What Shall Your Response to Christmas Be?

By Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr.

The greatest gifts one receives at anytime are those which are a part of the giver! On the very first Christmas such was precisely the case: God offered Himself to he world in the person of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

That gift was most precious from the start in that Jesus left His home in glory and condescended to be born of a virgin, and in very precarious, humiliating conditions!

Furthermore, it was most costly also when we consider what his thirty-three years on earth entailed in order for Him to purchase our redemption, to secure our pardon, and to make eternal life with God a reality for all who put their trust in Him alone!

The story of Christmas, so beautifully outlined by Luke in chapter 2 of his Gospel, portrays the shepherds’ reactions to that first Christmas as a possible model of what our own response should be throughout our lifetime in the world.

Verses 15-16 convey the idea of “wonderment” on the part of those shepherds. After being startled by the angels’ announcement of such stupendous occurrence, those men rushed to Bethlehem where they became the first humans (apart from Mary and Joseph) to contemplate the  newborn king, the promised Messiah, the only Savior of humankind!

They were amazed to be found worthy of such marvellous experience and, in total wonderment, their eyes glimpsed the One born to bring redemption to themselves and countless more members of the human race throughout the following ages.

Secondly, their reponse was also one of “service.” After that initial look, they could not keep to themselves what they had just observed and recognized. Instead, “they made 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 (vv.17-18). On their own initiative, voluntarily they proceeded to tell others about the arrival of the Christ child,  of their promised deliverer, the Son of the living God!

But the shepherds also responded with “praise,” as verse 20 testifies: “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”

Indeed, any encounter with the Son of God can only elicit one’s praises to the Father, as this incident clearly illustrates and reports. The life of every Christian is to be a continual “doxology,” i.e. an ascription of glory and praise unto Him from Whom all blessings flow; unto Him Who, alone, is worthy of our worship!

Many of the Psalms challenge us in that direction, and the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism declares that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Hopefully, you have already chosen your personal response to Christmas. Nevertheless, whatever that initiative might be, follow the example of the shepherds on that first Christmas in Bethelehem of Judea, and add your own wonderment, service, and praise!

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Do You Know Where You Are Going?

By Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr.

A challenging question once posed to me in a sermon, was: “Where will you be when you get where you’re going?” I quickly recognized that it had much more to do than with geography only. It could entail a location but, more importantly, it related to where one will be physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and in other life dimensions as well.

Far too often, people only let life happen to them instead of being pro-active in attempting to shape the way things need to go and to be. Many people never measure consequences nor think of the results of their own choices and actions.

Yet, it is easy to expect that lack of purpose and of planning leads to inevitable failure, even if for a long time people may still move in a forward direction, based on previous impulses they had received, still maintaining motion which, most likely, will lead nowhere!

There is no need for anyone to wake up suddenly to an unpleasant new reality when a positive, enduring accomplishment could’ve been planned in advance. Unfortunately, many dreams are never realized simply because they are constantly being altered by the dreamer. You cannot reach a destination by checking in the wrong map!

The healthy challenge is for one to seize each moment, not necessarily to remain there, but to continue moving farther ahead while grasping impacting, new realities. Maintenance of the status quo will never produce satisfaction; moving in the wrong direction will never lead to the right place.

People often wake up too late to recognize that their life was wasted for lack of proper planning, and on account of gross neglect of what brings lasting results and permanent fulfilment.

Avoid inaction and illegitimate action if you wish to get somewhere. Don’t count on time which may never be sufficient, or even available, nor in a future which is still so uncertain! The consequences of inaction, or of delayed action, can be destructive of life itself!

Don’t just make plans! Rather, begin to execute them as quickly as feasible; take the necessary steps to see ideas fleshed-out, plans made concrete! Never stop in pressing on toward the mark. Forbid yourself to live aimlessly for lacking good direction!

Live for God and for others, and what you desire for yourself will come to pass in far greater measure than your expectations!

The life God desires to see you live and fully enjoy, is a life of action and of urgency, before it can become a life of legitimate leisure. You can’t control the outcome of much that happens, even as a result of your best efforts. But you can control your behaviour, your reactions, your judgments! Your attempts, which can lead to enduring satisfaction, must begin with the right step. God continues to invite His children to a higher plane! And there is no place nor situation where His mercy will ever refuse to meet you, especially when you know that you are moving forward, in His company!

