Pre-existing conditions are interesting in my line of work. Officially, my friends at Google let me know that this term simply means any condition for which the patient has already received medical advice or treatment prior to enrollment in a new medical insurance plan.

January starts a new year, and we come into each new year with ideas of how we hope to obtain some changes in our lives. Some people make reachable objectives. Some people make unrealistic objectives. Some have hoped for years these changes that they finally decide to stop making resolutions. Personally, the last few years I have tried to set the bar just out of reach to stretch myself, and I am just stubborn enough to make sure I stick to my guns. Historically, I have failed so many times in attempts to keep resolutions.

Newness and change can be difficult to obtain. Sometimes because we are comfortable. Sometimes because we have decided we can never be better. Sometimes because people have told us that we cannot change.

This past weekend I was preparing to teach a Sunday School lesson on forgiveness, and the lesson has been cemented in my brain. The lesson focused on Stephen. Stephen was a good dude. His mission for the church was to serve. He was not looking for any glory or recognition, he just wanted to be available to help. Stephen was awesome. His story is very brief in the Bible, but the impact is eternal.

Stephen had no fear. He was emboldened by the Holy Ghost residing inside of him. He stood up in the face of persecution, and declared the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The result was devastating…

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58-60 ESV)

Stephen was a better man than me. As he is being murdered, he has nothing in his heart but forgiveness.

It is not long after this story that we see the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Saul learns that he has been persecuting the very followers of God Almighty. Saul was changed. He changed from that moment, and then was the catalyst to changing the entire world as we know it.

The thought that I cannot get out of my mind is the forgiveness that the Apostle Paul had already received from Stephen. “The young man Saul” did nothing to stop the murder of Stephen. He was a willing participant. The Lord placed some downtime in Saul’s life. He was blinded by the Lord, had to wait on the messenger from God, and follow his instructions prior to receiving his sight. I have no idea how long it took for Ananias to reach Saul, but I imagine that Saul/Paul spent a lot of time contemplating the horrors he had brought into people’s worlds. The lives he had taken. The families he had broken apart.

In my mind, he arrived to Stephen, and he strained to remember the last words from this precious saint of God… Lord, do not hold this sin against Saul… He does not know you like I do.

Saul was forgiven before he even wanted it, or needed it.

Paul realized these pre-existing conditions were deadly. An individual that walked through life unforgiven and unforgiving was destined for eternal death. He reported in Romans that everyone had sinned and come short of the glory of God. He also knew that our pre-existing sin condition had already been covered. Pre-existing conditions did not disqualify us from receiving the care that we so desperately need.

Jesus Christ was the initial role model for Stephen.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus knew that we would make so many really dumb mistakes and allow sin to overtake our lives, but he provided a caveat for our pre-existing conditions.

Regardless of how many countless times we have tried to rise above the mess, and made countless resolutions that have not been successful, we now have the opportunity to truly start over… fresh and clean. We qualify for his perfect care, because he forgave us.

Today is a new day. Be a forgiver. We have all been forgiven.

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Is anyone ever really completely prepared for Christmas? I know people put so much time and energy into their preparations. Some people coat every inch of their yards and houses in lights, and inflatables. Some people put their Christmas tree up prior to Thanksgiving. Some people knock all of their Christmas shopping out on Black Friday, while others start purchasing present as soon as Christmas is over and things are marked down.

Others wait until Walmart is about to be closing early on Christmas Eve to accomplish anything…

People make all kinds of preparations, and unfortunately, we still forget some things. Santa Clause forgot to bring the 10 AA batteries that I needed to make Griff’s laser tag work. We also took batteries out of another toy (that Griff has forgotten) to ensure that one of the toys Santa left under the tree was operational. Some times it does not matter how much preparations are made, we can still have some unexpected things occur.

Enter Mary.

The Gospel according to Luke informs us that Mary was the favored one. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and turned her world upside down.

