New Year…New Beginning

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Ready or not, the Year of our Lord (Anno Domini—A.D.) 2019 begins next week!

I know it is just another day on the calendar—but for most of us—it is a day to begin the new year with a clean slate, and a mountain of resolutions. While it is true that most resolutions do not live to see February, it is still good to begin the new year doing new things.

Spending a majority of my youth in Southern California, I always looked forward to New Year’s celebrations. Many times I would stay up with my family, playing dominoes, board games or gin rummy, while we feasted on all kinds of junk food, and watched fireworks at midnight. At other times my dad would drive us to Pasadena late New Year’s Eve where we would sack out on the sidewalk of Colorado Boulevard to view the Tournament of Roses Parade the next morning. By the time we had played, talked and eaten all night, we mostly slept through the parade, but it was still a blast.

Special New Year’s celebrations were first observed in Babylon 4,000 years ago. The New Year’s day festivities on January 1st began in 46 BC, and was instituted by Julius Caesar, when he introduced the Julian calendar. The month of January was named for the Roman god of beginnings, Janus, who, appropriately, had two faces that allowed him to look back into the past year, and forward into the new year.

Around the world, traditions associated with the beginning of the new year vary widely. Among Chinese people, many believed evil spirits did not like loud noises, so they would light firecrackers and bottle rockets to frighten the spirits away at the beginning of the New Year. In Burma people would spray each other with water, believing the water cleanses and serves as a soul purifier. In Japan a rope of straw was hung across the front of the residence to keep out evil spirits and bring good luck. In Denmark old dishes were thrown at the houses of friends on New Year’s Eve, as a sign of affection and everlasting friendship. It makes you wonder what they would throw if they didn’t like you!

Bible-believing Christians do not believe in “good luck.” But as a youngster growing up, my Texas-native mom would make sure we ate special food on New Year’s day, like black-eyed peas with ham hock and cornbread. In the African American community, many would be sure to eat hoppin’ John (ham hock, black-eyed peas and rice) with greens. In the Pennsylvania Dutch community everyone had to eat sauerkraut and pork to guarantee a successful New Year. Personally, I think watching college bowl games are a great tradition for January first!

Though these traditions are meant mostly for fun, the New Year does offer a good opportunity for self-evaluation and goal setting. For Christians, it is a good time to renew our spiritual commitments. If you haven’t finished your list of resolutions, let me share five spiritual disciplines you may want to pursue in 2019

  1. Begin each day by Giving Yourself to God. Everybody belongs to God because of His creation. Believers especially belong to God because of His redemption. Either way—you need to recognize that your life is not your own. At the beginning of your day, yield yourself to God, and His direction. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
  2. Spend a few minutes reading the Bible. God’s Word is inspired and all the direction any person needs to equip them for spiritual service (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Bible is a Spirit-given book that has the ability to reach inside our thoughts, hearts and actions to reprove, cleanse, correct and train us in living for Christ. As you regularly peruse portions of Scripture it will affect your thoughts, and hence, your life.
  3. Talk to God in prayer. This direct communication with God is one of the greatest privileges we have. God invites us to come confidently to Him, “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). He is never too busy to listen, if you will come to Him.
  4. Faithfully fellowship with God’s people. We need the mutual encouragement, accountability, admonition and spiritual sharpening that a church family uniquely offers. We can grow spiritually (Acts 2:41), so we need to be faithful (Heb. 10:24, 25).
  5. Be ready to share your faith in Christ with others. We are here to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). As we follow Jesus we are to become fishers of men (Matt. 4:19) and share the gospel. The gospel is God’s power to save: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

As you begin 2019—whether it is with a plate of hoppin’ John or black eyed peas and cornbread—it will be a success if you give the Lord Jesus His rightful place in your life. It takes grace and grit, but you will be glad you did!

