Social or Antisocial Media?

I have always viewed social media as neutral.  I think that is largely true.  However, its growing use seems to be tilting the scale to require more careful examination of its effects.

Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, which now has 2.07 billion monthly active users, has acknowledged that Facebook was designed to be addictive.  He said, “God only knows what it is doing to our children’s brains.”  There are current studies showing that teenagers who have heavy social media use also have a greater degree of anxiety, depression and potential suicide, as documented by Gene Twenge in The Atlantic.

A study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin reports examining over 40,000 American, British and Canadian college students ages 18-25, and the majority of them showed signs of what they called “multi-dimensional perfectionism” – meaning perfectionism driven by unrealistically high expectations.  The researchers report that this age group has record-setting levels of mental health issues including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Recently two major Apple investors warned the tech giant that the frequent use of iPads and iPhones by children is having a dangerously negative impact on our children.  They have called for serious research to find ways to limit the addictive appeal.

Common Sense research has revealed that 42% of young children (up to age 8) have their own Tablets, and virtually all (98%) live in homes with at least one mobile device.  Peter Mumson quotes Steve Jobs’ famously refusing to give his kids Tablets or Smartphones.  One cartoon shows parents bringing their child to a Kindergarten classroom where each child is using a mobile device.  The dad says to the teacher, “He’s 5 years old and knows how to read and write – we want him to learn how to speak!”

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Recently I was eating in a restaurant, and there was a round table of 6 young people sitting together.  They all had their heads bowed and looking down.  I was impressed that they were praying before they had their meal.  I noticed they prayed a long time.  Upon closer observation, I saw that each of them had a phone under the table so their parents wouldn’t see them on the mobile device!  I was in a restaurant recently and observed two adults and two teenagers sitting at a table.  Each of them had a cell phone and spent the first 20 minutes engrossed in their mobile device – not saying a word to each other.  When the food came, they did not even notice.  It took the server several seconds to get their attention.

Now, we do not want a tech-free world because technological achievements have reduced misery and enhanced the quality of human life.  For example, electric lights, robotics, instant global communications, cancer drugs, etc., are helpful results.  Nobody wants to return to the old days of surgery without anesthetics.

I think it becomes imperative that we reflect on all that God has given us, and carefully and intentionally use it for God’s good.  The Book of Genesis is pretty clear that man was intended to be the steward of creation in order to enhance his effectiveness of living out God’s purpose.

Carl Sandberg wrote “The People, Yes” in 1936.  Here is an excerpt from his prophetic poem:

The machine yes the machine / Never wastes anybody’s time

Never watches the foreman / Never talks back

Never says what is right or wrong

The machine yes the machine / Cuts your production costs

A man is a man and what can you do with him? / A man is a man and what can you do with him?

Our use of social media must be shaped by our desire to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.  We are to remember to love Him first, then love our neighbors as ourselves.  No social media advancements or machines should ever minimize the importance of loving people.

To God be the Glory

Three more high profile athletes used their platform in the Super Bowl to give God the glory for their accomplishments.  What a way to use a platform! Glory!

Coach Don Pederson was coaching high school football nine years ago.  Nobody would have ever given him a chance then of being a head coach of a professional team – much less winning a Super Bowl.  When he held up the trophy in the post game ceremony, he was asked the question, “How did you do this?”  Coach Pederson’s first response was, “It’s all because of my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I give God all the glory!”  In my book, that’s a winning play – not a trick play – a solid fundamental understanding of life and why we’re here.

Zach Ertz, who caught the winning touchdown pass, and is married to one of our U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer players, was asked what was going through his mind when his play was called at the most critical point of the game.   He said, “I just knew I had to make the play and give God the glory!”

The most valuable player in the 52nd Super Bowl was Nick Foles.  He was the most unlikely.  He was a back-up quarterback until the franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, went down with a knee injury.  Wentz, who could be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, is a dynamic Christian leader.

Foles was brilliant in the play offs and the Super Bowl!  He went up against Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  He matched Brady play-for-play.  He was not intimidated.  He performed with excellence.  When Foles was handed the Most Valuable Player trophy, his first comment was, “I want to give all the glory to God!”

Foles is a devout Christian.  His Twitter bio reads, “Believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, brother.”  Glory!  He plans to enter the ministry when his pro football career ends – which I think will be delayed after his Super Bowl performance.

