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“For behold, I bring you good news of great joy…….for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” Luke 2:10,11
“Joy to the world, no more let sin and sorrows grow”. “I bring you good news of great joy” Joy? Really? Have you seen the world today? Have you seen my life? Where do I start with what’s going wrong! Joy? Really? This is more like a time of depression and despair instead of joy. Maybe there was joy back then but joy? Today? Really? I often I see these type of sentiments expressed in many different forums in today’s world. Thus what should be our reaction to the reason for the season.
Yes joy, really, absolutely. So do understand, I do know depression for I have battled it. I know disappointment, even and especially at this time of year. From and where and why should I or do I have any right to have joy when I look at the state of the world or the state of my life?
We’ve heard an aspect or narrative of Christmas being under attack. From the outside, it can be considered insensitive to those of other faiths or no faith, to use the words Merry Christmas. Religious symbols should not be shown in conjunction with government or even public places. Santa Clause is okay but Jesus Christ is not. Yes I will admit that the worldly want nothing to do with the Christ in Christmas.
Yet I’ve also seen a trend of late in houses of faith that I believe is rooted in a proper intent but that can also minimize or, in fact, leave out the message of joy altogether. I’m talking about the desire to strip away the colorful “mythology” that has grown around our Savior’s birth and stress the “factual reality” of the occasion. True, the bible has no drummer boy. We read nowhere of animals talking at midnight at the birth of Christ. Yes the shepherds would have been looked down by most of the society at the time. However, the very real challenge of wanting to dig into and focus on the “factual” nature of world of the time is to minimize the otherworldly, virtually incomprehensible, utterly immeasurable, joyous event and gift that took place on that day.
Joy? Why joy? Quite simply because God came to earth! God came to earth! Well Doug, you might ask, hadn’t God been to earth before? Yes, there are brief instances where God came to earth, but only momentarily and also He came as God of Heaven, in heavenly form. God came in a form that no person could behold and live. Moses, one so close to God and such a wonderful servant of God, could only glimpse God’s back in passing or Moses would have been destroyed. Now God was again coming to earth. But now He was also coming in human form; and not just some shell or likeness of human. No in some miracle too wonderful to fully understand; Jesus Christ was full human and fully God in one being.
Joy? Joy really? In other religions, did’t their gods come down to earth and take human form? Yes in the worldly religions there are stories of gods coming to earth, but more often it was for selfish or even sinister reasons. The One True Son of God came down, not to trick, not to get revenge, not to dupe some unwitting soul; no, Jesus Christ came down for one reason and one reason only. Jesus Christ came to save you and I. He came for our salvation. The only way Jesus Christ could do that was to take our place. To suffer the judgement we so deserve and He never did.
Jesus Christ came that through Him, we might live in relationship now and forever with our Father in Heaven; to live a life of abundance, knowing a peace and yes, joy that surpasses all understanding. Joy, absolutely Joy.
Also understand this; this was defeat for the enemy. When Jesus Christ came, the enemy lost the war. Yet, even though defeated the enemy still has not stopped fighting. That is one of the reasons that this time of year can be such a fraught filled time. The enemy will throw everything he can at this time to try to rob us of joy. He will try guilt, sorrow, worldly desires, worldly distractions, misdirection; whatever he can do for us to lose focus and turn away from Jesus Christ and the celebration and joy that should be natural from His gift of salvation.
Not only for us, but the enemy wants to show the world, believers acting without joy at this time of year. Why should people who don’t know Christ, feel positively toward seeking Christ if his own followers can’t or won’t feel and express joy at this time of year.
Thus Dear Sisters and Brothers, reject the world and its temptation toward darkness especially at this time of year. While our joy can and should be triumphant, it should not be separating or prideful. That is to say, we deserve the joy and you, unbelievers do not because we are better. No, instead let our joy be infectious and inviting. Let it be a shining light placed on the proverbial hill for all to see; people of faith or not. Let the joy be humble, acknowledging that it comes solely and souly from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through the plan of our Heavenly Father, revealed to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Joy? Yes Joy! Joy to the world! And in that more recent song written and sung a few millennia Joy to you and me! May you have a joyous Merry Christmas as well as joy filled next year.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, that we cannot adequately express our profound gratitude at the gift of sacrifice of Jesus Christ should not keep us from trying. We thank You that Your plan for Christ was that of salvation and not judgement. Through Your Spirit, reveal to us the true joy and peace that we should be feeling and expressing at the coming of Jesus Christ. Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when allow the despair of the world to rob us of the joy You so desire us to have. Through Your Mercy and Power, restore us to a sense of joy, peace and reverent worship, that will be inviting to those who don’t You and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else be loyal to the one an despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36, 37
Oft while striding the road of life
I come across separate paths of choosing
One path promises safety, stability and gain
whilst the other is about dreams, calling and risk
All too often I try
to tread both paths at once
Only to find their direction diverging
each step on each path requiring more effort
Until virtually no forward motion is possible at all
I then realize my folly for both cannot be tread together
I find that I can no longer stand an am forced to
my knees to cry out
God which path finds you at destinations end?