 

The Great Blender Blunder

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Christmas 1968 is burned into my memory. I made one of the worst Christmas gift mistakes ever. Pat and I had been married a little over 7 months, were getting to know each other, but were also struggling to make ends meet. So, we decided not to buy each other Christmas gifts. The only thing was, Pat gave me a little gift, inexpensive, but from her heart, and I had nothing to give her! I mean, I had nothing…nada…not one thing to give!

Fortunately for me, or unfortunately, as the case proved to be, I found a department store open, rushed in, shopped in a panic, and purchased a fantastic gift—a food blender. In hindsight, receiving a blender for Christmas is probably the closest thing there is, to receiving nothing. I think of it as my great blender blunder.

Sometimes, when you have a meager gift, a person will say, “Well, it’s the thought that counts.” But in my case, even the thought didn’t count! Nevertheless, Pat was gracious, and I learned a good lesson.

So, why do we practice giving gifts at Christmas?

Our gift giving is patterned after the actions of the Wise Men who brought presents to the baby Jesus. Matthew records that “Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him’” (Matthew 2:1, 2).

Five hundred years before Christ, after the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Daniel was taken captive to Babylon. God gave him the ability to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (Dan. 2:30), and he was promoted to “chief of the magicians” (Dan. 4:9). Since Daniel had authority over all the Wise Men of the Babylonian Empire, and later, the Persian Empire, he must have clearly taught them what God revealed to him.

One thing God revealed to Daniel was the time frame of the first coming of Jesus, the Messiah (Dan. 9:20-27). By calculating the years from the command of King Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem, the approximate time of the coming of the Messiah could be determined. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it was these Wise Men, perhaps descendants of Daniel, who came to Jerusalem seeking to locate and worship the newborn King of the Jews.

What kind of gift would you offer a king? Matthew records, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). Gold is always valuable and expensive as well as the exotic spices of frankincense and myrrh. The Wise Men brought their best, as gifts to the baby Jesus, and since then people have given gifts in celebration of His birth.

We may give gifts at Christmas because the Wise Men did, but also because at Christmas, God gave us Jesus, His perfect gift. For Him, Christmas is all about giving—giving to humanity the perfect, eternal gift, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world!

He Was the Perfect Gift

When Jesus came into the world, a newborn baby in the village of Bethlehem, God made the perfect gift available for all people for all time. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15).

He Came at the Perfect Time

The timing of Christ’s birth was perfect, according to Galatians 4:4, 5, “But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” All the components necessary for God’s perfect gift culminated when His Son died for our sins and was raised in victory three days later. Through death Jesus defeated death and offers life, “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Everlasting life is a gift of God, the only eternal gift.

He Paid the Perfect Price

Gifts are expensive. They cost a price. So, this glorious salvation by grace, is God’s most luxuriant gift, according to Ephesians 2:8, 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

He Offers the Perfect Opportunity

Christmas is the perfect opportunity to accept God’s gift! Why not receive the greatest gift ever given? Trust Jesus to save you, then share Him with others.

In our human experience, there is no such thing as a perfect gift. I can tell you, it’s sure not a blender! That new watch will one day stop. The new outfit will eventually fade. The jewelry will corrode. The new smart phone will soon become dumb. The newest gadget will break or end up in a thrift store.

But, the gift of God—the Perfect Gift—is forever! Though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), you can be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (verse 24). His eternal salvation is His gift. Why not receive God’s perfect gift today?

Christmas Chaos

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Can something as beautiful, meaningful and inspiring as Christmas, be Chaotic? The answer from a majority of people recently surveyed, was, “Absolutely—Yes!”

Most professional counselors believe the Christmas season is the most stressful time of the year. In addition to the regular frantic pace of their schedule, people must host and attend parties, fight the crowds to shop for the perfect gifts for their favorite folks, and deal with nosy and noisy relatives they haven’t seen in months. And additionally–most  people feel the need to do all that with pretend patience and plastic smiles.

A young couple in our church told me the first serious argument of their marriage was over where they would spend Christmas. He yelled, she cried and no one was happy with how they divided their time. For some families, this fight is an annual event. It seems that nobody is as hard to please as parents of young couples at Christmas. For these families, Christmas is anything but a “Silent night, holy night” where “all is calm and all is bright.”

