Thoughts on Christmas: For To Us A Child is Born


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah   9:6 (NIV)

I am not very good at shopping ahead of time for Christmas.  Fortunately I have avoided the last minute shopping at the mini-mart for gifts, but it has come too close a few times.  My wife, on the other hand, is the picture of organization and planning ahead.  She starts buying presents for the next Christmas the first week of January.  She has a budget and lists of kid’s names and remembers what everyone likes and dislikes.  Between the two of us, you would definitely want her to get your name in a gift exchange.

There is no doubt that my wife reflects a characteristic about Christmas that we may not always consider: that the perfect gift came at the perfect time and was planned before the creation of the world.  How awesome is it to know that Christ’s birth wasn’t reactionary or a move of desperation?  From the beginning of time, through dozens of generations, thousands of years and the stubbornness of human will, God prepared the world for the coming of His Son.  The fulfillment of prophecy and the promise of salvation spoken of from the Garden and throughout all history – talk about planning ahead.

The amazing truth of this is that God takes the same pains to bring us to the gift He sent in His Son as He took in bring His Son to a humble manger in Bethlehem.  Every day He has prepared gifts that will bring us closer to Him.  Every day He has put in place what we need for that day.  On that first Christmas, God sent His Son to bring love and salvation to a dying world, and He is still sending that gift each day to those who are willing to receive Him.

During this Christmas season remember the God who plans ahead.  Remember that there is wisdom for you from the Wonderful counselor, there is power to overcome the world in our Mighty God, there is hope for a life to come with our Everlasting Father and we have a gracious Lord in the Prince of Peace.

Thoughts on Christmas: A Mother’s Song, A Daughter’s Song


And Mary said:  “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

It must have been an incredible moment, a moment that both women carried with them through the years their sons were growing up and becoming the servants of God they were meant to be.  One a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah; the other a rabbi who bled for the sins of the world. Both of them miracles.

John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents well beyond the childbearing age – the Abraham and Sarah of their day.  Zechariah was commanded by God to name his son John, but was made mute because he questioned God’s ability to give them a son.  Jesus was the Son of God and Joseph and Mary – one by spirit, one by law and one by blood.  Mary was blessed for unflinching obedience and acceptance.

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, signifying that he already recognized the one he would prepare the way for in an unprepared world.  Elizabeth is moved by the spirit to prophesy, which in turn moves Mary to sing praise to her God.  It is a holy moment, a sacred moment.  Two holy children destined to change the world and two women chosen to love and care for them joined together by God’s Spirit.

Often the song of Mary is considered a mother’s song, and it is, but it is also a daughter’s song to her heavenly Father.  A song of praise and thanksgiving for all that He had done and all that He would do. A song testifying God’s ability to give her everything she needs to do what she should.  A song for Christmas, when we celebrate the day that God gave us everything we need to do all we should.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas day, it is easy to get frustrated with the un-Christmas-like things around us and around the world.  However, the danger of focusing on the lack of Christ in Christmas in our culture is that we don’t focus enough on the Christ in Christmas.  Think of Mary, a young woman in her circumstances travelling to stay with family, avoiding the shame she might endure.  She carried the light of the world inside her, but knew no one would believe her.  In the midst of all this she sings praise to her God; she remembers what she is about and who she is; a daughter of the King.  Instead of fixating on all that could go wrong, or what was uncomfortable or unpleasant, she recounted what good a gracious God she served.  She was preparing the way for the Messiah.

Maybe that is what we should really be about during the Christmas season – preparing the way.  Like Mary and then John, we should be focused on preparing the way for Jesus to come into moments we share with friends, family, coworkers and even strangers.  Let’s prepare the way in our hearts for Christ to have His way in His time.  Prepare the way, Christmas is coming.

Thoughts on Christmas: Simeon’s Song


Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32

Can you imagine holding the Messiah?  Can you wrap your mind around being present when God came in the flesh to save the world?  I asked myself these questions a few years ago when I read this verse.  It is one that gets skipped over sometimes because it is stuck in between the nativity and the ministry of Jesus with the disciples.  It struck me that God had ordained this meeting between His son and His servant to confirm for Joseph and Mary that all they had experienced was real.

