The Dancing Puritan

Monday, December 31, 2012

What Are You Doing, New Year's Eve?



Do you emphasize traditions?  Our family does.  New Year's Eve is no exception. That being said, we are not always bound to December 31st as the day we celebrate New Year's Eve. Last year our New Year's Eve traditions happened on Christmas night and this year they were on December 28th.  It is a long story, but if you have a large family like we do, then you probably understand that even the calendar must sometimes be changed. Though the calendar is rearranged the traditions remain.  We have done that with birthdays, anniveraries and even the major holidays.  In fact, this year we celebrated Christmas Day on Christmas Eve.  Are you confused?

The thing about traditions is that we do the same things around the same time each year.  In the Fall we go to the pumpkin farm and to Old Salem, North Carolina.  In April we go to Nashville, TN.  In August we go to Daytona Beach. We even stay at the same hotels most of the time.  The family is really pushing me to change our Daytona hotel because...well it has not been updated in 125 years.

Enough said, maybe you get the picture.  Today is New Year's Eve.  We have already celebrated the event, but since you have not, here are a few of our New Year's Eve traditions.  We...


1.  Put together a menu that includes lots of unhealthy food.  Chips and dip, sausage, various kinds of cheese, pizza, crackers, Oreo cookies are just some of the items that made the menu this year. We serve the food in the living room so that we can eat while we...

2.  Watch "It's a Wonderful Life."  I don't know how many times we have seen this classic movie.  Once again, this year, someone said, "I think this time the movie was the best ever."

3.  Serve sparkling grape juice at midnight when the ball drops. We actually try to reserve this event for December 31st (the actual New Year's Eve).  This tradition will actually happen, God-willing, tonight.

4.  Remember the Providence of God.  New Year's Eve is a great time to look back over the year and remember God's providence and to thank Him for His kindness to us in the past months.

New Year's Eve is when we begin to close the door on our Christmas celebration and prepare to welcome the New Year.

Traditions are a great way to look back, look within and look forward.  Our children will always remember the trips, the food, the activities that took place year after year with our family.  I am certain that they will adapt many of our traditions to their own family situations.

It is certainly possible to make an idol of tradition just as one might make an idol of being non-traditional. Many people seem to be on a mission to tear down old traditions.  Wise folks take a good look at traditions.  Before throwing them away they ask a few good questions.

Traditions are not designed to strangle but to build community and to communicate stability.  In a world where people run to every new thing, most families could use a good dose of healthy tradition.

Speaking of health...pass the chips and dip.

By the way...what are you doing on New Year's Eve?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

After Christmas Shopping



Why was the mall here in Dawsonville, GA packed to capacity yesterday (December 29th)? After all, Christmas is over and shoppers have already "rushed home with their treasures." Perhaps there is no fiscal cliff, maybe the recession has all been a facade.  I don't think so.

Here are my theories (not based on any scientific study--just my subjective opinions):

1.  The Christmas Season Produced Habits.



We have been complaining for years that the Christmas Season begins earlier each year.  Well before Thanksgiving Day, stores are decorated and Christmas is in the air. Thanksgiving Day marks the mad rush to getting serious about Christmas. It officially begins with a sort of dark introduction, Black Friday.  That being said we (our culture at large) get settled into shopping and spending very early and, like the well greased sled that Clark Griswold rides in Christmas Vacation, we get going and we just can't stop, shopping and spending that is.

2.  Expectations Were Not Met.



Every year we set expectations concerning Christmas.  "This year is going to be the year we win it all."  Sometimes we might even say, at the end of Christmas Day, "Next year we will ________________."  We even set expectations for Christmases future.  Likely for some folks when they open the box and find another tie, pair of socks, or cheap flashlight it is a downer for them.  Even though they have delighted in shopping for others, there is still a sense, that perhaps this year, beneath the bright paper there is the present that will hit the jackpot.  When that does not happen--well we go shopping again.

3.  Extending Christmas.





Our family keeps the Christmas decorations up until the New Year. Our New Year's Day celebration is supposed to "put closure on Christmas."  On January first afternoon, I am up on the roof taking down those strands of lights that I risked my life putting up a month earlier.  As Linus said, "Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it is getting too dangerous." That line certainly applies to decorating the roof!  Christmas is an extended break. We approach the season with a sense of hope. It is a break from the normal fare of life.  It changes the pace.  And even though it speeds up the pace at least it does so in a different direction. That is really one of the great positives of the Christmas Season.  Life is hard.  We are tired.  Trouble is everywhere.  Christmas brings some refreshment to us and we have a hard time letting it go.

4.  Returning Merchandise

                                        
We did not particularly like the gift or it just didn't fit or match or work for us in some way.  So after Christmas we return to the stores to return the gifts for other gifts that fit or that we like better.  That is actually a sound reason for after-Christmas shopping.

5.  Great Sales.

Perhaps some folks choose not to spend their entire Christmas budget and save for after-Christmas deals.  Other's might spend all of their Christmas budget and justify further expenditures by "saving money" via spending money on the deals.



I've got an idea about Christmas.  Perhaps someone will join with me and we can turn Christmas upside down. Someone like Tim Allen (Christmas with the Kranks).  I have often thought about skipping Christmas.  I don't mean skipping it entirely but skipping December 25th as Christmas.  My idea is to purchase a Christmas tree on December 24th (at a deep discount), decorate the tree on Christmas Eve (at night), rest, pray, and plan on December 25th and start Christmas shopping on December 26th.  Then we (our family) move the actual day of Christmas until January 25th (or whenever we can schedule a day off from work around that time).  We enjoy some of the benefits of the normal season, (with family and friends), but we delay our main celebration until January.  It is really the best of both worlds and it may save us a ton of money. It may also help us to focus more on the birth of our Savior.

What about you?

1.  What habits have you developed over the Christmas Season that need to change?  Perhaps they began as good things (buying gifts for folks that you love) but turned into bad practices (spending money that you do not have and going deeper into debt).  Good things can become sinful practices.