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The More You Thank, the More You Get!

By Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr.

Humans are usually appreciative of anything which benefits them personally. They also tend to despise whetever brings them harm and displeasure. These are normal human reactions. People also are prone to be grateful only for those things which they can concretely recognize and experience in a positive, pleasant fashion.

A proof of maturity, and a true sign of understanding, is the attitude of showing thankfulness not just for good favors but even for what, initially, may be difficult or unpleasant. This is so because one never knows how things will eventually turn out. There is so much that begins well and proceeds normally, but ends in failure. There are also things which may be horrendous at the outset but later bring unexpected, positive surprises.

Indeed, at any time of a person’s earthly trajectory, outward conditions may be adverse; one may be deprived of much which life affords; wars may be raging, and climactic conditions may produce natural disasters heretofore totally unexpected.

On the other hand, internally also one may be confronted with many conflicts of varied significance and intensity. These may be familial in nature, may stem from stagnant, erratic, or totally broken human relationships, or lack of that strength necessary to take the steps leading to the fulfillment of dreams and goals!

Yet, God daily surrounds us with His gifts and fresh manifestations of His unchanging love. He daily loads us with His benefits, surprising us at every turn with new, undeserved blessings which only He can and does bestow. He also puts many of His human agents round about us, eager to comfort, ready to counsel, willing to aid us out of any troublesome or paralyzing condition in life.

For these and many more daily blessings, we need be thankful. Our gratitude also must extend into momentary deprivations, passing distresses, and even disturbances which never came to stay. In any event, God’s grace is always sufficient!

Can you recognize that divine mercy, that godlike goodness He showers into your life? Even in the dark can you detect a blessing from above? The apostle Paul recorded in Romans 8:18 that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far greater and eternal weight of glory…” And for that and other reasons, the same apostle urges Christians of all generations, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Let us not so much look at any gift or the lack thereof, but unto Him Who is the Sovereign provider, ever mindful of the needs of His own and always ready to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we may ask or think.”

Acknowledge that no matter what, you always enjoy much more than you deserve! The more thankful you are to the Source of every good and perfect gift, the more you are opening the doors of His storehouse for a continual multiplication of His favors toward you!

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Aligned With God’s Standards

By Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr.

Every human being has an in-built system of values which is consulted, or not, in the process of making moral choices. Christians, more specifically, are not left to themselves in such decisions, but derive their ethics from God’s written revelation – the Bible.

 For any individual, any time, and anywhere in the globe, a standard is necessary; a set of prescriptions is important to orient one into doing what is right, proper, and beneficial to all concerned. For the Christian, such standard remains the Word of God!

 From those eternal, ever-relevant values, outlined in Scripture, the Christian learns how to actualize and contextualize its principles at each new age and generation. From all we learn in and from Scripture, we need to realize that our ethical choices are not a matter of preference. They have been eternally set in heaven by the Almighty!

 A Christian person is indeed free, but only within the boundaries God Himself established for her or him. One is bound to do the will of God, as revealed in His Word, the Bible. Scripture condemns a “selective morality;” the Bible does not allow a “pick and choose” type of behavior. There’s no multiple choice morality!

 God’s children are to walk as His redeemed even when no one is watching, for “all things are open and naked before the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). Realistically, though, there are more people watching then one may realize. Thus, God’s standards are to be taught and lived, even amid derision, opposition, or mere lack of understanding.

 Christians should never expect the world to act in accordance with the guidelines the Bible offers to all humanity. One needs patiently to teach them, dealing with their objections and disfavor toward divine prescriptions in a godly, Christian, loving manner. Society needs to recognize that “morality is what God expects, not just of saints and heroes, but of all common folk,” as the late Lewis B. Smedes commented.

 Right conduct won’t ever be possible if people are left to themselves to figure things out, to choose on their own how they are to act in varied situations. Yet, blinded by sin, the human race travels without a goal, a moral goal, with each individual doing what appears right in his or her own eyes. Humans, however, are not morally neutral; their natural proclivity is always to make decisions contrary to God and often harmful to themselves and to their neighbor.

There is a divine verdict recorded in Psalm 1, which every child of God must heed: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (v. 6). The great London preacher of the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, expressed it this way: “Righteousness is often costly to the man who keeps to it at all hazards, but in the end it will bear its own expenses, and return an infinite profit.”

