Monthly Archives: December 2014

Need a New Year’s Resolution?

Are you looking for a New Year’s Resolution that takes relatively little effort but will change your life?

On January 1, 2014 I embarked on a 365-day plan to read the entire Bible in one year. Tomorrow I tackle day 365 as I read the closing chapters of the Old and New Testaments.

To be honest, I embarked on this quest because I wanted to be one of those believers who could say they’ve read through the entire Bible. I suppose that sounds a bit self-serving, but God did give us His Word with the intention that we read it. My journey through the Bible during 2014 was not a scholarly read; it was a casual, relaxing “read-through” using the paraphrased New Living Translation via the YouVersion Bible App on my Kindle Fire. Some of my clergy brethren may cringe at that, but before you cringe, I’d like to share three blessings I’ve gained from having completed this journey.

  1. God has given me an invigorated love for Him and His Word. I see now, for myself, that the Old and New Testaments are completely intertwined. The Bible is not two books set together within one binding; it is The Book – God’s revelation of Himself to His people. The entire Bible is about The Word Made Flesh, Jesus the Christ. Even through this casual “read-through” I see that so clearly. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” ~ John 1:1-2
  2. God has given me an enhanced appreciation for my salvation by reminding me of sin’s evil nature and God’s just and right reaction to sin. Truly, there are passages that are difficult to read from a purely human standpoint. As I read many of the writings about sin and the results of sin I saw myself, and at times that was somewhat disturbing. Even as I saw myself separated from God by a chasm of sin, I was reminded every day that God doesn’t leave us hanging – out of His love for us He rescued all who believe in Jesus from the just punishment we all deserve. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” ~ Romans 3:23-24
  3. God has led me to love and appreciate His sovereignty. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. Take note of today’s current events, scroll through Facebook or Twitter; note the content of the entertainment we consume through movies, TV, music, and electronic games. Notice how some Christian churches are celebrating sinful lifestyles as they embrace the notion that these lifestyles are natural and pleasing to God. Take note of these things and you might come away with the notion that God is irrelevant; He is losing the battle and He no longer reigns. No! Thank God for His sovereignty, for although the battle is raging it is already won! “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM “; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” ~ Exodus 3:13-14

To complete my journey through God’s Word, I used one of the reading plans on the YouVersion Bible app on my Kindle. The app is free and includes a plethora of Bible reading and study plans. Don’t have a Kindle? That’s OK – there are several 365-day Bibles available in print at your local Christian bookstore.

Completing this journey required only about 15 minutes of time each day. In exchange for those 15 minutes a day, God gave me some incredible blessings.

How about you? Are you seeking a resolution for 2015 that will truly change your life? Why not consider joining me as I embark on the journey again? Open your mind and your heart to God’s Word. I’m convinced that you, too, will be richly blessed.

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas 2014

Well, here we are again. We are at the point of culmination: the culmination of all the decorating, all  the shopping, all the hustle & bustle, Christmas cards mailed, and yes – all of the waiting. What, waiting? Yes, waiting. You have been waiting, haven’t you?

Our home in Keller, Texas is beautifully decorated, thanks to the vision and creativity of my lovely wife. We have a beautiful Christmas tree beneath which lies a plethora of colorfully wrapped packages waiting to be opened. The sugar count in our kitchen is at an all time high with cookies and other holiday treats. Our staircase is decorated with faux pine garland interwoven with lovely white lights and our fireplace is decked out as well, complete with stockings hung by the chimney with care. The shopping is done – almost. I traditionally shop on Christmas Eve; not as an act of procrastination but because I enjoy it. Indeed, the Strege’s invest heavily in the traditions of the season and we enjoy it.

Some refer to the Christmas festival traditions as “trappings”. I understand why that is. If we’re not careful, Christmas becomes all about the trees, the lights, the goodies, and the presents. And while those things are fun and can bring some degree of happiness into our season, they are not what Christmas is all about for those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus.