2.  What do you do when your expectations are not met?  Have you learned to be content?  Is your life built upon Christ alone?

3.  Do you have a difficult time moving forward?  Whether it is Christmas or something much more substantive there is a time to pause and a time to march onward!

4.  Are you willing to make an exchange when necessary?  There is nothing necessarily virtuous about holding onto things that do not work, do not fit and are just not right in some way.  As Christians we must be willing to put off such things and to put on the virtues of the godly life.

5.  Are you easily drawn to "great deals."  We should be thoughtful about our expenditures and look for ways to save money on items that we need.  However, we should be careful not to spend money that we do not have on items that we do not need (or cannot put to use in a profitable way) just because it is a once in a lifetime deal. Where is your treasure?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friendship

"Remember no man is a failure who has friends." 

Clarence the Angel from It's A Wonderful Life




Friendship is rare and most folks will only have a very few true friends before they die.  That being said, we should pursue friendships.  But what kind of friendships should we cultivate?

The Puritan, Thomas Brooks, wrote: Let them be thy choicest companions, that have made Christ their chiefest companion.  Do not so much eye the outsides of men as their inside.  Look most to their internal worth.

J.C. Ryle in his book, Holiness, writes that we should be cautious about friendships.  Nothing perhaps affects man's character more than the company he keeps.  We catch the ways and tone of those we live and talk with, and unhappily get harm far more easily than good.  Disease is infectious, but health is not. He goes on to say, Now if a professing Christian deliberately chooses to be intimate with those who are not friends of God and who cling to the world, his soul is sure to take harm.  It is hard enough to serve Christ under any circumstances in such a world as this.  But it is doubly hard to do it if we are friends of the thoughtless and ungodly.  Mistakes in friendship or marriage-engagements are the whole reason why some have entirely ceased to grow. He then quotes from James 4:4. The friendship of the world is enmity with God."

Notice what Ryle does not say.

1.  He does not say that we are to have no association with ungodly folks. Life requires rubbing shoulders with all sorts of folks in numerous settings.  We are never commanded in Scripture, nor does sound wisdom ever guide us, to avoid those who do not love the Lord.  

2.  He does not say that we are never to have close encounters with unbelievers.  As Christians we are to be "salt and light" and that requires bringing the gospel to people who do not know Christ.  If we avoid unbelievers then we fail in the mission that Christ has called us to.  Certainly one of the problems of some Christians is that they tend to isolate themselves from as much contact as possible with unbelievers.  They retreat behind safe walls and never engage the wicked.  It only takes a quick glance at the life of Christ to see that he was "moved with compassion" as he saw the multitudes as "sheep without a shepherd."  He ate meals and interacted with sinners.

What then is Ryle saying?

1.  Be aware of the power of friendships.  The folks that we spend time with have a great ability to affect our character.  He is calling for discernment in friendship.

2.  He is warning against being "intimate with those who are not friends with God."  It is one thing to be friendly as we associate with all sorts of people in all sorts of situations; it is quite another to make those folks our intimate friends.  An intimate friend is one that we might share the depth of our heart and experiences with.  True friends are bound by the closest of bonds.  Christians love Christ and as Thomas Brooks wrote, Let them (friends) be thy choicest companions, that have made Christ their chiefest companion. Christians share the most important relationship with one another.  That relationship is Christ.  They love the things of God and are in hot pursuit of knowing God.  Christians are going the same direction.  That cannot be said of any unbeliever.  Non-Christians might be nice, kind, fun and pleasant.  They might be interesting and compassionate.  But when it comes to spiritual things they are not aiming towards the same target as Christians.

What kind of friends must we pursue?

J.C. Ryle writes: Let us seek friends that will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible-reading, and our employment of time--about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come.  Who can tell the good that a friend's word in season may do, or the harm that it may stop."

Ryle gives wise instruction.  

1.  We should seek friends.
2.  We should seek friends that will stir us up about important matters (prayer, Bible-reading, employment of time, our souls, our salvation, and the world to come).

You may be frustrated in your pursuit of godly friends.  What should you do?

1.  Ask God to provide godly friends for you.  
2.  Be friendly.  
3.  Look for friends in all the right places 

We should take initiative in the pursuit of friendships.  The best place to find godly friends is in a godly church.  We should be friends with all Christians and yet there will be some people that we will become very close to.  C.S. Lewis wrote: Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.  Your own church, bible conferences, events with other like-minded churches and Christian groups are some of the places that you might meet a friend.  However, sometimes the meeting is a complete surprise.  I met a dear friend in a bookstore.  I met another friend as he stopped his car to ask for directions.  I was not looking for a friend in either of those situations but God surprised me with, what is now, long-term friendships.


Friday, December 28, 2012

A Time to Remember

A Time to Remember
E. Ray Rhodes, Sr
10/11/1937-12/25/2011

Funeral Service: 12/28/2011

The photograph above is how I enjoy remembering my daddy.  He had a sensitive heart and loved people.  He especially loved his family.  He would greet us all with a hug.  

I will always remember him.  I miss his wisdom, his humor, his friendship, his life.  I learned more from my dad than anyone else.  He read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times.  He worked tirelessly.  He loved faithfully.  I look forward to our fellowship together with Christ in heaven.


One of the things that he thought about the most, in his last months, was the care of my mother and his wife of 51 years.

Mama and Daddy early in their relationship.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.





Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Gift Every Morning



There are few things that I enjoy more each day than my morning readings.  There are no things more beneficial.  It is likely that there are few things more beneficial to my wife and children than when I rise up, perk coffee and take up my bible and books and read.

I must confess, however, that there have been more than a few occasions when I have read and almost immediately displayed impatience with my dear wife and our children over some small distraction or fault.  I have often failed, as George Mueller instructed, to have my soul happy in the Lord.  He saw this as his first great and primary business of each morning.  Before he sought to serve the Lord with his hands or testify of God with his lips, he was first concerned with the nourishment of his "inner man."

