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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Seventh Day of Christmastide ’13

Number 7 brass“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Many people think that Christmas is a time of “joy to the world” and “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Of course, Jesus’ coming is a source of joy. And He did come as the Prince of peace. And, yes, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” — clearly an act of “good will” from God to man.

But the testimony of scripture is that this new, reborn life that comes through Jesus is not as sugary sweet as the portfolio of Christmas card images seems to indicate.

Jesus’ coming was not the end-all of the redemption story, and especially not the end of the work of Jesus! No, we are now in the “not-yet” tension of the gospel being preached to the ends of the earth before He comes again. So, the ongoing spiritual warfare we find ourselves in leaves us as people of HOPE.

flight to egyptJesus also promised that those who believe in the sign of His coming will be persecuted. From Jesus’ flight to Egypt because of Herod’s slaughtering of the innocent children in Bethlehem … to His crucifixion of Calvary, the Christmas coming of Christ has inaugurated continued TRIBULATION. 

Jesus also charged us to ask the Father for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – because, as a general rule, it’s not. So we wrestle our way through an imperfect world as people of PRAYER.

Is the onset of grand cosmic tension commenced by Christmas really cause for rejoicing?

The chorus of the classic Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel captures the fullness of what it means to rejoice in hope. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” In many church settings, the “shall” is changed to “has”. But the biblical truth is that there is joy in the tension, grace in the tribulation, and blessing in the waiting. We rejoice in hope.

Christmas presents

I heard the comment this year that “waiting for the presents under the tree is even better than opening them.” I’m not totally sure about that! … but there is something wonderful about waiting. God’s grand design in Christ has us waiting, longing and hoping. Our greatest joy is found in that design. So, on this 7th day of Chrsitmastide, let’s rejoice in hope.

 

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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in 12 Days of Christmastide, Hope

 

Sixth Day of Christmastide ’13

Number 6“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

Zealous. Fervent. Enthusiastic. Excited. Ardent. Emotionally involved. The Word says that these are to be characteristics of Jesus’ disciples, and we shouldn’t lose them.

I think we would all agree that being excited is great. New gifts are initially exciting. A new friendship, new job, first day of school, opening day of the new movie release … exciting stuff is usually new stuff. 

I’ve been a part of “exciting” churches. They are usually exciting because there’s a new engaging speaker in the pulpit, or a new facility, or the buzz of lots of new people attending (growth). All of those exciting places are no longer exciting. Most have leveled off to a consistent “normal” … others have become, frankly, dreary. That’s because churches are eerily the same as the rest of our lives – normal day bleeds into normal day. 99% of our lives is the “same old same old.”

Can you imagine "Christmas for People Who Don't Like Christmas?"

Can you imagine “Christmas for People Who Don’t Like Christmas?”

So, like the world, churches try to “spice things up.” A new hire. A new building. New music. A new program. A new sermon series. New service times. A new logo. But, it’s amazing … in a world that has more change-to-excite than ever, there is more boredom than ever. And we blindly think that these contemporary means to re-titillate ourselves actually work … are are appropriate in the church.

It has dawned on me this year that I find Christmastide exciting! Every year! And it’s not because it’s new and different. It’s because it’s old and the same! For several weeks each year, our world eases into a set of rich traditions, full of meaning, and most everyone says these are the best days of the year, and … well, why can’t it be Christmas all year ’round?

As a spiritual orphan, I’m coming to an important realization. If I was to become a part of a new family, the first thing I would want to do is become acquainted with and immersed in that family’s traditions. That’s what would give me identity, and make my new family-life exciting. But, if that family has abandoned all of its own traditions, and is ceaselessly trying new things to amuse itself, there would never be any experience of family to which to connect.

Christmas traditionsSo, bring on the music. The pine. The ornaments. The lights. Those cookies. The stockings. The movies. All the red and green. The train under tree. The family gathering. The hymns. The liturgies. The readings. The eucharist. The kisses of peace. The presence of Christ among His people gathered.

I’m excited just thinking about it!

 

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Fifth Day of Christmastide ’13

Image“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour(Romans 12:9).

Christmastide is the season for a lot of things, a lot of them good. But, by nature of the fact that there are relational expectations associated with the holiday, it is also peak season for disingenuineness and hypocrisy.

Orphans and other outcasts can smell this out quickly. For eleven months, the world can be a cold place. Then, during the holidays, people put on their Christmas best. They do nice things they don’t do throughout the year. They feel obliged to give gifts to people they many not even like. They extend their fuse a bit, offering a bit of extra grace when wronged. After all, “’tis the season.”

Grinch heart

But, is it real? I’ve always wondered. Scrooge. Grinch. Elf’s dad. Was it real for them? If these guys experienced a genuine transformation, it would last, right?

Jesus enters our world with the real deal. An eternal love for His creation. He didn’t “put it on for the holidays.” He really loves us. He even likes us – with brotherly affection. And he goes out of His way to honor us by sitting with us, asking questions, telling stories, attending to our needs, healing our maladies, sharing our tears. To be with Jesus is to be with someone who truly and deeply loves us.

Let’s face it … our love for each other just isn’t this good. Almost every relationship we have is convoluted by some mixed motive, or some unresolved friction.

Christmastime is a good time … because we try to express our love to each other the best we can. We focus on the positives, and honor our warm thoughts about others with some sort of gift, card or contact. Despite our latent hypocrisy, at least we try.

The scriptures charge us to keep this up all the time. Will it last into January?

