Meanderings of a Minister


How Do You Prepare for Christmas?

prepare_heart_christmas

As Thanksgiving has passed, I have noticed people in various stages of hanging Christmas lights and decorating for Christmas.  As I have watched people climb onto the roofs of their houses to hang lights, haul boxes from their storage sheds, or buying decorations at the store, it has led me to ask myself if I am also preparing for Christmas.  No, I don’t mean have I hung my lights, which I haven’t.  I also don’t mean have we gotten out our Christmas tree, which we haven’t.  What I have been reflecting about is, “How do I prepare for Christmas?”.

I know that some people will not think of lights and trees in response to this question.  Others will respond with Christmas shopping, making lists of gifts for various relatives and friends.  Still yet others will respond with baking for preparing food for various parties and get togethers throughout the Christmas season.  Others will respond with stories of rehearsing for Christmas Cantatas at church, concerts at school, or sales at their businesses.  These are legitimate preparations as well, but still not what I am talking about.

How do I get my heart in a place where I am ready to think deeply about the miracle that the King of the Universe left glory to become a man?  Actually, to become an unborn baby?  How do I prepare my mind to absorb and concentrate on the real reason for the season so that Christmas is a time of renewing my commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior as my gift to Jesus on His birthday?  How do I prepare my soul to be still and content with what God has provided?  How do I prepare my senses to notice the things of God amongst all of the glitter and glamour?

I don’t know what others will do to prepare for this, but one way I can do so is to get an Advent Devotional and spend some time, at the beginning of each day, reflecting on some aspect of the Christmas story.  Our church has produced one such devotional, but any devotional will do as long as it encourages you to spend time in the word and time in prayer.

Another way to prepare my heart for the Christmas holiday coming is to spend some time going through all of the stuff in my home and picking out some of the good stuff that I don’t use that often anymore and donating it to Stepping Stones Shelter, Center for Domestic Violence, or some other worthy charity.  It makes room in my home, but also makes room in my heart.

After thinning the overwhelming flood of things I own, another way to prepare my heart for the Christmas season is to pull out a book that I have bought, but haven’t read and actually read it.  Maybe it is a CD of music for you, or a DVD movie you bought but haven’t watched.  Perhaps it is a massager that you haven’t used or another gift that you deemed important enough not to donate, but haven’t use it.  Get it out and use it.

Another way that my family prepares our hearts for Christmas is to buy gifts for Angel Tree kids, provide shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, donate money to the Christian Motorcycle group from Trinity Faith, give toys to Toys for Tots, or some other means of giving to others so that I am reminded that Christmas isn’t my birthday, it is Jesus’ birthday.

While none of these suggestions may work for you, do something to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap that Christmas is merely a holiday from work, it is a Holy Day to worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I need to get ready for that even more than I would to see the president, queen of England, or some Hollywood star.  He is the Bright and Morning Star.  He does not have 15 minutes of fame.  He is eternally famous.  Let’s prepare to meet Him and meet with others about Him at Christmas time.

Advertisements


Children’s Book or Serious Question?

In the book, What If He Had Not Come?, David Nicholson has undertaken the task of updating a well-known story that has captivated everyone from children to theologians for many years.  The question is:  what if Jesus had never come?  What would change?  Before you jump to the conclusion that it is just churches or religious stuff that would change, Nan Weeks first suggested that many other things would be affected including:  hospitals (most were started by churches or Christians), shelters for homeless people (most have Christian roots), retirement homes (mostly started by Christians as well), etc.

The pictures in this version are simple and yet effective at helping the reader picture what the main character goes through when being faced with the situation if Jesus had never come.

While I received the eBook of this title, I am sure that board book version would be just as helpful and durable for many readings which could even lead to a family tradition.

Nicholson’s version also comes with a discussion and study guide for those interested in using this to study together as a family or in a Sunday School setting.

This book will certainly help to focus the minds of young children on the real reason for which many families celebrate Christmas.

*This ebook was provided for review by BookLook*



Loving the Christ of Christmas
December 9, 2016, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

i-love-jesus

During the Christmas season, I find it interesting that many people who never give much thought to Jesus or to why He came to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death begin to look into these things.  It is almost like God knew this would happen.  (If you saw my face, you would see me smiling as I typed that.)  They don’t actually get a theology book and study them per se, but they begin to think about the truths of the Christmas carols.  They begin to hear snippets of scripture.  They begin to think about the things of God.  But is this enough?