And the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…” (Luke 1:30)

Mary was not a random girl. The angel of the Lord did not appear by accident. Angels were sent by God Almighty, and had specific purpose everywhere they went. Mary had found favor in the eyes of God. This one individual out of every other woman in the world was approached by God to assist him in performing his will.

I cannot imagine being in her shoes. Mary had done everything right. She was prepared. She was favored by God. She had made good decisions in her life. She was pure. I know she was probably taught all of her life that if you do the right thing, good things will happen for you. She was looking forward to a life with Joseph, and she knew she was destined for a quiet life in Nazareth… She had prepared… Her world was about to turn upside down.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus… (Luke 1:31)

Really God? I have tried my entire life to please you, and you say I have found favor in your site. My reward is an unplanned pregnancy? A pregnancy that should not be happening because I am not even married yet? You realize I could be accused of all kinds of sin, and even be put to death if someone catches wind of this? What will my parents say? What will Joseph say? How will I ever be able to walk through my community again?

These were not Mary’s responses to God, but they probably would have been mine. She had made so many preparations. She had dreams. She had desires. Everyone does. All of that came to a halt with this news from God. Obviously God did not make a mistake with Mary. Instead of questioning God, she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Mary had already determined for her life that she was going to follow the leading of the Lord at all cost. She had resigned herself, and had made herself completely available to the Lord. God Almighty was birthing something in her that was going to change her world and every single person that had or would be born.

I am not sure exactly what God is trying to do in my life. I know he is leading me, and there are times that I can become anxious with what I know the Lord may be requiring of me. I can try to prepare as best as I know how, but there are times that I am unsure if I can carry out what the Lord may ask of me.

Christmas is not just a season of giving. It is a season of preparation. A season to make room in your world for Christ to enter. Mary had made preparations all of her life, and found favor with God. If your like me, your Christmas preparations may happen in the last minute, and you may not have been as perfect as Mary. The goal is simple and remains the same for both Mary and us. Christmas is about preparing, and allowing Jesus Christ to enter and change us and the world around us.

I am exceptionally protective of my domain. I have attempted to be the king in my world for as long as I can remember. As a child, we would play king of the dirt pile, the float in a pool, or the fort (because boys do not have play houses). As I grew up my brothers and cousin would race down the ski slopes, compete in an assortment of activities in the front yard, or anything else we could find in which to compete. Cheating might have entered in the picture. The phrase “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin” has been uttered plenty of times in the course of my life time.

This sounds horrible. I can accept this dilemma. My wife and the rest of my family still cannot accept a win by me without accusing me of blurring the lines at times. I want to win. I want the glory of victory. I am a horrible loser. I have been known to accidentally turn off the game console in the moments leading to a loss, or informing someone that a best of three, or five, or seven was necessary to truly name a winner.

I have mellowed slightly.

I know some of this may be humorous, but this Christmas it has me thinking seriously about winning at all costs. I found a character involved in the Christmas story that was jealous, and needed to win at all cost. No rule was sacred.

A king is not used to sharing power. They are not used to acquiescing to someone else’s authority. It is their way or the highway.

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him… Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2: 3, 16-17)

The kingdom was threatened. His kingdom was under attack. He reacted. Nothing was going to take his kingdom from him. He was in charge, and refused to be overthrown. Can you imagine the pain and sorrow that spread throughout the city of Bethlehem, the region, and the entire country? I am sure this was not the first rash decision that this sovereign had made. Herod was not going to let anything bring his kingdom down, and it did not matter who all was devastated to make that happen.

Contrast this with the story of Saul. Saul was highly religious. He had made a name for himself in the community of hypocrites. He had lied to himself long enough that he was holy enough to take someone’s life. He was responsible for the murder of Stephen, a man that was a living testimony of the power of Jesus Christ. The kingdom Saul had been a part of began to crumble when Jesus Christ arrived on the scene. The very fiber of the religious kingdom that Saul was devoutly loyal to was in protection mode. If their kingdom was threatened they were comfortable lying, cheating, and killing to protect themselves in the name of God.

