Yesterday, I brought up the topic of running the spiritual race.
The moment you believed in Jesus Christ, this race began for you. Some of you are just beginning, and others have been running for quite a while.
My son Christopher has already finished his race, and his old dad is still running. And as I get older, I think about finishing this race more than ever.
In his final words to the leaders of the church of Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NKJV).
Not everyone is finishing well
I know of some who have not finished their race with joy. People who seemed strong in the faith when I first believed, but who have “crashed and burned” in the race of life. They have gotten off track or in some cases even self-destructed.
We see this in the Bible as well.
The charismatic leader
King Saul comes to mind. He would have been a good politician: tall, handsome, charismatic, and I might add, anointed by God to be the king. Prophesying with the prophets, he had incredible potential.
Everything was going Saul’s way, and if he had just obeyed God, it would have been great. But he disobeyed God repeatedly and allowed pride, and eventually paranoia and jealousy, to consume him. This led to a series of sins, causing God to reject him.
The once-great King Saul met a tragic end at the battlefield having, in his own words, “played the fool and erring exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21 NKJV).
In the end, he really had no one to blame but himself. He started his race well, but his finish was a disaster.
The “He-Man” with the “She-Weakness”
Or we think of the mighty Samson, supernaturally blessed with super-human strength, and able to vanquish his enemies with relative ease.
But like all people, Samson had his vulnerabilities. He was a “He-Man” with a “She-Weakness.” A series of compromises took place in his life, starting with marrying a non-believer and ending up with a prostitute that took him down “Hooker, line, and sinker.” It culminated in a one-way trip to Delilah’s Barber Shop.
He too did not finish his race well.
I could go on with the stories of men who did not finish the race of life well. But Paul wanted to be of the company of those who “finished their race with joy,” joining the ranks of those who finished in God’s “Winners’ Circle.”
Men like Caleb, whose incredible story is found in Joshua 14. Or Daniel, who wouldn’t compromise, even in in his 80s.
Let’s commit ourselves to finish what we have begun, remembering this: the race of life is not a quick sprint, but a long distance run.
So run well!
As we are now officially in 2009, we need to remember that are running a spiritual race.
In Acts 20, we find the apostle’s Paul’s words to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. These were things that really mattered to the great apostle.
He writes in verse 24, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord.”
Paul used the analogy of a runner in a race many times in his writings. Each one of these instances remind us of a different aspect of running the race of life.
We must run to win.
1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize.”
In other words, you also must run in such a way that you will win! There is no point in running for second or third place. Go for the gold! Don’t settle for mediocrity as a follower of Jesus.
Understand, however, that your “opponents” are not fellow Christians. I am not running the race of life to beat you or anyone else. Our competitors are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Be careful to not get off track.
Galatians 5:7 says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
Sometimes, due to poor choices in friends and companions, we get “off track.” They tend to drag us away from our commitment, instead of encouraging us in it. At the very least, they slow us down. At worst, they sidetrack us.
Don’t look back.
Philippians 3:14-16 reads, “Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”
So, how are you doing?
How did you do in this regard last year? Have you gotten off track, or are you running for the gold?
Have any relationships or things slowed you down in your pursuit of God?
Well, here it is officially, 2009. I have one question I have been thinking about lately:
Where is my spaceship?
Let me explain . . .
As a young boy growing up on cartoons, whenever they showed “the future” — and understand that back in the ’50s, the future was only 30 years away — everyone flew around in spaceships. You know, George Jetson-style. But here we are, still lumbering about in in our automobiles. We have not even nailed the electric car yet, much less one that flies!
For a time, especially in the ’50′s and ’60s, there was this utopian dream of a better world. We were told that everything would be better in the future. Now we have lived long enough to know that despite our advances in technology, mankind will always mess things up.
One day we will fly!
Ah, but one day that future we all long for will come. Perhaps we will fly and we won’t even need spaceships! We will have new bodies, on a new earth, ruled over by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am looking forward to that day.
That is what Jesus taught us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, when he instructed us to say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Live your life well
So we want our lives to count during our short time here on planet Earth, especially as we are now officially in 2009. I want to speak on living our lives well this Sunday at Harvest. It will be based on the apostle Paul’s final words to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. I hope you can join us for that.
