Maybe you are having a difficult time this Christmas. Maybe your marriage has fallen apart and you are alone. Let me tell you something: God is with you. Maybe your kids have forgotten about you this year. Jesus hasn’t forgotten about you. His name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Maybe your parents have forgotten about you. But God your Father has not forgotten about you.
Christmas is about undoing loneliness. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). From the original language, it literally could read something like this: “I will never, no never, no never leave you or forsake you.” He is going to be with you in the happy days. He is going to be with you in the sad days. He is going to be with you on the hard days. He will be with you through all of your days. Then He will be waiting for you on the other side to welcome you into glory. You don’t have to be afraid, because God is with you.
Sometimes people have asked me, “How do you get through the holidays if you have lost a loved one? Is there some book I can read?” My answer is that you don’t need a manual; you need Immanuel. You need to know that God is there. You need to lean into Him. That is the essential message of this holiday season: that God came near.
What we are longing for, deep down inside, is not Christmas, but Christ; not merriment, but the Messiah; not goodwill, but God; not presents, but His presence in our lives. Anyone or anything short of that will disappoint.
That is what this season all about. It is about Immanuel, God is with us. He is here for you.
Peter, in his second epistle, described the world’s effect on two believers. Both lived in a wicked culture, yet one thrived and the other shriveled.
First there’s Noah, who lived an uncompromised life. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” and “walked with God” (Genesis 6:8, 9 NKJV). Times were so bad that wickedness was full to the brim (see Genesis 6:5), yet Noah faithfully served the Lord despite the criticism of his culture. He raised his family as believers as well, and preached to others.
On the other hand was Lot, who reluctantly left Sodom. “For that just man, living among them, tortured his righteous soul every day with what he saw and heard of their unlawful and wicked deeds” (AMP). He ended up as a leader in the city who had no influence whatsoever.
When told by angels that judgment was coming, he told his sons-in-law. They “blew him off” because they thought he was joking. The angels had to take him by the hand to get him out. He did not want to leave. He lived a compromised life, and when judgment came, he left reluctantly. He could have sung (like Tony Bennett), “I left my heart, in Sodom and Gomorrah.”
No one is reached by compromise.
Which one of those men do you relate to? Are you changing culture, or is culture changing you? Are you a thermostat or are you a thermometer?
A thermometer is affected by its surroundings. Depending on the temperature, the mercury moves up or down. In contrast, a thermostat influences its surroundings. Unlike the thermometer, the thermostat controls the heat or coldness around it.
Noah was a thermostat and Lot was a thermometer.
So, what kind of a believer are you? It’s easy to blame our wicked culture for the way we are but the fact of that matter is that it’s our job as followers of Jesus is to permeate and affect it.
Do you influence your surroundings or do your surroundings influence you?
With all the talk about the “war on Christmas” let me add my two cents.
I understand that the phrase “Happy Holidays” has been inserted in the place of “Merry Christmas.”
It’s true we probably know more about Frosty the snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Santa than we do about Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.
Having said that, I think sometimes as Christians we have missed the real meaning of Christmas too. We have made it too . . . beautiful.
Yes, you read that right.
With snowy country-sides, horse-drawn carriages, and red candles on our Christmas cards, we can over-romanticize Christmas.
In the process, we can lose the true message and meaning of what the birth of Jesus meant and means.
This Sunday at Harvest, I want to peel back some layers of tradition and get back to that raw, powerful, gripping story of what really happened when Jesus Christ was born.
You can come to one of our services at HarvestRiverside or Orange County.
For more info on that, go to
Or you can watch the live webcast at
Thoughts for a Saturday . . . before Sunday
Sunday mornings at church were full of familiar routines . . . and homilies quickly forgotten. The Jesus stories in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were familiar and my prayers, for the most part, were recited from memory and without much emotion. I would look at the stained glass images and pictures with wide but tearless eyes.
Once in a while, I would gaze at the cross that hung by the door in the bedroom I shared with my two sisters. It was white porcelain with gold swirls and gold edges. But for the most part, it went unnoticed.
When I couldn’t even write my name, I was taught the Apostles’ Creed and recited it in catechism class along with all the other children. “. . . He (Christ) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. And the third day He rose again.” This was the cosmic drama that failed to move me. What in heaven’s name could ever be more exciting than this, the greatest story ever told? And yet the whole atmosphere in church, the candles, the incense, all the standing and sitting was nothing more than a yawn.