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Anemic Christianity

Although the Gospel of Christ remains the dynamite of God unto salvation, (Romans 1:16) much of what Christianity displays in this 21st century is often devoid of true power. A faith which is characterized by the blood shed for the remission of sins, quite frequently shows more signs of anemia than of vitality. And to the extent it remains so, it will have no lasting effect in the world.

It is not the names which individuals may ascribe to themselves that count; it is the transformation a life consistently manifests that makes a difference. Indeed, being a Christian does not signify a mere exchange of label, but a noticeable alteration of life. The biblical imperatives of repentance and faith are often substituted by signing a card, walking forward, or receiving baptism, with little, if any, genuine change of mind and of conduct.

More and more one finds ministries adapting themselves to the world instead of challenging current values and claims. There is more imitation of contemporary mores rather than a clear display of the uniqueness of Christian faith.

Just think: if the church offers what society already cherishes, there will be little or no motivation for radical change. Some contemporary Christian leaders may be taking their clues from a wrong script, instead of receiving their orders from God’s unchanging truth.

It is true that in His days on earth Christ fellowshipped with many who were the scum of the earth, such as publicans, prostitutes, and other types of sinners. Yet, His intent was never to leave them in their current, chaotic condition; His purpose was one of rescuing each from the devastating effects of their miscalculated, erroneous choices.

Many segments of the Church today are far too comfortable in the world and, thus, cannot challenge the ways of secular culture which many have already adopted as their own. Yet, Christians are to find their identity in Christ alone, not in the passing fads of any age! As Dick Keyes posits, “Jesus calls us to maintain our dissonant relationship to the world without rigidity or isolation from it.”

Christians are and shall always be “strangers and pilgrims” on earth; their presence in any society is to transform it. As salt and light, Christians are not to accommodate themselves to the agenda which the world attempts to impose on many of its inhabitants. God’s people are to challenge all assumptions and consistently offer a better alternative – the way of Christ, which provides life abundant on earth and the assurance of life everlasting in heaven!

An easy faith will never challenge a follower into continual growth, nor motivate the acquisition of new dimensions of faith to be applied to every facet of life and work. And people who remain content with the status quo shall fail to go and grow, as they can and must!

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Concentrate on Where You Are Going!

If God is leading your life, you can be certain that He will bring you to the right places and situations, as long as you remain mindful of His directives. He desires that you pay more attention to the here and now rather than your yesterdays, both good and bad. The present moment is always with us and it deserves and demands our full allegiance and concentration.

Any person’s best times, days, and seasons are always ahead, never behind. In fact, one’s preferable attitude is to leave the past behind so as to proceed, unencumbered, on the day by day trajectory God establishes for one’s well-being.

Unfortunately, too many people tend to bemoan their past to such an extent that they never make the necessary progress into the future, nor live their present with the excitement it should elicit from them. They complain about things which could have been but were not; places they could have gone, but didn’t; experiences they expected to enjoy, which never came to pass!

There are also those who become paralysed in the present on account of focusing excessively on a pleasant past which, obviously, can no longer be repeated in anyone’s experience. They look back to the “good ol’ days” as a golden age which can never be improved upon. As a result, they get stuck there, and go nowhere!

All the experiences of yesterday, whether good or bad, should only be viewed as incentives for better living today. They may relate to great accomplishments which can be further advanced in the present, or situations which should no longer have their hold on anyone in a new day!

A person’s laments about the past will never eliminate their reality, nor positively impact one’s present. Likewise, all the good experienced yesterday, all the joys gathered in the past, all the accomplishments which are now behind you won’t make a difference in the now, unless they have a significant bearing on today’s achievements.

The apostle Paul, once faced with the best earthly life could ever afford to any human, expressed the right perspective, which should also be ours at all times: “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14). Paul learned to discard both the bad and the good from his former life, so as to concentrate on the best God had in store for Him in the present and the emerging future.

Instead of complaining about what cannot be recovered, concentrate on where you are going. Focus on what you can more constructively do with what you have now, ever mindful of the additional resources God will provide for living one day at a time, and moving only in a forward direction. Life must be lived in the present tense; those who insist on a past long gone, and never recoverable, are doomed to be conditioned by it, condemned also to miss the surprises and thrills God intends for one’s joy, each new day!

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The Importance of Priorities

By Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr.