 
 

Fourth Day of Christmastide ’13

Today’s Christmastide verse speaks directly into my orphan-ness: Number 4

“For as in one body we have many members (and the members do not all have the same function), so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

A holiday favorite in our household is Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the classic claymation Christmas story that explains the origins of Santa Claus. Key to the entire story is the Kringle family, who have been toymakers for generations. Their problem? They make great toys, but they can’t get them into the hands of children, so the toys aren’t played with. Thank goodness Kris Kringle, the orphan addition to their family! Once old enough, Kris decides he’ll make the risky trek to Sombertown to get those gifts delivered.

toys piling up

The church is like the Kringles’ workshop. We have received the grace of God, which has not only saved us, but has also gifted us. We are swamped with gifts! But, I fear our churches look much like the Kringles’ back stoop, with disheartened family members tossing unused gifts into an increasingly large pile.

Christmastide – the ultimate season of gift-giving. If only the world could experience the incredible gifts that we have to give in our church communities! First, we should be hives of amazing attitude – zeal, cheerfulness and generosity! Then, our “deliveries” to the world – our acts of service, words of clarity, encouragement, exuberance, kindness – should be turning our somber world into a place of joy.

Christmastide is here! Jesus has come, and “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Through graces given, he extends His Christmas touch to the world through His people, through us. With a proper self-assessment, a renewed mind, and a life of self-sacrifice, the gift of the incarnation can continue to give through the church all year ’round.

 

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Third Day of Christmastide ’13

Continuing with a Christmastide look at Romans 12…

NUMBER 3“For by the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

What are we to make of ourselves?

We enjoyed the annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life this week. It’s a story of self-assessment. George Bailey wants to be a big deal, but he’s not. Then he concludes he’s a nobody, and should end it all. Also not true. With the help of Clarence the angel, George is given the opportunity to make, literally, a “sober judgment” of who he is. The film closes with George – with his sick child, smashed car, bleeding mouth, drafty fixer-upper and empty bank account – getting bailed out financially by his friends (especially his rich, “somebody” friend) … and then being proclaimed by his “somebody” brother as “the richest man in town.”

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These two verses of scripture are both true of me. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually … the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6). “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” (1 John 3:1-2). The salvation of Christmas highlights both sides of the doubled-edge reality of who we are: The awful truth that we need a savior, and the incredible truth that we have received one!

The world around us would have us dull the sharpness of both of these edges. First, we’re told that we’re innately good, deserving, and entitled, and that – if there is a God – he simply must accept as as we are. It would be politically incorrect of God to insist that we change, and even more heinous for him to condemn our wickedness. That takes care of the bad side. Second, since God is obliged to accept us, it follows that we have no need of a savior, because we’re not in trouble.

The words of the prophet Jeremiah ring true in this age of inebriated self-perception. “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:14-15).

It is “grace given” and a “measure of faith”, says Paul, that allows us to see ourselves for who we really are: Hopelessly-broken-yet-gloriously-redeemed people … ashamed-now-peaceful … “the richest man in town!”

 

Second Day of Christmastide ’13

Number 2Happy Boxing Day!

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Jesus has come. And He has come to change our minds.

The secular “gospel” is one of tolerance, which purports that, if there is a God, He is obliged to love everyone, equally, and without condition — to be the God who “loves you just the way you are.” Any God who would presume upon your freedoms and personal opinions is just not acceptable. We aren’t interested in some God inflicting His/Her standard on our lives.

But this verse from Romans reminds us of God’s perspective. As the proverb says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12). It is no surprise that the world is heading in a direction it thinks is wise — but that God would have a transformation take place so that we will think differently. We can actually know God’s intent for the situations in our life! But you can count on that fact that it’s simply not going to jibe with the world’s best ideas.

End Up Where You Are Going

Jesus, when speaking of His followers, said “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:16-17). Sanctify. Purge. Cleanse. A work is done on these other-worldly disciples…a work done by the Word.

And that’s what Christmas is about: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Word has come to transform our minds from worldly thinking, and to save us from the death of our best intentions.

I’m thankful this Christmas for His coming, His Word, and for families that cling and stay conformed to His wisdom. Though I find such families very hard to find.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

First Day of Christmastide ’13

Number 1

Merry Christmas!


“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” 
(Romans 12:1)

Jesus was orphaned. Though still in contact with His Father, He was placed in care of an earthly father, Joseph, who adopted Him as his own (with the urging of a very persuasive angel!). We don’t know what the family life was like in Joseph’s household – but we do know that Jesus always had an internal understanding that His true Father was someone else; a heavenly Father, in Whose house He would always be drawn, and always belong (Luke 2:49).

Cross over creche

On Christmas day, Jesus was born into this adoption. To think of what He gave up … “home” for Jesus included His perfect Father, the glories of untainted creation, a context of perfect sinlessness, and eternal, abundant provision for every desire. Instead, He was placed in a fallen world, riddled with sin, cursed in its yield, and destined to carry out His murder. Truly, on Christmas Day, Jesus presented His body as a living sacrifice. We celebrate the day because this sacrifice was truly holy, and pleasing to God. It was the great self-emptying of God, that would lead to the cross, and the ultimate victory over death and evil.

On the day we indulge the most, and sacrifice the least (ironically. we celebrate the deprivation of Jesus by gorging ourselves on food and presents!), let’s remember the orphanage of Jesus. Let’s remember that, when we are born again, we are orphaned in a similar way. We are enlivened to embrace the cross-drenched reality that in sacrificing ourselves true worship is offered, and abundant life is experienced.

 
 

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