God which path serves you?
Mammon? In the passage referenced above in some translations the word used is treasure. On the website dictionary.com, the definition is riches and material wealth. Here’s the challenge, for this seems to be a hotly contested concept in our world today, is about the obtaining of wealth or the focus on it?
Ahh, but here’s where I have an easy out, I might say to myself. For you see, I am not wealthy in any worldly sense (or at least compared to the “wealthy” in my own country). Okay, I do have a nice, modest sized house, two cars, the standard electronics with the standard connections (cable, internet, etc.). Thus, because I am not “rich”, do not have a stack of or the gaudy accoutrements of wealth; because I’ve started a blog page where I write posts hoping to praise God, I most assuredly must by serving God and not mammon right?
As I hope the poem above illustrates, the question about whom am I serving is not an easy one, hardly ever is just a one-and-done inquiry and, if we (or at least for me) are not careful, our choices can stop us in our tracks. You see because “to serve or “serve”, also defined on dictionary.com, means to render obedience or homage to. Let that concept soak in for a moment; render obedience or homage to……….
Here’s where I (I will not speak for we) get into trouble. Here’s where gaining the world can put my soul at risk. You see it doesn’t matter what the world concludes are riches, but what do I conclude are riches or a treasure? What are my priorities built around?
Finally, where do I see God? And based upon seeing Him, how do I serve Him? Again in the poem above, I use the visualization of two paths; but I would encourage you to read King Solomon’ s description of his search for meaning in the Book of Ecclesiastes, because there you’ll find many different paths or perhaps mammon. For material wealth can be mammon but so can, having a great professional title, or having a beautiful wife and many children. Having tons of leisure time and activities along with considerable food and drink can also be mammon. Even great education and fame can become a treasure.
So Dear Sisters and Brothers how can you or I know, if we are paying homage to, we are being obedient to mammon? If we are open to it, if we will be still and listen, I believe our soul; given explicit warning from the Holy Spirit, will tell us. For a soul, especially a soul once connected to God; despises becoming lost. Being the spiritual creations of God Almighty that we are, our spirits yearn to be connected to God, to serve Him, to reject the treasures of this world and store up the treasures of God’s Eternal Kingdom. The challenge is we are not just spiritual creations but material creations as well. There are times when we allow the world, the desires of the world as well as the fears of the world, for remember, quite often we’re not obedient to something out of desire for, but from fear of, to set our priorities and drive the choices we make.
In some practical terms; do I perceive that the gain, however humble it might be comes from the vocation that I do? When faced with a choice of time, effort, focus and desire; is my first inclination toward the earthly job that I do, calculating that it is the job from whence my ability to live comes from? Conversely, this dream that I have, this passion that I feel is on my heart; is that about bringing glory and fame to myself? Is my overarching plan about achieving self promotion or personal adulation? Do I see God in my choices and do I see His Kingdom as the desired destination of my journey?
I have found that this decision, God or mammon, is not a one time thing or determination. The world and the prince/enemy of and in this world, will continue to throw mammon of all types at us; either mammon to gain, or the fear of losing the worldly mammon that we have. Satan will try to convince us, that we are responsible for what we have and thus our focus must be on the responsibility as well as what we have.
