Don’t Stop Short of Jesus this Christmas

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!

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!”

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.”

On Christmas Eve, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words while still mourning his wife’s death and aiding with his son who had been wounded in the Civil War. These words ring of comfort, hope, and peace. To a war-torn audience from the already famous poet, Longfellow’s poem landed upon lives desperately needy of the hope echoed though each line.

Only, the peace Longfellow alludes to rings hollow. You see, he was not a believer in Jesus. His Unitarian beliefs did not grapple with a world fallen into the throws of great sin requiring a great Savior. He looked hopefully to the mountain side on the night of Jesus’ birth to grasp the powerful words, “Peace on earth, good will to men!” yet tragically stopped short in his own life to look further into the manger where the One bringing that peace was born. He stopped short of Jesus.

The shepherds who received good news of great joy that night on a quiet hillside didn’t stop short of Jesus. They heard every word the angels proclaimed that joyful night and rushed to the manger to find the King born in a lowly stable. The Wise Men who journeyed from a distant land didn’t stop short of Jesus. An arduous journey and a deceptive king did not keep them from finding and worshipping the King and Savior.

Unfortunately, like Longfellow, many today stop short of Jesus each Christmas season. The commercialization of Christmas distracts too many from the true Gift born over 2000 years ago and laid into a humble manger. The woeful need for “peace on earth” when so much unrest exists discourages many others from looking for the One God promised to bring it. Still others, just like Longfellow, crave the promise of peace but refuse to see that Peace has a name–Jesus!

Please don’t stop short of Jesus this Christmas. Don’t miss the greatest Gift. Don’t settle for hollow hope. Don’t be satisfied with mere pieces of peace. Don’t hold to only morsels of the message. Listen to all of it.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

Luke 2:10-17

Peace has a name. Jesus. Don’t stop short of Him!

Lottie Moon: Pray, Give, Go!

On Christmas Eve, 1912, Lottie Moon passed from this world into her heavenly reward. As a missionary to China, she relentlessly and selflessly gave herself to God’s call on her life. Indeed, she died in part because she gave her rations to the starving children she felt so indebted to reach. Decades of loving the Chinese, teaching the gospel, and giving of herself for the people she loved culminated in the ultimate expression of sacrifice.

More than a century later, her life and influence still echo in the hearts of men and women responding to God’s call to overseas missions. Each Christmas, Southern Baptists turn their attention to her story for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. And while many Southern Baptists know of Lottie Moon, few may know the names of Martha Crawford, Edmonia Moon, and R.B. Headden. Yet, God used each one to help sound the call to China for Lottie.

    Martha Crawford had been working in China with a school that Lottie began to financially support shortly after she became a Christian.
    Lottie’s younger sister, Edmonia, had already gone to China as a missionary and corresponded with her pleadingly to come to China with her.
    Her pastor R.B. Headden preached a sermon one Sunday from John 4:35 on the fields ready to harvest. She would commit to go to China shortly afterward attributing this sermon as instrumental in God’s call upon her.
  • God use the influence of all three of these relationships to call Lottie Moon to a lifetime of service for him overseas.
  • I’m grateful that the annual Lottie Moon Christmas offering gives churches all across the Southern Baptist Convention the opportunity to again turn our gaze to missionary heroes like her and to give generously to support International Mission Board work all over the world. But it’s not just Lottie that we should reflect upon this time of year. We should also consider the important influence that R.B. Headden, Edmonia Moon, and Martha Crawford had upon her as well. Each one, in their unique way, has an eternal investment in the lingering influence of Lottie Moon more than 100 years later. They beckon us to see that it’s not only the missionaries who are important to God’s kingdom work, but the supporters and senders. They remind me that all can pray, most can give, and some can go.

    For my church family at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, we will receive our Lottie Moon Christmas offering on Sunday, December 9. I’m praying for a generous offering that Sunday. But I’m also praying that God would raise up another generation of senders, supporters, and goers. The kingdom work beckons, “Pray! Give! Go!” Will you?

    *If you or your church would like to give directly to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, you may do so here.

