Monday, December 7, 2015

I'll Be Home for Christmas, Part 2 - Priorities

Isaiah 40:3-5

Introduction
Christmas is traditionally a time when people like to go home to be close to family.  Unfortunately, not everyone is able to go home for the holidays.  Things get in the way.  There are Christmas parties to attend, extra shopping to do, meals to prepare, special activities for our kids and grandkids…  The Christmas season is an extremely busy time of year!  We may just be too busy or too broke to go home this year. 
Even so, Christmas is a time when we long to go home to a place where we feel at peace, where love is freely given and freely received.  Ultimately, our Home is with our Heavenly Father.  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas over the next few weeks, I want to challenge you to think of “Home” in its broader, spiritual sense.  Today, we will look at how being too busy can be an obstacle to going Home spiritually. 

Isaiah 40:3-5
Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
    and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
    and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
    The Lord has spoken!”
 

Changing Your Ways
            This passage was written hundreds of years before Christ was born.  It looks forward to his coming and challenges people to change their ways to get ready for the Son of God.  The passage encourages people to clear out anything that gets in the way of the Lord’s coming.  That’s good advice as we prepare for Christmas.
In order to “go Home” in a spiritual sense, you have to repent of your sins.  Repentance starts by recognizing you have gone astray, that you’ve messed up, that you’ve put something before God.  But repentance is more than just feeling sorry.  Repentance means to change your ways with God’s help.  Today, I want to suggest five real changes God can help you make that will lead you Home.  In order to make these changes though, you might have to clear out something else from your life to make room.
            It all starts with your priorities.  Your priorities are what’s important to you.  Priorities are what you spend most of your time, money, and energy on.  For example, if your top priority is to go home to see your parents for Christmas, you will make it happen.  You won’t let anything get in the way.  You will ask for time off from work, buy an expensive plane ticket for travel, and do whatever else it takes to go home if that is your top priority.  (It’s OK if that’s not your top priority.  A top priority of my household on Christmas is to NOT go anywhere but to STAY home.  That’s our family time.  Anyone is welcome to come see us, but we’re not going anywhere if we can help it.  We’re already home!)
            I want you to think of this in spiritual terms.  If your top priority is ultimately to go Home to be with God (and I think it should be), then what do you need to do to make it happen?  I would like to suggest five simple changes you can make that will help lead you Home. 
 
Number one.  Worship Christ at church every Sunday.  As we prepare for Christmas, I challenge you not to miss a Sunday in December.    From there, make weekly worship a goal for the whole year.  I suggest you should miss no more than five Sundays in a year.  That’s my goal; maybe it can be yours.  That still gives you enough spares in case you are sick or on vacation or for other unexpected things that come up.  Of course, I understand that there are always special circumstances.  My wife is a nurse and she sometimes has to work on Sundays.  You may be in a similar situation, but you can still make worship in church a top priority.  Figure out a reasonable goal and stick to it.  Make worship in the church a top priority.

Number two.  Study God’s Word, the Bible.  I recommend you read at least one chapter every day.  It takes less than five minutes, but over time it will make a world of difference in your spiritual health.  In addition, I suggest you participate in at least one group Bible study each week.  Join a Sunday school or Bible study.  Come to church on a Wednesday night.  Youth and children can attend youth or children’s programs.  These times of learning with other Christians is where you will see real spiritual growth.
 
Number three.  Stay connected to Jesus through daily prayer.  Prayer is the heart of an intimate relationship with Jesus.  You can’t have a relationship with anyone if you don’t talk regularly.  I suggest you talk to Jesus in the morning when you get up and then again before you go to bed.  In between, you can say a blessing before each meal.  Add to this short prayers throughout your day and you’ll have a dynamic relationship with Jesus.
 
Number four.  Serve the Lord by loving your neighbors.  Let loving service be your goal throughout each day.  You don’t have to overcommit yourself.  Just start by volunteering for one thing with church and one thing outside of church.  These will help you build your spiritual muscles and can be a real blessing to you and others.
 
Number five.   Give.  I challenge you to give 10% of your income to the church.  That’s the biblical standard for giving and you won’t regret doing it.  If you’re not already a tither (someone who gives 10% of their income), then try it for the month of December.  But don’t stop there, go the extra mile.  Seek to become an extravagantly giving person.  Give more effort at work.  Be generous with your time to your friends.  Surprise people with the way you always give more than expected. 

Make it a Priority
Adding these five priorities to your life will help you be at Home with God.  Now, some people will argue, “But I don’t have time to do all these things.”  Time is not really the problem.  The issue is what we make time for.  We make time for things that are truly important.  We always find a way to afford things we really care about.
            Isaiah 40:3 says, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord!  Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!  The Truth is, we may need to clear away some of the less important activities to make room for more important stuff.  The Truth is, we may need to spend less on ourselves so we have more with which to be generous.  I’m not saying it will be easy, but it is that simple.  And I can tell you this, you will be filled with so much more peace and contentment when you’re priorities are straightened out.  But most important, putting Jesus first is the only way you will ultimately go Home to heaven to be with God when this life comes to an end. 
So, what do you think?  Can you truly say, “I’ll be Home for Christmas?”