Saturday, December 31, 2011

As we reach the end of another year, 2011, I am reminded of one of the great secrets of life: to live life with as few regrets as possible.  I love the testimony of Abraham that says, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.”  What a coveted testimony, to live your life, determined to come to the end as a “satisfied customer” with as few regrets as possible.  The reason this is so important is that this life is not a trial run, YOU ONLY GET TO DO THIS ONCE!

As we close this year, let me just speak to those who are carrying a huge weight of regret.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb.12:1,2) Regret is a huge weight that so many people carry around their necks. There life is burden by and trapped by the “if Only’s.”

I would have dressed up, only it was too much trouble.
I would have gone out, only it cost too much.
I would have driven, only travel’s dangerous.
I would have eaten, only I weigh too much.
I would have danced, only I didn’t have a partner.
I would have returned, only it brought back bad memories.

I would have gone, only I didn’t have time.
I would have visited, only I wasn’t wanted.
I would have tried, only it was a waste of energy.
I would have helped, only they didn’t need me.
I would have cared, only I didn’t feel like it.
I would have cried, only I wasn’t sorry.

I would have volunteered, only I had better things to do.
I would have voted, only it wouldn’t have changed things.
I would have donated, only they’d made their quota.
I would have spoken up, only I was afraid to.
I would have acted, only others got there first.
I would have felt sorry, only I didn’t feel guilty.

I would have prepared, only it was too much work.
I would have studied, only I wouldn’t have passed.
I would have corrected it, only it was too late.
I would have told the truth, only it would have offended.
I would have graduated, only life intervened.
I would have gotten the job, only they didn’t like me.
I would have prayed, only God only knows.
I would have worshiped, only I hate to sing.
I would have fellowshipped, only I didn’t know them.
I would have served, only I didn’t have the calling.
I would have loved, only it hurt too much.
I would have lived,
If only.

The Nobel Peace Prize awards excellence in the field of science, literature, peace, and economics.  It is named after Alfred Nobel.  Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made his fortune by inventing explosives and licensing their manufacture to foreign governments for the production of weapons.  One day Nobel’s brother died and the newspaper accidentally ran Alfred’s obituary instead of his brother’s.  Alfred had the rare opportunity to read how others would remember him.  The obituary identified him as the inventor of dynamite, enabling nations to more effectively destroy one another.  Concerned that he would be remembered only as a merchant of death, he decided he would re-channel the remainder of his life to more productive efforts.  With a sizeable chunk of his wealth, he established the Nobel prizes to recognize and encourage accomplishments that would benefit humanity.  This is what he is most remembered for today.  We may not achieve the stature of his fame and fortune, but...all of us have the possibility of redirecting our time, our money, our emotions, our energies in such a way that we can live and die without regrets!

According to Hebrews, the goal here is the finish line!  One of the biggest lessons life has to teach us is the necessity of arranging life around what really matters in light of our mortality and God’s eternity!  You know what I hear in Paul’s prayer and plea?  Laying aside every weight and sin, running with enduring keeping your eyes fixed always on Jesus is to live to MINIMIZE  REGRETS.  Let eternity motivate you to search out the highest and the best, and you will not only live the best life you can now, but, you will also one day see a victorious finish line!  God will remain on His throne, sovereign over all creation, and all will be well with our soul, no matter what happens.  Perhaps things will not be well with our world, but they will be well with our soul.

There is an odd little carol which is sometimes sung on this first Sunday after Christmas.  It begins:

There’s snow on the mountain and ice on the pond,
The Wise Men are home now in the back of beyond.
The Shepherd’s have left us; the heavens are dumb;
There’s no one to tell us why Jesus has come.      

Then, it ends:

But God’s in His heaven, and Jesus has come
To show every sinner he’s welcome back home,
To be this world’s Savior from hunger and fear,
And give us new courage to face the New Year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

In many places of the British Commonwealth, today is a holiday, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, December 26th.  It was for years when I saw this printed on my Day Runner calendar, I thought it was some kind of big sporting event, you know, a boxing match!  Well, historically, it goes back to a time when wealthy people in the UK would give a box containing gifts to their servants.  Today, it is a bank or public holiday that is observed in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, when Christmas gifts are traditionally given to service workers.  In Canada, for instance, it gives people the chance to take part in the post-Christmas sales or watch ice hockey games.  On a more practical level, it is time to start “boxing up Christmas” for another year!  I thought this would also be a good day for me to “wrap up” any Christmas-related thoughts and truths, for you to take home with you (or wait until next year).