A few weeks ago the Eagles wide receiver, Marcus Johnson, was baptized in a North Carolina swimming pool before the playoff game against the Carolina Panthers.  Foles, Ertz, Wentz, and many other team members attended.  Johnson tweeted, “First time being Baptized! Corporate Worship is a beautiful thing!!  Cleaned & Reborn in JESUS name!!  #WholeHeartedly,”  Glory!  5 other teammates were baptized last year!  Glory!

To God Be the Glory

This was the Eagles first Super Bowl win in franchise history.   Somebody in the front office of the Eagles has done an unbelievable job of recruiting great athletes and coaches who stand for the highest form of performance and integrity.  They understand life.  God gets the glory.

Man’s primary purpose in life is to glorify God.  Real winning in life is not about getting glory but giving God the glory.  “To you alone, O LORD, and not to us, must glory be given.”  (Ps.115:1)

Real strength needed to win in life comes from our relationship with God.  Strength is not an external display of muscle that is the result of exercise.  Real strength is an inner force that is the result of a Godly commitment, attitude, perspective and faith.  That inner force is built daily.  It grows by giving God the glory.

The hymn says, “To God be the glory great things He hath done.”  Whatever you accomplish today and in this lifetime, don’t take an unhealthy credit for your skill and wisdom – give God the glory and use it as a platform for Him.

You can win your super bowl! Glory!

Connect or Disconnect

Relationships are essential to a productive, healthy life.  I believe that we humans are created to relate first to God and then to other people.  The quality of our relationship with God and others greatly determines the quality of life that we enjoy.

In this 21st Century, we have made great strides with technology, but it raises the question whether they are impeding interpersonal relationships.  While advancements have tremendous advantages, they can also have a negative side effect.  One example is social media.  Instagram, Facebook and Twitter were designed to help people connect.  Recent studies have found that spending too much time on social media can actually disconnect people.

The University of Pittsburgh recently surveyed 1,787 adults ages 19-32.  They found that people who use social media for over 2 hours a day were twice as likely to report high levels of loneliness.  Prime Minister Theresa May recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness, saying that loneliness is a “sad reality of modern life” for many English people.

connect or disconnect (2)Silicon Valley has been looked upon as the forerunner in technology advancements.  But it has also produced the side effect of poorly relating to people.  This year, several companies have paid local modeling agencies to attend social functions to help people communicate with each other.  In fact, local modeling agencies have said tech companies have approached them in “record numbers” during the holiday season.  They pay from $50 to $200 an hour per model to chat with party attendees.

One typical party featured 25 female and 5 male models paid to hang out with “pretty much every one there.”  The tech firms make the models sign non-disclosure agreements and give them names of employees to pretend they are friends with.  I think high tech needs to be translated into high capacity for relating meaningfully to people.

I remember reading years ago about a little lady who every day came to the Post Office and stood in a long line just to buy postage stamps.  The Post Office employees came to know her well.  One day the man from whom she always bought the stamps suggested the Post Office now had a new stamp machine dispensary.  He explained she could simply come in and put money in the machine and not have to stand in line.

The man noticed the little lady continued to stand in line each day and buy the stamps from him.  One day he asked her, “Why don’t you use the stamp machine?”  She looked at him and said, “Because, Mr. Brown, that machine never asked me how I’m feeling today.”

People have feelings.  People are created to give and receive emotional touches.  We need that.

A Chinese company, AvitarMind, has developed a 3-foot tall robot to relate to children whose parents are not around.  The robot can sing, dance, and play ‘rock, paper and scissors.’  It can talk with children and answer questions like, “Why is the sun hot?”  It can also provide surveillance and video chat for absent parents.  AvitarMind says its robot is not designed to provide companionship to children, but to keep them occupied for several hours after school until their parents get home.  We now have a robotic babysitter for latch-key kids!

Meaningful relationships will never be replaced by robots, social media advancements, or high tech machines.

It seems to me that a good, balanced life knows how to have a healthy attitude toward all the technological advancements that are available to us, but at the same time, relate to people just as we want them to relate to us and as God relates to them.  Developing better relationships is something I want to work on in 2018.

Proverbs 11:25 – “Those who will refresh others will be refreshed.”  Proverbs 18:24  – “A real friend sticks closer than a brother.”   Ecclesiastes 4:9 – “Two people are better off than one for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  But one who falls alone is in real trouble.”

What is your use of technology producing?

How Do You Use Your Platform?