Several years ago, we had Christmas chaos that almost became a Christmas catastrophe. Everything reached critical mass during the final church service before Christmas. At the close of evening worship, a jolly man with a fake white beard, dressed in a red Santa’s suit shouted, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas Everybody,” as he strode right down the aisle of the church. As the pastor, his familiar Christmas greeting caused chills to run down my spine. While he laughed and threw candy, some people in the pews were in a panic, outrage covered a few faces, and pure delight adorned the faces of the children. I was squarely in the middle of a pickle. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. My dilemma that pre-Christmas night illustrates the difficulty many Christians face during this celebrated season of the year.

How did I get in the middle of this Christmas chaos? It began a few months before. I had the privilege of leading a young couple, Rick and Helen, to trust the Lord Jesus as their Savior. Rick was a lineman for the electric company and Helen was a stay-at-home mom. They were young married parents in their mid-twenties from a totally non-Christian culture. Before coming to faith in Christ, neither Rick nor Helen had ever attended a church in their lives. But after trusting the Lord to save them, they began to grow as baby Christians. They could not get enough Bible and fellowship, and were on a fast track of spiritual growth. Our church welcomed them into the body with open arms and they never missed a service.

As the Christmas season approached, Rick wanted to do something special for the children in our church. He was unaware of the strong opinions some members held about Santa, Jesus and Christmas traditions. All he knew was that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday and he loved Jesus and wanted to honor Him. However, there were some long-standing members in that same church, who had researched the origins of some ancient Christmas traditions and chose not to celebrate it at all.

Rick, the new believer, had no idea what some fellow members believed. So, he decided to give gifts to the children following that evening service. And, he thought, since it was Christmas, why shouldn’t he dress as Santa and surprise the children? As he strode down the aisle shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho!” the kids were not the only ones surprised!

So, it is true that some Christmas traditions have pagan origins. But does that mean Christians should focus on exposing early origins of Christmas traditions? Or, should we take advantage of the attention Christmas brings and proclaim Christ as Savior? While most people today, like Rick, are unaware of the background of Christmas traditions, the lost world associates Christmas with the birth of Jesus, and that is a great thing! Though Jesus is not the center of most Christmas celebrations, as the bumper sticker says: “He is the Reason for the Season.” Let us capitalize on that fact and use Christmas to proclaim God’s love in sending His Son to be our Savior.

The birth of Christ, the origin of what we celebrate as Christmas—came at just the right time—under just the right circumstances—for just the right reason. In Galatians 4:4-7, Paul wrote, “In the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Imagine that! Through faith in Jesus you can be adopted into God’s family, become a son, and an heir of God!

Oh, and what happened to Rick and Helen? After the initial shock of Santa Claus walking the church aisle had worn off, some of the most critical members just laughed at his spiritually youthful exuberance. But . . . in all honesty, wouldn’t it be great if you and I showed that kind of love, enthusiasm and dedication to Jesus this Christmas season? Let’s avoid the Christmas chaos and exalt the Christmas Savior!

Christ in Christmas

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Have you seen the bumper sticker, “Keep Christ in Christmas?” This slogan originated around 1920 among a group of Christians in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who wanted to openly display their faith. They encouraged local businesses not to sell out to the secularization of Christmas, but to display signs that reminded people of Christ and His birth. In 1937 a Christmas card company used the slogan, along with Bible verses, in place of the bland, “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.”

This movement also encouraged people not to use “Xmas” in place of Christmas. The abbreviation “Xmas” originated in the Fourth century, when Roman Emperor Constantine began to use it. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “Christos” (Christ) begins with the letter “X” (chi). During the eleventh century, a scribe saved space by writing “Xmas” in place of “Christmas.”

In our day, using “Xmas,” symbolizes a much larger issue than merely saving writing space. The secularization of our American culture is so pervasive that Christ is actually being left out of Christmas. Recently, pressure has been placed on businesses to use “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” in place of “Merry Christmas” as a salutation. This is not accidental or incidental.

