Becoming More Like Jesus This Christmas

 “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” – Romans 15:5-7

What if this Christmas brought us closer to the very heart of Jesus, and to help us have a more intimate knowledge of how His grace and love flow through us? What if during this Christmas season our hearts took the day off, and our life was governed by the heart of Christ? What if this season, His priorities govern our actions and drive our decisions and His love directs our behavior?

That scenario is what God wants. God wants you to be just like Jesus. “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:23-24). Every honest Christian knows the need for change. But how to get there? How do you move forward from struggles both big and small to become more like Him?   

The Bible teaches us that the goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus. If you want to be a person that God can use, a person who is becoming more like Jesus, then it will take time. It is going to take time spent with God. It is going to take days and weeks and months of journeying with other Christ-followers. It is going to take time to participate in God’s mission, pray for God’s heart, and obey God’s word. It takes time, but with time comes progress.

God’s desire is for you to think like Jesus so you can act like Jesus and ultimately have the heart of Jesus so you can be more like Jesus. As a Christian, we should yearn to not only know more about the Bible but to become more Christ-like to our family, friends, and people we meet. We want to see Jesus in us.  

So what needs to change in your life? God has put you on earth for a purpose, but have you discovered it yet? William Barkley said, “There are two great days in a person’s life, the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

If you are a Christian you know why and how. The question is are you open to change and transformation? We all have obstacles in life; they can be stepping stones to new heights or they can seem impossible to climb. The good news is, you can change. Jesus is in the business of changing lives.  We have heard the stories of people whose lives have been radically changed by Jesus. Their stories are about normal people, from normal backgrounds, who have decided to serve an extraordinary Jesus and developed a heart like His.  

My prayer is that you will challenge yourself in 2022 to be committed to becoming more like Jesus.  

Discussion Question:

  1. Who do your actions say you belong to?
  2. How do I judge my progress at becoming more Christ like?
  3. Pray and ask God to help you in becoming more like Him.

Wonder Of Wonders

“Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” – C.S. Lewis

No other time of the year captures our imagination as much as Christmas: God coming into the world on a dark winter’s night; a baby that would change the course of human history; the heavens bursting into song; the certain hope that God will have the last word over our sin and brokenness. This season fills our hearts with the wonder that anything is possible. The Christmas story is the story of stories.

There are mysteries that will never truly be solved. Christmas is one of those mysteries because it causes us to reflect and ponder the idea of Immanuel: God with Us. God entered the world as a baby. God entered our little corner of the universe. How do we make sense of that? 

But does the Christmas story still create wonder, or has familiarity with the story dampened our sense of wonder. It is human nature to quit examining things when we become familiar with them. We quit noticing them. We don’t get excited as we once did. The story does not create an emotional response as it once did. Our wonder starts to dissipate. 

Try something different this year. Take a time out, and intentionally spend time reflecting in reverence and wonder at the miracle of the real Christmas story.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle, set aside a half-hour to slowly and intentionally read through one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. Do your best to clear your mind and read it like you would for the first time. Flip over to Luke 2 and imagine the scene where there were too many angels to count, filling the sky singing praise to God. Or think about the Magi from the East following a star — to kneel down to a baby.

These events only happened once in human history, and they will never happen again. The love of God for humanity is painted all over Christmas.  Why would God do this for us?  God loves the unlovable, extends mercy to the undeserved, and gives the gift of grace to the unworthy.  This is truly the wonder of Christmas. How can we not be taken back by the stunningly magnificent events and truths of the birth of Jesus? How can we not be moved by the wonder of the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus? How can we not be humbled by the love God has lavished on each of us?

This Christmas season is as good a time as ever to renew our sense of awe and astonishment at the miracle of the incarnation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What aspects of Christmas brings wonder, awe and worship to your heart? 
  2. In what ways has Christmas lost some of its awe and wonder for you? What things distract you from the powerful, true story of Christmas? 
  3. What can you do this week to restore the awe and wonder of God coming to earth?  

Overcoming Obstacles

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him…they entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:1-2,11.

Everybody loves the story of the wise men. We’re told there were three wise men, that they were kings, that they came from the East, and that they found Jesus in the manger. They were true Jesus seekers who traveled long and far, overcoming obstacles and distractions, to follow God’s call on them and see the young Messiah. Though we don’t have a lot of specific information about them, there are many things they can teach us.

First, consider the journey. Traveling at that time was far different than it is today. They couldn’t just jump into a car or hop on a plane and set out and arrive later that day. Traveling was lengthy, wearying, and dangerous. We don’t know how they traveled, but the fastest way at that time was camels. Even if they took camels it would have been a lengthy trip of perhaps months. Riding on a camel is not comfortable. Desert weather often varies greatly between the heat of the day and the cold of the night. There would be storms. Towns would be few and far between.  Roads were not developed. And there were bandits lurking. The journey alone was a major obstacle.