    Mpact—Honoring Pastor Michael Barrett

    Just a few months ago when Pleasant Garden Baptist Church called me to follow Mike Barrett as pastor, I couldn’t have imagined the impact he would have on me in such a short period of time. I have been blessed to be around and serve with many good and godly pastors along the way. Until July 2018, I had never been around one quite like Mike Barrett.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever been around any Christian with less pretense than him. He epitomizes Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” He has lived this way because he wants only Jesus honored. In fact, I paid him a public compliment not long after I arrived. He pulled me off a day later and whispered, “Please don’t do that. Just lift up Jesus.”

    I know I’ve never been around anyone with the energy and metabolism of Mike. Diet Mountain Dew, a couple pieces of chocolate, and a go-go-go energy has bounced all around Greensboro and the Pleasant Garden community and even worldwide on mission trips where he’s scattered Jesus’ love everywhere he’s been.

    I have loved being around someone with such a playful joy. I hadn’t even begun at the church officially when he welcomed me into the fraternity of “Robert, it’s your fault!” A table the staff was moving took out a rear truck window and with a smirk on his face and twinkle in his eye, he immediately blamed me. I wasn’t near it at the time, so I asked him, “Mike, how you figure it was my fault? I wasn’t anywhere around.” With playful glee he chuckled, “That’s why! If you’d been there, it wouldn’t have happened!”

    What I couldn’t have imagined when my family and I arrived was the quick, deep, and prayer-shaped friendship we would develop in only a few short months. Weekly, we’ve gathered to pray together, for each other, and for our respective ministry futures. He’s walked me through many of his approaches to ministry. He’s let me talk. He’s given encouragement and direction. He’s also done something that I respect tremendously and know must not have been easy. While we’ve overlapped, he’s taken steps back more and more to let me lead. For the pastor, shepherd, preacher, and leader of 31 years to step behind me while he’s led and served so faithfully and admirably has been perhaps his greatest gift to me. He’s set me up for such success. Why? Well, take a look back at that first trait—no pretense.

    In our celebration of his tenure, we outlined our service with the acronym, “Mpact,” calling attention to the mark he’s left on countless people through “missions,” “prayer,” “action,” “compassion,” and “truth” in his pastorate at Pleasant Garden. I know this. He’s made and indelible mpact on me. If, 30 plus years from now, I have had half the influence of Michael Barrett, I’ll have considered myself immeasurably successful in ministry.

    As he transitions from Pleasant Garden Baptist this week to a new season as our local missions strategist, I’m looking forward to watching his future ministry grow even more. I know this: wherever he serves, he will leave an mpact. And a slew of chocolate wrappers, an empty Diet Mountain Dew bottle or two, and a string of people who’ve come to know Jesus because of his work.

    Thanks Mike for your mpact!

    Switching Seats

    As a kid, I rarely, if ever gave much thought to driving. I just knew we would climb into our family van and go. But as a teen, something switched. Like many teenage boys, I began to appreciate my dad’s aggressive driving habits and tense as my mom creeped along the road. Like my dad, when I thought of driving myself, I knew I wanted to fly.

    Then driver’s ed happened. The rules of the road were pounded into a full room of eager, juvenile, immature soon-to-be drivers. Our instructor did his best, but he certainly had his work cut out for him. I read about one driver’s ed student who, when told to put the car in “passing gear” by the instructor, shifted up to the big “P” slamming the car to a hard stop. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the experience surely turned into an excellent teaching moment for the instructor moving forward! While nothing quite that exciting happened in our class, rookie drivers may just bring such dramatic, and traumatizing, possibilities.

    I can still recall those first few times switching seats. Exhilaration. Nervousness. An exceptionally heavy foot. (Wait. That last one didn’t happen until AFTER I passed the class.)

    The perspective’s different in the driver’s seat. So is the responsibility.

    In late June, I accepted the call to Pleasant Garden Baptist Church and began serving there with the outgoing Sr. Pastor, Michael Barrett in mid-July. I moved from an Associate Pastor’s role to a Sr. Pastor’s position.

    I switched seats. The perspective’s different and so is the responsibility.

    But here’s the best thing. The Instructor is better than any driving teacher I’ve ever had. God says to those who look to Him for guidance and direction,

    I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

    Psalm 32:8

    I’m glad I switched seats. I’m enjoying the change in perspective and responsibilities. But oh, how grateful I am for the wise, faithful, diligent, guidance of the Instructor. Without Him, I’d be more clueless and lost than that teen who thought the “P” on the steering column meant “pass.” Just like when I began driving, I’m sure to make a mistake or two (or ten) along the way. But with God guiding our way with His watchful eye, I’m hopeful we’re more likely to avoid running red lights, crashing on the brakes, or other such “rookie” mistakes in the driver’s seat.