I don’t have to tell you that I love sports.  I’ve always been involved.  I especially love athletes who use sports as a platform to make a witness.  That’s why I spend so much time with athletes, teams, coaches and organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Just recently there have been so many important, high profile athletic events that had strong Christians as heroes.  In the recent NFC championship game, the Minnesota Vikings had the game in hand until Drew Brees led the Saints with a wild come back.  With 25 seconds left in the game Will Lutz hit a long 43 yard field goal.  It looked like New Orleans would win.

But with 25 seconds remaining on the clock, the Vikings had a slim chance.  With only 10 seconds left and the ball on their own 39 yard line Case Keenum had to create a miracle.  He needed to complete a pass at least 35 yards down the field and have the receiver go out of bounds in order to save one second and try a field goal.  Keenum did better.  He threw a 40 yard pass to Stefon Diggs who went up and caught the ball.  The defensive back, Marcus Williams, awkwardly missed the tackle and Diggs didn’t go out of bounds but ran into the in zone for a 29-24 victory.

When Keenum was interviewed about that being the greatest moment of his life he quickly said, “I can tell you about the three greatest moments of my life.  The first was when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The second was when I married my wife.  The third is when I completed that pass and scored with no time left on the clock.”

Platform blogAlabama played Georgia in the National Championship game in Atlanta.  Alabama was totally outplayed in the first half of the game.  In the second half Nick Saban put in the backup quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa – a true freshman.  He threw 3 touchdown passes and turned the game around.

Alabama was trailing 20-10 late in the fourth quarter.  The Tide came back, tied the score, and sent the game into overtime.  In the second overtime Tua made a big mistake by taking a 17 yard sack.  But the next play, this young quarterback threw a pass to another young freshman, DeVonta Davis, who scored the winning touchdown for the national championship.  Both young men are very committed Christians.

In the first interview, Tua was asked how he did it.  He immediately said, “First I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I want to give all the glory to God.”  A few minutes later he was interviewed by another national T.V. reporter and began the interview with the same witness.  During the trophy presentation when he was given the most valuable offensive player award, he began again by thanking his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and giving God the glory!

What a witness!  Some of the major news networks were able to edit that witness out of their reports when they came out the next day, but everybody heard them that night.

Jose Altuve, smallest player in major league baseball, was selected as the 2017 Most Valuable Player in the American League.  He again won the batting title.  He was also Most Valuable Player in the World Series.  When interviewed about that, he said, “The best success is to live your life the way God wants you to.”

Steph Curry was the most valuable player in the NBA.  Many people place him as being one of the top three NBA players of all time.  I used to shoot a basketball just like he does – accept his go in the basket!  He said, “Whether it is winning games, losing games, making shots, missing shots – it all about giving glory to God.”

I love it when athletes use their talents as a platform for making a witness.  You have a platform.  How are you using it?  Are you willing to use your profession, your reputation, your status as an athlete or student – do you use this as a platform for a witness?  You don’t have to win the National Championship, or the Super Bowl, or the NBA, or the World Series – everybody has a sphere of influence – a platform.

Are you using your platform for God’s glory?

I Am Blessed!

I feel blessed.  One year ago, I was experiencing severe hip problems.  My hip had been replaced 22 years before, and then a slight revision 3 years after that.  That served me well for years, but in 2017 it became a problem.

A major problem I encountered was that Dr. Don Hodurski had done the original replacement and had since retired.  I went to multiple doctors, but they were leery of doing the revision since they didn’t do the original hip replacement.  Some of the tests showed there were several complications, including some accumulation of fluid.

I was referred to a couple of doctors at Andrews Clinic in Birmingham, but they also were leery of attempting a revision.  One day I met a friend, Shot Thames.  He told me he had just had his hip revised by a great doctor at East Alabama Medical Center.  I also found out my good friend and member of our Board, Lucinda Cannon, had a hip replacement from the same doctor.  Lucinda helped me get an appointment with Dr. Todd Sheils.

It was one of the great blessings of my life!  He surveyed the situation, didn’t talk about how tough it could be, but was offering his talent.  Lynn and I were both elated when he said that he would help.

I then learned from some other doctors who were in medical school with Dr. Sheils that he was #1 in their class and had one of the highest scores on medical boards that they had heard of.  When I met with Dr. Sheils, he talked about how his team would be praying for me.  I am smart enough to know that when you have a doctor with extreme intelligence and skill and a humble spirit to pray and ask for God’s guidance, I was at the right place!!