Second, there was no guarantee of success. The wise men didn’t have a lot of data to draw from. There were no guarantees that they would find the King they were looking for. But they believed. We see evidence of this in their journey and also in verse 2 when they ask Herod “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” They were willing to sacrifice comfort and security to see and worship Him. Why? Because of faith, they overcame the second obstacle. The third obstacle was staying focused. Their journey took them to the palace, but then in the end they followed the star again and that led them to Jesus.

The three wise men overcome all obstacles to find their way to Jesus. This baby Boy born in a manger grows into a Man giving food to the hungry, health to the sick, life to the dead. He eventually dies upon a cross taking every wrong thing upon Himself that you ever could do, ever might do so you can enjoy life in all of its fullness now and life in all of its fullness for eternity. This Jesus gives us the opportunity for a personal relationship with the living God. If we persevere even when it’s hard we can make it to Jesus. God’s with us in the middle of the storms we are facing. It is so easy to miss the star and miss the way to Jesus because our focus is in the wrong place, we are looking in the wrong location or the obstacles are too much for us.

There are no obstacles that should keep us from an intimate relationship with the risen Savior. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some obstacles in your life? Are they different during Christmas?  
  2. How can the story of the wise men help us deal with these obstacles? 

Learning From The Wise Men

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” ― Matthew 7:7. 

Matthew is the only gospel that includes the story of the wise men. The wise men’s journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is described in Matthew 2:9-10: “They went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Matthew wanted to make sure people knew how happy the wise men were to find the Christ Child so he used some superlatives. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

In verse 11, we see the worship of the wise men: “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  

Many lessons can be learned from the actions of the wise men. For example, they made it a priority to pursue the Lord. These men came from a great distance to encounter the Savior. They were committed to having a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we make it a priority to pursue the Lord and spend time in His presence? Secondly, they came to worship Him. Matthew 2:2 says, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” The purpose of their journey was clear; they came to worship Him.  Hopefully, we will take some time away from the trappings of Christmas to worship the reason for the season. 

Thirdly. nothing could divert them from their mission (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with our own “King Herod” that attempts to keep us from pursuing our mission. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,” able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. May we be able to determine the obstacles that would prohibit us from fulfilling our spiritual mission as well. Fourth, the Bible tells us that these men “… returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod” (vs. 12). If you read the story again, it’s easy to see why. They were supposed to let Herod know where he could find Jesus. They knew what Herod wanted and they knew that their failure to honor his request would mean death for them. But I’d like to also think that the wise men’s lives, just like our lives, were changed after they met Jesus. Often we are desperate to go in a direction that was far more comfortable than paths God would have us follow. But genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path after we found the life-changing, life-saving power of Jesus Christ. 

The wise man sought and found Jesus as a young child. When we seek Him today, we find Him today as the living Christ, clothed with glory and honor and seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

This Christmas, may the Lord give you a fresh revelation of His love for you—love that took Him from the glories of Heaven to a dusty stable in Bethlehem…to a Cross on a Jerusalem hillside…to the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven…so that you might spend eternity with Him.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the child Jesus? What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?

Finding Peace This Advent Season

“For a child is born to us,  a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6.  

The race has begun to get everything done. Just 8 more days until Christmas. Many of us are already stressing over how we are going to get it all done in such a short time. Tree trimming, present buying, gift wrapping, card writing, cookie baking, and on and on. Peace doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.  

You’ll hear the word “peace” used all the time during the Christmas season. It’s a powerful word, in part because it’s something all of us want. We long for peace — peace with God, peace within, and peace with others. And here’s the good news of Christmas: Jesus came to Earth to give us peace. It starts with Jesus.

During advent we need to remember the words of Jesus: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Peace is not something to take for granted. Peace isn’t a place, Peace is a Person. Peace is not a place you escape to out of your everyday life, but a Person you walk with every day.

Finding peace is more than closing a door and turning on some soothing music or setting on the beach looking at the blue tranquil waters of the Gulf.  If you find doing those things to find peace, you need to connect with the only true source of peace who shows us the way to live Christlike lives.  

You are invited to know Him, the Prince of Peace. You are invited to lay down your cares for the present, regrets of the past, and fears for the future and live as a forgiven, born-again child of God. You are invited to come to Him and become an heir to His promises of hope, love, joy, and peace. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)

Finding some peace is about living a life you don’t need to run from, but living a life you want to run into. You can have peace for this holiday season if you’ll turn wholly to God. You can have peace for the upcoming year if you’ll trust wholly in Him. You can know that God goes before you to prepare the way. All you need to do is listen to Him, trust Him, and obey Him.  “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”- Colossians 3:15

 True peace can only come from knowing Jesus Christ because He is peace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think peace is talked about so much during the Christmas season but rarely achieved?
  2. How can we find peace this Advent season?  

