Recently, I was in a store that was displaying new Christmas merchandise. I spotted a large decorative sign for sale that boldly proclaimed, “We Believe!” I smiled, and thought, “How wonderful to see such a strong declaration of faith.” As I got closer, I realized that the sign was festooned with Santa images and a small red cap.
Now, please don’t get me wrong! I love Santa as much as the next guy. However, I also realize that the real “war on Christmas” may not be coming from the direction where some of us think it is. Keeping Jesus Christ at the center of our focus and our celebrations can be a challenge amidst many distractions and pressures. I believe the key to a joyful Christmas is gratitude. A heart focused on Jesus is a grateful heart, and a grateful heart is a merry heart.
And, regardless of the challenges and trials we have faced in 2021, we have so much for which we can give thanks. One of my favorite verses of “Amazing Grace” says it so well:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home — John Newton (1779)
This expresses gratitude for what God has already done, and faith for what He will yet do. It’s not only a testimony of God’s past deliverance, but a precious promise. “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,” as we sing in another great hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” (Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923).
This year marked my 40th Anniversary in ministry. When I was 17, nearing High School graduation in the Spring of 1981, I was in a significant battle over the direction for my life. I knew the Holy Spirit had been calling me to fully surrender my life to Jesus and commit myself to serving Him in ministry. Though I had previously asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, I still had many doubts and had been rebelling against fully giving my life to Him. Knowing some of my weaknesses, I was vehemently against becoming a ministerial hypocrite or a spouter of religious cliches and platitudes.
I had already been working for two years as a janitor for the organization I would eventually serve as President—but, leading a ministry was not on my radar then, nor was it anything I thought I wanted. A series of crises among close friends shook me up and opened my eyes to the dangerous path on which I was walking. One night, literally alone in my bedroom closet, I had an encounter with the Lord as I fumbled through a prayer. I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit, speaking to my heart. “Are you ready to get right with Me? Will you follow Me?” He asked. “Yes, sir,” I said. He continued, “Are you ready to serve Me in ministry?”
Now, I had heard this before. But this time, by God’s grace, my heart was open to Him. So, I said, “Yes, I am, but can we make a deal?” The Lord said, “Sure, go on.” In all seriousness, I said, “Lord, can we just be clear between You and me that this is all Your idea?” If I could have seen Him then, I think He would have been smiling. “Yes, of course,” He replied. “And the other thing, Lord,” I stammered out, “You know me, and You know there is no way I can do this without You…if I’m going to do this, I must have Your help.” Again, I sensed Him smiling: “That’s what I do.”
Waves of God’s peace and joy washed over me. And after a time of thanksgiving and heartfelt praise to Him, I sensed He was further defining my calling. I understood that He was calling me to be an encourager and a networker. Specifically, to encourage others in their walk with Jesus and to network resources with needs.
Finally, the Lord reminded me of a Bible verse that I understood was to be part of my life mission: “One generation shall praise Your works to another and shall declare Your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). Since that time, my heart has been to see a multi-generational expression of community, exalting God to one another, “spurring each other on in love and good works” (see Hebrews 10:24).
After a few days of seeking God, reading Scripture, and being refreshed and led by His Holy Spirit, I told my parents and my Grandparents about what the Lord was doing in my life. They were all very happy. I knew all of them had been praying for me throughout my life, and especially during those teen years.
Most of you reading know that not only is my dad a minister, but his dad was as well. A few weeks after I shared my testimony with my Grandpa Simpson, he asked if I would give a message to his home Bible Study group of Senior Adults. I agreed to do so, but wondered what could a kid like me possibly say to such a wise group of seasoned saints?
So, I wrote down everything I thought I knew about God and the Bible. It fit easily on one side of a 4” x 6” card! I had a 15-minute window to speak; I was finished in 5 minutes! Those poor people had to endure what was, I’m sure, an excruciatingly amateur presentation.
And yet, they showered me with love and encouragement. They told me they wanted me to come back! Soon, I was meeting regularly with them, studying Scripture with them, hearing their stories, eating with them (Nanny Duke’s Chicken and Dumplings were the best in world history), singing old hymns and new worship choruses, and laughing and playing board games together … it was Psalm 145 in action!
The Lord led me to seek out personal pastoral care and mentoring from one of the Pastors in our church named Bill McLaughlin. (Some of that story can be found in my message, “The Cross of Discipleship,” which is available on our CSMPublishing YouTube Channel.) Bill was a great mentor and friend. I thought he was so old, but he was only 29 at the time. The Lord used him and his home group, which was part of our larger church, to teach me about community, commitment, teamwork, and authentic friendship.
In that season, I was asked by the church youth leadership team to assist with youth activities. I served the youth at our church and also got involved with a Young Life group, as we studied “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and launched an outreach into a local High School. Working with teens and senior adults at the same time gave me renewed appreciation for the calling the Lord had placed on my life. I remain hungry to see that multi-generational fellowship and community today. I hope you do as well.
REMEMBER HIS CALL
Whenever we get weary; when circumstances seem overwhelming; when needs and challenges pummel us from every direction, it is good to stop and review what the Lord has already said to us and done in our lives. We must ask Him to help us remember His calling to us, and then remember all of the miracles He has done as He has led us by His Spirit.
Peter, a man who faced discouragement and even failure—yet found encouragement and restoration—gives this wisdom to us:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten **that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things, you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:2-11).
As we remember the great things He has done in and through our lives, faith begins to arise in our hearts. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (see Psalm 103). Thanksgiving and praise overflow through us. Joy refreshes, renews, and strengthens us. Thanksgiving lifts our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances and fixes our gaze upon Jesus, our Savior, our Deliverer, our Hope!
Christmas 2021 is a wonderful opportunity to go deeper in worship. “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord” (John F. Wade, 1743). As we remember this year with all of its highs and lows, can we ask God to reveal to us how He was with us every step of the way, in every moment? And let us be reminded that “He Who has began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
I love singing Christmas carols, especially those which have such deep, rich theological truth. Sing these with your kids and grandkids. Teach them what they mean. This is another living expression of Psalm 145 in action. Tell your family and friends your story—your testimony—of when God called and saved you. What does the birth of Christ mean to you? Tell someone. Tell me! I’d love to hear it. The more we share it, the greater and stronger our testimony will become.
As we come to the end of the year, would you also please remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving? Like many ministries, we have faced intense obstacles and wonderful opportunities in 2021. Transitions, unexpected changes, and even the passing of dear friends have driven us further into prayer and seeking God. Looking ahead, we believe the Lord is opening new doors in 2022. We are so thankful for your friendship and willingness to walk with us on this journey. (You can give a gift to CSM here and they are tax-deductible.)
The new issue of One-to-One should be arriving in your home soon. New videos are up now on our CSMPublishing YouTube Channel. Our Charles Simpson Ministries Facebook Page and
@CSMinPublishing Twitter account offer valuable regularly updated content. And, we are working on our in-person CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, May 10-12, 2022! Our theme will be, “Return to Your First Love.” We hope to see you there! More information to come. Thanks again and have a blessed and Merry Christmas!
scriptures: Psalm 145:4; Hebrews 10:24; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Psalm 103; Phillipians 1:6
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.