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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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Today is Christmas Eve. Our day is focused on completing tasks, chores, and jobs before families and friends gather together. We are quick to make our homes ready. But there is an older Christian practice of making our hearts ready.

As the world waits to proclaim that Jesus is the Light of the World, let us prepare our hearts to receive the message of Jesus again. Though you have heard the songs and scripture verses before, let the truth and joy of the message change you. Hear the promise of God’s Messiah arriving on earth and let it change you. Imagine a gracious Savior coming to earth for you to be redeemed and let it change you.

Christians are called to be changed people. We are called to live in a way different than the world. But change only comes when we experience Jesus. Those who have experienced Him are no longer the same. We are called to be transformed and to be children of light. People who now live in the love that they have received from Christ. We are called to be this group. One who puts off the old self and puts on the new. A person transformed by the grace of Jesus. Someone who can never be the same because of Jesus.

Precious God, allow us to make our hearts ready. May we hear the message of Christmas and feel the joy and love of Jesus in our hearts. We were once in darkness. Now we live in the light. Allow us to be transformed people who follow after Jesus, the Light of the World.

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The Scandal of Christmas

shepherds

The Christmas story sounds strange for a reason. It is. The events we find in Luke 2 give us a picture that doesn’t make sense.

First, we find an angel and the heavenly host proclaiming the Messiah’s birth in the remote region of Bethlehem. Jerusalem or Jericho would make more sense. These cities would have more people to hear the message. Instead, a small group of shepherds living in fields outside of Bethlehem receive the heavenly announcement.

Second, it is late at night when the angelic message is given. People are at home and asleep. Why not make the announcement during the day when the marketplace is bustling with activity and people.

Third, the announcement of Jesus is given to shepherds. While this was a worthy calling in the Old Testament, much had changed for the profession in the first century. At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were considered the bottom rung of the social ladder. It was best for them to stay outside of the cities, in the fields. They were seen as petty thieves who could not be trusted. Shepherds were even prohibited from being witnesses in trial and court settings.

Bethlehem was the wrong place.  A dark evening was the wrong time. Shepherds were the wrong people.

The Christmas story is scandalous. It says much about our God and the kingdom that Jesus will establish. The Christmas story shares that God will go anywhere, at anytime, to anyone. Praise God for the divine example that our Father will go anywhere to seek and save the lost. It speaks to the hope and salvation that is found in Jesus Christ and is available to everyone.

When we look at the Christmas story we should see how deep it is with grace and love. The proclamation of Christ at that place, at that time, and to that people shows how great the Father’s love is for us all. May the gift of Jesus continue to be shared in the scandalous example of God’s great love.

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hallelujah-in-hand

Christmas is a few days away, but many may not feel like celebrating this year.  When a family member has died and Christmas is just around the corner, singing and rejoicing can easily feel out of place.

It is natural to feel a deep and prolonged sense of sadness when a loved one has died.  It is also easy for Christmastime to be an emotional roller coaster due to the many memories a family had with their loved one.  If a person is experiencing sadness, crying frequently, or feeling uncomfortable around others, attending a Christmas service may not seem like the right answer.

I encourage you to make time and space for God even in your sorrow.  If it is listening to a favorite Christmas hymn, lighting an advent candle, reading Scripture, or offering prayer share time with God this Christmas. This time can be in a public setting with other believers or privately at home.  Even a cold and broken hallelujah is an offering of love and devotion that God will hear.

In time, your song will change. The healing heart of God is there to strengthen and guide you through the difficulties of today.  Make time to connect with our Heavenly Father.  The peace of God is always there to restore, heal, and provide.

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nativity

Just about everyone loves the Christmas season. While reasons may vary, from hearing a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus to watching snowflakes, people love the Christmas season. It is the arrival of our promised Emmanuel, “God with us.” This season also has a funny way of changing people.