The Real Meaning of Christmas

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” – Luke 2:15-17

Each Christmas there are people who miss out on the real meaning of Christmas; the first Christmas was no different. The Innkeeper was too busy with too many customers’ needs to have any time or place for Jesus at Christmas. King Herod tried to eliminate Christmas before it got off the ground by eliminating Jesus from Christmas. But there were people who understood the message of Christmas; the shepherds for example. 

In the Luke 2 passage, the angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

The shepherds could have sat back and thought, “Wow, we just saw angels…we will have a story to tell our grandchildren in our old age.” They could have debated over the meaning of what happened or felt pride in being the ones who got to see the heavens open up. They could have been practical and stayed with the sheep. But for them, the news was a call to action. “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 

 When the shepherds witnessed the Lamb of God, who came to save people from sin, they were dramatically changed. As they left, they no longer acted like outcast shepherds. They were changed, excited, and bold. They wanted everybody to know about the Lamb of God. It was not just the people they knew but everybody who would listen. So powerful was their testimony that people were amazed. Even after the shepherds left Bethlehem, they were praising God and glorifying His name.

We can understand the real meaning of Christmas in this one story. Christmas is about the birth of the Lamb of God. He came by the will of God, with the backing and joy of heaven. He came to be the once and for all sacrifice. He was approved by the keepers of the sacrificial lambs as being worthy of a perfect sacrifice.  You see, Christmas is the beginning of the story, which is completed at the cross.  The angels proclaimed it, and the shepherds understood the message.

So, what about you? With Christmas just around the corner, will you miss Christmas, as well?  Take some time amidst the busyness and festivities of the holiday season to slow down and really reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  The Christmas story is the most revolutionary story in the history of the world. It’s a story of God not just interacting with history or directing it, but entering into history. It’s a story of God made flesh, setting aside all His divine rights to become a helpless baby and ultimately the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  

 Discussion Questions: 

  1. We can know the story of Christmas, but completely miss the message behind it. Why does this happen? What puts us in the position of missing it? 
  2. How does the Christmas story influence the way you see God?
  3. Christmas was never meant to be an event or a season, it was meant to be a gift. Agree or disagree and why? 

Let Me Tell You Something

“After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.” – Luke 2:17

We can learn from the shepherd’s story found in Luke 2. 

Here we have a group of guys out in the clear air of night, talking, but watching over the sheep. This was not going to be an ordinary night, however: an angel appears to the shepherds. And while at first they are afraid and trembling with fear, the angel assures them, “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)  And then the sky is filled with angels, glorifying God and singing.

The shepherds decide to travel to Bethlehem to see the Savior. The Bible says that they hurried. They are excited beyond belief. All they know is that this baby is lying in a manger in Bethlehem. They search excitedly until they find the baby they seek. After they find him, they go about telling everyone they meet about what they had seen, praising God all the while.

This is a powerful point. They shared what they saw. They shared their experience. One of the most powerful tools you possess is your own personal testimony. Why? Because it belongs to you. It happened to you. It’s your story. You experienced it—and the shepherds were no different. What they saw impacted their lives in such a way that they were compelled to tell everyone about it. They didn’t hire a PR firm to craft their message or enroll in communication classes.  Their testimony was spontaneous.  The shepherds spoke from the heart and their words connected with the deepest needs of others. 

This Christmas, consider your own story. Look over the past year and ask yourself, “Where did I see God?” And then, think about who you might share your story with. Who might be blessed to hear about how God has worked in your life, whether it was extravagant or simple, whether you are still struggling or you’ve made it out of the valley. God has given each of us a story to share, and it’s as much God’s story as it is our own.

Give more than presents this Christmas. Give witness to Christ whose birth we celebrate this season.

 Discussion Questions: 

  1. Telling your story can be intimidating. What are some concerns you have about sharing your faith with people you know?
  2. Who could you share your story with this Christmas season? 

Why The Shepherds?

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” –  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Shepherds were not the cool people of their day. In fact, they were the opposite. They smelled like sheep. They slept on the ground. They didn’t live in major cities. They were required to tend their flocks outside the city gates. They made little money.  The work of shepherds was (and still is) extraordinarily difficult. They had to wrangle obstinate sheep. They had to ensure their flocks were well fed. And they had to fend off predators: wolves or even larger animals, like bears or lions. They were considered the lower rung of society. Moses and David were larger-than-life heroes, but they were not revered and remembered for their shepherding. Shepherds were so not cool in Jesus’ world.

Yet, heavenly messengers proclaimed the news about the Savior who had been born to the shepherds. (Luke 2:11). In their excitement, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see this miracle for themselves. These shepherds weren’t sent to just meet an emissary of God. They were invited to meet face to face with God Himself. What could be more important than that?