I am compelled to ask why? The Jesus of Scripture was never a dull man. His first miracle was at a wedding where He turned water into wine. He confronted the status quo and asked questions that couldn’t be sidestepped. He wasn’t impressed by wealth or power. He went to parties and hung out with people of questionable character. Children were drawn to Him, and the “common” people, often the best judges of character, gladly listened to Him.
I have recently concluded almost two years of study in the life of Jesus. There was never a dull moment, right up to the breathless account of the resurrection story. I pray it will not leave us unmoved.
I want to plead with every pastor in every pulpit: preach with the passion this message deserves! Tell me of His love. Tell me of His power. Tell me of His last night in the garden. Tell me how under the bright moon He fell to His knees beneath the olive trees. Tell me His blood and sweat fell in drops upon the dirt. Tell me how He cried and prayed to His Father. Tell me how His friends slept while He was in agony. Tell me again of the day Christ died as a Victim and three days later rose as the Victor.
Tell me again, and again, and again.
I must sing of it, read of it, meditate on it, gaze at paintings of it. We must carve it in the hard wood and stone of our unmoved hearts . . . until the apathy and familiarity and indifference that encases our souls gives way.
Centuries ago the prophet Ezekiel wrote these words of judgment upon a people that had refused to listen, refused to obey.
“You shall drink . . .
a cup that is deep and large . . .
for it contains much . . .
a cup of horror and desolation . . .
you shall drink it and drain it out . . .
and tear at your breasts.”
There was only One who could bear such pain and not be destroyed. The Father refused the prayer of the Eternal Son. The corridors of heaven were silent. His soul was crushed with grief to the point of death.
These words don’t sound like the words of any of the other gods. Call them unbelievable, call them shocking, call them the most devastating words you have ever heard. But whatever you think of those ancient words, if words mean anything at all, you certainly can’t think, like I did once, that they are a yawn.
Thanksgiving is now here, and from this point on, we will eat, drink, and breathe Christmas. I don’t mean that we will be reflecting on the Christ’s birth, but we will be experiencing that commercial extravaganza, Christmas!
Commercial culture has pretty much hijacked every holiday. Christmas, instead of being about the birth of Jesus, is instead about Santa, Frosty, presents, and shopping till you drop. Easter, instead of being about the resurrection of Jesus, is about bunnies, eggs, and Spring Break.
But the one holiday that’s remained pretty much untouched is Thanksgiving. The only commercial point of reference is “Black Friday,” the big shopping day after.
But now they are opening up stores early on Thanksgiving Day. Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, a retail research consultant, recently said, “Retailers have basically ruined every holiday. “They have commercialized every single holiday by creating a good reason to promote something and drive traffic.”
But we as Christians should not lose the focus of Thanksgiving. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War,
President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens” to be celebrated each year.
Giving thanks is something we are commanded to do again and again as Christians. For us, every day should be Thanksgiving (minus the turkey, etc.)!
The Bible reminds us to “give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercies endure forever” (Psalm 136:1).
Now, if God ceases to be good, I suppose you can cease to give thanks. But since that will never happen, Scripture is commanding me to give thanks always.
So, have a blessed Thanksgiving today!
Don’t forget to set your scales back 10 pounds!
I have good news for you as a follower of Jesus Christ:
God hears our prayers!
God promises that if we, as His people, call out to Him, He will hear and answer. Psalm 34:15 says, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry” (NIV).
That means that the Lord is listening for your prayer.
As an example, I was in a room full of adults the other day engaged in conversation.
Suddenly, one of my granddaughters, little Lucy, age 5, came up to me and took hold of my hand and asked,“Papa,will you play with me?”
Adult conversation over.
That is because Lucy has access to me that is unique to my immediate family.
Even if I am in a crowded and noisy room, if my grandchild is calling me, I hear. In the same way, we as God’s children have His ear.
God urges us to call out to Him. He says. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV). Yes, God will answer, but in His way and in His time!
Just because our prayers are not answered as quickly as we would like does not mean God does not hear them.
There is an amazing story in Daniel 10 where a mighty angel appeared before the prophet, telling him that his prayer had been heard in heaven 21 days earlier. But this powerful angel was tripped up by a more powerful fallen angel, or demon, known as the Prince of Persia. So God pulled out His heavyweight champion angel, Michael, who came to the angel’s rescue so that he could come to Daniel with the answer to his prayer. That’s a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when we pray.
But remember, God’s delays are not necessarily His denials.
There may be some behind-the-scenes serious angel wrestling going on right now. A very real spiritual battle rages when we pray. We have no idea of what is going on in the invisible world of angels and demons.