Read through the Bible this year!
Speaking of living our lives well, I can’t think of a better way to get started in that then to start a plan of daily Bible reading.
We at Harvest want to help you with that. If you go to our homepage, you will find our daily devotion at the top of the page. If you click it, you will see at the top of the page, “Today’s Read the Word.” The reading is updated every day.
We just started Genesis (a good place to start!). You can also subscribe to our devotions and get them as an e-mail six days a week.
The tragic death of Ryan Joshua Armstrong
Some of you have e-mailed me about the tragic death of Ryan Joshua Armstrong, who was stabbed to death on the eve of December 27. His father, Ron Armstrong, is the pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Wildomar, California.
My heart broke when I read this story, for here is another pastor who lost his firstborn son. In an article in the newspaper, they pointed out that Ron was the second pastor to have a son die in 2008 (I being the other).
I have made contact with Ron and have assured him of my prayers and support. We had a good talk and we will be in contact in the days ahead. Thanks for thinking of him and most importantly, be praying for the Armstrong family and the congregation at Cornerstone Church.
Whew! Well, we survived Christmas!
I have to admit that this was a very tough time for us, as we observed what was always one of my favorite times of the year without our our firstborn son. I was warned by others who have had loved ones die that the “first” everything is hard.
Interestingly, when I focused on the essential message of Christmas, I appreciated it more than I ever have. That message being that Jesus came to be born, die, and rise again from the dead.
But as for all of the rest (shopping, gatherings, etc.), it was very hard because we had so many, many memories of our son. Many of you have written me and spoken about your own pain during this time of the year. Please know that I am with you on that.
I was very encouraged by your blog entries and prayers, as well as the many people I encountered when I was out and about. Thank you for your kind words and prayers!
But frankly, I’m glad Christmas is finally over. Now, onward and upward!
Lost Boy at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa this Sunday night!
As I mentioned before, Lost Boy, the documentary film of my life, is going to premiere at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa this Sunday.
By the way, the book Lost Boy has been nominated for Outreach Magazine’s Outreach Resource of the Year in the Evangelism category.
The awards, according to Outreach Magazine, are meant to celebrate and encourage excellence in resources designed specifically to help the church reach out in areas such as evangelism, compassionate service, and cross-cultural ministries locally and worldwide. The winner will be announced in the spring.
I’m just thankful this book and film have been tools that believers can use to reach out to their friends.
Anyway, back to the Lost Boy movie
We have gone back to the editing bay and added quite a few new elements to it, including new photos of my Mom (supplied by my Aunt Willie) that we recently came across from her “Marilyn Monroe” period. Also included is film footage from this year’s Harvest Crusades events in Philadelphia and Anaheim.
We also went back into the studio and completely re-shot the ending. I told the story of Christopher’s sudden departure to heaven.
Lost Boy: The Next Chapter
So we are calling this new version Lost Boy: The Next Chapter.
My son Christopher was very involved in this project, doing all the graphics and giving me a lot of input on it overall. He spoke to many about his personal excitement in seeing God use this film to touch others.
Now it’s his story too. For when it’s all said and done, it’s the story of redemption in my life, as well as the life of my son.
If you are in the Southern California area, please join us for this special showing at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa this Sunday night at 7:00. I will also be speaking after the film.
That’s all for now.
Merry Christmas to all of you!
It is rather cold for Southern California today, with rain off and on. So we are inside with our fireplace actually on!
I have been listening to Michael W. Smith’s Christmas CD (that we made available to all of you too) and have really enjoyed it. Later, we are going to have cheese fondue for lunch with our family!
Needless to say, it’s a sad day for us, as this is our first Christmas without our son Christopher.
I have to tell you, Topher loved Christmas! It was always a big deal to him as a little boy, and when he became a father, he wanted it to be a big deal for his daughters. He always was so thoughtful in his choice of gifts and often made them by hand, which was always a special treat for me. He also had fantastic “wrapping skills,” which I am completely devoid of.
Christmas in heaven
On that first Christmas night, when the angels made their announcement to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks, came this good news: “Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.’” (Luke 2:10)
This is how heaven celebrated the first Christmas. On this holy night, in effect, heaven momentarily came to earth.
Heaven is a heartbeat away.