Both men were willing to kill or do whatever necessary to protect their kingdoms. Their reaction to the revelation of Jesus Christ, though, had no strain of similarity. Herod annihilated an untold amount of children. Paul, immediately, acknowledged his error, and became the greatest messenger the gospel has ever known. In fact the only other thing that Paul killed is found in 1 Corinthians 15:31… “I die everyday…”

Both of these men had their kingdom they had built threatened. Both of them were exposed to Jesus Christ…

The important thing to remember this Christmas is that Jesus Christ came for both of them. These men were no different. They both wanted to exterminate Christmas, yet Jesus Christ still loved them.

It is truly humbling to think about our Savior this Christmas. I am 33 years old. Jesus Christ was 33 years old when he was brutally tortured and killed for the sins and mistakes that I have made in my lifetime. I think about the world that I am immersed in this year. It needs Jesus. I need Jesus.

Our kingdoms are being threatened this Christmas. What we do with this knowledge is up to you and I alone. Will we let our decisions potentially devastate those around us, or decide once and for all to put an end to ourselves, and allow the peace, love, and joy of  Jesus Christ lead and direct us as we impact our communities and world?

 

Have you ever received an unexpected gift? Part of the allure of giving gifts, in my opinion, is watching someone open a gift that they did not even realize they wanted/needed. Santa is bringing Griffin some things that he has never asked for, but his mother and I are certain that Santa is going to make some excellent great decisions (Santa and I speak on a daily basis at this time of year… at least that is what Griffin believes).

I remember growing up and opening all the gifts that were under the tree as a kid, and then occasionally, Santa would accidentally drop something off the sleigh that would land in our front yard! It was exciting, and unexpected.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people. For unto YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” -Luke 2:8-15

This was not an expected gift the shepherds were anticipating would come to them. I am sure that as children they were told about a promised Messiah that would one day come to save them. I cannot imagine in any scenario where they believed they would be first to know of this promise.

There is some things about shepherds that we should probably discuss. 1) It was not a highly sought after job. 2) They were really far down the totem pole on importance in the Jewish culture. 3) They were outcasts. 4) They were dirty.

The areas that we find in people being a shepherd in the Bible is often times romanticized or over-looked  in our recounts of the Bible. Moses encountered God on the back-side of a desert alone hiding out from murder charges. David was stuck out in the pastures with the flocks of his father alone, and many believe that David might have been an illegitimate son of Jesse. David was an embarrassment and kept as far away from the family as possible. They were isolated. Shepherds were positioned to be alone. They did not have a large social circle in which to interact, and were stuck in this existence for a life-time.

It gets worse… Shepherds were considered unclean by the priesthood. They were not allowed to go the temple. They were cut off from God.

I have been in their shoes. I have felt isolated from the presence of God. It is a lonely place to dwell.

These are the people that may have heard about a Messiah, but had a difficult time believing they would ever experience the promises that Isaiah foretold concerning God directly interacting in their worlds. Why would God spend time with them? No one else in society took the time to care about them. Why in the world would the Savior of the known world stoop to their level?

Then the angels showed up and rocked their world. The savior of the entire world felt it necessary to come to them first. The ones who were insignificant realized they were significant. The ones who were unclean and unable to approach the temple realized that God was approaching them.

The Apostle Paul referenced Isaiah 64:4 by saying this, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…”

The shepherds were the last people in the universe that expected to receive the gift of Jesus Christ. They knew they did not deserve a Savior, but I love how the Angel of the Lord made the announcement personal. It was told that the good news was for “ALL the people”, and “for unto YOU is born…” All in pretty inclusive. It included shepherds. You is pretty direct. It was for them individually. They could not wiggle away or discount that this was for everyone but them.

We are all unlikely recipients of the mercy, grace, and love from our Savior: we are all like the shepherds, unclean, and undeserving of a savior. This is what makes Christmas so unbelievable. Jesus Christ came specifically for you and me. We cannot pass this off to someone else. Salvation came for me. Mercy is available for me. Grace is now available for me. The unlikeliest of recipients, mankind, has been given the greatest gift in the world… Jesus!