How often we launch into our day with no (or little time) spent sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his voice by reading his word.  We go forth to interact with folks, to write letters, send emails, make phone calls, build bridges, program computers, raise children, repair automobiles and even preach sermons without first concerning ourselves with cultivating the heart.

The ongoing struggle that we face with the "world, the flesh and the devil" is difficult when we have immersed ourselves in the Bible.  However, we set ourselves up for multiple failures when we go forward into our days without drinking the pure milk of the word (I Peter 2:2-3).  To not build upon the solid foundation of Scripture is to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).  To lean on such a faulty wall is to invite a fall.

We justify our lack of bible reading and prayer by the duties that our schedule demands.  We have jobs to do that are unrelenting in their requirements.  We have babies whose cries command our immediate attention.  The call to morning meditation is not a call to neglect the duties of job or parenting.  But it is a reminder that we do not live by bread alone. It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Yet our schedules reflect that we think we live by our employment alone or by any other important pursuit. And so we run into our days having neglected that which gives us life and through us brings life to others.

I write this not to place before you a rigid schedule of daily duties that must be employed at certain times and in certain ways in order to be faithful to God.  It is to call you (and me) to the regular joyful discipline of reading, prayer and meditation on the Scripture.  To ponder more the things of God.

What must you do?

See the Importance of Bible Reading and Prayer.  Jesus said that we live by the word of God (Matthew 4:4). ...as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (I Peter 2:2-3).
Set a Schedule of Bible Reading. A schedule is a guide and not a master.  However, without guidance we will float and be carried by various winds.  In order to capture the best times for reading we may be required to rise very early.  Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed (Mark 1:35). Find a quiet time and a quiet place.
Saturate Your Heart with Scripture.  Work to get your heart "happy" through meditation on the great things of God.  But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Every day in Bible reading and prayer will not be sweeter than the day before.  There will be times that the struggle will be great and the focus will be dull.  On those days--keep plowing.  The farmer must plow the hard ground during many inopportune times.  Plow the heart, do the best that you can when the time is hard, repent of your cold heart and take a bath in God's amazing grace.  And when the times are sweet--savour them to the benefit of your soul, your spouse, your children, your job, all of your relations--and to the glory of God.

What am I reading right now?

I am slowly reading through the Psalms.  This morning I read Psalm 106.  As I read I seek to focus on God's character and I pray as I read.  The Scripture provides both the content and the fuel for my prayers.  I am also reading a couple of books during my morning devotions.  Presently I am working through Songs of the Nativity by John Calvin and Holiness by J.C. Ryle.  When I read I keep pen and paper near at hand and make a few brief notes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Now?



The weeks of preparation came to fruition yesterday.  We welcomed Christmas Day.  It came.  It has gone.  Like the Queen of the Night cactus that blooms only one night a year, Christmas has bloomed and Christmas has departed.

The contrast was stark yesterday afternoon as we drove home from visiting family. Parking lots were empty.  The doors to most stores were locked tightly.  The Christmas lights, that just a day before had been so promising, were like a monument to what once had been.  We played our Christmas music.  We talked of our Christmas experiences but our zeal was diminished. Soon we were discussing our schedules for the next several days and weeks. We had work to do, places to go and schedules to keep. Life was returning to 'normal.' I felt overwhelmed.

Assuming the best about us, for the past 25 or so days we have been focusing on the birth of Jesus Christ. How do we now live? What do we do? For most (all?) of us the Christmas season has been a mixed bag.  We have read Christmas devotional books, attended church services and talked much about the birth of Jesus. As well we have been to a lot of stores (virtual and otherwise).  We have invested our time, spent our money and worn ourselves out getting ready for Christmas.

Perhaps today we are looking at a mound of wrapping paper. No gifts decorate the base of the tree.  Stockings are empty. Everything looks and sounds different.  Christmas is over and yet the remnants remain. We are in between Christmas and normal.

What now?  That is the question that I am considering this December 26th morning.

Perhaps the best answer to that question is found in the Christmas story itself?  What were the immediate responses after the birth of Christ from Luke chapter two:

Worship (8-13).  Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lords stood before them, and the glory of the Lord stood around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angels said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'

Shepherds were confronted by one angel.  They were soon joined by many angels.  The angels did what angels always do. They worshipped God!

Go Quickly to Jesus (15-16).  So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.'  And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  

How do we go to Jesus?  We go to him by faith.  We cannot travel to Bethlehem and hope to find a baby in a manger.  Nor can we go just outside of Jerusalem and find Jesus upon a cross.  Jesus has come, He has lived, He has died, He has been raised from the dead and He has ascended back to heaven.  So how do we go to him?  We do so by going back to the Bible and reading His story.  We better learn His gospel.  We hear again the "good tidings of great joy."  We seek Him in prayer and we follow after Him.  When we fall short (as we do each day) we go back to Him in faith and thank Him that He never fell short.  When we are sad or tempted we go to him for sympathy.  When we feel condemned due to our ongoing struggle with sin we go to him with thanksgiving that "...there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus..." (Romans 8:1).  We never stop going to Jesus.

Tell Others About Jesus (17-18). Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the Shepherds.  The Psalmist in Psalm 105 tells us to Make known His deeds among the peoples!  The Christmas season affords us great opportunity to tell the good news!

Ponder the Christmas Story (19).  But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. A lot had happened to Mary in the previous nine months of her life.  She had heard from an angel the amazing announcement that she, a virgin, would give birth to the Savior.  She had faced all of the challenges that must have come to an unwed woman who was pregnant.  She had rejoiced with Elizabeth and had made the difficult journey to Bethlehem with Joseph.  There she had found no room in the local Inn and therefore had given birth to Jesus in the most primitive of situations. Though Mary had not grasped the fullness of what was happening in, to, through and around her--she nevertheless was a deep thinker.  She had made that perfectly clear in her song from Luke 1:46-55.  She knew that God was at work.  And now she had given birth, wrapped her baby up and she pondered.  Perhaps this is one of the great missing ingredients of our modern Christmas celebrations.  Our celebrations are loud.  They are busy.  They are talkative.  Some of that is good.  Much of it is necessary.  But often we fail to simply ponder the story.  To think deeply about God, His promises, the fulfilment of those promises, the coming of Jesus and the implications of Jesus.  Be prone to ponder!