Dr. Sheils and JE (2)

I had the surgery in February 2017.  Dr. Sheils could not determine if the fluid and other complications were due to infection.  He could not put in the kind of new prosthesis that was needed.  He used his skill to “improvise.”  That surgery was a great success for several months.  But then some complications arose two days after I returned from Germany in November 2017.

I went back to Dr. Sheils and he said at some point, some of the bone deterioration had given way, etc.  I asked him what he would do if it was his hip, and he said he would replace it with the prosthesis that he wanted to use back in February.  He suggested doing it soon.  He said he would be available the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I feel very blessed Dr. Sheils scheduled my surgery right after lunch on Monday, November 27.  He didn’t schedule any other surgeries for the rest of the afternoon in case the worst scenario would require removing the original stem out of the femur or a couple of their major things.  He was prepared for everything.

I just learned that a few years ago, Dr. Sheils’ son was extremely ill.  He was in East Alabama Medical Center.  His liver had begun to fail.  They were getting ready to medi-vac him to Birmingham.  It was a critical moment.  But a lady who works at the hospital came up to Dr. Sheils and told him she was praying for him and that his son would be alright.  She had crocheted an angel and gave it to Dr. Sheils.  The next day, his son went home!

Dr. Sheils hadn’t seen that lady again in 3 years.  Just about 3 or 4 minutes before he went into the operating room for my surgery, she appeared again!  She just told him that she felt like he needed extra prayer.  She wanted him to know she would be praying and everything would be alright.  She was his angel – and mine!  Just as that lady walked off, another lady appeared and said, “I’m really praying for you today.”  Dr. Sheils said he went into my surgery knowing he was really in God’s presence!

My surgery was only about an hour and a half.  He was able to put in the prosthesis that he had desired.  He didn’t have to remove or replace the stem.  He put in a wedge where some of the bone had deteriorated which would require a longer recovery.  When he walked into the waiting room with my family and friends, he had a smile on his face and thumbs up.

I am blessed!  Because of the nature of the surgery, I can place no weight on my left hip for 14 weeks (about the end of February).  I am on a walker, but able to get around really well.  I am able to go to the office every day and keep my speaking engagements that don’t require long travel.  The biggest challenge is not my hip, but my arms in using the walker.  I have no pain with that hip.

I am blessed!

Go Forward

David Livingstone was a great Christian missionary to Africa.  He faced many obstacles, but he always kept moving towards the completion of his mission.  One day he said, “I will go anywhere as long as it is forward.”

What an attitude!  One of the attitudes I want to adopt in 2018 is to always go forward.  It’s easy to meet an obstacle and either sit down or turn around and retreat.  The Biblical perspective is always to go forward.

When the children of Israel came to the Promised Land, they sent 12 spies to check it out (Numbers 13).  Ten of them came back with the majority report saying that the place was occupied by giants who would step on the people of Israel like grasshoppers.  Many people today have a grasshopper attitude.  But there were two spies who came back, Joshua and Caleb, who offered a minority report.  They acknowledged the fact that there were giants, but they declared God was bigger than any giants!  Their message was clear – “Let’s go forward and take the land!”

Some of the people were already forming the “back to Egypt committee.”  The giants were too big – time to give up.  I am in the ministry today because the people of Israel adopted the minority report and went forward.  There may never have been a Christian movement if the children of Israel had not gone forward.

“The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).  A sad word comes from Jeremiah 7:24 – “But my people would not listen to me.  They kept doing whatever they wanted following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts.  They went backward instead of forward.”

Go forward!  The great entrepreneur Charles Kettering said, “You will never stub your toes standing still.  The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe, but also the more chance you have of getting somewhere.”  While there are many ways of going forward, there is only one way of standing still!

Going forward doesn’t mean we will not make mistakes and encounter some failures.  If you never failed at something, it probably means you never tried anything.  Winston Churchill believed that “success is never final.  Failure is never fatal: It’s the courage to continue that counts.”  Failure is never final or fatal.  It can be an investment that helps us act differently in a similar situation the next time.  That’s the spirit of moving forward.

Thomas Edison invented a lot of things that didn’t work.  It took him a thousand different experiments to find the proper formula for a light bulb.  People told him he had failed a lot of times.  He never said he failed.  He simply commented that he had found 999 things that didn’t work!  On one occasion, he said, “Be courageous.  I have seen many depressions in business.  Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous.  Be brave as your fathers before you.  Have faith.  Go forward!”