 

 

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

There is plenty of misconceptions about the birth of Jesus Christ, but probably one of the biggest is the idea of the three wise man hanging out with the shepherds around the manger. I am not really sure when the wise men were thrown into the mix on the birth night of Jesus, but it may have been a Sunday School director that had run out of parts and had three kids left out of the Christmas musical… (Just to be clear… we appreciate all the efforts the musical planner went through to make that happen).

The wise men did not show up in time. They were late to the party. There has been speculation to the identity of these men. The word magi is used in the Old Testament concerning Daniel become the chief of the magicians, so let us just assume that these men were from that area of Babylon.

This was not a days journey from Bethlehem. According to my estimation and Google, it was approximately 547 miles away. To put that in perspective, Tyler, Texas to Destin, Florida is approximately 600 miles. We assume because of the nativity scenes that we can purchase at your local Lifeway that they were traveling at the speed of camel. This was a journey.

These men were aware that the star appearing in their sky held major significance, and they were determined to find the origin of the significance. They decided that nothing would stop them from reaching their destination.

I think we all are searching for something in our lives. Some of us have an idea of where we are headed, and some of us have no idea. The search for meaning in our lives is something that is extremely important for any individual. No one wants to go through life with the idea that our lives are meaningless. It can be frustrating walking through life seeing other people seemingly have everything in place. Social media is the worst. We see snapshots of people’s perfect lives, and have no idea if there is ever anything other than perfection occurring in their worlds. We then walk through our situations of struggles, disappointments, and mistakes.

Never stop searching. The prophet Jeremiah was writing during a rough time in Israel’s history. The Lord gave him certain words to write.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

When we seek Jesus Christ with all of our heart, we have been promised that we will find him. The wise men could have easily stopped searching for Jesus. They more than likely were frustrated at times, tired, and lost (Their journey could have been as long as two years, because we find that King Herod ordered for every male baby two years and younger to be executed). This did not stop them. They pressed on and came into the presence of Jesus Christ. Emmanuel. God with us. What they thought they were searching for versus what they found made every second of their searching worth it.

What are you searching for this Christmas? The wise men were not there at the stable to find Jesus in the manger. They did not get to hang out with all the animals, shepherds, and angels. Who cares… We do know they sought Jesus, and they found him.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you… (James 4:8)

In our search for Christmas this year, let us make a pact that we will search for Jesus. Do not give up. Keep looking. You will find him.

 

 

Christmas is less than a month away, and it is an event that should not even be celebrated.

Shocking right?!

Dr. Suess talked about a grinch, Charles Dickens talked about Ebenezer Scrooge, and more recently, John Grisham wrote about Skipping Christmas.

Unnecessary means not needed, and I am firmly believe that Christmas is unnecessary. Not in the sense of the Grinch, Scrooge, or any other fictional or real character that does not want to celebrate it. Their reasons for not wanting to observe the holiday stem from a sense of loneliness and unhappiness. I love Christmas. I listened to Christmas music this morning with Griffin on the way to school (I turned it on myself without him asking).

Confused yet?

This Thanksgiving, I have not been able to get away from a verse of scripture that has me floored. The phrase that I can not shake from my head is this from Romans 2:4“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”  

His kindness is meant to lead me to repentance… This phrase is like a broken record in my mind. Over the weekend, I was able to look a lot closer into David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51. This song that he penned to the Lord after he was confronted with his sin in 2 Samuel 12 is remarkable, transparent, and beautiful.

David sinned. He was confronted, and instead of continuing to dodge the issue and make excuses David acknowledged his sin. What happened next is remarkable…

And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has allowed your sin to pass [without further punishment]; you shall not die.” 2 Samuel 12:13 AMP

God forgave sin. David did not have to sacrifice a bunch of cows, doves, or sheep… God simply forgave David when he acknowledged his sin. David put pen to paper, and poured his heart out to God.

So what does this have to do with unnecessary holidays?