Yes, Christmas is the best time of year, but we often forget what it does to us. Christmas brings out the best in us. No matter where you live, there is an increased effort for people to be kind, caring, and generous. Drivers are more courteous on the roadways. You open the door for someone when their arms are full with shopping bags. Neighbors help each other by raking leaves or shoveling snow off sidewalks. We even tell total strangers “Merry Christmas!”

This spirit of gratitude and grace comes from our Creator. God has demonstrated His love in sending Jesus Christ to earth. We celebrate this perfect gift in many ways, but the power of God’s love changes us.

We reciprocate the love that God has shared with us, His children. The gift of Jesus is so tremendous that we live in a different way. We choose to be transformed, and in turn, show greater compassion. This beautiful event happens more now than at any other time of the year. Christmas and the celebration of our Savior yield a new and different world, one where people give gifts, adopt orphans, feed the homeless, care for widows, support unemployed veterans, and show compassion to total strangers. In short, we decide to live out our faith. We put God’s plan of grace into action.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, make the decision to be transformed. Reflect the love that God has poured out from heaven through Jesus, the promised Messiah. Demonstrate your faith and share the love that you have received from our Heavenly Father.

 

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emmanuel

What is the longest time you had to wait for something?  We wait a matter of minutes for food at a restaurant and it feels like a long time.  We wait 5 years to start kindergarten classes at school.  We wait 20 to 30 years to find a spouse.  As a people, we do not wait well, no matter how great the reward may be.

The Advent of Christ is also a story of waiting.  The time between the Old and New Testaments total 400 years.  This time span moves from Nehemiah to the birth of Jesus Christ.  These years are known as the intertestamental period, but they are often called the “silent” years.  A time when people were waiting to hear something from God.

The New Testament gospels give us more than a whisper.  They announce the long-awaited birth of the Messiah, the Desire of nations, the Son of David, the Prince of Peace.  Jesus arrives as our Emmanuel.  Jesus arrives as our Redeemer, Savior, and King.  The most precious gift we could receive.

His birth shows the faithful promise of God to provide salvation.  His birth allows God and sinners to be reconciled.  His birth brings light and life to a world that has only known darkness and death. Jesus was born that mankind may have life, a second birth, a home beyond this world.

We celebrate the Advent of Christ on earth.  We celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the deliverance that it brings.

Now we wait again.  We wait on the second Advent of Christ and His promised return.  May God hasten the day when we can finally see Jesus, the one pierced for our transgressions, the one crushed for our iniquities, the one who died so that we may have eternal life.

 

 

 

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There are certain times on the calendar when memories of past deployments run strong.  December often makes me mindful of my time overseas.

You are united with your unit as everyone has a job to perform.  You are also united in the hardships and difficulties of being separated from those you love.

December is a tough time to be separated from family and friends.  You miss the traditional family practices and customs like putting up the Christmas tree.  You miss the favorite food and dishes that made this particular time of year memorable.  You miss the gift exchanges.  But you also miss the church gatherings, Christmas pageants, and special worship services.  They are the times and events that keep us strong in faith.

When service members are deployed, we are able to receive packages in the mail.  Uncle Sam will serve us a meal with all the special fixings.  Folks will decorate an office or work station with a snowman, reindeer, or Christmas lights.  But missing church services as a family always proved to be a hardship for Soldiers to overcome, no matter where you were stationed.

This Christmas, 86,000 Soldiers will be forward deployed across the globe.  They will be overseas and away from their loved ones.  They will be working in guard towers.  They will be flying helicopters.  They will be driving tanks.  They will be constructing buildings, bridges, and roadways.  They will be aiding hospital patients.

As we gather in churches across America, let us remember those who are deployed around the globe.

Pray for our service members this month.  Lift them up as they perform their daily duties away from home and in harm’s way.  Pray for their families as they celebrate Christmas with an empty chair at the table and the heartache that can bring.  Pray for God to bring our warriors home safely and for families to heal when they are reunited.  Pray that they can gather next December and celebrate the birth of Christ as a family one more time.

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Seven hundred years before Jesus was born the Prophet Isaiah recorded a message for all of humanity.  “For unto 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 gives us a description of the Messiah that bears repeating.