My specific focus is the whole Christmas tradition of gift giving.  It is one of the aspects of Christmas that I have a kind of love-hate relationship with.  This is not because I have a hard time being a “cheerful giver” or expressing liberality.  God really has taught me over the years the wonderful blessing of giving and not just receiving (Acts 20:35).  My dilemma is not even the result of the rank commercialism that defines Christmas for a lot of people, starting on “Black Friday” and continuing through the day-after-Christmas sales.  No, my frustration is related to the time-sensitive nature (December 25th is coming whether you’ve been “naughty or nice”), and the cultural expectations of finding just the right gift for the person you love.  After nearly 40 years of marriage to the most incredible woman, Mona, what do you give her that:  1) she doesn’t already have, or 2) she’d really like or need, or 3) that would be a real blessing to her and show her you love her.  It doesn’t help either when I ask her, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” and she answers “nothing,” and in her case, she means it.  She’s happy, we’re still married, we have our health, we’re able to serve God in the most wonderful church in the world (I am totally and unashamedly biased), so, no, I really don’t want anything.  Plus, my track record in this area is not the greatest (I don’t think I hit any home runs this Christmas!), not for a lack of desire, but a lack of time and necessary insight.  I rely a lot on “Santa’s elves and helpers” (her friends), but even they couldn’t help me much this year.

I am not alone in this dilemma either!  Just try working in the “Returns Department” on the day or two after Christmas, as gifts are returned that either are not liked, or that don’t fit, or, they’re not the right color etc.  I love the story of the three sons who had grown up, left home, went out on their own and prospered.  Getting back together, they discussed the gifts they were going to give their near blind, elderly mother for Christmas.  The first said, “I bought her a big house for Christmas.”  The second said, “I got her a Mercedes Benz and a chauffeur.”  The third smiled and said, “I’ve got both of you beat.  You remember how mom enjoyed reading the Bible?  And you know she can’t see very well.  So I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible.  It took a preacher 12 years to teach him.  He’s one of a kind.  Mama just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.  Soon thereafter, the woman sent out her letters of thanks to her sons for the Christmas gifts.  She wrote the first son and said, “The house you bought is so huge.  I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house.”  She wrote the second son, “I am too old to travel.  I stay home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes.  And the chauffeur is really rude!”  She wrote her third son, “Son, you are the only one who has the good sense to know what you mother likes.  The chicken was delicious!”  You see, it’s not always easy to get the perfect gift!

TO THE RESCUE, come the wise men or Magi in the Christmas story in Matthew 2.  The way they help us is by answering the most important question which is, “What do I give to Jesus?”  In this area their lives teach us, and are role models for us today what true wisdom is all about.  The Magi (Greek, “majoi”) were from the Medeo-Persian Empire.  They were the scientists and the scholars of their day, the intelligentsia in a good sense.  In them, we find the best educated and finest minds of their time; the kind of “go to” people in times of crisis.  Their mission in life was to hunger for and search out truth, wherever they could find it.  Their actions model for us 3 gifts that we should present to God 365 days of the year.


Matthew begins by saying, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  In their minds, the fruit of their study and calculations, coupled with the appearance of a very unusual star in the heavens, heralded the birth of a King, the “king of the Jews.”  The king that the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies pointed to for hundreds of years.  These propelled them to make the almost 1000 mile journey to Jerusalem, which probably took them around 3 months to complete.  Just the journey itself was no small feat, but one they felt was completely warranted.  You’ve heard about pursuing Christmas?  Well, the Christian life is exactly that: it is a continual, day-by-day pursuit to know and to serve God.  This is true whether you’ve recently come to Christ, or you’ve been a believer for years or decades.  When Jesus said, “follow Me,” He was talking about a pursuit, and one that is entirely warranted and worth it!  Listen to the promise in (Jer.29:11-13 ) “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart.”  According to these verses, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  But, that plan is aimed at triggering a corresponding response in you and me: a lifelong and sincere search.  When we read the story and consider their actions, it confirms the saying: WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM!