But we can be sure of this: God hears our prayers. Not one is wasted.
Have you ever prayed and not received an answer.?
God answers prayers in three ways. . .Yes. . .No. . . and Wait!
Know this: God hears and stores your prayers.
And He urges us so many times in Scripture to pray!
“The Eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” (Jeremiah 34:13)
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3 )
On Sunday mornings we are in a brand-new series that I am called God Came Near.
We are following the Christmas story, movement by movement,a s laid out in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
This Sunday we will look at the story of the godly couple Zacharias and Elizabeth.
They were the parents of John the Baptist, who was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.
They had prayed for years . . . and years . . . AND YEARS for a child.
Then, seeminglyout of nowhere, God answered their prayer!
We will learn a lot about how to pray and wait on God for His perfect timing.
So join us in person at one of our Harvest locations.
Go here to find out where they are: http://www.harvest.org/church/
Or you can watch our LIVE HD Webcast at www.harvest.org
If you were alive on Nov. 22, 1963, you remember exactly where you were. That was the day when the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated.
Even though I was a young boy of 11, I remember that day vividly. As far as I can remember, I had no political ideology or leanings at that point in my life, but I knew that I admired this youthful president and his family. There was a deep sadness that hung over our nation as we watched the black and white images on our television sets of the president’s flag-draped coffin carried on a horse-drawn caisson, and the salute of little John Jr.
We could not imagine why anyone would want to kill our president. But then to see the assassin,
Lee Harvey Oswald, murdered before our eyes by Jack Ruby on live television was all very surreal. It traumatized our nation.
That fateful day in Dallas started with such promise. The handsome and tanned president sat next to his beautiful first lady, Jacqueline, in the convertible, waving to adoring crowds in the Dallas sunshine. Jackie Kennedy stood out from the sea of blue and black suits in her pink designer Chanel outfit, complete with matching pillbox hat – one of the president’s favorites.
But in just seconds, everything changed. An assassin’s bullets hit President Kennedy’s throat, back and head, with blood spattering everywhere.
After he was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital, his coffin was loaded onto Air Force One. Vice President Johnson was to be sworn in as 36th president of the United States. And there stood Jackie, stunned but courageous, still wearing her pink suit – now stained in the president’s blood. When asked if she wanted to change into something different, Jackie responded, “Let them see what they have done!”
Such a tragic end to a young president with so much promise.
President Kennedy had no idea that Nov. 22 would be his last day on earth. I recall Billy Graham telling me that he had a strong sense of foreboding about the president going to Dallas that day. He sent a message to the president, simply saying, “Don’t go to Dallas!”
It doesn’t appear that President Kennedy received that message.
Ten days before JFK was inaugurated, the president-elect invited Billy Graham to a game of golf.
Billy Graham recalls that day in his autobiography, “Just As I Am”:
On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me.
“Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?” he asked unexpectedly.
“I most certainly do.”
“Well, does my church believe it?”
“They have it in their creeds.”
“They don’t preach it,” he said. “They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think” (Page 395).
Billy Graham shared the gospel message in great detail with President-Elect Kennedy. He remembers Kennedy responding, “Very interesting. We’ll have to talk about that someday.”
For every one of us, there comes a final day. It came much too soon and in such a horrific way for our 35th president. But that day will come to every man and every woman, rich and poor, famous or unknown. It will come for billionaires, rock stars, kings, queens, prime ministers and, yes, even presidents.
And it will come for you – and me.
Let’s make sure we are ready to meet our Maker on that day. The Bible says “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
Let’s make sure we have that “someday” conversation before we come to that final day.
Has it ever seemed as though God let you down?
Has something happened that has caused you to say, “Where was God?”
You may be surprised to know that even godly people deal with doubt at times.
Sometimes we have to go through the foyer of doubt to get into the sanctuary of certainty.
It’s been said, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
So doubters take heart!
God has hope for you in His Word.
I am sharing a message tonight at Harvest Orange County with the title, “Dealing with Doubt.”
We will see what Jesus said to a man to turn his doubts into certainty.
We will also be joined my musician friend extraordinaire Doyle Dykes.
Doyle is one of the finest guitarists alive today.
Once you hear him you will know what I am talking about.
So join us TONIGHT at Harvest Orange County for our service that starts at 7:00 PM, Pacific.
It will also be webcast LIVE at www.harvest.org and www.hischannel.com.
BTW, if you have a ROKU box, you can watch this on your TV!