In Ephesians 6:24, Paul ended his letter to the church at Ephesus by saying,

Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” (Ephesians 6:24, NASB95)

What did Paul mean by this and what does that have to do with Christmas?  Thanks for asking!  First, people at Christmas want to talk about God’s grace as though it were something universal.  This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the proclamation of the angels to the shepherds.  Here is what they actually said,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”” (Luke 2:10–14, NASB95)

Our Christmas carols, and our universalistic tendencies to not want to offend anyone, have taken these verses and changed them a bit.  They have changed them to “Glory to God in the highest and peace, goodwill to men.”  This makes it sound as though Jesus coming meant everyone goes to heaven, but this is not the case because the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  (Romans 6:23) But in order for a gift to do you any good, you have to accept it.  In order to accept the gift of eternal life, one must turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Many simply will not do this.  Many who live right next to us in a free land where they could believe with little opposition simply will not do this.  Many who sit in our churches every Sunday simply will not do that.

Back to Paul.  He was asking God for His grace to be with a certain subset of people.  Who were those people?  Those who love Jesus Christ?  Yes and no.  What do I mean?  First, to love God means to obey God.  (1 John 5:3) To love Jesus is to obey Him.  (John 14:15) So, to love Jesus is to obey Him, but Paul had more in mind than begrudging obedience.  He went further to describe that love as incorruptible.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote and communicated, the word that we translate as incorruptible actually meant to spoil, to ruin, or even to kill.  What is a love for Jesus that would be incorruptible?  It would be a love that cannot be spoiled, ruined or killed.  It is a love that says, “No matter what you ask of me, it cannot be compared to the Cross on which you died for me, so I will obey because I love you.”  It is a love that would say, “I work for You.  You don’t work for me.  Let’s do what You want today and every day.”  It is a love that would say, when the world asks why we don’t give up on the “Jesus thing”, “Where would we go for He alone has the words of Life!”  It is a love that is not just in word or deed, but from a changed, redeemed, grateful, and amazed heart.  And that drives the words and deeds.

Do you love like that?  Do I?  Do we love the Christ of Christmas?



Why Is the Baby in the Manger Such a Gift?
December 2, 2016, 11:30 am
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

away_in_a_manger

As we quickly approach this Christmas season (that’s right!  CHRISTMAS!  Not Happy Holidays.  Not winter break.  Not anything other than CHRISTMAS!), it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that we can actually go through the entire Christmas season without thinking about the One Whom the season is designed to celebrate.  Of course, we don’t think of it this way.  We think that we have been to all of the special church services, cantatas, children’s programs, dinners, socials, Sunday school parties, etc., but have we actually stopped to unwrap and think about the greatest gift we have ever received.

In Romans 5, we are given a list of what makes this gift so special.  As we think about the Baby in the manger, we can’t help but to think of the cross since this is the purpose for which the Baby in the manger came.  While we may not typically think this way, we need to stop and think about just how awesome it is that God Himself gave us this gift.

For those that have surrendered their lives to Christ, Romans 5 lists the following benefits we receive with this gift of eternal life:

First, we receive peace with God (verses 1, 10a, 11).  This is the peace that means a settling.  It is not primarily the peace that comes because of the absence of conflict or any opposition, but means the peace that comes when that struggle is seen in its proper perspective.  In other words, “We in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him Who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37)

Second, we receive an “Introduction into the grace in which we stand” (verses 2a, 15b, 17b, 20b).  Through the Baby in the manger, we have been introduced to grace.  What does that mean?  It means that it is through that appearance of God the Son that the covenant that would be sealed in His blood was begun and we were given the first glance.  This is even seen in Simeon’s comments later to the young mother, Mary, when he told her “a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.”  (Luke 2:35)

What is that grace in which we stand?  It is none other than that, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)  It is that grace whereby we as sinners have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven (Isaiah 1:18).  It is that grace whereby we as unrighteous have the righteousness of Christ thrust upon us (Psalm 24:5).  It is that grace that we have received as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-10).  It is that grace in which we stand.  It is not a grace that we approach, open, throw on a shelf, carry the membership card in our wallet and never think of it again.  It must be what directs and drives our lives.