During 2018, God is going to open a lot of doors in front of us.  We have to be able to see the open door, be prepared to walk through it, then have the courage to take the steps to walk through it.  Many times we don’t see the open door that’s in front of us because we focus so much on the closed door behind us.  Doors don’t stay open long.  When the door opens for you in 2018 – go forward!

The writer of Hebrews said, “God willing, we will move forward to further understanding” (Hebrews 6:3).  That’s an attitude.  The Apostle Paul’s witness in Philippians 3:13 was – “I focus on this one thing, forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.  I press on toward the mark for the prize.”

Go Forward 1

I can sit in my car and place the gear in Neutral.  The car won’t go anywhere, but just sits and “idles.”  It will eventually run out of gas.  I can also place the gear in Reverse.  It’s a difficult thing to drive a car and to live life when we are engaged in Reverse (and looking in the rear view mirror or craning our necks to see behind us).  When I want to get somewhere, I engage my transmission in Drive – a forward gear.  Last year my forward gear carried me over 20,000 miles in my car!  How far are we willing to go forward in 2018?

Derric Johnson writes – “I always wonder why birds stay in the same place … when they can fly anywhere on the earth.  Then I ask myself the same question.”

Is your life in forward gear for 2018?

Wise Men or Wise Guys? Part 2

The Wise Men’s experience at Christmas defines the difference in wise men or wise guys.  Wise men know and follow the wisdom of God.  Wise guys are cocky, arrogant, egotistical, and are going to trust their own wits instead of God.  Two characteristics of wise men were discussed last week – wise men saw the star, and wise men followed the star.  Here are three more characteristics.

  1. When the Wise Men lost sight of the star, they kept going forward (Matthew 2:3-10).

The Wise Men didn’t pack up and go home.  Losing sight of the star was temporary.  They had studied and were prepared.  They kept going forward.

Wise men always move forward.  When Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage, they faced what they thought were impossible situations.  Whenever Moses came to God for advice, God told him, “Tell the people to go forward.”  It’s easy to get discouraged and disappointed.  Sometimes a vision becomes confusing, or you don’t see the vision clearly.  Wise men keep going forward regardless.  Wise guys pack up and go back home.

  1. When the Wise Men arrived at the scene, they worshipped the Christ child and brought Him costly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

wise men worship

Wise men are givers.  Wise guys are takers.  Christmas is a time that demonstrates the difference between wise men and wise guys.  My friend Mary Ann Pickard wrote that “the custom of giving gifts is more in harmony with the Wise Men’s story than receiving gifts from Santa Claus.”  Next year will provide opportunities for you to give of your time, your talent, and your treasure in many specific ways.  Be a giver, not a taker.

  1. The Wise Men went home a different way (Matthew 2:12).

The Wise Men were warned by an angel to go home a different way.  They didn’t ask questions – they obeyed.  They followed God’s directions which protected themselves and the Holy Family.  Wise men follow God’s direction – wise guys try to determine their own path.  Wise men know God never makes a mistake in His sovereign plan and leadership.

God has an eternal view about life that wise men accept.  I was in Atlanta, Georgia staying at a hotel.  As you know, massive traffic jams occur at rush hour.  I was staying in a room many stories up.  I looked out the window and could see traffic jams everywhere.  From my vantage point, I could actually see some areas that were not as congested, and I wanted to tell those drivers to take an alternate route.  But I couldn’t communicate to them.  God has a vantage point that we don’t have.  Any lack of communication with God is not on His part but from our lack of listening and receiving and following.

Wise men know God has a better view of life.  Wise men hear from God and obey.  The meaning of Christmas is living life a different way.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature – old things are passed away and all things are new.”

I remember reading about a salesman who got lost on a country road in south Alabama.  He stopped and asked a farmer how far it was to Elba.  The farmer smiled and said, “The way you are going, it’s about 25,000 miles! But if you turn around, go back to the corner of the field, take a right, go about a mile and take a left, you are only 5 minutes away.”

God has a destination for each of us in 2018.  What direction are you headed?  How far away is it the way you are traveling?  How close would it be if you were willing to turn around and follow God’s directions?  Read Proverbs 3:5-6.

Wise men see the star, follow the star, keep going forward when they can’t see it clearly, give and worship, and are willing to go into the New Year a different way.  Wise guys are just self-centered, cocky, egotistical, and want to decide their own destination.

In 2018, will you be a wise man or a wise guy?

