Month: December 2017

The Path to Christmas 24

Well Christmas is almost here! All the planning, shopping, cooking, ordering online gifts… all of it finds its fruition today and the next several days. Wrapping paper will be torn and strewn about many homes. Some children and grandkids will find their treasure beneath a brightly-lit tree. Meals will be enjoyed, hopefully with much laughter around the table. Family will be embraced, carols heard and sung one more time.

The path to Christmas is almost complete. Advent is almost ended… we now celebrate the earthbound and physical birth of our Living Lord. May we hear on this Sunday of Christmas Eve the joy of the angels’ announcement… may we feel the wonder of the shepherds’ discovery… may we worship with the wise men who sought Jesus… may we not only receive gifts on this good day, but may we offer the gift of an obedient and thankful heart.

And in the business and crush of hectic and day-long celebrations, may we find a quiet moment or two to reflect on the wonder that this path has led us to; of the wonder of the Word made flesh… of the grace of Immanuel, God with us… of the wisdom of the Ancient of Days entering time.

Of a God who loves us so much that He gave… no… He CAME to find us in our lostness, “to seek and save that which was lost.” And at the end of your Christmas path, may you find your heart’s desire fulfilled…

…in Jesus.

“And she will give birth to a son, and you will give Him the name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Father, many of us are busy today. Forgive us, I pray, if our business overshadows and presses out of worship. This is a good day… a day of anticipation, of celebration, of joy. Thank You for giving us THE REASON for it… not of Christmas dinner and family togetherness, of decorations, trees and songs. For all of these things point to our true reason for peace, love and joy. In Jesus, our true “reason for the season,” we pray. Amen

The Path to Christmas 23

I have tried in the past to write, and reflect, and meditate, and study the amazing statement that the Apostle Paul challenged us with in Galatians 4. “For when the time was right, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law that He might redeem those who were under the Law.”

It is astounding on several counts. First…”the time was right.” Why was 1 AD the “right time?” What was so amazing about that day on the calendar that made it just the “right time?”

You know our lives are fenced in with issues of timing. The date of our birth… we remember. The date of our death… others remember.

Timing owns us. You may be working somewhere today because you were in “the right place at the right time.” Or you may be dating or married today because, in perhaps a “fluke” of timing, you met your beloved. Businesses succeed or fail due to timing.

If you are a musician (I am not, I’m a drummer), timing is everything. Every drummer who has studied percussion theory knows that there is no such thing as a perfectly timed beat. It is the ‘holy grail’ that eludes the serious drummer. Timed down to quarters and half seconds, it is virtually impossible to “hit” it, and then to do so repeatedly.

Timing is essential in dance, in science, in so many parts of our life. You are living today “for such a time as this.” “There is a time for everything under heaven…” said the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.

And, in the wisdom of God, a time for Jesus to be born on earth. Not born in Heaven… He is “the ancient one” according to Micah 5. But the body the Father had prepared was finished with its period of gestation… and now it was “time” for birth.

We call that “time” Christmas. The moment Divine intersected humanity; that the glorious One from all eternity cried an infant’s cry in Bethlehem’s stable. Holiness and humility. Deity and humanity. God made flesh. Incredible.

Maybe for you the timing is right to stop… running? Being afraid? Questioning God?

And if the time is right, and “today is the day of salvation,” and your heart is open, the birth of Jesus will happen in you!

But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law. Galatians 4:4

Our Timeless Father, we come to You this day, as Christmas comes closer, to acknowledge that our days are in Your Sovereign hands. You know future from past, and nothing in our present is hidden from You. As we walk in obedience to You, we trust our days and hours to You since You know the beginning from the end. May we live each moment, conscious of the timing of our lives before You. May not a moment be wasted. In Christ’s name, Amen.

The Path to Christmas 22

In the church we served in Kentucky, I have a vivid Christmas memory. It was in a home after Christmas had ended. I was visiting the family who lived there… precious to us. But when I arrived at their simple, cigarette smoke-filled home, I noticed that their decorations were still up. This was days after the “grace period” we give to people to leave their decorations u. Proper etiquette requires we take down our trees and lights at least by the first of the New Year and you certainly don’t turn the lights on to advertise! After that, it’s just “tacky.” Or lazy. It’s all written down somewhere in the Bible, isn’t it?

So feeling some responsibility as the community pastor, I had to ask: “Why is your tree still up… and lit?” I thought maybe they had discovered some new holiday I was not aware of or maybe they had an injury that wouldn’t allow them to take them down, or more than likely I was just being tacky myself for asking.

They told me. And I learned something about Christmas. They told me that their son was being released from prison in a few days, and he had only asked for one thing for Christmas…”Mom, can you leave the decorations up so I can see them?”

These good people taught me something about the grace of Christmas that I had forgotten. I had forgotten that God did not just come for the good sheep. He came for the lonely. The forgotten. The marginalized. The criminal. The out-of-place. The broke. The refugee and the homeless. The one that polite society doesn’t have time for.

Because during His lifetime on earth, Jesus was each of these in some turn. He became like us in every way, yet without sin. His path on earth was “the road less traveled.” And He came so none of us would have to miss the real gifts that Christmas brings… the gift of grace and forgiveness and a brand new beginning.

