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December 14, 2015, 8:42 AM

Who is this whole "Christmas Thing" about anyway?


There is something powerful about this time of year, Christmas that is, that brings out a desire in me to explore the best of Christianity.  For most, Christmas is a time of celebration and rejoicing.  For others it can be a time of remorse and pain.  No matter which camp you're in this holiday season, the power of the birth of Jesus transcends our own mortal feelings or regrets around Christmas.  In other words... (swallows hard before typing the next words)... Christmas isn't about us.  

Don't get me wrong, Christmas is FOR us completely.  Without the birth of Christ, we're hopeless.  But really, Christmas is about God and God alone.  For centuries, or at least as long as us humans have been around before that fateful evening in Bethlehem, God was united completely and wholly.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Complete.  Heaven was their place, eternal and unblemished.  

Then in one small moment amidst the centuries of human existence, Heaven was divided for the first time.  God watched as a part of himself was placed gently on this earth.  Feet that were always clean became dusty.  Hands that created the seas and mountains were suddenly holding hammers and getting splinters.  A body once clothed in the splendor of the sun now carried around clothes with stains and tatters.  For the first time ever, for 33 years at least, Heaven was incomplete.  

All for us.  

Yes, we are the focus and reason for the journey from the manger to the Cross.  Yes, our sin is what drove this wedge into perfection.  And yes, it is all for us.  But everything, everything in this season points to God.  

Not us.  

We've taken THE moment that begins our redemption and salvation and swung the arrow of attention backwards, onto us.  I've spoken often and candidly about how I have drug this season through the mire of my own greed and ignorance.  I took a moment of peace and joy and turned it into commercials and extravagance highlighted by shiny bows and cool wrapping paper.  The biggest problem with this devaluation of the manger is that no present, no bow, no mere gift can contain the heart of the Christmas season:  forgiveness. 

At times forgiveness comes wrapped in a small box, in a quiet request that heals a relational rift.  Other times, no major headline on every news feed is big enough to handle the volume we need to express in asking for forgiveness.  And yet, God's forgiveness was complete enough it could be held in a food trough, cooing softly, eyes taking in the wonder of his own creation for the first time as a part of his own creation.  

Yes, this moment was for us.  But do not get confused about the meaning and heart of Christmas... its for us, but it is all about God.  This year, let every gift you unwrap be done remembering that moment.  Let every regret pass through the understanding of how far God went to redeem us.  Let every celebratory toast and hearty song be a moment we use to remember that we're all following that star that leads to Bethlehem.  

Matthew 2: 9 - 11 9After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.10When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!11They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (NLT)




December 7, 2015, 9:21 AM

Christmas Past


I think Linus said it best when he quoted from Luke 2 in A Charlie Brown Christmas TV special.  "...For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord..."

That about sums it up.  I've read many commentaries on that specific Christmas special, and most of them pointed to the controversy around Charles Schultz's INSISTENCE that this quote be included.  Right before Linus speaks his monologue, Charlie Brown asks:  “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” 

I ask that same question quietly in my own heart and head every year.  Truth be told, I'm not looking around wondering if Christmas' true meaning has been forgotten.  I'm looking in a mirror, or quietly reflecting on my own soul's state of being.  I buy presents for the family (and myself, of course).  I help decorate the tree (or at least I'm the one who hauls it upstairs and sets it up in the corner).  I listen, begrudgingly, to Christmas music wherever I go and in our living room.  I read a book entitled One Wintry Night (link below) to my children every Christmas that tells the bigger story to Christmas from Creation to the Cross.  

And yet I need reminded what Christmas is all about.  The long trip from Heaven to Bethlehem.  The long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem! The sleepless night in a cold shelter built for animals (who have fur).  The anxiety of impending birth and the stress of doing as such on the road, in said cold shelter for animals.  A crowd of shepherds intruding noisily on the post-birth serenity of healthy mother and child.  The violent outrage of Herod, his orders of murder impeding on the joy of hundreds of families.  

All this for me and you.  All of this because God loves us THAT much.  Please remember what Christmas is all about.  Let our souls cry freely as we peek into the manger.  Let our hearts sing praise along with the shepherd who witnessed the musical abilities of Heaven's Host.  Remember that Christmas is about sacrifice, giving because we love, and remembering the one Silent Night that has given us countless other nights of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men.  

Luke 2: 8-14  KJV:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

 

*A book I highly suggest for this season:  One Wintry Night




November 30, 2015, 8:53 AM

The Church Abides... the Church Abides, man.


I was blessed with a stirring conversation yesterday (11/29) that has shaken a few ideas loose in this knotted brain, and I want to let them fall out on you here.  A man I've always considered extremely wise, and close to God revealed to me that he has had a breakthrough and discovered that all the wisdom he was chasing, and success he had garnered was worthless.  There was a broken heart at the source of this discovery, and a new life was awaiting him.  Here's what put him in the new place:  

He discovered the difference between Striving, and Abiding.  And now I desperately want that too.  

Our culture pushes us to strive, in ALL areas.  Seriously, even our babies have expectations put on them with the percentile growth charts.  Its not up to us, but the sense of pride when our children occupy the 90% percentile in head size only points to one thing:  I HAVE A BIG HEAD.  (that was meant literally and figuratively).  After that its all about good grades and striving for the utmost success in school.  One must get good grades so that only the best colleges will accept you, during which you strive to succeed so that the best jobs are available.  Once a job is procured, we are pushed to strive for promotion, earning potential, and retirement savings.  All so that when we die, we are comfortable and surrounded by the weeping throngs of loved ones we've left behind.  