Lastly for this week, we also receive the hope of the glory of God in which we exult (verse 2b).  This takes some explanation because most of us do not speak in these terms in everyday conversation, at least, not like they mean in scripture.  What is hope?  It is not the positive thinking that tomorrow might be better and we are really look forward to the possibility and would like for it to be that.  The hope of the Bible is a confidence that something will be exactly as expected and more.  There is no doubt.  There is no chance.  It is a future fact seen as a present confidence.  When the Baby came in the manger, He showed us that God had come to earth in the form of a Baby and as a Servant (Philippians 2).  He showed us that there is both somewhere to come from and somewhere to go.

He also showed us our purpose.  It is to glorify God.  All of creation is to bring glory to God.  When we fell in the Garden of Eden, it was a fall from that glory to glorifying ourselves.  We have suffered since and needed to be reminded of the heaviness, reputation, and awesomeness of God (Glory).  Because the Baby came in the manger, we who know Christ should now be constantly jumping up and running to bring Him glory (exulting).

Next week, we will continue this look at the gift of the Baby in the Manger, but even with this little bit of Romans 5, we can see just how awesome this gift truly is.  Have you accepted God’s gift?  If not, contact me.  If you have, take some time this weekend (away from church) to think on what a blessed gift you have received and thank God for Jesus.



What Makes It Look A Lot Like Christmas?
December 10, 2015, 11:01 am
Filed under: Articles, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

looking-like-christmas-1-728

For as long as I can remember, I have heard a song at Christmas, “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas Everywhere You Go.”  I confess that I do not know the rest of the song, but since it is 70 degrees this week, and sunny, I got to thinking…what makes it look like Christmas?

Now, of course, we could say snow and cold and chimneys streaming smoke above the skyline of homes in neighborhoods throughout the city and beyond.  We could talk about Hot Chocolate, Cider, Cookies, Fruit Cake, and much more, but is that what really makes it look like Christmas?

We could talk about the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Season.  It seems that every day since November 30th, I have had a meeting, party, event, concert, ceremony, or some other engagement on my calendar.  I have been to see men and women honored on the Men and Women of Distinction Calendar, have attended a board retreat for the Chamber of Commerce, have attended County Commission, City Commission, and School Board meetings, have played Santa at a community gathering, and much more.  Is that what makes it look more like Christmas?

We could also talk about the Christmas music.  KJIL and KHYM are playing it.  Satellite radio has a channel dedicated to it.  Directv has a channel playing it night and day.  Schools are singing it.  Our church had a night of music where our Senior Adult Ministry (SAM), our Prayz Force (Children’s Choir), our youth choir, and our main sanctuary choir all sang it.  Our children are preparing a musical dinner theater to sing it some more.  We sing it at church, nursing home services, and even listen to it while in the elevator and while on hold.  It that what makes it look a lot like Christmas?

We could talk about the Christmas lights on houses as it seems that people have tastes ranging from simple to choreographed when it comes to lighting up their houses.  We could talk about the many Christmas trees that are visible out of the front windows of people’s houses.  We could talk about the decorations that show up in offices, cubicles, and even on vehicles.  We could talk about the brightly colored packages strewn about Christmas trees at doctors’ offices, the hospital, and even hotel lobbies.  Is that what makes it look a lot like Christmas?

We could also talk about the increased traffic on Kansas and Pancake.  We could talk about the number of carts not in the corral, the number of long lines at Walmart and Dillon’s.  We could talk about the beep, beep, beep of the scanners, guns, and wands as people spend money like it might not be there tomorrow.  Is that what makes it look a lot like Christmas?

What if it was more than those things?  What if it took something else?  What makes it look a lot like Christmas to me is that I see and hear the name of Christ mentioned.  I hear people wishing each other well because of Christ’s birth.  I see families take time out of their busy schedules to call, write, or visit loved ones because Christ was born to become one of us.  I hear songs that talk about Christ, hear conversations about keeping Christ in Christmas.  These are the things that make it look a lot like Christmas.

I see people caring for one another.  I hear stories of taking care of elderly people, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, and the homeless.  I watch as families read the Christmas story together.  I watch as parents encourage their children to share what they have with those who do not.  I see more hugs, smiles, and reluctance to part of strained terms.  I listen to stories of travel, meals, gifts, and inside jokes because we actually stop and share ourselves with each other.  That is what makes it seem more like Christmas.

How are you helping to make it look a lot like Christmas in your corner of the world?  Remember, Christmas without Christ leaves people wanting mas. (Spanish for more.)