Wise Men or Wise Guys

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the Wise Men (Matthew 2).  They came from a long distance to worship the Christ child and present their gifts.  Their story gives great insight in how we can live in 2018.

wise men following star

Life can be divided between wise men and wise guys.  Wise men receive and follow the wisdom of God.  Wise guys are cocky and egotistical.  They say we will figure it out ourselves, make our own decisions.  (I use the term wise men and wise guys to include women.)  Here are some characteristics of wise men in Matthew’s account:

1.      Wise men see the star (Matthew 2:2). 

There must have been thousands of stars out that night, and thousands of people looking up at the heavens, but they did not see the holy star.  Wise guys look – wise men see.  Jesus said in Matthew 13:14, “Your problem is that you’ve got eyes but you don’t see.”  In Ephesians 1:18, Paul talks about how the eyes of our hearts can be enlightened so we can see the riches of God.  How well do you see?

Years ago, people looked at their arms and noticed blue lines under their skin and saw blood emerge if there was a cut.  But William Harvey saw more – he saw the circulatory system of the human body.  Years ago, many people saw the stars, the moon, and planets, but one day Nicolas Copernicus saw something different when he discovered the rotations of the earth.  Millions of people saw apples fall off the trees to the ground, but one day Isaac Newton saw the Law of Gravity.  It’s not just what you see with your eyes, but what you see with your heart and mind. 

When I was in high school, I struggled with Algebra.  The teacher would write a formula on the chalk board and ask, “Do you see this?”  Well, I could see everything that she wrote on the board, but I could not “see” how she got the answer.  Seeing was not just looking at what was written, but what it meant.  Wise men see God’s star.

2.      Wise men follow the star (Matthew 2:2). 

I’m sure that on that holy night there were a lot of people who saw the star, but when it started to move, they didn’t follow it.  After all, they were comfortably situated.  They didn’t know where the star was headed.  They were just wise guys content to “play it safe.”

The wise men followed the star.  That’s the reason they experienced the birth of the Christ child.  So many people miss out on the great things in life because they act like wise guys and not wise men.  They fail to follow.

My friend James Davis had the opportunity to go to New Zealand and visit Sir Edmund Hillary just a few months before he died.  He wanted to meet the man who, on May 29, 1953, reached the top of Mount Everest and placed the British flag on the “roof of the world.”

During their visit, James asked Sir Hillary why he was willing to follow such a dangerous dream.  Hillary replied, “If you want to simply experience what other people have experienced, then do what other people have done.  But if you want to experience what no one else has experienced, you must be willing to go where no one else has gone.”

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He saw some men fishing.  He didn’t debate theological issues with them.  He didn’t tell them to believe in Him.  He didn’t promise them prosperity.  He invited them to “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19).  The fishermen were wise men because they immediately got up and followed after Jesus.

In 2018, God is going to place opportunities in front of you.  The star will be shining.  Doors will open.  He will be inviting you to follow Him.  You can either be a wise guy who decides to stay where it is safe and comfortable, or you can be a wise man who is willing to follow the star. 

Are you a wise man or a wise guy?

An Unexpected – But Perfect Ending

A very creative children’s Sunday School teacher asked her class to write and act out their own version of the Christmas story.  It had some traditional parts, but a very unexpected ending.

There were familiar members of the cast – Joseph, the shepherds, the star, the three wise men, the animals and the angels, propped up in the background.  But Mary was nowhere to be seen.  Suddenly, from behind some bales of hay, they could hear the moaning and groaning of someone in pain.  Evidently, Mary was in labor!

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About that time, a doctor arrived dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck.  You could see the relief on Joseph’s face as he took the doctor straight to Mary, then started his pacing back and forth.  A few minutes later, the doctor emerged with a big smile on his face and said, “Congratulations, Joseph!  It’s a God!”

This is the meaning of Christmas.  Christmas isn’t about parties, trees, gifts and family gatherings.  It’s not a holiday – it’s a holy day because God came to be a part of our situation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will never perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  Christmas is about the giving of His Son to you and me.

The Bible says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  Jesus was called Emmanuel – “God With Us” (Isaiah 7:14).

Luke sums it up when he said, “Behold I bring you good news which is for all the people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  Break that down for a moment. 

1.      It’s positive – Luke says, “I bring you good news of great joy.”  The world has enough bad news.  We need some good news!  Jesus’ birth is the best news the world has ever heard.