First, “the government will be on his shoulders.”  This affirms the lordship of our Messiah.  We will no longer be disappointed in the judges, leaders, and kings of this earth, instead we will have the perfect, holy, and righteous Son of God to lead us. We anticipate that reign, a day when Christ is Lord over all of creation.

Second, Jesus has become our “Wonderful Counselor”.  In Hebrew, the idea is that His counsel is a thing of wonder and awe.  He is the perfect ruler, a King with no flaws.  As God incarnate, Jesus is the source of all truth.  There is no corrupt judge or lying politician to rule.  Instead we will have the absolute best, a loving Savior who teaches us how to live and find eternity.

Third, Jesus is our “Mighty God”.  The word for “mighty” also means hero.  This conveys how Jesus saves us from death.  Because Christ is God, He can forgive sin, defeat Satan, liberate us from the power of evil, redeem us, answer our prayers, restore our broken souls, and reign as Lord—“Mighty God”—over our newly ordered lives.  He is not only the Holy Son of God, but his actions rescue and deliver us.  In this way, he is the greatest hero of all time.

Fourth, Jesus is our “Eternal Father”.  Jesus, the Messiah, gives us “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12-13).  We are no longer orphans out on our own, but members of God’s family.  A family and kingdom that has no end.

Finally, Jesus is the “Prince of Peace”.  While many see this title as an end to war on earth, another battle is in mind.  Jesus brings about reconciliation between God and humanity.  He offers peace from God (Romans 1:7) to all who are the recipients of His grace.  He brings peace with God (Romans 5:1) to those who surrender to Him in faith.  He brings the peace of God (Philippians 4:7) to those who walk with Him.

This one verse continues to shine brightly among Scripture.  It delivers the promise of our Messiah.  It highlights the reign of our future and glorious King.  It also shares how we can ultimately be reconciled and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.

When George F. Handel composed his Messiah in 1741, Isaiah 9:6 was one of the Scriptural texts used.  He saw in this simple verse the profound message of a Savior arriving on earth and decided to set it to music.  May we never cease to praise and glorify God for the beautiful gift of Jesus, our newborn King!

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Christmas music

I heard something as I walked in the store.  I could not believe it.  The door shut behind me and I just stood there listening to the music.  It was the third of November in Salina, Kansas.  The lady at the counter looked at me, smiled and asked if I needed anything.  “How long have you been playing Christmas music in the store?” I asked. “Since the first of the month,” she shared.  “Isn’t it beautiful! Christmas is just around the corner now.”  We both smiled and nodded in agreement.

While one might expect retailers and restaurants to play the typical songs about snowmen, reindeer, bells jingling, shiny wrapping paper, or enjoying a snow laden landscape this music was different.  This music was even different from most radio stations. This music described a holy night when our Savior was born.  A night when angels proclaimed the birth of our King.  A night when the thrill of hope arrives and a weary world rejoices.  A new and glorious night that transformed the world because He has finally arrived.  The night that delivered Jesus, the Christ, the promised redeemer of the world.

The music itself didn’t stop me in my tracks.  It was the message of the music.  It seemed to transform the entire store into a happy and joyful place.  People couldn’t help but smile at each other, customers and employees alike. The store was transformed into a glorious place where people were happy and at peace. Each person reminded of God’s gift to us.

In my state of surprise or perhaps shock, I also took in what was not happening in the store.  No one was complaining about “religious” music being played on a store sound system.  No one was offended with the message.  No one organized a sit in or demonstration.  No one organized a letter writing campaign to the head office as a protest.  Instead, you saw people everywhere who expected to hear Christmas music.  People heard the music and the message.  We were in turn blessed, renewed, and changed.  The music was a gift.

Christmas music matters.  It is more than an assortment of notes and chords.  It is a tremendous reminder of truth.  It shares and teaches the promise of Scripture. It is a form of worship in that we can use music to offer prayer and praise to God.  It transforms people.  It allows heavenly changes to take place in our hearts, minds, and souls when the gift is received.

