Simply Jesus

Here we are, hours away from Christmas Day. It’s a time to reflect on family and friends, to celebrate life and love, to enjoy gathering and gifting each other with little blessings and tokens that show how much they mean to us. It’s the time of year that we go all out decorating, hanging lights, trimming trees, baking cookies and gingerbread houses, and setting out our Nativity scenes. I would encourage you to spend time with friends and family, but also to take time to be alone and reflect on your life and the many blessings you have.

I find it interesting that one of if not the most important events in the Bible is only shared in 2 chapters in detail, and that the big event can be captured in just 20 verses (Luke 2:1-20), with just one verse to sum up the actual event “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

Sometimes it’s not about the big moments in life, but about those little events that aren’t broadcast around the world, about the people who you know but aren’t known by the world, about the memories that you’ll treasure forever but may mean nothing to others. Yes, there was a celebration with Mary, Joseph, Angles and Shepherds, and later wisemen and Anna and Simeon at the temple (Luke 2), but it wasn’t a large fanfare, there weren’t crowds around for miles waiting for a glimpse.

Yes, Jesus is God’s son, the ruler of heaven and earth, but He also came to earth as a baby, innocent and as human as you and I. He grew just like we did, but had a little extra special knowledge in His heart and mind. He knows what it is to scrape a knee, struggle through loss and make friends.  He also knows all about love, forgiveness, grace and hope.

This Christmas I would encourage you to take a moment and re-read the Christmas story, and ask God what He wants to share, teach, encourage, and reveal to you through those simple words.  Just because you’ve read it before doesn’t mean that you know everything about it, but if you think you do, try a different translation and see how God speaks to you through that.  Merry Christmas!

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Fears of the Holidays

I was re-reading the passage in Luke that talks about Mary learning she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son recently. As I was reading it, I got to thinking about the fear that she experienced in this moment and probably throughout her pregnancy, as well as the fear Joseph experienced in committing to Mary knowing all that was going to happen, the fears many felt as they went through the journey to return to all their respective home towns, the fear Mary and Joseph later experienced as they were fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, the fear the wise men felt when they were told by God that Herod was a danger to Jesus and they should avoid him, and the fear of parents around the kingdom that Herod would choose to kill their son.

It’s incredible that something we see as such a happy and joyous event was so filled with fears. But then the other day I was talking with a friend who shared that her company’s payroll company screwed up earlier in the year and now her checks are less to make up for the difference/mistake and she’s not sure how she’s paying for things (including where she lives) this holiday season. It made me think about this time of year and the fact that we still struggle with fears even though, or especially because, it’s the holiday season. We have fears about our finances, we have fears about how cold it will be (especially if we’re homeless or struggling with bills), we have fears about seeing certain people again, we have fears about attending all the office and other holiday parties with people we don’t know, some even have fears about buying gifts and getting the absolute wrong thing for someone.

Fears are something we live with and work through on a regular basis, but it seems like they’re amplified during this time of year unfortunately. Just when we’re trying to do the right thing and have healthy relationships and give to others and experience the spirit of the season we’re stuck struggling with fears that have the power to dampen if not ruin the holidays for us.

If you’re facing fears this holiday season know that you’re not alone. Just like you work through the fears that pop up during the rest of the year the holiday season is no different and you can work through these fears too. You may never quite get over the need to make the holidays special for those you love and the fears that surround all of the trimmings, but just like Mary and Joseph I think we can learn to make them fade to the background by focusing on what’s important and on what you can control and do something about.

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?