Yet take heart Dear Sisters and Brothers. Jesus Christ, came and was tempted. Jesus Christ knows our struggles. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the burdens of our sins. The grace of Christ’s salvation has included the Holy Spirit sent to testify to and strengthen our souls that we may withstand the temptation to focus on mammon. Are you facing a decision today? Does their seem to be ambiguity between what is mammon and what is God? Take a moment to pray and be silent. You and I will be instructed on the path, narrow as it is, too take and tremendous blessings both now and eternity will come in selecting God’s path for us.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly confess that we stumble over whom to serve mammon or You. Pour Out Your Spirit upon us, testifying to us what path You would have us choose and when we’ve strayed off that path. Help us, through Your Mercy, to see only one true treasure, which is stored up for us in Your Kingdom. Forgive us when, either through desire or fear, we are tempted to or even start down the wide path toward earthly mammon and destruction. In Your love, guide us back, that our lives in and through You would be faithful examples of lives in service to You. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“God looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Everyone has turned away…There is none who does good. No, not one” Psalm 53:2,3
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” 2 Corinthians 5:21
“Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:17
Strange title? Possibly. In fact, there are some who might follow this site or who will come across this post who will skip reading it just because of that one word “sin” in the title. The reason I fashioned the title the way I did is I find that this word and the concepts that accompany it are filled with confusion and conflict in our world today. In fact, depending on the perspective we are coming from, even if we are going to use the word at all, the additional words that we would use after it, the fill in the blank if you will, may be amazingly different and contradictory. Sadly, this is true not only in the world but among those of faith as well.
For there are some who have a humanist view that would say that sin does not exist. They do not believe in a concept of fallen humanity. Quite to the contrary, they believe that all human beings are innately good and circumstances and errors in judgement are where difficulties come from but not from evil intentions. Sin they would tell us is a concept devised by one sect of human beings to exert control and power over other human beings. Additionally there is the worldly concept summed up in the lyrics of a song that says “I’d rather laugh with the sinners then die with the saints”. That is to say what is the problem with a little sin. Sinners are the ones having all the fun. It is the saints who have all the hangups; who have the miserable life.
In our faith communities there seems to be a great division about the use of the word sin. For some it is an anachronistic term used to describe an archaic concept that is too judgemental and driving many from the church today. They fear the use of the term and would use terms like problems, challenges, obstacles and the like in it’s place. Others have no fear of the term and wield it like a formidable weapon pointing at others saying: “I know sin when I see it and I see it in you, and you; in this group and that group!” Interestingly enough though, the finger they spend so much time pointing outward, never makes it around to pointing at themselves or anyone within their own organization.
Thus sin, across the whole of the human, spectrum, if it exists at all, is a highly enigmatic principle. Well let there be no doubt Dear Sisters and Brothers, sin exists. God knows sin exists.
You see for those that doubt sin’s existence and to a certain extent for those who seem to think sin is the fun and successful way to go; I can’t see where the world bears their point of view out. If we are basically good people, how can circumstances be so far out of our control to allow for the amount of war, violence against the innocent, corruption, greed, terrorism, rape, murder, hatred, suicide, abuse-especially of children and I could continue this list for many pages? As to those who would extol the virtues of sin as the preferred lifestyle, for those who actually seem to be living into that notion, I don’t often see a lot of laughter. What I do see is broken relationships, substance abuse, multiple health problems, litigation against them, fear of losing what they have, a constant striving to have more, hatred from others, hatred from themselves; death.
For people of faith; God knows, sin exits. Please don’t take my word for it; look to the source; God’s word. Depending on the translation your using, the word appears upwards of 500 times. If you add onto that, the concept of the fallen nature of man, then the count rises into the thousands. And Jesus Christ makes two things abundantly clear; first, we are all sinners. Secondly, that sin comes from within, it comes from our hearts. It is in our hearts that we finds ourselves getting angry enough to do harm, it is in our hearts where the lust resides that causes us to want to lay with another. Covetousness, selfishness, greed and countless other manifestations of sin originate from our hearts. Thus we have right to judge another.
Then is that where we are left? Sin exits and we are all sinners? Satan would want it left there. Either with idea that there is no sin or our sin is so devastating, we should be so gilt ridden as to separate from God and go our own way. You see that is the impact of sin, separation from God and from each other. Leaving us alone, isolated, hopeless, helpless. Please I implore you, DON’T STOP READING!