In a sense, heaven and earth are always co-existing, but sometimes they can seem worlds apart and other times separated by only a thin veil. When tragedy hits, when illness prevails, heaven can sometimes seem distant.
But when we join the angels in worship, and see God in His greatness, heaven can seem so very, very close.
For us as believers, we are just a heartbeat away from heaven right now. As David put it, “There is but a step between me and death.”
Christmas in heaven is better than Christmas on earth.
As I said, this is my first Christmas on earth without Christopher. It’s been hard, because I am so programmed to go and find something for him. I still see things and think, “Christopher would like this,” or “I wish Christopher could see this!”
Then I remind myself, this is Christopher’s first Christmas in heaven! But then I wonder if he is not in heaven, saying, “Dad would like this!” Or if he is saying, “I wish my wife,daughters,brother mom and dad could see this!”
For my son,this is the most blessed Christmas ever. As Mercy Me sings, “I can only imagine.”
It is pure bliss. Not twinkling lights, but the radiant light of heaven itself. Not metal angels on trees, but real, holy angels of God all around.
You see, in heaven there is peace. On earth there is war. In heaven there is perfect harmony. On earth there is often friction among family and friends. In heaven, feasting and perfection. On earth there is fattening food and expanding waistlines.
Let your family know you love them.
We are not there yet. So we don’t need to sorrow for our loved ones who are celebrating Christmas in heaven, but we do sorrow for ourselves over their absence.
Today, however, remember to let the ones on earth you love know it. Tell them verbally. Because you never know if you or I or someone we hold dear might be in heaven next Christmas.
So have a blessed and Merry Christmas day.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve, I thought I would tell you a story. It’s a story about one of the most beloved of all the Christmas songs we sing this time of the year.
Christmas Eve services at Harvest
Speaking of Christmas Eve, we will be having live services at Harvest today.
Our Christmas eve services will be at 4:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. It will be a musical retelling of the story of the birth of Jesus. I will also share a brief message to help us focus on the real “reason for the season.”
These services will be webcast live and will be available in our archives. You might want to watch this service as a family.
The sadness of the holidays
One of the most familiar songs we hear during the holidays is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the story behind it is interesting.
In 1860, Longfellow was at the peak of his success as a poet. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected President, giving hope to many.
But things soon turned dark for America and for Longfellow personally. The Civil War began the next year, and Longfellow’s wife died in a tragic accident in their home. Longfellow suffered severe burns on his hands and face while trying to save his wife.
He was so badly burned that he could not even attend her funeral.
Sorrow at Christmas
In his diary for Christmas Day 1861, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” In 1862, the toll of war began to mount, and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863, his son–who had run away to join the Union army–was severely wounded and came home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
A new Christmas song is born
Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, so he decided to try to capture the joy of Christmas in verse. He began:
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother, and father against son?”
God is not dead
But he kept on going, and wrote in the sixth stanza:
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.”
But then, catching an eternal perspective and the real message of Christmas and Christ Himself, he wrote in the final stanza:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
That’s right, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!”
If you want a blessed Christmas Eve tonight, focus on that.
I have always believed in the promise of Christmas. There has always been something special to me about this time of the year, going back to my earliest days of childhood.
What is it that we love about Christmas, once we get past the initial trappings?
I think it is the sense of wonder, beauty, and anticipation. It is the music, the look of surprise on a child’s face, and the amazing food. It’s the companionship of family and good friends. It is also the absence of strife and meanness (that is, with the exception of the crowds on “Black Friday” at Wal-Marts in New York state).
Does Christmas deliver on its promises?
But how often does Christmas really deliver on its promises? A little bit here and there, but by and large, it ends up being the endless drone of mind-numbing ads on TV.
It is the friction and pressure that comes when we are obligated to purchase gifts for people we barely know. It is the expectation put on us by others and sometimes even ourselves.
The post-Christmas letdown
Then there is that big post-Christmas letdown. The letdown of expectations that can never really be met.
We were not able to give what we really wanted to give, or what they really wanted to receive. Or you yourself did not get what you had hoped for. Then there are those bills that come due . . .
Christmas at its worst
So what is Christmas at its worst? It is a crass, commercial, empty, exhausting, and very expensive ritual that drags on endlessly for months at a time.
