Getting Involved with Christmas

We’re another week closer to Christmas, a week closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  It amazes me every year as we get around this time that we have the blessing of celebrating Christmas another year.  It’s truly a gift, a joy, that not everyone can celebrate in the way that we do in the USA, with freedom to share our excitement and gather together.

There are a lot of emotions that we associate with the original Christmas story as well as our Christmases today, from joy and tenderness to pain and fear, but it’s joy that is most remembered with this  celebration.  As I was reading my devotions this week I was reminded that not only are we to count it all joy, but that we are to be full of joy in the Lord.  Joy isn’t something we can attain as humans, it needs God’s involvement, which is exactly what God did that first Christmas: He got involved.

Christmas is a time for us to celebrate with our families, but it’s also a time that we can use to help out in the community.  As a church, as a family, as a town we can help support the soldiers, donate food and time to help the homeless and be a little kinder to those we interact with.  How will you get involved this Christmas season?

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Luke 1:46-47a

Jesus’ Legacy

To finish off our spiritual look at legacy I want to talk about the legacy of Jesus. Jesus not only left a powerful legacy here on earth, He created an incredible one for our future as well in Heaven. The legacy of Jesus here on earth is a very simple one: love. Throughout His ministry here on earth through the relationships He had, the people He interacted with, the things He taught, and even the way He lived His life were all building blocks that contributed to His legacy of love. If there’s something that’s awesome to be remembered for it’s being a person who exemplified love.

Jesus also did something that most people don’t do and left 2 legacies. Jesus didn’t just teach us how to live here on earth, He taught us about living for the future. When He went to the cross and then rose from the dead 3 days later He brought something into all our lives that wasn’t there before: the possibility of an eternal future; a future that’s much better than anything we could think up or create here on earth.

Some people leave a legacy that can’t be taken when you leave the earth like paintings, buildings, or money, but Jesus left 2 legacies that can go with us throughout this life and the next: the legacies of love and life.  There’s no better way to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world than to live a life of love and hope.  Will you follow Jesus’ example and leave a legacy of love and hope as well?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.”  Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Working with God

Today I’ve got a couple verses to share with you, verses of encouragement and challenge.

Encouragement: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Ephesians 3:20
God has big plans for each of us: He doesn’t create us without ability or purpose, He’s always got plans for us.   But more than just having plans for us, they’re big plans, plans bigger than we could come up with, which is kind of both awesome and intimidating at the same time.

Encouragement: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
God doesn’t give up on people, He always has hope that they’ll turn things around, get back on track or be able to pull things through and finish what He has called them to.  He will keep working with us, guiding us, and providing for us until our mission is complete, and then He may have another one for us!

Encouragement: “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17
It’s a serious question: does God hear us when we talk to Him or is it more like talking to someone on our phone without actually dialing the number (which means we don’t talk to them)?  Throughout the Bible God strives to answer this question because lots of people question whether He’s there or not.  After all, He doesn’t always take out a billboard or even send us a simple text or email confirmation to let us know that our prayers were heard or how our prayers will be addressed.  But over and over God tells us that He does indeed hear our prayers.  We just don’t always see how they’re answered, understand the answer or like the answer.

Challenge: “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” Luke 6:46
We’ve established that God has a point for each and every one of our lives, He’ll be with us every step of the way as we work on completing them and He really truly does hear us when we pray to Him.  But what we don’t always get is that we have work to do.  God doesn’t complete the tasks for us, make us get out of bed each day, or make us say our prayers, that’s up to us.  We have to take the initiative to follow through on what He has called us to do.

So this week I challenge you to look at what God has called you to and what you’ve been ignoring or slacking on.  God is after a partnership with each of us, not a one sided speech or lesson.  We’ve got work to do, are you doing it?

From Fear to Joy

We’re just a few days away from Christmas. With a few flurries in the air yesterday, and more lights going up in and on houses, it’s really helping to set the mood and raise the excitement level. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for all that Christmas means and brings. With this last Monday before Christmas I wanted to talk about an emotion that we don’t want to associate with the Christmas story but it’s there throughout: fear. It’s almost the opposite of our topic for this month, joy, but it’s one that is everywhere in the Christmas Story. From fear of not speaking to fear of becoming pregnant to fear of traveling to fear of no room to fear of giving birth to fear of angels, from the beginning there is fear.

But what we tend to forget or ignore when it comes to the topic of fear is that when the fear is over, something so much better usually replaces it. For the people of the Christmas story they all experienced joy, from births of babies to the gift of angel songs, their fear was transformed into joy.

The choice we have is what we’ll do when we experience fear. Mary could have refused and let her fear win, Joseph could have caved under the pressure, the shepherds could have stayed on the hills in fear, the Wisemen could have let Herod win. It’s very easy to let fear win. What’s hard is making the right decision to work through the fear and stay the course. What will your choice be this Christmas?