‘Twas A Week Before Christmas
December 19, 2013, 5:30 pm
Filed under: Articles | Tags: ,

Advent Candle:  Love

‘Twas a week before Christmas and all through the land,

Not a creature wasn’t shopping, yes, even a man!

The credit cards were humming through machines without care,

In hopes that they could pay when all of the bills got there.

The children were whining about this and that,

Hoping Mom had forgotten they mistreated the cat.

With Mom shopping Liberal and Father at Dodge,

They both heaped up carts of quite a hodge podge.

Mom and Dad filled up their carts in a flash

And spent all of their money, yes, all of their cash.

When in the Times and Leader, there arose a reminder,

That Christmas is about Christ and being a little kinder.

When on their way home, they stopped for a rest,

They began to think of all of the ways they were blessed.

They had family and friends, cars and a home,

They had money for vacation and even to roam.

As they sat there and soaked up their reasons to thank,

They remembered contentment can’t come from the bank.

They went to their home with a new sense of glee

And gathered the children their Bible to read

They read of Jesus and angels and kings,

They read about all of the wonderful things.

They read of forgiveness, of wiping out sin,

They read about Mary and Joseph again.

And just as they started to all say goodnight,

The youngest suggested they pray if alright.

They prayed and asked God to bring to their mind.

The Reason for the Season amidst the daily grind.

As you make your way through this Christmas Season,

Don’t forget to make Jesus the reason,

The reason you celebrate is Christ, not just shop.

So let’s keep him right on our list at the top.

May God bless you as you spend this Christmas season

Thanking Him for the most important reason.

Our only way to forgiveness of sins

And an eternity to be celebrated with Him.



Stopping Before the End

Stop

Just this morning, I was reading God’s word and came across a verse that I actually memorized years ago and quote often.  As I was thinking on this verse, I realized something I had never seen before.  Let’s see if you can see what I had overlooked time and time again:

 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. [1]

 Did you notice what I missed?  We often use this verse as an antidote or polemic against being timid, ashamed, or afraid of anyone that would oppose us or God.  We often use this as this verse as the stick to beat ourselves up with, but we fail to see that how to accomplish this monumental task is actually included in the verse.

How are we to resist being afraid, timid, ashamed, silent, or compromising the gospel?  Simply put, God has given us His Spirit and that Spirit brings power, but also brings discipline.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His disciples, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8[2] He promised them power, but not just any power.  He did not tell them they would be able to accomplish anything they could dream up or imagine.  This is the way this verse is promoted among the health and welfare, prosperity movement.  He said they would receive power to be His witnesses.  When would they receive the power?  When the Holy Spirit came upon them.  We know that this happened in Acts 2, at Pentecost.  We also know from 1 Corinthians 12 that this happens to every single believer at conversion.  This means that God has given us His Spirit of power to witness to Him, His Kingdom, and the shortness of time until its consummation.

There is one other part of this verse that we miss and don’t often want to talk about.  He has given us a Spirit of discipline.  What does that mean?  Put simply, it means that God has given us a “self-controlled and properly prioritized mind”.[3]  In other words, God has given us His Spirit to cause us to have a heavenly mind and a focused earthly body and life.  Both of these things will help to make sure that we do not give in to fear or intimidation.

But, how does this work?  Good question.  In order for scripture to do us any good, we have to know how to live it out and not make it a mental exercise or a surrogate experience.  When we have our minds stayed on Christ, we do not have to give in to the fear that someone might posit an argument that will cause us to be uncertain about God, His Kingdom, His Word, or His Church.  When we have our lives rightly focused through the disciplines or prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other believers, sharing the gospel with a lost world, and ministering to the needs we meet along the way, we don’t have to worry or fret about standing up for Christ “when the time comes” because we will be doing so now.  When we are saying no to sin and yes to Christ as Lord of our lives, we needn’t live in fear that we will be put to shame or rejected by God because we know that it is Him at work in us.[4]

Our problem is that many of us, if not all of us, hate discipline, and don’t witness, so we miss out on the greatest part of this verse.  We live fear instead of fearlessness.  We live in doubt instead of discipline.  We live perplexed instead of in power.  How will you live out the power of God and the disciplined life God has given you this Christmas season?


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

[3] MacArthur, John F., Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006.

[4] See Philippians 2:13