his life.

How did Asa get from Biblical superhero to Biblical superzero?  In reading the passage, it would seem that the pivot point is when he begins to separate his faith from this leadership.  It is when he turns from thinking of his job to lead others to God and hold them faithful to God to thinking that his faith was his and his only and that he needn’t worry about leading others to that end.

As I think about this reality, I am challenged to think about how we have seen this very same thing happen in our nation.  2 Chronicles 16:9 describes Asa’s foolish past as well as our own as a nation.  It says, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.  You have acted foolishly in this.  Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.”  We used to follow God.  All of our laws were based upon God’s laws.  Our values were based upon His Word.  Now, we go with public opinion polls.  We have turned away from God for our protecting and provision as a nation.  Our nation has done so only because our state has done so.  Our state has done so only because our city has done so.  Our city has done so only because our families have done so.  Our families have done so only because we have done so.  We have turned from leading others towards God to making our faith personal and private and we are losing the war.

How did we get here from where we used to be?  The same way Asa did.  How do we get back?  Repent.  Turn back to God as individuals.  Lead our families back to God.  Lead our city to God.  Lead our state to God.  Lead our nation to God.

Asa died a diseased shell of his former self.  Will we?

Heaven Is For Real…the Book and Movie Aren’t

Heaven if for Real

Judging from the numbers, and the testimonies I hear from many people I know, many Christians are going to see the movie, Heaven Is For Real.  I suspect this is because they may have also been one of the 7 million copies the book sold.  Let me say upfront that I am not against reading Christian books.  I own about 4000 of them in my library.  I will also say that I am not an expert on “near death” experiences.  When someone has one of these experiences, I want to measure their experience against God’s revealed Word.  If the vision or experience aligns with God’s Word, then I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If not, then I am forced to go with God’s Word and realize that they are either mistaken, deluded, or attempting to delude others.

Now, as to the book and movie, Heaven Is For Real…

First, the synopsis of the book is that a four year old son of a Wesleyan minister has a near fatal illness in 2003 and supposedly got to visit Heaven.  The book is a series of conversations between the father and his son about what the son experienced during this visit.  Before we even look at comparing the accounts of heaven with what the Bible has to say, we are left with asking if there is even a Biblical precedent for a person getting to go to Heaven and come back.  One might be able to attempt to make a case for this when Jesus, on the mount of transfiguration, encountered Moses and Elijah.  Surely that means that someone (Moses and Elijah) could go to Heaven and come back.  This is very different than a person living here going there and coming back as it is someone living there and coming back here for a specific purpose.  This could also be argued for Samuel’s return when the witch at Endor summoned him at Saul’s request.  I am not willing to let this part of the argument derail us from greater consideration of that described, so I am willing to say that it does not appear Biblical, but I wouldn’t die for the stand.

Next, we have to consider the descriptions of Heaven that the little boy gives, the book reports, people pay for when purchasing the book or tickets to the movie.  For instance, the boy says that he was given a set of wings and a halo, but did not like them because they were too small.  In other words, upon dying (or coming close to it), the little boy became an angel.  This is the stuff of cartoons that a four year old might watch, but it not part of the Bible.  Angels are a created order of beings that existed long before man was created.  People do not become angels.  They are what they are and we are what we are.  Angels are also mighty, terrifying creatures.  When angels show up, people freak out (unless they are prevented from realizing it is an angel).  A little boy given a set of wings that even he said were too small would hardly produce this effect.  People do not become angels, so the story is not Biblical.

In addition, the boy complained about his wings and halo because they were too small.  What is a halo?  The halo was the impressionistic artistic expression of the glory of God being upon someone and was usually depicted by the issuance of light from someone’s head.  This was not meant to be understood as a literal, golden halo, but that is what the boy said he was given.  And on top of that, when he was given it, he was not pleased because it was not big enough.

A halo that is not big enough to make the boy happy means that Heaven is a place where God wants to do nice things for people, but either does not know what to do, or how to do it to their satisfaction.  Another way of saying this is that, in Heaven, God exists to serve the people there and, since He did not do well enough, the boy was not happy.  Does this match up with the Biblical description of Heaven?  Does this match Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 with all of Heaven focused on God and His Glory filling the place?  Does it match Ezekiel’s vision of the living creatures and all of Heaven worshiping God?  Does it match Paul’s vision of the third Heaven which was given to humble him?  Hardly!  Does it match John’s vision of Heaven in the Revelation with all of Heaven focused on God?  Nope!

With even just these few examples, it should be clear to see that the book, Heaven Is Not For Real, may be an entertaining book that challenges us to think more deeply about Heaven, but we should not promote it to our friends as truth, but maybe as a means of engaging them in conversations that take them to the Bible for answers.  I am not saying don’t go see the movie, but simply to examine the movie using the Bible as the authority.