Worship Again (20).  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.  Of course it is all worship.  We worship as we go to Jesus in faith, as we tell others about Him and as we ponder Him.  And yet we worship in more specific ways.  We gather for congregational worship with our church family.  We gather with our family to worship.  We begin, continue and end with worship.

What now?  Worship!  Go to Jesus!  Tell others about Jesus!  Ponder Jesus!  Worship God!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Mary

There is no doubt, that she carried Jesus by faith in her heart, just as she carried him in her womb.
John Calvin

Has any woman in all of history received as much attention as Mary?  Rarely has she been properly esteemed.  Either she has been exalted above measure or she has been disminished in some way.  

Mary's focus reveals her character. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:46). This is Mary's song, her statement of faith, her declaration that God alone is worthy of worship and that it is her commitment to worship him from the heart.  Therefore Mary is distinguished from the hypocrite who may speak loud words of praise to God, or about Him, and yet have a heart entangled in worldliness.  Mary's heart, by God's grace, is close to God.  She is enflamed with love for Him and is in awe of Him.

And so she sings.  She sings to God and for the benefit of all who hear; the first Christmas carol.  It is a hymn about God's greatness and His saving mercies given to the lowly.

I recently had the opportunity, with a couple of my daughters, to visit several families in a severely distressed apartment complex in Atlanta.  It was immediately evident that the folks we visited with were living in the midst of deep struggle.  At each home we asked how we might pray for the family.  One poor lady said, "pray that God will deliver us from this place.  It is hard on my children and me to sleep at night with the sounds of gunshots outside."

As we visited each living room the story was the same.  Poverty, sadness and need.  We shared the story of Christmas--a story of mercy and grace.  Our message to each family was that God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  He did not come to a royal palace, to the King's castle or to those who were the movers and shakers of society.  He left the glories of heaven and descended to the womb of the virgin and to the manger of Bethlehem. He came to a lowly place to save a lowly people.  

There was nothing in Mary that would cause the leaders of her culture to turn and take notice.  She was a woman.  Women were not highly regarded.  She was a young woman (perhaps a very young teenager).  She was a simple woman from, of all places, Nazareth.  Pastor John MacArthur writes about Nazareth: Nazareth, an obscure town 55 miles north of Jerusalem, was a place of lowly reputation, and nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. Mary was a lowly lady, from a lowly place and with a lowly (humble) heart.

Yet, as the angel said to her Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women (Luke 1:28).  Why was Mary blessed?  Because God had chosen her.  He had 'favored' her.  He was 'with' her.  And Mary knew it.  She knew it and therefore she 'magnified the Lord.' She rejoiced in Him.  For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  And His mercy is on those who fear Him...(1:50).  

Yes, Mary is distinguished from all other women who have ever lived in that she was chosen by God to be the vehicle that would bring Jesus Christ into the world.  She would be, as Elizabeth her relative said, The mother of my Lord (1:43).  And yet Mary was like all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, she was blessed because she was chosen by God unto salvation and blessed because she believed (45).

John Calvin writes: The greatest praise we can render Mary is to take her as our teacher; she must instruct us, and we will be her pupils.  We...must follow her example, and remember that God looked on her with pity.  She should be to us a mirror of God's mercy.  For in mercy God chose us for himself, sinners though we were, rescued us from the abyss of death and had compassion on us.  Mary is thus set before us as an example to imitate.  With her we acknowledge that we are nothing, that we count for nothing, and are utterly reliant on God's goodness.  That is how we can be Mary's pupils, proving by our aptness that we have been attentive to her teaching (From Songs of the Nativity).


Sunday, December 23, 2012

I Need a Silent Night



Ray Rhodes, Jr.

Lori and Abigail December 2011

A few years ago singer Amy Grant released a new twist on the Christmas hymn Silent Night.  Whereas the hymn sought to give us an image of the that first Christmas, the new song is a testimony to a particular need.  Grant sings,  

I've made the same mistake before
Too many malls, too many stores
December traffic, Christmas rush
It breaks me till I push and shove


I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

Christmas is always busy.  Christmas 2011 was the busiest for our family.  November brought the birth of our daughter Abigail.  On Christmas Day my father died.  New Year’s Eve our oldest daughter was married.  Someone asked me to describe the events of those weeks.  In a moment of weakness I said, “emotional tornado.”  Abigail’s birth was a mountain-top experience.  My father’s health declined rapidly the past three months of his life.  For almost two weeks last December, most of our entire family were with him in a hospital room.  Christmas afternoon he went to be with the Lord.  It was a time of thankfulness that he entered heaven but it is also a time of great grief.  His funeral was Wednesday, December 28th, 2011.  Saturday evening, December 31st our daughter, Rachel was joined in marriage to Adrian Rink.  Rachel radiated the same beauty as her mother did on our wedding day over 25 years ago.  The ceremony was lovely and we are still rejoicing at the goodness of God in their marriage.   This morning (12/23/12) at 5:55 AM I heard the voices of Adrian and Rachel outside in our yard singing "Silent Night."  Their happiness is encouraging.

Back to 2011...With birth, Christmas, death, and marriage, we were tired.  We were tired not because we had been running through shopping malls.  Christmas, in fact, was barely celebrated in our home.  We were tired because of the “emotional tornado.”  That being said, God in HIs grace sustained us. Though we were stirred out of our comfort zone.  The “tornado” was not destructive, but a means of God making us more like Jesus.  It is only through challenges that we get to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10).  It is through the mountains and deep valleys that God takes us to heaven.  He never leads us where His grace will not sustain us.  Several people asked me at the wedding last year, “How have you made it after a preaching a funeral sermon on Wednesday and a wedding sermon on Saturday?”   The answer that I gave was, “the grace of God.”  My answer was not given lightly.   God’s grace brought us through and will ultimately take us all the way to heaven.  Last year we needed a “silent night.”   A night of rest, reflection, restoration and renewal.  In fact the Bible teaches that God renews His people inwardly, day by day.  That is His grace!  Listen to these words from Amy Grant.