Franklin Graham, originator of Operation Christmas Child, in a 2005 interview with CNN said: “For us as Christians, Christmas is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas is wrong. They are happy to say ‘Merry Xmas,’ as long as Jesus is left out. I think this is actually a war against the name of Jesus Christ.” Then he said, “Secularists…don’t want to get rid of the holidays; they just don’t want Jesus in the holidays.”

In our world today, Christmas means different things to different people. Some celebrate it by exchanging extravagant gifts and throwing elaborate parties. Others use it as an excuse to overeat and indulge their baser desires. Sometimes well-meaning families use Christmas as a reason to go deep into debt. The true meaning of Christmas is often lost in the midst of the food, frolic, tensions and tinsel.

Over sixteen hundred years ago, December 25, A.D. 380, in Constantinople, Gregory Nazianzus preached a sermon about the meaning of Christmas. Among other things he encouraged the people by saying: “Therefore let us keep the Feast (Christmas), not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him Who is ours….”

Christians should observe Christmas in ways that avoid heathenism, exhibitionism, materialism and the ways of the world. Instead, it should be celebrated in a way that is responsible, family-centered, and godly. Christmas is about honoring our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior, Master and Lord of all.

Fortunately, the Bible reveals the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that…

  1. JESUS “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8). Christmas means the incredibly rich Son of God became indescribably poor so that we, helpless and poor, could become unbelievably rich. Paul wrote: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). GRACE is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. For Jesus, Christmas meant the ultimate sacrifice of becoming human, suffering rejection, and dying on a cross.

 

  1. WE sinners now have a perfect Savior who offers a complete salvation to everyone who believes in Him. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The old prophet Simeon put it best as he beheld the newborn baby Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple. “Then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:28-30).

 

  1. GOD provided the perfect Mediator between Himself (the perfectly holy God) and us (the perfectly unholy creature) in His Son (the perfectly acceptable sacrifice). Paul put it this way in his letter to the young preacher Timothy, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus died to pay our sin debt, and all we need to do is to accept Him by faith.

This Christmas, let us who know Him, honor him by sincerely worshipping Him; by genuinely showing our thanks to Him; and by sharing the good news of Christ, the Savior, with the lost. The true meaning of Christmas is that God provided a Savior, who died for us, so that we may live forever with Him in Heaven. That is keeping Christ in Christmas!

Your Life Testimony

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A few years ago, Jim Jones, Terry Parrish, Charles Law, David Robinson, Charles Swilling, O. H. Griffith, and I went to lunch at Bryce’s Cafeteria. These men had come to Texarkana for the Sunday School Writer’s Conference. We enjoyed great fellowship and a good meal.

As I was paying the bill, the teller asked if we were preachers. I told her we were and asked why she wanted to know. She said several people had walked by our table on their way to the register and asked her who we were. She told them: “They must be preachers because they laugh a lot and prayed before they ate!”

Think about that—we laughed a lot and prayed a little—and others noticed. We should never pray for the sake of appearance. Jesus warned against being showy in our praying and giving (Matthew 6:1-8). But we should openly acknowledge appreciation for God’s blessings, and thank Him for our food, even if others are around.

People watch you all the time. What do they see? They will read your attitude and notice your gratitude. If you are enjoying the life God gives you, it will make an impression. If you are grateful for God’s blessing, people will know. Your life is a continual witness of something or Someone.

The testimony of your life is why Jesus said Christians were to be like a shining city on a hill in this dark world. Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” (Matthew 5:14). As a believer in and follower of Christ, you are to shine for Jesus in the spiritual darkness that surrounds you.

Like a lighthouse onshore, whose beams pierce the darkness, guiding and warning ships of dangerous shoals or hidden reefs—so God’s people are to shine forth the beauty of Jesus in their testimony, lives and service. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:16).