Man was created by God to be a worshiper.  This is why every person inherently will “worship” someone or something.  It’s in us, you can’t escape this fact.  It was also very clear in the Christmas story that this was the priority of the wise men.  They told Herod, “we are come to worship Him.”  Then, in verse 11, it says: And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”  Any participation in or celebration of Christmas that does not lead to, or include worship, in the end is either not valid or it is missing something.  Jesus told the woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23.24) The essence of true worship is seen here: it involves giving God His rightful place in our hearts and lives.  In the Christmas story, we see elements of a clear focus on the person of Jesus Christ, along with the awesome reverence and submission and obedience that true worship contains.  It is such a moving picture: grown men bowing down before a baby in worship.  In 1872, the poet Christiana Rossetti wrote a poem that was later set to music and became a Christmas carol.  She was a devoted follower of Christ, who for many years volunteered at a refuge for women coming out of a life of prostitution.  Her poem asks and says,

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part, Yet what can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Worship acknowledges the one thing that all of us can give Christ, no matter who were are, and it is the one gift Christ wants more than anything else–and that is our hearts!  The beautiful thing about the gift of worship is that it is a “gift that keeps on giving” and one I can give to God every day of the year, not just on a single holiday.  WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM, AND WHEN THEY FIND HIM, THEY WORSHIP HIM!


The key phrase and insight is found in verse 11, “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”  Gift theology plays a central role in the revelation of the Bible, and finds an outstanding expression in the actions of these wise men.  Our giving is a reflection of God’s giving and it proves the sincerity of our love and devotion.  “They opened their treasures.”  Jesus told us that “where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.”  This is one reason I also emphasize at offering time that we are “giving in worship” because the clear connection is unmistakable in the first Christmas story.  They gave God the best they had, because God desires and deserves the best of our time, our talents, and our treasures.  The gifts the wise men gave were not only great in value, but they were even greater in meaning, for what they said about Jesus, the recognition each contained.

  1. Gifts of goldThis is what you give a King or royalty.  Jesus is our King!

  2. Gifts of frankincense.  This was an important element in Temple worship, and the altar of incense, telling us that Jesus is our Priest!

  3. Gifts of myrrh.  This was a spice that was used in embalming corpses.  It probably was the strangest of all the gifts given that day, but even at or around His birth, the shadow of the Cross could be seen.  It tells us that Jesus is our Sacrifice!  This King was born to die for you and me.

Our giving and gifts to God should not be a sporadic or once-in-awhile affair.  They should be a lifestyle that is a reflection of and a response to God’s indescribable gift of Jesus Christ!  The powerful reality of the wise men’s gifts is that many believe that it was these gifts that financed and made possible the flight into Egypt of Joseph and Mary and the Christ Child.  They were strategic in preserving the life of Jesus Christ and advancing the Gospel in their time.  I really like the story about the family who chose to celebrate Christmas every year with a birthday party for Jesus.  An extra chair of honor was set up at the table that became the family’s reminder of Jesus’s presence.  One year an after-Christmas visitor was at the house, and asked the 5-year old daughter, Ruth, “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?”  After a moment’s hesitation, Ruth answered insightfully, “No, but then it’s not my birthday!”

As we prepare to “wrap up” Christmas in 2011, we can learn that these gifts are ones that every follower of Jesus Christ is able to give to God on a regular basis.  They are gifts that will not only meet the needs of others, but they will first and foremost give honor and praise to God, and they will bless our lives in the process.  I encourage you to keep on giving to God these gifts throughout this upcoming New Year.  Let me take this opportunity to remind you one more time:  WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM, AND WORSHIP HIM, AND IT CARRIES WITH IT THE FRAGRANCE OF SACRIFICIAL GIVING.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One of my aims in my Twitter account was to be able to link it directly to my more substantive blog, “Keeping Your Head In The Game.”  It is especially hard to take inspiration and limit it to 140 characters!  This is what gave birth today to this Christmas article. 