As a Christian, there is not a doubt in my mind that the true “reason for the season” was born of a virgin and laid in a manger in a town called Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. He died on a cross to save all who believe in Him from our sins, and was resurrected 3 days later. In Him and Him alone, death was swallowed up in victory! Without Him, my hope for eternity, and yours as well, is quite bleak. But through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the hope of eternal life in His amazing presence. Indeed, we are at the culmination of Advent – that period of anticipation as we wait to joyfully celebrate the birth of our Savior.

This morning, as I prepare to embark on my traditional Christmas Eve shopping excursion, the birth of our Savior is at the forefront of my mind. I hope it is at the forefront of yours, too. I wish you and all for whom you care a very Merry Christmas indeed!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which well be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” ~ Luke 2:10-11

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which well be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” ~ Luke 2:10-11

Santa is Real!

NOTE TO THE READER: This is the text of the speech I offered last night at my Toastmasters Christmas party. I hope you enjoy it!

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Each of us is familiar with this famous line penned by NY Sun editor Francis Church as he replied to a query from little Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, honored Guests, I stand before you this evening to share with you the truth that Santa Claus is, indeed, real.

Who is this Santa Claus? In American culture he is portrayed as that jolly old elf with the rotund torso donned in his famous red suit trimmed in white fur. His hair and his beard are snowy white and he laughs with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He lives in the perpetual winter of the North Pole and has a troupe of elves building children’s toys year round for Santa’s Christmas deliveries. He magically appears simultaneously in innumerable shopping malls and town squares all across the land as he welcomes children onto his lap to hear their Christmas wishes. He tours the world in a single night in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer as he distributes toys to good little boys and girls. That is how culture portrays him; but is that who he is, really?

According to History.com, the notion of Santa Claus has its origins way back in a 3rd century Turkish Monk named St Nicholas. St Nicholas was known for his piety, his kindness, and his charity. Let’s briefly examine these three traits of Saint Nicholas.

Piety, according to Websters dictionary, is the quality of being religious or reverent. Nikolas was a monk, and monks typically live lives of religious ritual and repetition as they seek to connect with and relate to God. Reverence is a deep respect for something. It’s more than just going through the motions of some ceremony or ritual; it that complete, internalized honor, respect, and love for the One behind the ceremony or ritual. His reverence for God is likely the catalyst behind the other two traits for which he was known.

Websters Dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. History tells us that Saint Nicholas traveled the countryside helping the poor and the sick. In this, he reminds me of Mother Theresa, a nun who lived a life of self-deprivation as she dedicated herself to helping the poor and needy. Both Saint Nicholas and Mother Theresa are excellent examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to showing true kindness to others.

Charity, according to Websters dictionary, is benevolent goodwill towards or love for humanity. One of the best-known stories about Saint Nicholas involves his encounter with a very poor family. The family could not afford to put up a proper dowry for its three daughters so they could be married. So, instead, the girls were going to be sold into prostitution. Saint Nicholas gathered the resources necessary to put up a dowry for each of the girls so they could be married instead of being sold into prostitution.

I would be willing to bet that each of us in this room has, at some point in life, been the recipient of unsolicited kindness or charity. When I was in college, I was driving home to Katy from Austin late one night. I dozed off as I drove down a dark farm to market road just outside of Bellville, Texas. I woke up as my car careened off the road and into the ditch. Fortunately, I was not injured. As I stood by the roadside at about 1:00 in the morning, I wondered what I would do next. (Remember, this is 1983, long before we all carried cell phones.) It didn’t take long for a car to come along and stop. A man and his wife took me to their farmhouse, which was close by. The man retrieved a tractor and the three of us drove back to the site of my accident where he proceeded to pull my car out of the ditch. The man and his wife offered to let me spend the rest of the night as a guest at their home, but I told them I was within 20 minutes of my own place. I offered him a $20 bill, all the money I had on me. He would accept no payment for his effort; he told me that he hoped I would take the opportunity to help somebody else someday. You know what? On that night, at that time, that man and his wife were Saint Nicholas to me.