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” Luke 2:8-11

Together for Christmas

We’re just a few short weeks away from Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth again. Today I wanted to share about a story from later in Jesus ministry, when He was an adult: the story of Zacchaeus. If you remember the story in Luke 19, Jesus is walking along and gathers the usual crowd of people wanting to see him, short Zacchaeus can’t see over the crowd, climbs a tree and Jesus finds him there and asks to come over and hang out at Zacchaeus’s house, which really annoys people because Zacchaeus is a tax collector and they weren’t well liked back then (or now for that matter). Zacchaeus ends up giving much of his wealth away because of Jesus’ gesture and willingness to be with him even though he was probably not the “best” of men.

But the thing about the story that I wanted to talk about this week was the order of the story: Jesus met and talked with Zacchaeus and told him He wanted to have dinner before Zacchaeus made the decision to go straight and not be a bad person (assuming he was). We assume that Jesus was willing to be with Zacchaeus regardless of whether or not he was willing to turn his life around, disregarding the whole All-Knowing God aspect of things of course. Jesus didn’t care about Zacchaeus’s past, He only cared about the future.

One of the things that always amazes me about Jesus was how forward thinking He was. Yes, He knew the scriptures that were written before He came to earth, including those that predicted His arrival. But Jesus wasn’t concerned with what they said or how people had interpreted them for the most part, He was focused on a few core teachings: love, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope. These core teachings totally threw the spiritual world of His time into turmoil and his time on earth totally changed the future for everyone.

As we think about the holidays, and the Christmas celebration, it’s really a story of acceptance, of bringing together people of different walks of life to celebrate being alive, having a future and the gift of being alive. It’s not a time for judging, denial or hatred, but a time of healing and celebration of each other, differences and all.  What will you choose to accept this Christmas?

He is Risen?

On Sunday the Christian world celebrated Easter.  For those of you a little late to the party it’s the day we remember that Jesus came back to life from the grave after being crucified to die for our sins so we could have eternal life (that’s the abbreviated cliff notes version).  I don’t read any of the ancient languages, but just about every translation I’ve read of Luke 24 says something about the angel at the tomb telling the women that Jesus is risen. The women were probably like “Risen?  What does that mean?”  For us years later it’s come to mean hope and the fulfillment of a promise, but to them it was probably quite confusing.

Think about it: you’re expecting to say prayers and pay respects at a tomb, where dead people are, and you’re told that someone is risen.  Not that they’re not really dead, not that they’re alive, but that they’re risen.  It certainly implies that they really were dead and now they’re not.  We all know that that’s not how life usually works.  When people die that’s it.  There’s no returning to your life.  Even with the concept of reincarnation you’re not technically coming back, you get a new life.

So what happened that Easter morning paved the way for something new and different, which is exactly what we needed.  Revelation 21:5 says “Look, I am making everything new!”  When Jesus rose that Easter morning He not only did something so out of the ordinary, He shared that what He had done could mean something new and different for us too.  Jesus gave each of us a choice: the choice of a fresh future.  We could let go of our pasts, let go of the stuff that held us back and walk into the amazing future God has for us.

Remember I mentioned that “risen” has come to mean hope and a fulfilled promise earlier?  That hope, meant for each of us, means that the promise of incredible potential that we were born with still has a chance to come true, despite the mistakes we may have made in the past.  Having just celebrated another Easter I invite you to choose this year to let go of your past and step into the future of promise and hope that Jesus has created.

Christmas Peace

In light of recent, sad, events in Connecticut, it’s a bit difficult to write a post about peace.  But as I was thinking about it, the Christmas story in the Bible, as well as the Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, show that Christmas is all about upheaval and change.

Think about Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary’s relatives.  As a very old couple they were given the blessing of baby John who would lead the way for Jesus.

Think about Mary, she was to give birth to a baby without having a husband yet or doing it the “normal” way.

Think about Mary and Joseph having to head to Bethlehem for a census while pregnant with this child that technically wasn’t theirs.

Think about Ebeneezer Scrooge who despite being quite successful was headed straight for hell if not for the visits of 3 Christmas ghosts.

All of these individuals lives were thrown into total and complete chaos all at this time that means celebration to us.  But all of them ended up being blessed and thankful for the upheaval.  I think that these truths reveal the reality of peace.  Peace isn’t riding on fluffy clouds all day removed from the difficulties of this world.  Peace isn’t being ensconced in a bubble of wealth separated from the struggles of poverty.  Peace, as Mary and Scrooge learned, is knowing that everything happens for a reason and there’s a greater power out there.  But more than that, peace gives you the courage and the strength to get through the more difficult days to get to where you’re headed.

As we reflect and come together as a nation in response to this tragedy and celebration of the season, encourage and support someone in need.  Maybe a coworker needs to hear a good word.  Maybe you’ll be kind to your partner instead of yelling.  Maybe you’ll call a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while and seek forgiveness.  Where can you start the healing process of peace?