God knows sin exists. God knows we are all sinners. God can not have an eternal relationship with sinners. God could have stripped us bare and flogged us for each of our sins until we promised to stop. God could have hung us on a tree with nails until we pledged to never sin again. God knows neither of those would have worked. And here’s where I apologize for I have neither the wisdom or understanding to truly communicate the length and breadth of God’s love. I don’t believe that the vocabulary exists to adequately describe the Grace, Mercy and Love of God’s redemptive plan. For God loves His creation, loves you and I so much that He was not going to allow sin to separate us for eternity. God was not going to leave us to the wiles and power of Satan. So God did what we could not. He sent Jesus Christ to earth, to a human existence. Human and God, knowing no sin Jesus Christ took upon himself every sin we will ever commit. Please try to understand. We’re not just paroled, our record had been made clean, all sin washed away in the and through the blood of Jesus Christ. When God see us now, He does not see a sin riddled, fallen person, He sees a redeemed person made perfect by His son. So you see things don’t end with sin, they begin with the new life in Jesus Christ. A life filled with togetherness, not isolation. A life of hope and love, an eternal life of victory over sin, not by our own strength, but God’s grace. Accept that sin exists. Accept that you and I are sinners. Then accept the redemption offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ becoming a new person and braking the bonds of sin forever.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit for we do not have the words to adequately express our gratitude for the wonderful love which you manifested to us through the life and sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ. Forgive us when we choose to allow earthly temptations to lead us to sin and separation from You. In Your Mercy, lead us to resist the temptation and turn away from the sin that we may return to a loving, eternal relationship with You. That the world might see the path to redemption and sing praises to Your Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
“In the beginning God……” Genesis 1:1
” I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:11
” I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10
The beginning and the end, Genesis and Revelation, creation and destruction, birth and death, seemingly these are topics that are easy for us to see the Hand of God in. It is very often that we think and speak in terms of the “miracle” of birth. Also, because so often a person’s death will not come at a time that we would have not preferred we think and speak in terms of God “calling a loved one home”.
It is not only concerning the beginning and ending of our lives, how many of us have, in our prayer rituals, a time in the morning when we pray and perhaps a day ending prayer before we go to sleep. Don’t misunderstand me, it is great to have regular times to commune with our Heavenly Father. Yet what about the in between time? To what extent do we see Our Heavenly Father’s Hand in the in between? In what ways are we willing to purposefully understand the control Our Heavenly Father has in the in between? I ask that last question especially with those words in mind. I don’t ask: To what extent are we willing to give up or cede control to God. For I believe God does not have to wait for us to give Him permission to be in control. The reality is, when we try to take control, think that we are in control, no matter how inaccurate that concept might be with the disastrous results for us that thinking has, we have not in truth wrested control of anything from God.
That may be the largest part of the problem. You and I know that we didn’t ordain or control our birth and will most likely not control the time and circumstance of our death. Yet as time goes on we believe that we control the vast majority of life in between. The world at least would tell us so. The world would tell us there is some magic number of dollars that will make us happy (although from the world’s perspective that magic number will never be met). The world tells us if we live in this certain place, with these material things surrounding us, if our bodies look a certain way and our mate’s bodies also look a certain way, if we have this degree or that accomplishment, if we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and make something of ourself, then we will attain a truly happy and abundant life. The world would tell us that the more we can claim we did it ourselves the happier we will be. The world would tell us to rely on anyone, especially the All Powerful God, actually diminishes our accomplishment.
Jesus knew and knows better. Think about Jesus ministry. He didn’t just appear to bless babies when they were born and officiate at funerals when they died. Jesus was all about improving the human condition in all phases of life. He made sure that the little children could come to Him for blessings. He blessed young people at their weddings. He healed the sick, lame, diseased and spiritually ill of all ages and walks of life. While He famously said that all who believe in Him will have the eternal life of the future, so much of what he preached about and blessed were the lives of the individual day; the here and now. He didn’t leave people hurting saying, your reward is in the future. He didn’t pass by feeding the thousands telling them how there will always be food when they get to heaven. He came to provide life, today, and to do so abundantly.
How do I and you live into that abundant life? It requires a restructuring of how we think and feel. Among other things I do, I am a corporate facilitator. I will often get to a classroom or training site early and say a prayer asking for blessing for the attending group. At the end of the session, as much as I can, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for Our Heavenly Father’s help. What I struggle with is seeing God in the moments in between. In the heat of the moment when a powerful discussion is going on, an audiovisual machine might be acting up, a test is about to be given; that is when I tend to tune God out and think in terms of myself and my world only. To understand that, in the moment, God has control over all. He does cloth the lilies daily and give each bird its shelter and food daily. The task is to grow in relationship to God in all times knowing that God is a God of in between also. It requires prayer which is why Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing. It requires connecting to the Holy Spirit who can overpower the message of the world and keep us focused on God.