One of the many things that sets Christianity apart is singing and the power of song.  This is why Christmas and music are synonymous: from music in the Malls, to airports and hotel lobbies, all of the places of business, and, of course, all the radio stations.  This is not accidental, cultural, or traditional; but it’s one of the cornerstones of God’s workings in the lives of His people.  His people have always been a singing people!  Think about some of these truths with me for a moment.

The Melody of Redemption

One unique aspect that stands out about Christianity is that we have a singing faith.  This is unique among the religions of the world because singing and song are not a major part of their worship! When was the last time you saw a Muslim singing with joy?  Or, the last time you heard a Buddhist breaking out in praise?  You probably have not heard an atheist caught up in the rapture of his or her “non-faith”!  This is sad because singing is an expression and has tremendous power and ability to influence.  Think about how patriotic songs can stir in us a sense of national pride.  The air waves are filled with love songs because of the impact they have on people’s emotions.  Military training involves the bonding that marching cadences and ballads can bring. 

We’re talking about a prominent feature throughout the Bible.  God’s acts in creation and redemption have always been accompanied by song!  (Job 38:7) says that at creation, “the morning stars sang together” because they were witnessing something truly amazing.  Miriam’s song in (Exodus 15:20, 21) celebrated their fantastic deliverance, as they sang, “the Lord has triumphed gloriously.”  David’s Tabernacle had the unique feature of employing people in song, music and praise 24/7 (1Chron.9:33).  The Book of Psalms was not just inspirational devotional reading, but it was actually Israel’s “hymnal” or songbook (we still sing them today).  This reality reaches its climax and finds its ultimate expression in heaven.  Heaven is going to be a place of much music, song, and vibrant expression of worship and praise to God and the Lamb!  One of my favorite books in my library is by Robert Coleman, “Songs of Heaven,” where he goes through the various songs contained in the Book of Revelation and their meaning for our lives.

The significance of this is that it shows us the activity which takes place nearest the throne of God!  “Worship is the proper response of created beings (human or angelic) to the glory of God.”  There’s something about the revelation of God: His majesty, His holiness, His greatness, His acts, His love, His glory, and His goodness that demands and gives birth to song!  It’s as if these things can only be adequately expressed through the medium of song, because it is the language of the soul.  The Christian life begins with a song, it continues with song, and it will one day end with song.  The melody of redemption rests in the heart of every true child of God!

The Miracle of Christmas

Christmas is a season for singing!  This is why Christmas hymns and carols (comes from Latin word, choral song) are some of the best known songs in the world.  Even with the battle with the prevalence of “Politically-Correct Christmas” which gives us the “winter holiday” and “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” instead of Christ and Christmas, songs are part of the season.  This is why it seems every musical artist releases his or her Christmas albums, since no one wants to miss out on this lucrative market.  I’m not saying that all of this is wrong or anti-Christ, but tradition or attempts at creating an “artificial atmosphere” can never compare with the profound depths behind the real reason of Christmas.  Let’s visit the real thing that we find in the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  (Lk.2:8-11) Suddenly, this was followed by the fitting response and tribute of a heavenly chorus, (Lk.2:13,14) “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 among those with whom he is pleased!"  Only a heavenly choir could do all of this justice.  The first Christmas carol was sung by angels in the fields outside of Bethlehem.  Billy Graham wrote, “Christmas is not just a date on the calendar.  It is not just an annual holiday.  It is not a day to glorify selfishness and materialism.  Christmas is the celebration of the event that set Heaven to singing, an event that gave the stars of the night sky a new brilliance.  Christmas tells us that at a specific time and at a specific place, a specific Person was born.  That Person was ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God’ ---- the Lord, Jesus Christ.” 