From man’s limited perspective, God was sending a group of outcasts to be the greeting party for His Son and to spread the good news of His birth to all who would listen. By today’s standards that might equate to an angelic choir appearing to a group of homeless people sleeping on the street in cardboard boxes or camped out under a highway overpass. Fortunately, God looks at the heart. It doesn’t matter to Him if someone is dressed in rags or royal robes.

The Bible says the shepherds ran to see the babe, so they didn’t have time to take a bath or change into some nicer clothes, which they most likely didn’t have anyway. They did not take detour or delay; they ran straight into the presence of the infant Messiah. 

Why would God choose the shepherds? Why would He offer this priceless privilege to those who were so unworthy in man’s eyes? We can only speculate. We are being compared to sheep throughout Scripture: “Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3). We stubbornly go our own way because we think we can manage life without the Lord. But the truth is, we are lost without Him; we are like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Ezekiel beautifully described how the Sovereign Lord searches for His scattered sheep: “I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day.”

Who better to announce the Good Shepherd’s arrival than shepherds? The message given to the shepherds on that hillside is the same message for our world today. A Savior is born. After confirming this for themselves, the shepherds spread the message to all who would listen. The task is the same for us today.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think it makes a difference who brings the message of hope?
  2. What can we do this week to further the message of hope?  

Shepherds In The Fields

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 1And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”- Luke 2:8-12.

Can you imagine being visited by an angel? Back in the mid-1990s, there was a popular TV series called “Touched by an Angel.” The show’s premise followed three angels as they quietly showed up in those big, crossroads moments of people’s lives. Only, it wasn’t until the end of each episode that the angels revealed their true nature. It was a powerful show because there is something reassuring about knowing you weren’t alone in those dark, trying times. 

Imagine you are a mechanic at a local car dealer. You are working on fixing a transmission that is slipping. You are making steady progress when an angel appears before you, hovering above the car. You are so scared you can’t move. You instinctively grab a wrench without thinking. Then, the angel speaks: “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people and God wants you to be the first to know!”

That would be something, wouldn’t it? It would be something that would be very hard to wrap your arms around. But this actually happened one night over 2,000 years ago to a group of shepherds who were just minding their own business and watching their flock of sheep in the hills of Bethlehem when an angel appeared to them in the sky. Can you imagine? What is interesting is that the shepherds believed the angel and “they hurried to the village…” (Luke 2:16) to find the Christ child.  Scripture also records after seeing Jesus, the shepherds shared the message they had received about Jesus, and everyone who heard what the shepherds had to say was “amazed” (Luke 2:17-18).

When we read this story, it’s easy to forget that these shepherds had nothing to offer Jesus.

The shepherds were not religiously polished scribes, they were not socially connected men of influence, they were not wealthy merchants, and unlike the wise men, they did not come with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They lived under the stars with only the clothes on their backs, a staff to guide the sheep, and a rod for protection.

Out of everyone God could have chosen to announce this world-changing event, He chose a group of shepherds. It’s a reminder that there’s no hierarchy in God’s kingdom. God’s plan is a simple one, yet profound in depth and scope. He didn’t choose religious scholars to announce the birth of the Messiah. He chose ordinary people whom He knew would be obedient without question.

God sent His Son Jesus to save the world – this means everyone from lowly shepherd to a powerful world leader, and everyone in between.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What can we learn from the story of the shepherds?  

The Joy Of Advent

“Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (TPT). 

Joy. It’s a short but powerful word. There are many moments of joy in our life. For many, it might be the moment of their marriage or the birth of a child. But joy is more than a moment. It is more than circumstances. 

John Piper gives one of the best definitions of joy for Christians: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.” Rick Warren adds his own definition: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”

Joy is a feeling, yes. But it’s also a confident abiding in Jesus Christ.  It’s knowing that all of our life derives from Him. But it is also the future expectation that everything is going to be okay because of Him no matter our circumstances. Throughout the Old Testament, God calls His people to joyfulness. “Then you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 26:11) When we take time to reflect on what God has done for us and offer Him our very best—in time, effort, skills, gifts—the inevitable response in our hearts is joy.

Biblical joy is different than what most people think of as joy. It is not just a happy emotion that we either feel or don’t feel, it is a state of being that finds its source in God. God’s people had joy because they anticipated a time when the promised Messiah would come and “those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.. (Isaiah 35:10). 

Today, our joy is anchored in the knowledge that God fulfilled His promise. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (Luke 2:10-11).  

It is important to remember that the joy we have in Christ is not seasonal or situational. Our joy is a response to what God has already done and continues to do. It is a kind of joy, grounded in thankfulness for the birth of Jesus Christ and looking forward toward His second coming.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What gives you joy this advent season?  
  2. How can we make joy a part of our daily lives?