Several years ago I raised the question to an audience I was addressing: “What will be on your ‘to do list’ when Christ calls you to Himself?” This issue needs to be faced and continually answered by every child of God.

This has to do with the priorities we set for ourselves on the basis of the guidelines God Himself had already offered in His Word. Our priorities, if they are of any value, need to reflect divine priorities.

With this in mind, Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe recognized in one of his books that “having priorities is a mark of maturity.” Unquestionably, only those who develop discernment, those who advance in all aspects of life, those who can manifest consistent growth toward maturity, will understand how imperative setting priorities is!

The dictionary defines the term “priority” as “superiority in rank, position, or privilege”; “a preferential rating”; “something meriting prior attention.” The dictionary has also added the verb “prioritise” as an official, proper designation of the act of arranging one’s priorities.

Attention to priorities has to do with the organization of one’s essential tasks in a descending order: from the most significant to the least important. For the Christian it entails the place given in one’s life to God, family, occupation, friends, and leisure.

Having priorities is an exercise in Christian obedience, because the Bible exhorts God’s children to do all things decently and in order, to aim at the best, most efficient results in any endeavour, and to act responsibly in the appropriation and utilization of the hours and days set before us!

Time is a commodity which, once lost, can never be recaptured. Sadly, due to neglect in setting priorities many poor stewards of God’s resources waste so much time instead of filling their moments with productive actions which benefit themselves and others, and glorify God.

Without ever being slaves to time, we need to apportion our minutes and hours effectively, so as to accomplish all our tasks and still enjoy what is left for leisure moments which are also essential for balanced living. People should plan a certain number of hours for nightly sleep, for what it takes to go to work, to accomplish one’s daily tasks, to return home, and to achieve whatever else is scheduled for additional tasks and pleasure activities. No rigidity is necessary, but lack of planning issues into frustrating, unpleasant experiences.

The author of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes put it best when he declared: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (3:1). We shall benefit from that only on the basis of setting priorities, and observing them with the wisdom from God, and His grace always sufficient unto any and every endeavor!

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Called to Make a Difference!

By Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr.
In God’s creation mandate (Genesis 1:28), members of the human race are instructed to labor, and make a living. St. Paul, in the New Testament, goes as far as to imply that anyone not willing to work should not be entitled to eat (II Thessalonians 3:10).

God’s children, in addition to their obligation to work, make a living, and support themselves and their families, are also challenged, and expected to make a difference wherever they are.

Although Holy Scripture is clear on that, such imperative is also placed upon God’s people from some most unexpected sources as well. Notice, for instance, what the late existentialist writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, had written in this regard: “We stand in need of Christians who shall plant themselves squarely in the bloody face of history and make a difference.” How are we responding to such forceful, reasonable expectation?

While there are countless ways one can make a positive difference in the world, from where one stands, let me focus on a very practical way, following a pattern already established by our Lord during His own earthly ministry.

I am referring to the sharing of our ideas, values, and our very selves with others who can outlive us, and even transcend our own effectiveness for Christ and His Kingdom.

Let us never fear investing ourselves in others, even if they may surpass us in what they accomplish. The Jewish Midrash offers a vivid and valuable analogy, when it declares that “many candles can be kindled from one candle without diminishing it.”

There will be much we shall always perform alone, in seeking to make a difference sometime, someplace. But there is also a lot we can attempt through others, and in company with others. Those who spend time with people have the advantage of knowing their fellows well, and in a more personal way, thus being able to ascertain the strengths, the abilities, the unique personality those individuals can bring to any task. In that way, they can select people they feel comfortable with, and invest part of themselves into those lives. This may be a form of discipleship, mentoring, guidance, or spiritual friendship; a way of multiplying one’s influence in society.

People normally respond affirmatively to those who show genuine interest in them; persons who can challenge their mind, their emotions, and their wills into attempting something great for God and His Kingdom, via the avenues of service already available through a local congregation, or some other worthy medium, or cause.

Affecting others positively, leading them into meaningful action is a healthy way of spreading our influence, thus impacting society through the salutary difference we can make in them!

Chuck Colson wisely remarked that, “Christianity must be an all-embracing system of thought that gives us a perspective from which to view every part of life: family, church, work, politics, science, art, and culture.” This is a great vision anyone can easily share!