Christmas began with praise, and since then, the birth of Jesus the Messiah has been the inspiration of countless songs and hymns.  Luke’s Gospel is filled with music, especially the first 2 chapters, where we find 5 hymns: Elizabeth, Zachariah, angels, Simon, and Mary.  I think Mary’s “Magnificat” captures the essence of this as she exclaimed, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”  This is awesome because it is sung by a young girl whose mind is obviously filled with Scripture, and her song is like a beautiful tapestry.  Ruth Graham Bell captured this by saying, “We should sing when we feel like it, for it is a shame to miss such an opportunity.  We should sing when we don’t feel like it, for it is dangerous to remain in such a condition.”

Singing Lessons

Martin Luther who was one of the spearheads of the Reformation fought for two things: the first was to give people a Bible they could read on their own, and secondly, a hymnal so they could sing on their own!  There’s a lot of people today who talk about the “worship wars” but my conviction is that strong preaching and strong worship go together.  One is not complete without the other.  (Ps.47:1;6,7) says, “Clap your hands, all peoples!
 Shout to God with loud songs of joy! Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!”  Congregational worship makes possible an intensity that cannot occur individually.  Spirit-filled Christianity is a song-filled Christian.  (Eph.5:18-20) defines it so clearly, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Carlyle once said, “Let me make a nation’s songs, and I care not who makes their laws.”  This is a huge testament to the power invested here.  Let me re-phrase one of the disciple’s questions to bring a conclusion here, “Lord, teach us to sing.”  This is not talking about becoming the next American Idol or winning the X-Factor or releasing your new CD, but spiritual songs can be learned by each and every one of us.  Here are a few brief singing lessons for us all.

  1. Focus on the lyrics.  Pay attention to what you are singing.  We’re told to “sing praises with understanding.”

  2. Call to participation.  A whole lot of today’s “worship music” is a performance, not participation.  It might make us feel good, but it is not true worship.  If I could also add one other aspect: if it cannot be sung congregationally, especially by men, then it is of limited and not lasting value.  It might be a “worship experience” but it falls short of Biblical worship.

  3. Necessity of whole-heartedness.  Sing with “gusto.”  You don’t need to have a beautiful singing voice, or to possess perfect pitch to sing the Lord’s songs; just do it with your whole heart.

There is a very simple secret here: the harmony that comes out of us must first be within us!  Mary’s song came from a surrendered heart.  (Lk.1:38)LB “Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever He wants.  May everything you said come true.”  I remember one of the most awesome worship times I ever heard.  It was in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa, in an area called Ferry Junction.  I can remember driving towards the church and turning the corner, passing the U.N. compound on the left side of the road, and just past that to approach The Door Church, and to hear the sounds of the saints of God there singing and worshiping! 

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O Come, let us adore Him,
O Come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God’s holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail!  Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! For evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him.
O come, let us adore Him.
Christ the Lord.
Thursday, December 8, 2011

I always try to get inspired to “feed the flock of God” during the Christmas season.  My reason for preaching, teaching, and writing is it has everything to do with beginnings.  Mark’s Gospel begins with this statement, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Beginnings are important because if you’re off here, you’ll be off about other critical things as well.

One of the figures of this drama and the unparalleled event of God becoming a man was a man named Simeon.  His testimony was summed up in (Lk.2:25) “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  This statement talked about a believing remnant in Israel, and it was almost like “code” for those who carried with them and held on to the hope of the promised Messiah who would answer every need in the human heart.  Hope was a precious commodity in a dying nation.  The Jews had been carried into captivity, many of them living in exile and slavery.  Many were cynical, faithless, and embittered.  Still, some yearned for the great days of the kings of the past, the glory of David and Solomon.  Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah urged the people to keep the faith.  Their message was “Wait for one more King.  This one will be the greatest of all, and He will end our struggle forever.”  Micah distinguished himself when he said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)

This accounts for why there are more than 300 Scripture prophecies, some of them fantastically specific, about Messiah who would come.  The Christmas season is also known and referred to as Advent, which comes from the Latin, ‘adventus” that means ‘coming.’  This is why in Matthew’s Gospel especially you find repeatedly in reference to the birth of Christ the statement, “that it might be fulfilled that was spoken by ______.”  Christ’s birth was not an accident, but God’s divine plan from the foundations of the world, prophecy fulfilled!

