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.

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Redefined


For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NIV)

The distractions of today and yesterday too often skew the way we see God and His creation.  We rationalize, contextualize, scrutinize with faulty eyes the way we should act/think/feel in each situation that comes our way.  We use broken eyes, behind broken lenses to perceive a broken world to help define a perfect God and our relationship to him.  But love redefines everything.

Before God first breathed life into the dirt that would become Adam, to his son laying down his life for all, to the day he returns to judge the quick and the dead, one thing remains the same: God loves us.  He created us to love him.  He formed us with love in mind.  We long for it, search for it, try with epic effort to find it on our own, but it is not a love that can be reproduced or replicated.  It is a love that redefines us.

I was typing a note on a tablet and it asked me if I wanted to add “God” to the dictionary.  It seemed an odd question, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how this question reflects a reality in the human – we are far more comfortable defining God than letting God define us.  We add him to our dictionary instead of allowing him to write our dictionary for us.  We like to have our own dictionary because we can control how we see the world, but sooner or later we will be faced with the unchangeable truth that God cannot be controlled by our dictionary.  His love redefines everything.

So we have a choice – to continue in our dream world of self-referencing everything to fit into our broken view through broken lenses, or we can have our sight healed by the love of God and allow ourselves to be defined by his word and will.  Will we be Pharisees or mustard seeds?  Will we be children of God or childish about God?  Will we stamp our labels on people we meet (criminal, homeless, sinner, lost), or will we get close enough to read what God has written on them (hurting, suffering, broken, loved by God)?

Lord, help me to be defined by your dictionary each day.  May my vocabulary increase as my fear decreases and may I find the words to share your love with others.  Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to love without reservations.  Amen.

Poetry: A Dangerous Life


A Dangerous Life

 

I’m tired of safety and security

Weary of my imitation purity

I’d rather have a dangerous life

I’d rather have a measure of strife

If it brings me closer to you

 

I want to sing a dangerous song

And cast my fears aside

I want to pray a dangerous prayer

Your kingdom come and abide

I want to live a dangerous life

That stays on heaven’s side

I want to be dangerous

 

I long for empowered ministry

To walk in kingdom liberty

I’d rather risk my life by living

Than grasp at what the world is giving

I want a dangerous life

Acting Out Our Faith: Real Power


Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.”  They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. – Acts 8:9-13 (NIV)

There is a great scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America is standing on top of a taxi giving orders to some police officers.  When he is done, one of the officers asks, “Why should we listen to you?”  This pertinent question is followed by Captain America’s clear display of power against otherworldly warriors, after which the officer begins to relay the Captain’s orders.  Power can change people’s mind and earn respect, whether it is out of admiration, fear or gratitude.

Simon had followers because he had displayed power, but it was rooted in a limited source.  Simon could only do so much to impress his fans.  When Philip comes to town, the people are confronted with a different kind of power and are changed by it.  Instead of having to go to Simon whenever they want to see power, they are empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of being fans of Simon, they became followers of Christ.  This was such a startling show of power that even Simon believed.

That power is still at work in the world today through God’s people if they choose.  It is not a power that we use to rule over others or hold them in sway.  We are empowered to empower others.  We extend to others that same power that inspired the Psalmist to write, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  We get to take our place in the long line that leads others from brokenness to wholeness, from sorrow to joy and from apathy to gratitude.

Motivated by love, empowered by God, we are sent forth to change the world.  The problem for me and the rest of fallen humanity is that we have a long history of abusing power or being abused by it.  We have words of warning about how power corrupts, but the reality is that corrupt power corrupts.  God’s power heals, saves, resurrects and sustains.  It does not corrupt.  He does not corrupt.

I want to be that vessel of clay.  I want to hold the power of God so that it can be poured out into the world and the lives of others.  But I must watch out for the Simon in me; the one who wants power for himself and for his own fame and fortune.  I must watch out for the fawning member of the crowd that can lurk in my heart, waiting for the next magic trick to come along and fascinate me.  I want to be like Philip; a man empowered, but not worried about power.

Lord, empower me to extend Your love, grace, healing and hope.  Guard my heart from worldly powers that might draw me away from You.  Amen.

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: Lead With Forgiveness


While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but forgiveness is not always the first thing on my mind when someone is hurting me. There are a number of other reactions I can think of and none of them are what you would call “saintly.”  Anger, indignation, revenge – they all come rising to the surface in a moment of confrontation.  So what would I do if my neighbors were trying to kill me for telling them the truth?  How would I react to hatred and violence from those I was trying to help?