Dear sisters and brothers, The Alpha and Omega is not the beginning and the end. In truth it is He is the Alpha through the Omega. God is. God is at all places. God is at all times. Beginning, now, end, God is there. He is there not just as a bystander, a commentator, a disinterested third party, or critic, God is our Creator. His love for us is for now and forever. He sent His Son to be our salvation, not their salvation in the past, not some salvation to come in the future. We are saved. Then, let us live abundantly; abundant life, abundant love, abundant mercy, abundant faith, knowing that our God is the God of all things including the in between.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim to all that You are the Alpha and the Omega. You were at the beginning and will be at the end. Yet we also proclaim that You are the God of our now. Forgive us Merciful Father when we forget to rely on You and rather trust in ourselves. Reveal to us Your presence in our lives at all times. That through that revelation we will find ourselves living abundant lives of praise and thanksgiving in You. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
“Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” Luke 2:16
“Now when they had seen Him they made widely known the saying which was told them” Luke 2:17
So when you come across some knowledge, some bit of insight, some wisdom that has come to you from somewhere else; do you ever find yourself asking: Okay what do I do with this? Do I ponder it for a while and decide that it is interesting, tuck it away in my memory for later use, but go about my everyday life as if nothing new had come to me? Do I share it with others? But since the insight did not come from me; what if they ask me questions that I can’t answer? Or maybe knowledge is power, so I don’t want to freely give it away, I need to find some way to profit from it? In a worldly way the idea seems to be, how can I use it to my advantage.
So imagine you’re a shepherd. Along with your companions you are watching some sheep. You have not noticed the new star in the sky and even if you had, the fact that it is a portent of some great change would not occur to you. Suddenly the dark sky opens up with an angel who is talking to you; talking about some good news. Then imagine that angel is joined by a heavenly host of angels all praising God! As the bible says you might start out terrified but then be filled with awe and wonder. But then the angels leave. They did not give you any commandment, nor, if you had any religious background, is there any commandment in that background for you to go and do anything. You could just as easily say to each other: “Wow that was amazing!” and then stay and continue to watch over your sheep. The job for which you were responsible for and for which the world paid you a meager wage. But these shepherds teach us a different lesson. In society they would have been considered among the meek. That is to say no one would have paid them much attention except to say that they smelled funny. That they were possibly a brave lot, when a wolf or other predator menaced the flock, they would look to defend it might be true. But these were not men known for a significant amount of earthly wisdom. Yet these men seemingly had little hesitation. This was God stuff. That they knew God or at least knew of Him is unquestioned given the actions that they took. For almost immediately they felt compelled to leave their flocks and go and find the Gift Child, the Savior whom the angels had told them about.
So imagine you’re a shepherd. You have not only seen a heavenly vision but now you have seen the Child, the Savior. It is just as was foretold, wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. So what now? You go back to your flocks pondering the nights events and talking about it amongst yourselves? For you are shepherds. You know that hardly anyone pays you any attention. Why would anyone listen to you? With a story like this, some perhaps many would think that you and your companions have been into the wine. Your livelihood might even be in jeopardy? No, this event has impacted you so much that you become bold. You go about sharing what you have heard and what you have seen. You don’t particularly care what the people’s response to your story is because you know that it is true, you know that it is important. You don’t go and start a movement and declare: “Pay me and I’ll tell you a truth that will change your life!” No you go widely and share the blessing that you received.
So are you doing it? Are you imagining yourself as a shepherd? Because we have the news of the shepherds. More than that we have news that the shepherds did not have (except that they were told Jesus was the Savior). We know specifically that Jesus Christ, lived, died and was resurrected to save us from our sins and give us everlasting life! We also have the word of the Lord that promises manifold blessings of peace and love. And we have two commandments that on the face of it seem simple and perhaps easy, but in the reality of action are a manifest struggle: Love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, body and soul. And to love others as we love ourselves.
So what now? Where are we called to travel; not out of sense of compliance to directive, but out of a joy to help. What are we called to share; knowing that some if not many may ridicule us for seemingly simply naive and silly faith. The world says stop! Go nowhere! Share nothing! Yet if we listen, if we shut the world out, we can still hear the voice of heaven: I bring you good news of glad tidings……… And like wanting share about a great movie, great resterant, or even great investment, we feel called to share with others. Lord may it be that you would give me (us) the strength to be like the shepherds. This world is in such need of the message of Love and Salvation that you have already brought to us. May we freely pass that message on.