John Chrysotom (347-407 A.D.) was one of the most influential early church fathers from the 4th and 5th centuries.  He served for a time as the Archbishop of Constantinople.  He was known from his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, earning him the name “the golden-throated preacher.”  Here is one of his writings which highlights the hope that Christmas brings, even in a pagan culture that either ignores Christmas altogether, or makes it traditionally into a time of riotous behavior and debauchery.

So not think you are hearing of small things
when you hear of this birth,
but rouse up your mind,
and tremble when you are told
that God has come upon earth.

For so marvelous was this,
and beyond expectation,
that because of these things
the very angels formed a choir,
and in behalf of the world
offered up their praise for then,
and the prophets from the first were amazed at this,
that He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men.

For it is far beyond all thought
to hear that God the Unspeakable, the Unutterable,
the Incomprehensible, and He that is equal to the Father,
has passed through a virgin’s womb,
and has chosen to be born of a woman,
and to have Abraham and David for forefathers.

Hearing these things, arise, and think of nothing low!
And most of all you should marvel at this –
that being Son of the Unoriginate God, and His true Son,
He suffered Himself to be called also Son of David,
that he might make you son of God.
He suffered a slave to be father to Him,
that He might make the Lord Father to you a slave!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

*The headlines on the Drudge Report on the day after “Black Friday” tells it all.  This was the list of articles relating to the activity and excess of that day.  
  • Black and Blue Friday
  • Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers ‘to gain an upper hand...”
  • ‘Competitive shopping’ turns into chaos...
  • ‘Girls Punching Each Other’ Over Yoga Pants Sale at Victoria’s Secret...
  • VIDEO: Mayhem over $2 waffle maker...
  • Two women insured in brawl...
  • Woman shot, robbed in SC after midnight shopping trip to WALMART...
  • NC police use pepper spray to break up melee...
  • Grandfather smashed to ground as he tried to protect grandson from crowd...
  • Police taser WALMART customer...

As I read these headlines the song that came into my mind was, “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...”  I know it sounds a bit cynical, and I’m not criticizing anyone who tries to be a “value shopper.”  It does, however, illustrate the challenge we face at this time of year: finding balance in our Christmas celebration.  How do we make Christmas joyously special without it becoming either paganized or overly commercialized?  Is the answer a kind of “sanctified Scroogism” that spends most of its time attacking almost everything, or can I keep my head to make the holidays happily holy?!  I am very well aware that the holiday season is surrounded by the silly, the superficial, and the senseless.  I also realize that at the same time there is a definite openness of people’s souls that we can capitalize on to see the true spirit and message of Christmas reaching as many people as possible. Is there a way that holiday traditions can be applied without allowing an undermining worldliness to clutter our celebrating?  How about a few suggestions:

1. Why not be more like the shepherds?  The angels incredible announcement to them on that “night of nights” was "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.”  Their response is still the correct one over two millennia later, “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us."  And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” (Excerpts Luke 2)

2. Purpose that your goal will be to embrace community not consumption.  The practice of gift giving is a tradition that has roots in the original Christmas story, which is a good thing.  However, try to remember that the things that really have value is relationships in home, church and those we work with.  This will help me approach this season without becoming overwhelmed by all the things that must be done in order to have a “good Christmas.”

3. Practice the wisdom of (1Pet.3:15) which says, “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.”  This is not hype but rather a hope-filled witness to an inquiring world, which is especially applicable to our traditional year-end holidays.  I can’t think of too many things that are more likely to open hearts to Christ than being exposed to the joy of Jesus in a home or congregation where people have learned to make the holidays happily holy.  Sanctify the Lord Jesus first - centering everything around Him.  Then rejoice!  Let people learn what it is to live in the liberty that the truth and Spirit of Christmas really bring.

4. Always keep in mind Who and Why we celebrate at this time of year.  (Isaiah 9:6,7) contains mind-boggling truth about the Child Jesus, the Son who was born on Christmas day!  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”  In the Name and Person of Christ is reality that answers to every need in the human heart!