Stephen leads with forgiveness.  He doesn’t have time to process and work toward forgiveness – his life is ebbing away with each painful throw.  He could have lashed out in anger or prayed to God to smite down his enemies, but he chose love, grace and mercy.  At some point Stephen made the choice that if Christ could forgive, so should he.  He had probably heard the story of Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and took them to heart.

Too often I have to find forgiveness when I have been wronged, but Stephen, following in the footsteps of Christ, doesn’t need to find it.  Stephen is forgiving.  It comes forth from him like cool water from a fresh spring.  That is acting out your faith.

Lord, help me to be forgiving.  Teach me how to lead with forgiveness.  Fill my heart with love, grace and mercy so that they overflow to others.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: We Must Obey God


Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:29-32 (NIV)

“Obey.”  Talk about a word that has lost its popularity.  Think about how many times you have heard the word used in the last week, or try to remember the last time you heard someone use the term without it being negative.  Somehow our culture came to believe the word was oppressive and limiting.  You don’t hear it very often in wedding vows, even though it is in the Scriptures.  Obedience is for soldiers and pets, but not for us, right?

The truth is that we obey all the time; we just don’t always choose to obey.  Before Adam and Eve fell they had to choose to disobey.  Once sin entered into the mix, humanity has to choose to be obedient to God because our default setting is obedience to sin.  If we are not conscious of this reality, we may find ourselves satisfying the desires of our sinful natures instead of obeying God, and we must obey God.

If we are to be useful tools in His hands, we must obey God.  If we are to be godly husbands and wives and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, we must obey God.  If we want to change the world, we must obey God so that we can be changed first.

Peter knew the price of disobedience.  He knew the pain and agony of denying the truth.  His testimony here is a warning sign to all of us to be careful that obedience to God doesn’t get derailed by anything else.  If God says, “Love your neighbor,” then we must love our neighbors, no matter how difficult that may be.  Peter knew that any obedience he could offer to God was nothing compared to the obedience of Christ who saved him and called him to be His disciple.  We must obey because God is worthy of our obedience.

Lord, help me to understand and live out a life in obedience to You.  Keep my eyes and ears from being distracted by anything that would draw me away from obeying You and Your word.  Teach me the discipline of obedience. Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: Influence That Matters


As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. – Acts 5:15 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the only thing of any use my shadow has ever done is keep the sun out of someone’s eyes.  Kind of disappointing in comparison to this passage.  What kind of life convinces people that your shadow can heal?  What past experience promotes that kind of faith in the intangible?  Peter did two things that answer these questions: he followed Jesus and did what Jesus did.

If I want my life to have influence for the kingdom it is good to see how others did so.  Peter may have had a rough start, but when Jesus got him moving in the right direction, not much got in his way.  He pursued the life of Jesus with passion and clear intent.  Peter belonged to Christ and therefore owed nothing to any man other than what Christ supplied.  If I want to influence the world, I can’t do it when other passions and pursuits own me.

It is not enough in this life to act Christian.  Acting Christian can influence others, but usually not in the right way.  It goes much farther to be like Christ and the only way to be like Christ is to follow Him through His spirit.  It is the difference between acting a part and being changed in such a way that you act differently than you did before.  I don’t want to act like anything.  It is tiring and fruitless.  I want to be transformed and be used to transform others to be more like Jesus.  That is the kind of influence that matters.

Lord, help me to be more like you every day so You can use me to influence the world around me.  Draw me further on as I follow Jesus and pursue His life passionately and intently.  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.

Acting Out Our Faith: A Different Kind of Currency


Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. – Acts 3:6-10 (NIV)

I sure am glad that heaven runs on a different currency than the world.  When the world tries to fix a problem it is all about throwing money and resources at it until it is buried.  Issues are resolved by committee and conference.  We have programmed, politicized and popularized helping the needy, but I think we can come to depend on them more than the power of God.

It is comforting to me that poverty in the world’s eyes has nothing to do with the riches of God.  Peter has no silver or gold to give, but what he does have is better by far.  The power to transform lives, to heal and help those in need, cannot be replaced by material things.  It is gracious to give of our resources and we should give with grateful hearts for God’s providence, but we cannot forget to invest the currency God has made available to us through the Holy Spirit.

I don’t want to be rich in this world if it causes me to be a pauper in God’s kingdom.  I want to be wealthy in the things of God and spend that wealth on others.  I hope that the next time I see someone in need I will remember this and invest the currency that only God can supply.

Lord, thank you for Your Holy Spirit supplying me with kingdom currency.  Help me to spend it wisely and fearlessly for Your glory and the benefit of others. Amen.