It was the Lord’s kindness that led me to repentance. Jesus Christ has not forced me into anything, but it was by his mercy that I was able to come to a place to acknowledge how messed up I am without his hand in my life. I could never repay Jesus for what he has done for me. What he went through, because of my sins, is horrible. Mere words can not explain the torture that he had to endure because of my poor decisions.

Can you imagine our Savior going through school like every other normal Hebrew boy, and being taught concerning the writings of the prophet Isaiah? It could not have been pleasant. He was aware of the business he had to accomplish here on Earth, and then they came to Isaiah 53… His life literally flashed before his eyes. He knew he was going to suffer and ultimately die for me.

None of that had to happen, but Adam and Eve made some horrible decisions. Their kids did too. Their kids did too. Their kids did too… We did too.

Then Jesus in his kindness came to Earth. He came to pass out gifts. To everyone. He could not stand the idea of us being separated from him any longer. He did not have to come. He did not have to go to Calvary. He could have just started all over. For some reason he found us redeemable.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Psalm 51:1

There would be no Christmas without our mistakes. The holiday could have been completely avoidable. Kindness and mercy won out. Our sins are forgiven because of an unnecessary holiday. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his Holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…

Regardless if the Pilgrims and Indians had never come together for a feast, we should be thankful every day for Jesus Christ.

Life happens, and continues to move/race all around us. Retailers capitalize and move from Halloween directly to Christmas. Chaos ensues, and the world keeps moving without a proper pause to remember to be thankful for the things in our world.

My past year has been a blur. About this time last year I had found out God was giving us a new little bundle of joy. Our family has experienced loss and gain. We have family members that will not be around these holidays, and we have the addition of Sweet Caroline. Griff, somehow is six years old, and is no longer the little boy that could easily climb into my lap. He is, though, one cool kid, and still lets me rock him before he goes to sleep… Candace and I will be hanging on to this opportunity as long as we can (Picture the movie Elf where Buddy the Elf still sits in his dad’s lap when he was 5x bigger).

Life is good. If we pause long enough, we can see that God has been moving in our midst. Not just in the past year, but throughout our lifetimes.

I can only imagine how King David’s life was unfolding. That dude had a ton of kids (and too many wives), and was running a country. I am sure that his chaos was on a completely different level. David had to take action. If he did not take the moments necessary, it would be possible to forget the goodness of God.

David took the right measures to ensure this did not happen. He began to have a conversation with himself. Not just an idle conversation, but one that impacted the depths of his soul. He reminded himself that God was great, and that from the depths of his soul he needed to continue to give God the best that he had. David knew he could not afford to forget the things that God Almighty had performed in his life.

David could remember that God found him hanging out with a bunch of sheep. God took him from a place of uncleanness all the way to the throne room. There were many hard times and many blessings on the avenue that brought him to the kingship of Israel. Through all of these times he was able to understand that God was always present. He remembered that at one point there had been severe sin in his life, and God came in and provided a time where his heart could be renewed.

Times does not stop. Memories fade… If we let them. There are some times where a flat earth theory would come in handy, and we could send things out of our lives/minds to fall off the face of the world. Mistakes. hurts, sins, and etc… We can all afford to let some things go or fade in our world.

Some interventions in our world should never be forgotten…

Jesus Christ should never fade or be forgotten.  Our souls may need some reminding. Soul talk should not just happen during Thanksgiving… or Christmas or Easter. Soul talk should occur on a daily basis. The memories of what Jesus Christ has accomplished in our lives should be constantly burning in the forefront of our minds.

David probably remembered earlier writings when he said in Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the Lord at all times, and his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” David knew he could not allow the time to erase his memories of his savior, and neither can we. David promised that at all times he would be equipped with praises for his savior, and we should be no different. Have a talk with your soul today, and remind yourself of how great our Savior, Jesus Christ, has been in your world.

I have been blessed. I am so grateful for His hands on my life. His blessings are incredible, but his forgiveness cannot be measured. He has been too good to me.

Let our souls never forget. Happy Thanksgiving!