    What Can You See?

    “Can you read that lowest line for me?” My eye doctor had just adjusted the lens correction for my new contact prescription.

    E D F C Z P

    I could read every one. Prescription updated. Vision check success.

    My optometrist has each and every necessary tool to look into my eyes and check them. Lights. Some red. Som white. Lenses. Drops. All this specialized equipment to give me a vision check.

    That recent appointment has had me thinking, “What can I see spiritually?” And as I did, I realized, the One who created our eyes has placed tools before us to check our spiritual vision.

    2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

    Mark 9:2-8

    These verses are overflowing with truth for us, but for our purposes here, I only want to highlight two key tools God uses to give us spiritual vision check. First, he sometimes breaks our routine so we see Jesus more clearly. Jesus took his three closest disciples with him on the mountain to include them in reveal they needed to see. This Transfiguration was all about Jesus’ identity. His power. His glory. His preeminence. His authority. His lordship. His might. Are You in an unusual place? Is life a bit unsettled now? Have some unexpected trials come your way? Is your routine out of kilter? Look. Pay attention. God’s quite possibly trying to show you a fresh glimpse of Jesus.

    Second, when you do begin to see what God’s doing around you, don’t miss the Savior for the salve. Don’t mistake the miracle for the Miracle worker. Don’t be distracted by the grand expression of God’s involvement in your life that you miss God altogether. Standing right there. In front of you.

    That was Peter’s mistake. He saw Jesus. And Moses and Elijah. He saw Jesus transfigured and two heroes with him. In the shock and grandness of God’s power, he made a mistake we are prone to as well. He took his attention and allegiance off of Jesus for the briefest of moments. So God gently corrected him. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

    Back to the eye doc. After I read each of those letters, the thought never crossed my mind to thank the large, metal lens contraption she had just removed from in front of my face. I did not—even one time—consider thanking the bright, white light she had just used to peer into my eyes only a minute before. Nor did I contemplate thanking the letters on the wall for being bright and visible. But I did thank her. The doc. The expert who used each tool to help me see each letter deserved my appreciation.

    It’s not the tools we thank. It’s the Doc. How’s your vision? Do you need a eye check? What can you see? When you finish the exam, remember, it matters most if you see Jesus. And when you do, thank him for it.

    What I’ve Learned from Old Man Job and Dear Saint Paul

    I’m currently experiencing a season of obvious, visible blessing from the rich storehouses of God’s mercy and grace. God has been expressively pouring out one clear example of his goodness after another upon me and my family. We are floating in a sea of joyful goodness. We are basking in the warm glow of generous grace. We are dining at a full table and drinking from an overflowing cup.

    As God’s kindness has wrapped us up and carried us along in this season of life, I’ve repeatedly told my wife, “Oh, I don’t want to take anything for granted! I don’t want to miss one thing! I don’t want to be ungrateful for any one piece!” In so many ways, grateful joy and expressive rejoicing has been easy in this season of life for us.

    As I’ve contemplated all these wonderful blessings, God has reminded me of two truths I need to keep close at hand, one from Old Man Job and the other from Dear Saint Paul. First, he’s recalled to my attention that he gives and takes away. Both blessings and trials pass by his throne room for permission. Our circumstances do not change his authority—or his praiseworthiness—one bit.

    In my Bible reading, I just finished the book of Job. God gave to Job. Then, God took away from him. God allowed Satan to remove his wealth, his children, and his health (see Job 1-2). As he wrestled with the experiences of loss and the arrogant (and ignorant) correction of three friends, he defended his own righteousness and integrity (see chapters 3-37 for the back and forth between Job and his friends). But when God began to question him (chapters 38-40), reminding Job of his tiny place in the great providence of his creation, Job concluded,

    3 …”Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? 4 I lay my hand on my mouth. 5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

    ‭‭Job‬ ‭40:3-5‬ ‭ESV

    Two chapters later, after another round of God’s sovereign correction (chapters 40-41), Job again responded,

    2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

    ‭‭Job‬ ‭42:2-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    The only response we should ever have to God is submissive repentance and expressive praise. Job’s circumstances, even in their most dire, didn’t justify any other reply.