Is that all necessarily bad?  No, not completely.... in the cultural context.  However, we have let that Strive-mentality work its way into Church culture as well, and into our personal faith and spiritual development.  We push numbers, facilities, and exponential growth exercises that will show the world that we are a Church on the right path.  We Strive for success in the religious culture of our day.  

And we've missed the point.  We work like ants to try and please God in the best way possible (according to our limited minds), and the message he is calling us to is this:  Abide in Me.  We do not have to please God.  He is delighted with us.  We do not need to stretch ourselves to find him, he's right here with us.  He has not, nor will not leave our side.  Through the highs and lows, he simply wants us to Abide in him.  Here's what that looks like:  40 years of hiding out in a foreign land, tending the flocks of your new father-in-law after killing a man in Egypt.  It looks like years of running and fear of a murderous king who is ruining your betrothed kingdom.  It looks like standing next to your pregnant girlfriend (by the Holy Spirit, no less) when the world wont believe you, but you trust God's plan regardless.  

The world rises and falls around us.  The tides threaten to sweep us away at every step.  The expectations of our culture bear down on us unrelentingly.  We are pushed to strive for greater things, always moving ahead.  When we fail, we think ourselves alone in a pit of misery.  When we succeed we just know we've climbed the mountain.  And through it all, God is at our side calling us, quietly, to Abide in Me.  

The trophies and respect of the world will all fade.  But the audience of One, the attention and presence of God never waivers.  
Which are we seeking to please?  Our own goals and strivings?  Or the calming, loving, forgiving presence of our God?  




November 16, 2015, 8:40 AM

Is it ever personal enough?


When Jesus speaks, it is to us.  

Sure, there are those moments when he addresses an individual and their specific situation or question that are quicker to dismiss than others.  But know that when Jesus speaks, every time, it is to us.  He gets up in our business; Makes it personal; Knocks the smug look of detached self-righteousness from our faces and tells us how it is.  

It is so easy to dismiss commands based on the distance geographically, historically, and culturally from then to now.  In fact, most of what Jesus spoke could be categorized as dismissable if we wanted to play the game that way.  "He was talking to THAT group of people at THAT specific time about THAT specific issue."  See how easy it is to push commands and teachings to the side?!  Surely he wasn't talking to me!!

Yes, yes he was.  The power of the Bible extends to us in almost incomprehensible ways.  Simply glancing at the text shows us a story of redemption, engaging and packed with adventure.  Stepping in closer we discover a very intense love story between God and man, despite man's best efforts.  And if we dive into that story, we discover something powerful:  a very personal and relevant message that transcends time, culture, and location.  Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we have to believe and read his commands as if they were being spoken into our very ears.  His message hasn't changed, nor will it change simply  because the calendar has.  

He still wants us to be humble, patient, standing strong under persecution (not whining about every little thing), and being generous.  He wants us to pray for our leaders and pay our taxes, even if we disagree with policies or practices.  He calls us from our sin, leaving no stone unturned (or table for that matter) when it comes to exposing the worst of us.  And when he does expose the darkness, he brings it into the light...  

If we expect the Cross and redemption to transcend time and be relevant to us today, we have to realize that every command and instruction are still relevant as well.   This changes everything.  Do we think the things Jesus thought important to be important to us?  Are we prioritizing the things that Jesus prioritized?   Or have we decided to pick and choose our options, sitting comfortably waiting for him to come and pat us on the back?  

Is it ever personal enough for us?  All of it is personal.  Which changes the way we read the Gospels.  Really, it changes everything.  




November 9, 2015, 8:27 AM

Dangerous Waters Ahead


I've never been in a situation in which I've had to respond to the sign that warns of Dangerous Waters Ahead.  Probably because I've spent minimal time in a boat.  More or less time in a boat in places in which we would encounter just such a sign.  I begin this week's blog that way because I feel as though there is a need for warning about the upcoming sermon in our series through The Fruit of the Spirit.  We're talking about Self Control this coming week.  *insert ominous music here

Of all the Fruit, this one hits us in the place it hurts most, and it gets personal very quickly.  While Love is the canvas on which all the other Fruit are painted, Self Control is the brush they're painted with.  The world (non-believers) has a very different approach to what self control is; which we can see in the early stages of the law in the Old Testament:  Don't Murder.  Boom!  I have exhibited 39 years of self control.  The irony is that through further discourse and questioning, even "don't murder" had caveats and exceptions and loopholes.  

Without giving too much of the sermon away, I want to explain why Self Control is so important.  Without Self Control, love is simply lust, or infatuation.  Self Control takes the positive aspects of all the Fruit and places them in the realm of the Holy Spirit's influence.  Patience, without Self Control is simply plotting or biding one's time.  Do you see how this matters and if we don't paint each of the Fruit with Self Control they become cheap, simplistic, and carnal? 

So we're going to get personal, and dive head first into Self Control.  The context for this Fruit is very simple (unlike Love, Joy, Peace, etc...).  We find Self Control in all the places we expect to find it.  There is no mystery.  

Grab a hold of those paint brushes, grip the sides of the boat, because if we don't we will lose control very quickly.  Dangerous Waters Ahead indeed. 

 


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