The angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
There is good news of great joy because the Savior was born.
Yet so many feel no joy. They remain unaffected by the familiarity of the Christmas story.
So many, especially here in the South, have missed the Savior and have only a “Southern Jesus” .
Let me tell you about my Southern Jesus … and the day I found the REAL Savior (excerpt from my book)
Growing up in the South, I had always been in church—a Baptist church, of course.
In fact, at age nine, I clearly knew that I was a sinner and needed a savior. I knew the “right” answer. After all, the preacher had said it every Sunday for all of my nine years.
One particular Sunday, I decided I better make sure I had all that taken care of, for earlier that week, I had a dream that everybody had gone to Heaven but me, and I did not want to be left behind.
Even as a little girl, I knew I did not want to go to Hell, and I knew I needed to do something. So in church, when they started playing “Just as I Am,” like they played every Sunday, I walked down the aisle and told the preacher, “I believe in Jesus and want to be saved.”
I don’t remember exactly what he said after that. Lots of people came up and shook my hand, and a few Sundays later I was baptized in the same dress my mom wore when she was baptized. I remember I didn’t feel much different, but they told me I was going to heaven, so from that point on, I was pretty much assured of the fact that I was not going to Hell. I went on with my take-care-of-myself-centered life, fire insurance in hand—ready to check the next thing off the list.
However, fifteen years after walking that aisle, something still didn’t sit right with me. I always thought if you were a Christian you were supposed to be happy. Oh, I was happy here and there. I had lots to be happy about. But my happiness never seemed to last. I was always trying to fix something—and lately that something was me. I secretly wondered if I could be depressed. Maybe I needed medication.
As my quest to figure myself out continued, my husband and I kept going to church every Sunday—partly because we wanted to and partly because we lived in the South and that is simply what you do. After all, church is a great place to meet friends, wear pretty dresses, make business contacts, and you know your momma is going to ask you at Sunday dinner what you thought of the service. So you go. And you drag your husband with you, even when he doesn’t want to go, because his momma is going to ask him, too.
But one Sunday turned out to be different than all the rest. The pastor was speaking about an account in Luke 4:31–37 where Jesus drives out an evil spirit. However, a few simple words from this passage startled me: “In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, ‘Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” (Luke 4:34 )
“I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The demon believed Jesus to be the Holy One of God. I frantically wondered if that was what the demon had really said.
Oblivious to the commotion I was causing around me, I loudly thumbed through the pages of my pristine Bible looking for the book of Luke. At least, I thought it was a book in the Bible. I had read the Bible occasionally because I knew I was supposed to, but honestly, I found it pretty boring and hard to understand. But in that moment, that boring book held intense interest for me. I had to read those words the demon had said for myself. Was the pastor right? Did the demon believe Jesus was the son of God?
Alas, there it was, right in God’s word—the demon had recognized Jesus as the holy one—the son of God! I remember an extreme urge to hold my hand up in the middle of the church service and ask the pastor to explain this problem that I now had. For if the demons believe Jesus is the Son of God, what makes them different from me? Is there something more? An argument ensued in my mind: “I believe in Jesus. I know He exists and is the son of God! That is what everyone says. My parents, my grandparents believe that. We were Baptists, for goodness sake, and I married a Baptist. How could I have missed this?”
For you see, I knew that demons couldn’t be saved, and I wondered in agony what made me different from a demon. What if the church collapsed on my head right now—would I go to heaven or hell? I had almost determined I would simply raise my hand and ask.
Thankfully, before I actually raised my hand—and embarrassed my entire family—the pastor explained, “When we are saved, we not only believe in the existence of Jesus, but must also believe that He and only He can save us, and we allow Him to be the Lord of our life.”
At age nine, I had walked an aisle and prayed what I thought to be a reasonable prayer. I wanted that fire insurance. I did not want to go to hell. Good grief, who in their right mind would? However, I had never allowed Jesus to be Lord of my life. I am not sure I knew that I needed to. I knew deep down I had never surrendered all of my life to Him. Historically, I knew who Jesus was, but I really had no idea what church people meant about a personal relationship with Him. In that moment, I realized I had never really tried to get to know this God-man I was trusting for my eternity. Honestly, how absurd was that? How can you trust someone for eternity that you don’t know, much less trust Him for day-to-day decisions as Christians are supposed to do?
Up until this point, I had lived by being controlled by the wants and desires of the world while battling roller-coaster emotions based on my personal happiness thermometer for the day. I rarely prayed, and reading my Bible was a chore I occasionally accomplished when bored or when I wanted to be prepared to answer Sunday school questions. I wasn’t like my stable, wise, younger brother, Chuck. I didn’t read the Bible every day or pray over decisions like he did. I made decisions based on what the world would reward and common sense and what seemed reasonable and best for me. I had chosen a husband not because of his love for the Lord, but because of his good looks and his love for me. After all, he went to church. Wasn’t that enough? I had chosen a career because it was in high demand and paid well. My brother had said God had called him to be an attorney. I never had thought to ask him exactly how he knew that.
That Sunday morning, I knew I was no different than that demon. Jesus wasn’t the Lord of my life. I knew about Him, but I really didn’t know Him. I had never even considered allowing Him access to all of my life. I gave Him Sunday morning and had thought that was enough. Frankly, making decisions on my own had seemed to pay off pretty well. Clearly, my life seemed much prettier than most of the people sitting around me in that church. In fact, my life looked practically perfect, except I felt perfectly empty and perfectly miserable.
Had I been stupid or something far worse? Had I lived my life thinking I knew Jesus, when really I only knew about Him? The Bible says, “The demons believe and shudder.” (James 2:19 ESV) Clearly, they know about Him, but they haven’t surrendered to Him as Savior and Lord.
That day, I asked Jesus to reveal Himself to me. I asked Him to help me get to know Him as the Lord of my life. I asked Him to take it all—every desire, hope, worry, and fear. I told Him I didn’t understand it all. I knew I didn’t have it all together or all figured out, but I asked Him to take my life: all of it. I asked Him to help me trust Him and follow Him.
For years, I had only cared about not going to hell, and for years, I had missed the wonderful blessings Jesus offered for those who follow Him in a real relationship. I realized those people around me who radiated joy, peace, patience, and self-control had lives that they had surrendered to Jesus. They had allowed Jesus to be Lord of every part of their lives, and it was to Him and to His word that they turned for direction, guidance, and hope.
That day, everything began to change as I surrendered my life to Him.
My new-found, real faith would soon be tested in the fires of tragedy…. You can read more of my story in my book, Truth to Hold On To, available on Amazon.
But more important than knowing my story is evaluating your own. Who is Jesus? Do you know Him? ….Not just know about Him? Is He Lord of your life?
Do you celebrate the true Savior this Christmas?