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Your Self and Other Selves

People exist in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Their voices may be individually identifiable; their laughter is fully their own. Their talents are varied, and their personalities are quite unique. Because of all that, every person is most hard, if not impossible, to copy. Like snow flakes, people are saturated with individuality.

Furthermore, every person is important in the world. That’s why war is so deplorable, even when necessary, and murder is a most heinous crime. That’s also the reason why many battles for human rights must be fought and won, through biblical guidelines.

Holy Scripture tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that speaks not only of our physical frames and their functioning, but of every single, intricate aspect of our humanity also, which makes “me” me, and “you” you! Someone suggested that after God made you, He threw away the mould, never to use it again! Indeed, no one else is like you!

Yet, the greatest beauty and wonder of it all is that God Himself made us each and every one. In the words of St. Paul, the apostle, recorded in Ephesians 2:10, “we are God’s work of art,” “God’s masterpiece.” Indeed, the crown of God’s creation is not the man Adam, per se, but the entire human race represented in him, since his name – ADAM – means just that!

Therefore, every time you look in the mirror, be grateful for what you see. And I don’t mean the mirror itself, nor its frame, but your own self. Always remember that you are special, that you have been fashioned in the image and likeness of God. Herein lies our basic greatness, though in this case, it is something common to all human creatures. How wonderful that the trade mark of the divine designer is still in each of us, albeit marred and corroded by sin.

This fully applies to ourselves and others, and all else which our great God has wrought. In Acts 17:26, St. Paul reminds us that no flesh should glory or boast, because it was from one blood that all humans have descended.

Recognize the good in other selves, by paying value to them, by affirming them. As a contemporary author and preacher asserted, “God has no wastebaskets. But for every person and for everything there is a purpose.” If you look for good things in other people, you will surely find them.

With all this in mind, each day rejoice at your own self; recognize that you are special; never lose sight of the fact that you and all fellow humans are beautiful creations of Almighty God. As the late Reuel Howe encouraged: “Choose to say ‘I am who I am and look forward to the I am that I am becoming’.”

Each individual can only be one’s own unique “self.” Thus, continue to be yourself, while letting God’s Holy Spirit prompt you into doing those things which are truly reflective of God’s image which you are, especially that image Christ came to restore in those He has redeemed, through the high price of His own life blood!

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Be Alert to God’s Surprises

By Dr. Synesio Lyra Jr.

If you keep your eyes open and your mind alert, you shall discover much more than the average person will ever notice! God daily surrounds you with so much that others ignore or take for granted, but which you can welcome and develop for nobler purposes in the world, including your own stability!
Divine surprises are everywhere to be found, claimed, and rightfully exploited for creative and beneficial ends, both for yourself and for others. Thus, decisively refrain from cheating yourself into thinking that certain good things coming from God are for somebody else but not for you.
Instead, be bold to claim all that can legitimately be yours. Don’t follow losers who, by their limited vision and poor choices, will live mediocre lives on many fronts, constantly forgetting that God “has given us all things, richly to enjoy”!
The Almighty honors your boldness far more than your hesitancy when approaching Him. He’s always prepared to grant you not what your meager faith or weak expectations request and anticipate. His response, ordinarily, is “exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think!
Holy Scripture emphatically states that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Your faith is exercised not only in expecting the fulfillment of what you petitioned, but also in being daily open to extra, new surprises He may be ready to impart, to enrich your life!
I remember the true story of a very poor elderly lady who was once threatened to have all her utilities cut off, since she had missed a payment or two. Yet, while she prayed to God and made it known to a handful of brothers and sisters in the faith, she never anticipated that request being fulfilled. Whenever she heard a knock at her door, she never answered in fear it might be bill collectors. However, it was a divine, human agent with cash to help her in her need. Allowing fear to overwhelm her, she forfeited God’s surprises coming to her from unexpected sources.
You need daily to walk in faith since only so can you please God! As you courageously take a first step in trust, you shall also acquire extra boldness to proceed triumphantly, securing all and much more that you may be lacking in the multiple circumstances of your daily life.
The hardest personal occurrences that life may inflict on you, or permit for you to go through, may well be the most potent object lessons you need, to put you ahead and keep you there. Your task is simply to learn, endure, and profit from such instruction. God will meet what you lack in ways that will strengthen you, encourage others around you, and manifest His infinite, power and majesty. Allow all things to contribute to your own good, bringing glory to Him from Whom all blessings flow!

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