Peter commanded, “I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

The teller’s question at Bryce’s Cafeteria allowed me to share with her the reason for our joy and thankfulness. It is Jesus. The hope we have in Him enables us to laugh, pray and enjoy life with others. Our lives are a testimony. What is the testimony of your life?

Always—Give—Thanks

 

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There is nothing like a magnifying glass in the hands of a rambunctious child. On a sunny day, he may use it to focus the sun’s radiation, and give ants the hot foot. He may concentrate the beam on garden snails, causing them to froth and quicken their sluggish pace. (I am not advocating this, but have heard of some mischievous boys who have done it!) With a magnifying glass, he may set paper afire or burn his initials on a piece of wood. The same lad with that amazing piece of convex lens can examine objects very closely, seeing details invisible to his natural eyes. Of course, the magnifying glass does not change the size of the object scrutinized, it just enlarges the visual image of the object in view. The magnifying glass makes things appear larger to the viewer, revealing details that were hidden.

When we magnify God, the thing that is changed is our view, understanding, love and appreciation of Him. He is the same—He doesn’t change. He is perfect—He doesn’t need to improve. He is complete—He needs nothing else. But when we magnify Him, our perspective of Him—our view of Him—is enhanced and enlarged. As we focus on who He is, what He is like, what He has done, and what He plans to do, our appreciation of Him is enriched. Our view of Him is expanded. Our lives will be blessed if we magnify the Lord. King David wrote, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:3). The more we learn of His person and character, the more valuable the Lord will become in our lives.

One important way we magnify God is by giving genuine thanks to Him. The psalmist David wrote, “I will praise the name of God with song, and magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the LORD better than an ox or a young bull with horns and hoofs” (Psalm 69:30, 31). The prescribed way to magnify God is to give private and corporate thanks to Him! Offering God sincere thanks when you are alone or with others, glorifies Him, and displays the work and person of God to others and to you. These verses teach that when His people practice genuine thanksgiving, it magnifies God far better than giving offerings and sacrifices. God prefers your praise and gratitude to the money in your wallet.

This practice of praise, appreciation and thanksgiving to God ought to be continual. The Lord is so wonderful and merciful that thanks should never cease to be expressed from our hearts and lips. We should be thankful to God, no matter what circumstances we are in. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians that, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Do you want to do God’s will? Begin by being grateful and thankful all the time.

As you observe Thanksgiving this week, why not stop and count your blessings? Thanksgiving is more than a national holiday. It should not just be a day to eat turkey and watch football.

The first American Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, celebrated by the pilgrim colonists and neighboring Native Americans, came about because the Pilgrims desired to specifically thank God for His bounty and care of them. Their first winter in America had been harsh, resulting in the death of almost half the settlers at Plymouth Rock. But the following spring and summer produced a bountiful harvest. Quite naturally, those God-fearing people declared a special holy day and season of thanksgiving to God. There was no menu of deep-fried turkey at their feast, but they had enough venison, corn and vegetables for their three-day celebration.

The annual custom of celebrating Thanksgiving after the fall harvest continued through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. President George Washington signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789, that read in part:

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor …we recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God ….That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks.”

There is a tendency for people to seek God in humility and thanksgiving when difficult times come upon them. That was true with the Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving. It was true of Jonah, who cried to God from the belly of the great fish, “I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving” (Jonah 2:9). And it may be true of you as well. Offering thanks to God is the right response to tough times.

This Thanksgiving be sure to remember God and His abundant blessing and protection and thank Him for it. Thursday, as your family or friends gather around your table, why not stop, hold hands, and lead in a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude to your God, Creator and Savior? This is what Thanksgiving is about!

Let’s follow the Psalmist’s encouragement to, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4, 5).

I pray that your Thanksgiving celebration honors your Lord, strengthens your family and energizes your service to Him. Remember: It magnifies God when we give Him thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!

Change, Changeless and Changing

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Many people are uncomfortable or irritated when changes come. I admit it. It annoys me when the products in my grocery store are moved to different aisles. It aggravates me when Apple installs a new Operating System, or Facebook changes their layout. But if I want to use their device or program, I am forced to learn a new method of operation.