Joy and singing do not always come easily.  Many can only focus on dark days and personal struggles.  As we enter the Advent season, let us hear the songs of promise and respond to the heavenly gift of Jesus.  Since God has faithfully delivered the Messiah, we too have reason to sing and rejoice.  May we continue to lift up our voices and share in the heavenly chorus that proclaimed the birth of our Savior.

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Technology is trying to make the world better, but it often makes me feel like a dinosaur.

One of the latest marvels out there is a soft, flexible, wristband that you wear 24 hours a day.  It is combined with an app that tracks how you sleep, move, and eat.  The “UP” by Jawbone then helps you use that information to “be your best.”  The concept is extremely impressive, especially to me, a guy who frequently falters in his exercise routine and does not get enough sleep.

Gadgets are often used as mirrors to show people the good, the bad, and the ugly things we do each day.  The “UP” is ultimately trying to improve the physical health of people by showing them a better way and giving daily reminders on what to change.  After learning about this new item, I immediately began to wonder, what technology or gadget is out there to improve spiritual health?  What electrical device could show people a better way and give daily reminders on how to improve their spiritual lives?  What technology, gadget, or electronic doodad would strengthen my walk with Christ?

I am a dinosaur, so responses were slow.  I instead turned to some familiar items that currently help people strengthen their faith.  I distinctly remembered a Marine I met at Camp Lemonnier.  He downloaded the entire Bible to a handheld device and used that for our Wednesday night study of Matthew’s gospel.  During this year’s annual training exercise, Soldiers were constantly asking for a “Military BibleStick.”  It is a digital audio player that is pre-loaded with a dramatized recording of the entire New Testament.  I handed out more sticks than Bibles this summer.  There was another Soldier who wanted to read the entire Bible in a year, so I showed him a website where he could tailor a reading plan to his schedule.

As people begin to use their new gadgets and electronic Christmas gifts in the new year, utilize technology so that you can improve your spiritual health.  Download your favorite translation of the Bible, add a prayer appointment to your electronic calendar, use Pandora and listen to your favorite Christian artist, find a website and sign up for a daily or weekly devotion.  Don’t worry.  Dinosaurs can jump into the mix as well.  It does not matter if you keep a journal on a note pad or an iPad, the focus should be on building your spiritual muscles in 2013.  Use technology in a way that will strengthen your faith and devotion in Christ.

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We love this simple story because it speaks to our condition.

Christmas can be downright maddening.

First, everyone wants a piece of your time.  Once you flip your calendar to December there is an immediate flood of invitations to office parties, family gatherings, teas, banquets, and more.  The rush of the Christmas season only seems to get worse as the month continues.

Second, there is a flurry of activity.  Get out the decorations.  Put up the lights.  Set up the tree.  Start baking cookies and other delights before the guest arrive.  Don’t forget the multiple pageants and plays you need to attend also.  And remember to get your annual Christmas card out before everyone else.

Third, commercialism and consumerism run amuck.  Celebrate Christmas this year with a 60 inch flat screen tv for $200 this Saturday only.  Remember that it needs to be HD or the kids won’t like it.  We really go crazy buying presents.  Our focus easily turns to material items and excess instead of providing gifts of joy.  This year the local Christmas bureau didn’t have enough people to adopt needy families.  They ask for food, blankets, coats, towels, cleaning supplies and other necessities.  Perhaps those were the gifts that we should have given this year.

This cartoon is a timeless classic because it sums up our struggle with Christmas.  Charlie Brown and company encounter all the typical distractions that try to steal the real meaning of Christmas.  In his frustration, Charlie Brown asks, “isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  The turning point of the cartoon is when Linus takes center stage to share the story of Luke 2, Jesus being born in Bethlehem.

We too, get caught up in the parties, the activities, and the gift giving, but there is much more to the season.  Take time to hear the simple story.  Take time to focus on the importance of angels proclaiming his birth.  Take time to focus on what is truly important this Christmas season, our Savior, Christ the Lord.

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