Several years later I was standing in line at a Houston BBQ restaurant, waiting to order my lunch. As I approached the register, a man came stumbling towards me. At first I assumed he was drunk, but once I looked directly at him I knew something was wrong. His eyes were bulging out from his face and he held his hands to his throat in the universal sign for choking. He was obviously in distress. He was rather large, but I moved behind him, wrapped my arms around his torso, and delivered the hardest Heimlich maneuver I could muster. The piece of brisket that had lodged in his throat flew several feet through the air, over the counter, and landed at the feet of a very shocked cashier. As he gasped for breath, he managed a soft “thank you” as he headed to the men’s room. You know what? On that day, at that time, I was Saint Nicholas to that man.

Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus, lived a life of kindness and charity towards others in honor of his faith in God and his love for humanity. So you see, my friends, Santa is real. He exists as the spirit of Saint Nicholas lives on through each act of kindness and charity that we receive and through each act of kindness and charity that we pay forward. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us seek to view every person as Saint Nicholas viewed them – worthy of our respect, worthy of our time, worthy of our kindness, and worthy of our charity. Merry Christmas!

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:28-31

What Do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas? I bet if I had $1 for every time I’ve been asked that question through the course of my life I would be a wealthy man! But in all seriousness, this is a question that each of us should ponder during this season of Advent. What do you want for Christmas?

As a young boy growing up in Minnesota I never had any difficulty answering that question. One year it was a 10-speed bike and another it was a new parka. In middle school I wanted corduroys and silk shirts. After moving to Texas at age 15 I became enamored with our Western heritage and I wanted a new Resistol cowboy hat and ostrich skin boots. My wants turned more practical as I grew into adulthood – money to keep my car running, clothes for work, coffee makers and kitchen items. Now, here I sit at age 53. What do I want for Christmas?

The gift I want the most is not available in any store. It cannot be purchased online. In fact, there is no dollar amount sufficient to purchase what I want for Christmas.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” ~ Luke 2:8-14

God has already given me a gift that carries more value than any human could possibly measure: He has given me saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. I want my family to know Him as I know Him. I want them to grow in faith and walk with the Lord along the path of sanctification.

But it doesn’t stop there. You see, the evidence of sin is all around us. Watch the news. Watch almost any television show or Hollywood movie. Listen to the songs on the Top 40 lists of just about every genre of music. Thumb through many of the novels on the NY Times bestseller list. Observe what goes on around you. Our world, and our very American society, suffers from a sin sickness for which there is only one cure. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Fortunately, God loves us so much that He sent His Son into this broken and fallen world to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. It is the birth of His Son that we celebrate at Christmastide.

What do I want for Christmas? I want to be equipped to be salt and light to all with whom I come into contact. I want to be an effective witness for my Lord and Savior whenever and wherever God provides the opportunity. The world needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. God willing, I will have a role in sharing it.

How about you? What do you want for Christmas?

True Hope

Amid the tumult we’ve seen over the past week or so, the rush of the holiday season has begun. As protesters in Ferguson burned businesses, looted stores and blocked traffic, and as many Americans exchanged accusations of racism and bigotry, television advertising was amuck with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” commercialism. Thanksgiving seemed all but forgotten amidst the rush of news, misinformation and retail advertising as many American consumers looked ahead to Christmas even before the sun rose Thanksgiving morning. As I ponder the current state of our nation and the frenzied rush to feed our lust for material things, I’m tempted to despair. But as that temptation begins to overtake me, I am moved to seek God’s Word.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

God’s Word reminds me that my hope is not grounded in humanity. My hope lies in Someone far greater than any human being or any human institution. That Someone, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, came to Earth to live, die, and be resurrected to save us from the very sin that is increasingly enveloping our society day by day. This passage from the prophet Isaiah is just one of many Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s promise to send His Savior into the World. That promise, given by God to men and women of all races, was fulfilled some 2,000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus.

Let us pray for our society. Let us pray for Michael Brown’s family and for Officer Wilson. Let us pray for awakening and revival. Let us pray for reconciliation. And as we do so, let us focus our minds and our hearts on Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promise, the Baby of Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate in just a few short weeks. For true hope rests in Him and Him alone.

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