 I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

What was it like back there in Bethlehem
With peace on earth, good will toward men?

Every shepherd's out in the field
Keeping watch over their flock by night
And the glory of the Lord shone around them
And they were so afraid

And the angels said fear not for behold
I bring you good news of a great joy that shall be for all people
For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

Even though things are not quite as hectic this year, we never escape the need to be silent before God. God has told us, "Be still and know that I am God."  Hearing Adrian and Rachel sing Silent Night outside of my window this morning was a fresh reminder of the peace that only God can provide.


Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries and Pastor of Grace Community Church.  He is the author of seven books.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Welcome to our Home

Celebrating a Church Member's Birthday at our Home

Welcome to our home.

Last night a neighbor and another friend from the community stopped by.  Both brought smiles and joy to our home.  Both were given little gifts prepared by my lovely wife.  Both were a reminder that guests should always find a warm welcome in a Christian's home.  Such hospitality is magnified at Christmas.

So,... welcome to our home.

These walls hold voices.  Listen carefully and you may hear...The cries of new born babies with the accompanying tears of loved one's lost.  Laughter and tears, the inseparable couple, have painted our walls and stained our floors.

Our family is extended beyond blood-lines to sports teams, church members and travelers that have come our way. Wedding vows have been made by our fireplace.  Games played on our floors.  Pizza enjoyed in front of our television. Presents have been opened beneath our tree.

These walls hold the high pitched voices of little girls who have used the hardwood as a skating rink and a basketball court. These rooms embrace young women that cook, clean, play music, welcome friends, and laugh and cry...And cry and laugh.

And this place sustains a godly wife, forever young and a man whose hair continues to gray.  They grow old together enjoying the patter of little feet and the intrigue of young ladies. Life is good.

Prayer meetings, worship services, team parties have all found a home here. Baptisms have been celebrated and friends have been counseled...all here between these walls.

Music from the violin, piano, flute and guitar have wafted through our rooms and danced upon our senses.

Our home is a place of school, worship and play. It is a place where memories are made and life is lived. If you visit us you will not find a museum but a refuge, play ground, hospitality center, mission's station and a place where God is met.

Few seasons have found such a welcome in our home as Christmas.  For weeks the day is anticipated.  Plans are made.  Trees are decorated. Traditions are relived. The kitchen smells of the holidays.  The children will line up on the stairway on Christmas morning.

And, you are welcome here. The door will be opened and you are invited into our home. Your words will find a place in the archives of our memories. Your kindness in gracing our home will be long remembered. You will enter this season with us. You will be here because you have touched our lives in some way. We are thankful for you and will rejoice in your visit. You are a gift from God to us.  Welcome!

And, if you visit us, we pray that you will find God here.  Yes, he is everywhere.  And yet here, we pray, He is welcomed as a friend and worshipped as Lord.

Memories, wood, mortar, music, parties and even little children are nothing without Him.

We have fallen short of His glory. He has shown more grace.

We welcome our Savior who came to "seek and to save the lost."  The walls of the womb and the walls of the cradle felt his first movements, heard his first cry and protected his early life.

And he grew.  He never fell short.  He died.  He arose.  He lives.

He is here!  Welcome to our home.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God Revealed

Scripture Reading
Psalm 19

Christmas is a reminder that God has revealed Himself to us (John 1:14). That is good news!  How has God made Himself known?  We often speak of the "4 C's of Revelation" to our children.

Creation:  God has made Himself known by all that He has made (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20).  Creation declares the power, creativity and greatness of God.

Conscience:  Conscience is the voice-box inside a person that commends him when he does right and convicts him when he does wrong (Romans 2:15).  God has written on the conscience of man the fact that there is right and wrong and there is One to whom we must give account.

Common Grace:  Of course God's grace is anything but common. But common grace refers to grace that is common to mankind in general.  Rain, sunshine and fruitful seasons are all a witness to the fact that there is a God and He is good (Acts 14:17).

Canon:  By canon we are referring to the sixty-six books that make up the Bible.  Creation, conscience, and common grace tell us many great things about God and we are accountable for such knowledge.  However the first three "C's" do not tell us what we need to know in order to be forgiven of our sins and to be made right with God.  We are dependent on the canon of Scripture for that information (2 Timothy 3:15).  Creation, conscience, and common grace are sufficient to tell us what they are designed to tell us about God, but they are not sufficient to lead us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We need the Bible.  In the Bible we learn that God has made Himself savingly known through Christ.

Family Activity

Think of ways to teach your family the "4 C's" of revelation.  Take a trip outdoors with a journal and write down three amazing things that you see that give evidence that God is the Creator.  Talk with your children about right and wrong.  Ask them how they feel when they do wrong.  Speak to them about the importance of having a sensitive conscience.  Remember to consider the rain, sunshine and your meals and to thank God for His common grace.  Read from "The Christmas Story" in the Bible (Luke 1-2; Matthew 1) and thank God for the canon of Scripture.

Prayer

Our Father, thank You for making Yourself known to us.  We could not know anything about You if You had not chosen to write your character on creation, conscience and common grace.  We thank you for those things, but especially for the canon of Scripture.  Amen.

Taken from Family Worship for the Christmas Season by Ray Rhodes, Jr and published by Solid Ground Christian Books.  To order a copy of Ray's Christmas book go to www.booksthatnourish.com





Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown Weeps

Newtown, Connecticut weeps.  In a community where the holidays are such a big deal, some have decided to take down their Christmas lights.  It is a time for mourning.  A time for tears.  A time to ask big questions.