Christmas at its best
What is Christmas at its best? It is a glimpse of things to come–the beauty, the worshipful music, the adoring angels, the love, the warmth, the promise, the hope . . . all things promised to us in a life to yet come.
You see, Christmas is a promise. It is a promise that has not yet been fully kept.
Christmas cannot be all that we want it to be. It’s only a holiday. Christmas cannot bring harmony to your home. Christmas cannot bring peace on Earth. Christmas cannot bring happiness.
But Christ Himself can do all of this and more. That is really what we are longing for deep inside.
- Not Christmas, but Christ.
- Not merriment, but the Messiah.
- Not goodwill, but God.
- Not presents, but His presence.
Anything or anyone short of this will disappoint. But God never will.
That’s what I want for Christmas–Jesus Christ.
So Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas to all of you. It’s getting really close now.
Of course, a lot of retailers are concerned about their sales being down, because we are just not shopping to the extent that we did in the past. With many people cutting back this year on purchases this year because of the economy, retailers may feel this will be a dreary Christmas.
But I suggest that this could be a greater and more blessed Christmas than you have ever experienced. After all, what is the primary message of Christmas? The essential message of Christmas is that God came to us.
As the Scripture says, “You shall call his name Immanuel,” which, of course, means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14).
I suggest to you that this could be the most blessed Christmas of your life. Beginning with the absence of the things that have needlessly cluttered it before, combined with the presence of the One we are celebrating.
This Sunday at Harvest.
I will be talking about that and a lot more this Sunday at Harvest in our three morning services. My message title will be “The Promise of Christmas.” I hope you will join us live or watch the webcast live or archived.
Crystal Lewis was going to sing,but got stranded in a snowstorm due to weather!
(God bless you Crystal,thanks for trying!)
But our fantastic worship team will more then rise to the occasion!
You might want to check these out.
New Christmas cartoon coming!
I just drew a special cartoon for all of you this Christmas! It will be posted here on Monday. Hope you like it.
I know we live in a “post-modern” world where moral relativism is the rule of the day. In fact, a study was just done called A 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth.
Study on American Youth in 2008
A Los Angeles-based organization said the teenagers’ response to questions about lying, stealing and cheating reveals entrenched habits of dishonesty for the workforce of the future. Boys were found to lie and steal more than girls (why does that not surprise me?). Overall, 30% of students admitted to stealing from a store within the past year, a 2% rise from 2006. More than a third of boys (35%) said they had stolen goods, compared to 26% of girls.
Your Cheating Heart
An overwhelming majority, 83% of public school and private religious school students, admitted to lying to their parents about something significant. The study found “cheating in school continues to be rampant and it’s getting worse.” Among those surveyed, 64% said they had cheated on a test, compared to 60% in 2006, and 38% said they had done so two or more times.
The report went on to say, “Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics.” Some 93% of students indicated satisfaction with their own character and ethics, with 77% saying that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”
How do you reach a culture like this?
As we look at how dark our culture is today, we wonder if we can ever really make a difference. It seems so overwhelming,it seems like darkness is spreading and light is receding.
It is like the time that Isaiah described: “Destruction is certain for those who say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and light is dark; that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT).
So how do you reach a culture like this? The same way the apostle Paul reached his. With the absolute truth of the Word of God!
Some might feel as though the time to present absolute truth has passed. They might say we in the Church can only ask questions, but not offer answers. As the British say, “That’s tubbish!”
The gospel is the answer
So how do we reach our culture today, then? I will deal with that in my message this Sunday at Harvest, “Reaching the iGeneration.” You can come join us live or watch the webcast as well.
This and that
You might want to check out my column with a Christmas theme posted at WorldNetDaily this weekend. If you like seeing my writing there, please let the editors know.
Simply go to www.worldnetdaily.com. You will see a banner for my column at the top of the page.
Christmas messages coming!
I am going to be doing a series of new messages on Sunday mornings for Christmas, starting December 14, and continuing on December 21 and Christmas Eve. Come and join us live, or watch online.
Christmas is a great time for sharing the gospel, as people seem to be more open to spriitual things this time of the year. And with our economy in the shape it is in, perhaps even more so.
OK, that’s all for now. Over and out.