    Which leads me right to the second lesson God has been taking me back through.

    Rejoice always.

    1 Thessalonians 5:16

    Right now, for me, it’s easy to rejoice. Just about every circumstance is “good” by how we typically look at “good” and “bad” in human terms.

    Paul had read the book of Job though. Paul had lived on top of the mountain and deep down in the valley (see Philippians 4:11-13). Paul had been honored by the lips of men and pelted by their stones too (see Acts 14:19-23). He knew trial, tragedy, and terror (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). This man, who knew life at both extremes, commands, “Rejoice always.”

    Always. There’s no wiggle room in that word. No exclusions. No exemptions. No exceptions. Paul commands us to rejoice regardless of the circumstances, the trials, or the difficulties. He commands us to rejoice when we want to rejoice and when we don’t want to rejoice. Like Job, Paul had learned that whatever shapes our “always” never affects God’s worthiness. Like Job, Paul knew God’s sovereign power and great majesty deserve our joyful worship when God gives and when God takes away.

    Tomorrow may be a different day for me. I assure you, I’ve had days when his visible goodness wasn’t quite like this season now. I, like Job, have justified my “righteousness” in trying times only to have God remind me that I will never hold him accountable. It’s as if Dear Saint Paul looked into Old Man Job’s story and concluded, “Let’s just bypass that whole self-pity or self-justification stage altogether. Rejoice always. Yep. That’ll do it.”

    Are things good? Rejoice! Are things not-so-good? Rejoice! Either way, God’s worthy of it! Always!

    Are You Caught in the Chaos of a Storm?

    I‘m finding myself in the midst of chaos. Work. Family. Stress. Stuff. The burdens of others. The unknown. All these things — many of them good — are swirling around in my life like a storm of sorts. Stress-sized raindrops pound incessantly on my mind and emotions. Wind-like expectations whip around from work, friends, and family, sending my attention in a dozen directions. While I’m chasing these expectations one after another, uncertain anxieties crack my attention back to the present like a loud clap of thunder close by stops you in your tracks. Chaos. Loud, thundering, life-shaking chaos. That’s a good bit of my life right now.

    God knows this too. In fact, not one bit of this chaos has surprised him. Not one stress raindrop or frightening thunderclap showed up without his guiding permission.

    Why? Well, he’s the God who speaks in storms.

    I spent some time years ago digging into the Psalms. Many struck me in timely moments, but one in particular resonated with me in those chaotic, stormy seasons of life.

    Take a moment and read Psalm 29.

    1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,

    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

    2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

    3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

    the God of glory thunders,

    the Lord, over many waters.

    4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;

    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

    5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

    6 He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,

    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

    7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

    8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

    9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth

    and strips the forests bare,

    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

    10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

    11 May the Lord give strength to his people!

    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

    In verses 1-2, David calls our attention to worship God for his majesty, splendor, and holiness. That’s an excellent place to begin seeking calm in the chaos.

    In verses 3-9, David essentially takes a thunderstorm and its powerful display of wind, rain, lighting, and thunder to describe the awesome power of God’s voice in nature’s chaos.

    In verse 10, David reminds us that God reigns sovereign over the thunderstorms — and everything else.

    In verse 11, David prays that the God who is worthy of worship, the One who speaks in storms, the One who sits high above them, would strengthen and grant peace to his children living under the chaos of the wind and rain.

    In the chaos, God wants to grant calm. In the craziness of life, God wants to display his settling control. In the echoing confusion of thundering voices all around us in chaotic moments, God wants us to realize his voice is speaking. Right there. In the chaos. That thunder? His voice. That pelting rain? His voice. That violent, ripping wind? His voice.

    And what’s his voice saying?

    “I’m worthy of worship regardless of what you are going through. I’m in charge of the thunderstorms in your life. They bend to my will. I’m in control. I’ve got the storms. And I’ve got you. Come to me. I’m the source of peace. I’m the provider of strength. I’ll usher you through.”

    Is your life being ravaged by the chaos of a thunderstorm? Are you being shaken by the winds of life? Do you feel yourself drowning in the rising rainwaters? If so, turn yourself to the One who speaks in the storms. Listen. And as you do, you may just find his calming, sovereign voice giving peace and strength in that very thunderclap.