There are some good and godly responses that have been written about the tragedy in Newtown.  What follows are just a few thoughts.

1.  Carpe Deim (Seize the day). We are busy, we are tired, we are distracted and we are often overly concerned about the trivial.  We miss opportunities to draw attention to our Savior, to roll on the floor with our children, to sqeeze them tight and to kiss our spouse. We fail to have family devotions because we are too tired.  We go our way each day or we pull the covers up each night and fail to say what we need to say or to repent of that which we should not have said.

2.  Love the Church.  As I drove to church yesterday I was reminded of what a blessing it is to be able to go to church where the Word is proclaimed and there is sweet fellowship with the people of God.  The church is a covenant community where we stand together on the truth and hold that truth high.  The sentiment by many folks concerning the murders in Newtown is that "there are no words to say."  The church has words to speak. The children of the church get to hear those words.  They grow up in a place that helps them to make sense of the fallen world in which we live.  The church is a one another community of love.  It is a safe place in a world that is unsafe.  It may not be safe from a murderer's rage but it is a place of rest and answers in the midst of rage.

3.  Hate Sin.  Evil was vividly displayed in Newtown last week. Yet it was also a reminder that hell is not just for folks who act on their venomous hearts.  Hell is for folks who lust and hate in their hearts.  Hell is for presumptous believers.  Hell is for those who profess to believe in God and yet deny Him in their works.  Hell is for those who do not conform to the law of God.  Religious and irreligious folks are in danger of hell.  Hell is for all sinners who do not repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ perfectly conformed to God's law and His righteousness is counted to those who believe in Him.  The cross of Christ makes it abundantly clear that sin is awful and grace abounds.

4.  Value Life.  Our culture has been called a "culture of death."  Since the 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade it is estimated that 50 million babies have been aborted.  That is about 3,000 per day.  The blood of our children has soaked into the ground of our land.  Couple that horrific statistic with the devaluing of the elderly and we have a culture where life is devalued.  It is hard to comprehend that 50 million of our children have been taken at the rate of 3,000 per day for the past 40 years.  We are rightly horrified by the deaths at Newtown and we should weep for the families who suffer.  We should also weep for our nation and pray that God would bring a great spiritual awakening to our land.

5.  Be Slow to Speak.  Though there are words to say and words that should be said, we should remember that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.  This is not the time to make political hay--regardless of what side of the fence you are on.  In the midst of tragedy we need to look to ultimate things even as we extend temporal comforts.  The time to debate whether teachers should be armed is not today.  There are tears to be dried, people to be embraced and a gospel to be applied.  Today is a time to weep, a time to comfort and a time to use suffering to point us to the Savior.

6. Exalt Christ.  What do we have to offer to a nation gripped by grief?  We have a sympathetic Savior. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16, NKJV).  Jesus, the Son of God, is fully God and He is fully man.  In the one person of Jesus Christ is united two natures.  The Son of God is eternal--He has always existed.  However, He did not always have a human nature.  The Christmas story is about the Son of God (very God of very God) adding to His divine nature a human nature in one person. It is right to say that Jesus is fully God (he has the full nature of God).  Jesus is fully man (he has the full/unfallen nature of man).  The two natures are distinct but are personally united in one person.  The Son of God descended from heaven's glories to make a bed in a manger, to walk the dusty roads of Galilee, to overcome the fierce and constant battering of temptation, to humble himself all the way to the cross and to be raised from the dead.  Jesus is the sympathetic Savior, meaning that he suffers with us.  He is sympathetic to His children.  The message that we have to a grieving people is "come to Christ and find rest" (Matthew 11:25-30).  There is a sympathetic Savior whose arms are opened wide to receive those who weep.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Are You an Educated Christian?

J.C. Ryle


There are some books that demand to be read.  I once heard a Pastor say, "You can't call yourself an educated Christian if you have not read The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan."  Well, that statement may be a bit strong.  For various reasons, 'educated Christians' may go years without reading books that they are suppose to read.  Perhaps we should be more Spurgeon like and read The Pilgrim's Progress many times but we should hold out the possibility that one could be an 'educated Christian' without having read such a classic.  Another such book is Holiness: It's Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots by J.C. Ryle.  I am here to make a confession that may indeed cause others to dismiss me from the ranks of educated Christians.  I have never read Holiness, until now.

The book has been on my shelf forever in at least a couple of editions.  But it has merely served to keep company with the books around it.  Recently, I acquired a portion of a Pastor's library.  Gradually I have been processing those books and selling many of them.  However, I put a number of them to the side to keep in my own library.  I especially love hardback books.  Included in the lot was the Charles Nolan unabridged hardback edition of Ryle's classic book all dressed in red.  I could almost hear the faint voice of someone singing in the background, Tolle lege (take up and read).

Recently I preached a message from Romans 13:8-10 which teaches that we owe love to everyone. If I had read page 44 in Holiness I would have included these words from Ryle.

A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.  He will endeavour to observe the golden rule of doing as he would have men do to him, and speaking as he would have men speak to him.  He will be full of affection towards his brethren-towards their bodies, their property, their characters, their feelings, their souls.  He will abhor all lying, slandering, backbiting, cheating, dishonesty, and unfair dealing, even in the least things...He will strive to adorn his religion by all his outward demeanour , and to make it lovely and beautiful in the eys of all around him.  Alas, what condemning words are the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians and the Sermon on the Mount, when laid alongside the conduct of many professing Christians!

In the message I made the challenge that every person that we see and think of--that we first of all ask the question, "what do I owe that person?"  The answer is always love.  Every person, all the time, in every situation!  I am to "be full of affection" towards them.  Ryle says that we are to be "full of affection towards their "bodies, their property, their characters, their feelings, their souls."  That is another way of saying that we are to be considerate and thoughtful.  We are to fight lustful thoughts, take care of what belongs to others, be concerned about how folks feel and have utmost interest in the eternal welfare of everyone.  Every person that we think of, every person that we know, have feelings, interests, property, hopes, dreams and will spend eternity somewhere.  Ryle gives warm application when he reminds us to be "full of affection."  He also reminds us that such love touches the "outward demeanour" and "makes it lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all around..." It is not just actions but attitude that we should be concerned with.  We must have a loving demeanor that sweetens all of our deeds.