The bottom line this year and every year is that it is impossible to live up to all the hype of Christmas....without Jesus!  Think about it, Christmas without Jesus is a holiday that celebrates nothing.  Holiday trees, secular music and solstice winter celebrations are all fine, but they become a celebration of nothing.  I’m not a serial killer about taking Christ out of Christmas, but it is sad and sets up people for a horrible letdown.  Without Christ, nothing can live up to the hype of Christmas.  After the Civil War, when the Union troops captured Richmond, wagonloads of Confederate money were taken from the city.  In the evenings during that trip, the Union troops would play poker with Confederate money. It wasn’t an important game.  In fact, it was a meaningless game.  The money was absolutely worthless.  This reminds me of Christmas without Christ: it’s like the poker game that isn’t real; and, when it’s over, nobody wins in the game.  On the other side, because of the coming of the Messiah, you know what’s important.  You know truth that nobody but you can know because of Him!  This is the Christmas Spirit that we contend for year after year, and not just limit it to a holiday, but make it our goal to walk in that spirit all 365 days of the year!

Guest Blog by Pastor Fred Rubi.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

I suspect what makes Scrooge such an enduring character is that (if we’re honest) there is a little humbug in most of us.  Let’s face it Christmas Cheer is not always that cheerful.  The truth is Christmas exists between the tensions of great joy and profound angst.

It’s interesting to note that the first official response to the announcement of Jesus’ birth was fear.  The Angel began his message to the Shepherds in the field with, “Be not afriad; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

I don’t think much has changed in two millennia.  For some it’s hearing their first “Yuletide” carol of the season, for others it’s the sighing of a holiday display at a shopping mall sometime near Columbus Day, or just the weight of having to consider advancing Christmastime obligations.  The first thought of Christmas can be rough.

Many people wrongly equate happiness with an event partly because that has the word’s original implication.  The word happy comes from the old English word “hap” meaning luck, or good fortune.  The idea was that a happy person demonstrated the joy of someone who experienced good luck.  It stands to reason that people who go through life waiting for a fortuitous moment to bring contentment will be very unhappy most of the time.

That’s why we must constantly remind ourselves that the true meaning of Christmas is the good news of “a great joy.”  The Angel told Joseph that Mary would “bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”  The great joy is the promise of salvatioin.  The heart of joy is hope not just a good time.

I believe Christmas is a wonder from God given to the world so every year the nations will hear the proclamation, “born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  I believe it’s also a gift to his people that no matter what we are going through we can pause and be reminded (and encouraged) that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord!

Scrooge’s great revelation was that the joy of Christmas was something that had to be embraced—something that had to be honored—because it represents far more than a dreaded holiday season.

Pastor Fred Rubi

Our Bible Conferences are exciting times of personal ministry and edification, coupled with a renewed casting of vision.  One of the great challenges is always to hear the Holy Spirit when He says, “separate me Barnabas and Saul (you could put lot of people’s names here!) for the work to which I have called them.”

This year we announced a new overseas church plant into Bamenda, Cameroon with Phillip and Kristin Kuti-George. The other part of this venture is taking over the church in Silver Spring, MD where the Kuti-George’s have labored is Jamile & Yinka Hurst from London, England.  To me, the exciting part is we normally heart about sending workers and missionaries from the U.S. into other places.  In this case, the order is reversed: we’re bringing a couple from London to pastor here in the U.S.!  Especially in one of the most influential metropolitan areas in the country, Washington, D.C. Silver Spring is a suburb, located approximately 8 miles from D.C.  The whole area there is an incredible melting pot of people of various ethnicities and people from many different parts of the world.  Originally, this was one of the incentives for Phillip & Kristin to go there, with its large population of people from Sierra Leone and other West African nations.

Jamile Hurst was saved in November of 1999 in South London, and was originally from the Caribbean country of Antigua.  He has pastored in the U.K. and for the last few years he has evangelized throughout England and other countries.  I am excited because, first, he is a man of God with real vision, and secondly, I think that he will be uniquely positioned to not only relate, but also to transcend many of the barriers between people in that area.  They have just enlarged and remodeled the building in Silver Spring.  The Hurst’s arrived yesterday and the official changeover will take place on 12-11-11. Pray that by God’s grace the church is positioned to move forward and the Word of God can “multiply and prevail!”

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