It is easy to feel a little jealous of Simeon’s experience, celebrating the arrival of God’s salvation by holding it close to his chest, but I have since decided that we now experience something Simeon did not – the indwelling of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  While Simeon knew who Jesus was and had been waiting for His arrival, he most likely was not living when Christ rose from the tomb.  As believers under the new covenant, we have a fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It really is astounding; that God would dwell in us and make our hearts His home.

In this coming year, in the aftermath of the Christmas season and all the un-Christmas stuff that can come with it, remember that we have received Christ.  We hold Him close to our hearts in faith.  We celebrate His presence in our lives.  We say with Simeon, “my eyes have seen your salvation” and give our praises to God.  This is the meaning and momentum of Christmas; that Christ was sent and received and continues to be sent and received through the Holy Spirit to save the lost and heal the sick and feed the hungry.

Now we become the bearers of the gift, carrying it into the lives of others, presenting them with their “Simeon” moment.  Our words and actions open the doors to present the gift to friends, family, coworkers and strangers, bringing Christ near to those He would save.  Can you imagine holding the Messiah?  Can you wrap your mind around being present when God comes in the flesh to bring salvation to a dying world?  It is our privilege and promise as His children to carry these great gifts every day.  Here is hoping that Christmas does not only mark the end of the year, but gives us the push we need to hit the new year with renewed strength and purpose.

Acting Out Our Faith: Taking the Word


Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. – Acts 8:4

The devil does not give up easily.  He is pride personified and will not stop his rebellion against God.  He incites and manipulates and connives to work against the kingdom of God and he worked hard to squash this new move of God called the body of Christ.  Persecution came in various forms and degrees of harm, but it all worked to overcome something that cannot be overcome – the Word.

The devil’s pride actually becomes a help to those who follow after God.  While the devil was trying to stop the church, the persecution just spread it out and made it grow.  Instead of shutting up and keeping quiet about their faith, believers took the gospel with them to cities, towns and villages.  The good word went with them as the persecution pushed the church out of Jerusalem into the rest of the world.

It is comforting to keep in mind that anything the devil may have planned for us has already been seen and considered by the God who loves and cares for us.  He has already worked out ways for those hellish plans to be fruitless while His children grow and prosper.  This is what happens when we take the word with us through life.  When it sits inside of us and forms our thoughts and guides our paths, we walk in the plans that God has for us and won’t fall into the traps of the devil.

Lord, help me to walk with the word in my heart every step of this life.  My I preach it through action and speech to all who will listen and may I not bring reproach to Your word by my failures and faults.  Make me more and more a man of Your word every day.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Speaking About Jesus


Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone’.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)

I hate missed opportunities.  They leave pestering questions lurking about the brain and make a mess of your judgement. The ones that hurt the most are opportunities to speak about Jesus that are gagged by fear or propriety.  I need to be braver.  I need to speak about Jesus just as easily as I talk about the weather.  But it is easy to ride under the radar and think of my faith as something covert.

The rationalizations are plentiful and pitiful.  There’s always the got to argument of separation of church and state, or you can always opt for the “I don’t want to offend anyone” approach.  You can argue that you don’t want to be one of those “pushy” Christians or that faith is a private matter.  And you can fall back on the greatly abused and misused quote attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” These arguments fall to pieces in light of the consistent testimony of Scripture that we are called to speak of Jesus.

Peter is in an overtly antagonistic setting, with little reputation or resources to back him up.  His life and liberty in a political sense are at risk, and yet he speaks boldly before God and man regarding the life, death, resurrection and power of Jesus.  None of the arguments listed above have been given any thought whatsoever.  He is a speaker of truth and that is enough reason to speak and he used plenty of words over the course of his life to preach the gospel.  Granted that his words were often punctuated by the power of Jesus, but he used plenty of words.

I don’t want my children to ever be afraid of speaking about Jesus.  I want their conversations and proclamations about Him to be as free and easy as a greeting to a friend.  So I must overcome my own fear.  I must not care about being thought foolish.  I must not be concerned with reputation.  I must be fearless in speaking about Jesus.

Lord, give me courage to speak about Your son Jesus Christ with clarity and humility.  May I teach my children to share about the life they have with You through the death and ressurrection of Your Son.  Help me speak of Jesus often, openly and purposefully. Amen.