There are a lot of words being written today about holiness and sanctification.  J.C. Ryle's book, Holiness, first published in 1877, would be a great book to read or re-read (especially if you want to be an educated Christian)!

www.booksthatnourish.com

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Christmas Entertainment Things



Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad
From the Sound of Music Soundtrack

On a lighter note today, what are some of my favorite Christmas entertainments? Not really any of the things listed in the Sound of Music song above!  Well, maybe "crisp apple streudels" and "girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes" since I have so many girls in my house and they all can bake very well.

1.  Amy Grant Christmas Music.  While Amy is somewhat of a controversial figure among Christians I have always enjoyed a lot of her music and especially her Christmas music.  She has done several Christmas albums (Get them all) but my favorite one is: A Christmas to Remember.

Check out Christmas Lullaby on this CD!

2.  Its a Wonderful Life.  I read a Facebook post a few days ago that actually declared that Its a Wonderful Life is boring.  Such a statment borders on criminal.  We watch this great classic each year--typically on New Year's Eve.  Not to be missed!

Always a fresh reminder of how blessed I am to have a family.

3.  Charlie Brown, Rudolph and the Grinch.  We usually watch these via video rather than the night they are actually broadcast.  And we throw Frosty in for good measure.

One of my favorite scenes; "Lets be independent together."

4.  Romance! Generally we are overbooked during the Christmas season. But every once in a while, the lights, the music, the atmosphere and The Song of Solomon--turns my heart towards romance.  One of my favorite Christmas romantic songs is, Baby It's Christmas, by, of course, Amy Grant.

Just before the big kiss!

Baby It's Christmas

...Let’s light a candle
put on some tunes
we’ve got til morning
to kiss and to spoon...

5.  Christmas With the Kranks.  I know that this is not a classic and it is real corny.  But for some reason--we always watch it.  In fact it is the first Christmas show we watch each year (around Thanksgiving).


6.  Family Worship for the Christmas Season. If you are looking for mystery, suspense, intrigue and action--well this is probably not the book for you.  However, if you are looking for some help in leading your family to worship God during the season, you might want to take a look.  Besides, how could I give a list of movies, television shows and music without some shameless promotion.  Just click below the picture to order!


First Person to Comment Gets a Free Copy!  Simply comment below, then friend me on Facebook and send me a message with your mailing information.


Merry Christmas!












Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Church and Christmas


Sanctification...is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means.  When I speak of means, I have in view Bible reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God's Word, and regular reception of the Lord's Supper.  I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification.  I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them.  J.C. Ryle

What is your attitude concerning the church?  

The church belongs to God!  Embracing that statement will help you to better understand and appreciate life in the body of Christ.  It will also help to keep you from seeking to infringe upon that which belongs to Another by importing your own opinions and ideas about the church.

Chapter 21 paragraph 1 in the Westminster Confession reads:

The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.  But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himeself and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

That is sometimes called the Regulative Principle of worship, meaning that God has ordained through His Word how He is to be worshipped in His church.  There are a variety of perceptions concerning the Regulative Principle.  One way that it might be stated is that the church must do what the New Testament commands her to do when she gathers for worship. She must not do what the Scripture does not command.  She is free to do that which is consistent with the Bible.  On this last point, for example, there are those who think that because the New Testament is silent on the church using musical instruments, the church should not use them in worship. However, if one holds to the view that the Regulative Principle of worship permits the Christian to do that which is consistent with the whole of Scripture, then one would be free to use musical instruments in the public worship of the church.  The main point is that God is not silent about worship. His Word is to inform and direct His people in congregational worship.

Christ owns the church and the church is the "pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).  The truth that is to be held up is summarized in Vs. 16 God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.

That passage of Scripture summarizes the message of Christmas.  The Lord's Day is a reminder, as we gather with the people of God, that we belong to God and we exist to stand on and hold up the truth about Jesus.  He was "manifested in the flesh..."

www.booksthatnourish.com

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Old Salem Christmas

Old Salem Christmas

The evening in late October was filled with laughter and awe.  Laughter at the expressions and comments of each family member, awe at the providence of God.

We rounded the corner on our 'night walk' and heard the music of the Salem Band with the wind of life filling their instruments.  The children were delighted when, spontaneously, the quiet autumn evening was suddenly filled with music. We listened with smiles as we stood on the street corner surrounded by a community that first came to life in the mid-1700's.  For a moment we were back in time listening, watching and feeling communion with the past that was now engaging our present.

We were all surprised to find the side door unlocked.  Slowly we opened it, carefully glancing inside.  Before we knew it we had entered the building and were slowly winding our way up the stairs.  At the top, that which had first fancied our ears and captured our imagination on the street corner below, now engaged our eyes as we could see the room from which the music originated.  They practiced and practiced and practiced again.

When the announcement came that in only two weeks, rehearsal would begin for the Christmas concert, the aroma of the holidays permeated the building, flowed through an open window and into the night air that would soon touch our faces and fill our hearts with joy.

As we walked away and back into the night, I realized that something unexpected had occured.  It was one of those moments that time cannot erase for it is etched indelibly upon the heart.  God had surprised us with music.  He had allowed me to hear again from the voices of my girls the love of the heart.  We laughed and picked up the pace for the girls had a story to tell Mommy about the music in the night.

Family worship at Christmas time is like that music.  By God's grace the aroma of worshipping God as a family can waft through the generations and impact great-grand children with the beauty and glory of God and the sweetness of a God-centered family.