We all tend to love things the way they are—with what we are familiar. However, after all the griping, most changes result in things working better than they did before. Altering the aisles of products makes you see merchandise you had overlooked. The new Operating System exterminates some bugs, and the new Facebook layout allows you to do more with your account.

Change is like that. What is often inconvenient and unwelcome, usually ends up improving what we do.

As the Christian looks at change, he must discern between things that are cultural—and changing, from things that are scriptural—and changeless. Cultural practices continually change—Biblical principles never change. To reach people with the gospel in our generation, methods must change—but the message must not.

The Apostle Paul is a great example in how to live with this tension. He was never willing to manipulate his message. But according to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, he was more than willing to modify his method. He crossed the boundaries of his culture and traditions, to reach people who needed Jesus. He said, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (verse 22). Paul was flexible in his appearance and actions, in order to reach people in different cultures. We too must break the bonds of our traditions and overcome the obstacles with the message of salvation. The barriers we face are culture, language, race, education, vocation, and economic and social issues.

If you attended a first century worship service in Jerusalem, or at Antioch, you would probably feel uncomfortable. Their singing, language, dress and expressions of worship were altogether different from ours. They did not meet for Sunday School at 9:45. Men and women sat separately in church. The person praying would most often raise his hands and look up, not close his eyes and look down. They worshiped God according to Scripture and their own cultural traditions, just like we do.

Styles of worship music, ministries, buildings and other tools for reaching people with the gospel, are in constant flux, because the culture continually changes. The words of “Amazing Grace,” sung to a well-known bar-tune, was unwelcome by some Christians early on. Years later, a disruption was caused when some churches broke with tradition, and brought “the devil’s instrument,” into use in worship. That musical instrument, the piano, had only been used in honky-tonks, barrooms and dance-floors.

Why did those Christians react so strongly? Why do we so often oppose change?

  • One: People have a natural resistance to change. Though change is constant and inevitable, most of us instinctively resist it. The older generation resists change—the younger generation demands change. This generational cycle is as old as mankind. And, when the younger generation that demands change, becomes the older generation, they too will resent change from the next younger generation. But, while traditions change—principles remain. Whether you go to church in a wagon pulled by two horses or in an automobile pushed by two-hundred horses—the unchanging thing is—you should go to church! Seek to discern the difference between the changing and the changeless—and live your life accordingly.
  • Two: Another reason people resist change is because of a devotion to traditions. A traditionalist believes the way things have always been done is the way things must always be done. While that is true of the Bible (Psalm 119:86), God (Malachi 3:1) and Jesus (Hebrews 13:8), it is not true with all the ways we serve God. It is possible for people to be more loyal to a way of doing something—than to the thing itself.

There is a danger in devotion to human traditions, personal preferences, styles, or systems. If your devotion and service is not based on Scripture commands, to hold them may actually cause you to disobey the God you are trying to serve. Jesus said the Pharisees, “made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6). They were nullifying God’s commands by their devotion to human traditions.

So, what should you do when faced with change, especially in God’s worship and service?

Analyze your reactions to change. When confronted with a change regarding God’s house, worship, in music, style, ministry, outreach or behavior, that makes you uncomfortable, you must ask:

Am I resisting change for biblical reasons, or on cultural grounds? Are these new things violating Bible principles, or are they merely different than the way I was reared? There may have been nothing wrong with the traditions of your upbringing, but if they were not based on biblical principles, they are not binding.

If it is cultural, it is bound to change. If we are to impact people in our culture, we must speak their language and reach them where they are. This is what Jesus did, when He crossed a barrier of His own culture by saving a Samaritan (John 4), forgiving an adulterer (John 8), and commanding His church to evangelize every nation (Matthew 28).

If it is Scriptural, it must not change. The Bible is God’s fixed revelation to mankind—“Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). No true Christian seeks to change the message, but, like Paul, must adapt the message to the hearer.

Let’s seek a Biblical reaction to change and “above all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:14).