Life in Community: Everyone is Broken


During our small group meeting a gentleman shared about his recent journey to the Philippines and the life changing experiences he had there.  One of the most powerful truths he saw during his visit was the importance and influence of community.  It reminded me of some blog posts I did about two years ago on living life in community and so I submit them again for your perusal.  I will be posting the series again over the next two weeks while I am working on a set of posts about Acts.  I hope that this series is a blessing to you.

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no difference between people.  Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.
Romans 3:22-23 (GW)

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 NIV)

My daughter asked me one day why people do bad things and I quickly replied, “Some people are just bad.”  It was a lazy answer, certainly wrong and dreadfully insensitive, but in the moment it satisfied the ponderings of a seven-year-old little girl.  Fortunately the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me get away with such bad theology – and bad parenting – and kept bringing me back to her question.  Why do people do bad things?

I came across the passage in Philippians 2 one day soon after the conversation with my daughter (it is one of my favorites), and the words jumped out at me.  Obviously my view of “bad” people was not in line with what Jesus desired of me, especially in light of Paul’s words in Romans 3.  Somewhere I had let a false perception creep into my thinking and it had skewed how I thought of others.  The devastating realization was that I had in essence told my little girl she was a bad person.

I have always enjoyed the writings of C.S. Lewis and his essay, “The Weight of Glory” is one I need to return to from time to time.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

It is very easy to lump people into categories and affix our labels and go about our lives in the comfort of our well-organized world.  However, if we are looking for a better life, a richer experience of God’s presence, a deeper understanding of His love at work in our lives and the lives of others we will change our perception of what humanity is and what it can be.  When we understand that each of us will either be forever broken or forever made whole, we should be motivated to work toward the one and work against the other.  Instead we think we are okay because of how bad someone else is or because we are good at hiding our own brokenness.

After reflecting on these passages, I had to sit down with my daughter and explain that people do bad things because they are broken and that all of us are broken.  It was a simple conversation and a simple explanation, but her education in this area will advance with years.  She needs to know that we are all broken, that we all do bad things, and that it is the love of God that heals us and makes us whole; that in loving Him we find the grace and mercy to love ourselves and others because His love is greater than our own.  She will need to know that brokenness is not an excuse for our transgressions.  I will need to teach her that humility is the key to loving other people in the midst of their brokenness.  I will try to show her that it is a far great thing to be better for the sake of others than it is to be better than others.  I will try to show her what it looks like to move toward wholeness so she will know her way along the journey.

We Are Not Made For Holes In The Ground


We are not made for holes in the ground

Not destined for earthen beds

We are not made to rest in the clay

Not numbered with the dead

 

We are made to live

We are made to last

We are made to praise

Forever and ever

 

We are not made for corruption

Not made to fade away

We are not marked for destruction

To languish in the grave

 

We are made to thrive

We are made to shine

We are made to sing

Forever and ever

 

We are made for glory above

To live among the saints

We are made to sing and dance

Before our God and Father

 

We are made for Him

We are made for love

We are made for joy

Forever and ever.

 

by Chris Yeager

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Conclusion


But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)

Righteousness is an amazing thing; we all need, none of us have it and there is only one place to get it.  Talk about evening the playing field.  Righteousness requires us all to become spiritual paupers. This makes Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 come into clearer focus.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) and, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

There is no difference between me or the murderer in jail, until either of us admit our spiritual poverty and hunger for something better than all other things.  God has made His righteousness known and available, but we can get too involved in concocting our own righteousness instead.  We can look at the murderer and say, “At least I am not a murderer” all the while hating the murderer in our heart.  This isn’t righteousness, it is spiritual hypocrisy rooted in arrogance.

Righteousness asks us all to start at the same place, to count everything we have done on our own as rubbish.  We empty our pockets, we deny our credentials, we surrender our pedigree and we come before God naked and poor.  We need Him to clothe us.  We need Him to bless us with the riches of His kingdom.  We need His righteousness.

This life is too short to spend time trying to be right; too precious to spend our talents and treasures just to prove someone else wrong.  Make your argument with your life.  Hunger and thirst for righteousness and you will make the best argument possible; that God’s righteousness is better than man’s.  I certainly don’t say this from a place of success.  Every day is a struggle to seek God’s righteousness instead of creating my own, but I believe I am closer than I was last week, last month, last year.  I still hunger.  I still thirst.