The Christmas season is a big deal in the Rhodes' household.  It starts around Thanksgiving and ends of New Years Day.  In between we have a number of 'essential' activities.  If you come to our home during the holidays, you may be offered something sweet to eat that either my wife or our children have cooked.  If you stay for dinner, we will pull enough chairs to the table so that we can sit and talk a while.

Whether it is around the table or somewhere else in your home, make sure that you spend regular time with your family in worship of God.  This Christmas is a good time to get started.

From the Book: Family Worship for the Christmas Season.  Available at Books That Nourish.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting Christmas Right





The Charlie Brown choir, by shows end, finally got it right. We sometimes struggle getting the facts of Christmas correct. Perhaps we have been so saturated with the additions to Christmas given to us in music, books and movies that our Christmas vision is blurred. We cannot afford to miss the truth about Christ. Hanging in the balance is eternal life!  Here is a family devotion that may help to get you started in the right direction this Christmas season.

Scripture Reading
John 1:1

John 1:1 proclaims the deity of Jesus. Jesus is God!  It is essential that you know the truth about Jesus as revealed in the Bible.  In order to be forgiven of your sins you must believe in Jesus. You are not allowed to believe in an imaginary Jesus in order to be saved. You must believe in the true Jesus Christ.

Arius


If you had been living in the 3rd or 4th century you may have encountered a teacher by the name of Arius. Arius taught that Jesus was indeed a very exalted creature--similar to the Father, but a created being nonetheless.  His view was different from that of Thomas the apostle who said to Jesus in John 20:28, "My Lord and my God."

There have been a number of errant views concerning Jesus throughout history. In fact it is essential to inquire of any professed bible teacher what his or her estimation is of Jesus Christ.  If the teaching is wrong about Christ then you must reject it. It is dangerous to embrace errant teaching about Christ and His gospel (see Galatians 1).

The Bible teaches both the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus had a human body, He was born, He developed physically, He became tired, and ultimately Jesus died. Jesus rose from the dead in a real body and He ascended to heaven in His resurrected human body.  Jesus had a real mind and real emotions and yet Jesus was sinless. Yes, Jesus was fully human but as Thomas proclaimed He was truly God.  Have you acknowledged Jesus as your "Lord and God?"


Family Activity

Write down and memorize I John 4:1-3.  Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God:  Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ as come in the flesh is not of God.  And this is the spirit of Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is not already in the world."

Talk to your children about the importance of believing the truth about Jesus!

Prayer

Our Father, thank You for the Bible which informs us of the true nature of Christ.  Please help our family to acknowledge and demonstrate that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Amen

To Order my book: Family Worship for the Christmas Season visit www.booksthatnourish.com

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bethlehem and Holiness (I Timothy 1:15)




Haircut Holiness Illustrated


This morning I began a journey to better understand holiness and sin.  I have been reading the Psalms in my morning meditations and I have been struck again by the care of God for His people and how often His people sinned in the face of His goodness. The ugliness of sin is best seen against the backdrop of God's grace, mercy, guidance, provison and protection. In other words, to understand sin we must grasp something of the goodness of God.

A companion in my journey is the stalwart book Holiness by J.C. Ryle (Charles Nolan 2001 ed).  Ryle says, "Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day" (p.1).  Douglas Wilson writes in the foreword: This is because questions of sin are the place where we always begin to flatter ourselves, and no quicker way to run ourselves into serious error can be found.  If a cancer is believed to be mere indigestion, the antacid tablets will not really deal with the problem...Ryle takes the word 'sanctification' and the word 'holiness' back to the Scriptures; when we take the rock in our hand back to the quarry, we can tell if it really came from there.  Too often in our day, when we get back to the source of all scriptural marble, we look down and see that what we have been carrying around is driveway gravel.



It is my aim to go "back to the quarry" of Scripture and hack to pieces false views of sin and holiness that I have been carrying around.  I want to better understand God's own holiness and His call for His people to be holy.  It is my aim to put to flight false notions of sanctification, be they legalistic and therefore superficial or whether they be rooted in a wrong understanding of the application of the gospel.  Surely the gospel must be applied, but how?  

My main concern is my own sin and how lightly I often take it and how superficially I try to deal with it.  Externals will not cure issues of the heart nor will leaning on a wrong perception of grace, as an excuse for my sinful behavior, serve to make me holy.

People have tried various methods to stir up religious zeal.  But like J.C. Ryle we should be quick to ask do those methods lead one to ...become more holy, meek, unselfish, kind, good-tempered, self-denying, and Christ-like at home?  Do they lead (one) to become more content with their position in life, and more free from restless craving after something different from that which God has given them?  Do fathers, mothers, husbands, and other relatives and friends find them more pleasant and easy to live with? Above all do they grow in charity, and especially in charity towards those who do not agree with them in every jot and tittle of their religion?

If our methods are of any real value they will, according to Ryle, promote private home religion, private Bible reading, private prayer, private usefulness, and private walking with God.  If they are of any real value, they ought to make people better husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, and masters and mistresses and servants.

Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Why did He live a righteous life?  Why did He die on the Cross?  Why did He rise from the grave?  Why did Jesus come to the earth?  He came to save sinners!  He came to reconcile sinners to Himself by His free grace through faith in Him.  In the great act of justification He declares repentant/believing sinners to be righteous in Christ and He forgives them of their sin.  He makes them positionally holy.  He then begins the work of making them in practice what they are in position!  That process is sanctification.  Sanctification culminates in glorification, when His people become fully Christ-like.  Until then we must fight the good fight of faith.  After all the root of all sin is unbelief (Psalm 78:22).  The awfulness of sin is evident in that it is against God who guides, provides, protects and cares for His people.  In the face of such goodness we sin.  In the face of God sending His Son to Bethlehem, to the Cross, to the Grave and back to Heaven--we sin.  That we sin is no surprise (Romans 7) but what should be shocking is our contentment with sin and our laxity in the pursuit of holiness.  Meditate on the goodness of God.  Contemplate the awfulness of sin.  Look to God's Word to understand how to fight sin as you grow in holiness.