2.      It’s personal – The Bible says, “Unto to you.”  Christmas is extremely personal because God loves you so much that He gave His Son to you.  He wasn’t just offered to “humankind,” or people in general – but to people specifically.  “Unto you.”

3.      It’s a plan – The birth of Jesus was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 with the place that He was born, and the time it was to happen.  His coming to us was always part of God’s divine plan.

4.      It’s a Person – A “Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  Jesus is not an idea, an ideal or an idol, but a Person who has come to save us and empower us for everyday living.  That’s the meaning of Christmas.

One day an English diplomat said, “Congratulations, USA, on the Fourth of July – the second greatest day in history.”  He was then asked, “What is the greatest day in history?”  He replied, “December 25.  If there had been no December 25 – Christmas – there would be no Fourth of July.” 

One day a Sunday School class was talking about the importance and meaning of Easter.  One little boy asked the teacher, “Is Easter the greatest day of the year?”  Another little boy interrupted and said, “No.  Christmas is.  If it had not been for Christmas, there would have been no Easter.”

My dad used to quote a newscaster who would sign off on Christmas Eve with these words – “That night as the sun bent low to kiss the earth goodnight, God reached down and placed a kiss of love on the brow of humanity and gently placed in the waiting arms of Mary His love-gift to the world.”

Congratulations, Joseph – It’s a God!

 

Less Predicting – More Producing

People today are fascinated with predictions about the future.  It has become especially popular when folks predict what God is going to do.  It has also become financially lucrative.

One self-proclaimed “Biblical researcher,” David Meade, predicted the world would end on September 23, 2017.  When it didn’t happen, he amended his highly-publicized claim by saying, “Wait until the middle of October.  I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.”  It’s now past the middle of October! 

Television evangelist Rick Joyner predicted that Christian prophets would soon be able to write news stories a week in advance.  He said, “You don’t need to watch the Super Bowl.  I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen.”  If he could really do that, he could make a quick fortune as a stock broker.

In the 1980’s, Edgar Whisenant wrote a book – “88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988.”  He sold a lot of copies of that book.  When the world didn’t end in 1988, he revised the book to add one more reason and called it “89 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1989.”  The interesting thing about buying that new book was that you could pay for it with a credit card and not make any payments for 2 years! 

Predicting has gone on for a long time.  Back in the 1800’s, a religious leader named William Miller calculated that somewhere between March 21, 1823 and March 21, 1844, Christ would return and Judgment would occur, and the new Millennium would begin.  A contemporary of Miller’s was Alexander Campbell, the leader of the Disciples of Christ.  He wrote an article in 1841 to poke fun at Miller and documented that Miller had taken out a copyright on his book .  What good was a copyright that didn’t expire until 10 years after he said the world would expire? 

Sports fans really love to predict outcomes of games.  Some go a little too far.  A couple of years ago, Burke O’Connell, a New England Patriots fan, had the Patriots logo tattooed on his calf along with these words – “Super Bowl 50 Champs.”  The Patriots lost two days later to the Denver Broncos, but Burke still has the tattoo.  He actually made an even dumber prediction when he had his chin tattooed with the name of his girlfriend, and then she broke up with him!  He simply admitted, “I can’t say ‘live and learn’ because I didn’t live and learn.”

One of my favorite sports stories is about the Major League All-Star game several years ago when Yogi Berra and Stan Musial were playing against each other.  Yogi Berra was in the locker room with all the pitchers from the American League.  They were discussing how to pitch to Stan Musial.  They discussed at length whether you should throw the ball high and tight, or low and away, or change speeds, or keep the ball high and away.  Everybody was predicting how they could get Stan Musial out.  Finally, the inimitable Yogi Berra said, “That’s enough.  Quit.  Your American League pitchers are not going to figure out how in 15 minutes what National League pitchers haven’t been able to figure out in 15 years.” Good advice!

I think the best advice is not to worry or panic about the future.  We know that God is in charge and Jesus is coming again.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  Jesus was very clear that our responsibility is not to figure out the details of His return, but to be ready.  Read Matthew 24:35-42 and 25:13.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not want to foresee the future.  I am concerned with taking care of the present.  God has given me no control over the moment following.”

We need to quit predicting the future and start producing the fruit of the present!  We need to quit looking for clever ways to use religion to make money, and start letting the Bible teach us how to help prepare people to live effectively starting today and forever.  (Tweet this)

We need to move from apocalyptic conjectures to apostolic certainties!