Righteousness is an amazing thing, but it is not impossible.  My hope is rooted in the victories in my own life and the cloud of witnesses who testify to this truth.  The righteousness of God is our inheritance, but we must let go of the petty riches we cling to in this world.  We have to let go of our reputations, our degrees, our experiences and grab a hold of the hem of His garment.  Lord, let us hunger and thirst for You more every day.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Faith in the Good News


I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

Our culture has slowly moved toward a scientific approach to solve most of our problems.  If you can’t observe it, measure it and repeat it then it must not be true.  Faith for this culture is more seeing first and then believing, which really isn’t faith at all.  On the other hand, there are many sciences that are based in postulations and theories without any observable evidence, and yet unquestioned belief is the accepted norm.  Sounds like faith to me.

The Good News is evidence of what we have not seen.  I have never seen God face to face.  I have never seen the glory of heaven with my naked eyes.  I have never watched the forces of good wage war against evil in the spiritual realms like Elisha and his servant.  But I believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen to life.  I believe this because I have seen and heard the truth in so many ways, they cannot be recounted here.  I believe because of the witness that speaks to my heart in ways that science never will.  A voice that overcomes my fears, my weaknesses and my doubts to keep me rooted in the truth of God’s will and word.

It is easy to get mixed up about this.  We can try to apply science to the Bible or our understanding of the Bible.  We can seek more help from psychology than the Wonderful Counselor.  We can get fixated on having a system of do’s and don’ts that we can control and twist, creating a customized religion that makes us right all the time.  But righteousness comes to us through faith.  It is not something we can control or cajole.  It is given to us as we give ourselves to Him.  Religion is a burden while faith allows us to cast our burdens down and trust God with them.

I used to be concerned about making a “scientific” argument for the validity of scripture.  I will leave that to the theologians and experts.  I am more concerned with my life being evidence of God’s existence than having arguments about the age of the earth.  If that is your calling, pursue it passionately and with integrity, but for me it is a distraction.  I want to live a life that reflects the truth I believe.  I want the Good News of the Gospel to transform my unrighteousness into righteousness.  Every day.

Lord, help me to be faithful.  May Your truth define me and transform me.  Let Your righteousness rule my heart and mind and be evidence to the world around me that You are God.  Amen

Giving Thanks: Finding the Peace of God


This is the second repost from November of 2010.  Hope that you all have a Thanksgiving filled with blessing.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. – Psalm 95:1-2

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5-7

In one of my favorite short films, Boundin’, by the geniuses at Pixar Studios, the main character is a lamb experiencing the humiliation of shearing for the first time.  Prior to this experience, his identity was rooted in how people perceived and treated him, so when his lovely coat is stripped away, he is unprepared for the laughs and giggles of his fair weather friends.  Fortunately, wisdom comes in the form of a Jackalope who gets the sheep’s head in the right place by showing him that nothing has really changed about who the sheep is inside.  The young sheep finds a way to be at peace in his changing circumstances and the viewer is wishing they had a jackalope to come get their head in the right place.

It is hard to be thankful when we are plagued by anxiety.  We tend to shift into survivor mode when anxiousness and fear take the helm.  That really doesn’t help us become “more than conquerors.”  I don’t believe that God desires us to choose between fight or flight when faced with the challenges of this world and our own sinfulness.  I do believe there is a peace that allows us to face even the worst of all possible events in our lives with boldness and even joy.  But just like that little lamb, we need to get our head in the right place.

Paul’s admonition to “present your requests to God” is tempered by an overarching attitude of thanksgiving.  This is critical for us to understand as His children, for we often wait to give thanks after the fact.  Paul is putting forth the idea that we need to lead with thanksgiving; to be grateful for what the Lord will do.  This gets our head in the right place – looking forward to hope and the unfailing promises of God.

What is it that you hope for?  What are the anxieties that keep you from living in the peace of God?  Don’t wait for a jackalope to come along with rhyming platitudes to help you out.  There is one who understands our suffering and the way out.  Put your hope in Him and pray with thanksgiving for His providence, healing and help in your time of need.