I think that’s what her son needed to know. That he could have a new beginning. That he could be ok… forgiven. Washed clean. Accepted. That Jesus is leaving the lights on for him.

Something about Christmas promises that…

…and in Jesus, the promise is delivered.

The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke 19:10

Father of Lost Sheep, I thank You that You don’t give up on us, no matter how hopeless we may be. I, too, am guilty and deserve prison and punishment… but You bore my guilt and shame for me. We walk through Christmas and sometimes stumble over the greatest gift of all… the gift of a Shepherd who came for us in our lostness and didn’t quit looking. And Lord, please help us see others with Your eyes this Christmas. In the Lamb of God we pray, Amen.

The Path to Christmas 21

I was told it was healthy in grief that, while honoring traditions of the past, to begin making new traditions. Already I am on that path of “recreating” some Christmas traditions for this season of my life.

Last week, our family celebrated Christmas together… in Alabama. We had Christmas… and not on Christmas Day. It was the day that worked with my children’s schedules. I took it gladly. Allison’s home was beautifully decorated, capturing much of her mother’s “flair” for Christmas. It reminded me of many Christmas’ past, when our home was lit brightly and decorated thoroughly (translated: every corner and every surface). And yet, it was new. Different.

Last week, I attended a concert I had intended to experience for years. I would promise myself, “This year, I’m going to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert.” Now for those of you who are novices, you hear their music and maybe don’t know who it is. Their songs are tuned to many, computerized, neighborhood, Christmas light displays.

The TSO is made up of heavy-metal rockers with long hair… throwbacks to the 80’s. Old school, loud, thunderous, immersive rock. But… new. The music they play does not extol the glory of drugs or an illicit lifestyle, but of something more significant: They play Christmas carols and classical music reset in rock.

Now some would think such an event would put them to sleep. Let me assure you, by the end of their concert, you are just holding on to your seat hoping to survive! It is full-on, in your face, heavy metal Christmas carols set to the most incredible display of lighting, sound, video, pyrotechnics and showmanship that would make even the most spectacular Broadway show seem pedestrian.

But the show was not all digital lights and smoke machines. They sang Christmas songs and explored the meaning of Christmas. In one intense moment, the stage was cleared and the flashing lights dimmed and a lone vocalist stood on the stage. And she sang, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

When she hit the chorus, no explosions happened. No lights brightened. The music all but disappeared, and her lone voice filled the arena. “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” And the raucous crowd, thousands in the full arena, went pin-drop silent.

God showed up. In the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. By no means was this a church service… and yet as I looked into the faces I could see around me, I could only say that in that moment, worship happened.

Awe, hushed reverence; some muffled voices singing along, some mouthing the words they knew. Others I believe were just stunned by the moment. In that place, the very Christ we had been singing about was suddenly being sung TO… and He came to receive the praise.

Something of Christmas came for me in that moment. In a building surrounded by people, who I am sure, were mostly not Christ followers. But it reminded me again that Jesus doesn’t need a church building for worship to take place…

…just an open heart.

Different this year… but the same.

“For we have… come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:2

Father of Glory, Lord of Heaven and Earth, we worship You alone. All of creation, and every nation, tribe and tongue should give You worship. May we not fail to offer it when we can. The stones will cry out if we don’t. And especially now, in this important season, may our praise echo into Heaven itself. O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord. Amen.

The Path to Christmas 20

Istanbul is a city full of contrasts… and surprises. Visiting Turkey last year with Open Door, an organization that works with our persecuted brothers and sisters, we spent several days in the city that once divided the East from the West. It boasts some of the most pristine, church architecture in the world, some Christian and some Muslim.

But it is a westernized, Muslim city. Starbucks has made its way there and we drank coffee atop a five-story Starbucks on the Black Sea, looking from Europe into Asia. Making our way back to our hotel on our last evening, we walked past a family; a father… mother… and two or three small children… huddled under a blanket against the chill of the evening.

Our hearts were moved by the sight… refugees, our guide told us. They would soon be forced to move by the hotel management. We ran quickly to our rooms and gathered our remaining food store… protein bars, crackers and peanuts… and the warm clothes we had brought for the trip. Though we did not speak Syrian, they understood and gratefully received the gifts we offered. They were gone the next morning, no doubt evicted by security guards.

These were not beggars. They were not vagabonds too lazy to work. They were a family displaced by a war they did not understand and that they took no part in; pressed out of their home by a power struggle.

I think about this family as I remember that our Lord, for a time with His earthly parents, was also a refugee living in Egypt. Not homeless, not beggars. They had an address in Israel, just as likely as that family had one in Aleppo. Jesus’ family was also forced out of their home by a power struggle that made no sense and that they probably didn’t understand.

And I wanted to tell this Syrian man and his family that there was a Savior named Jesus who understood exactly where they were… even though they had no address in a city of with millions of people. He knew the cry of the refugee family… He had lived as one Himself.

He knows your cry tonight… no matter how far from home you may have wandered.

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.     Matthew 2:14-15a

Our Father, You know the path we take. Some take the path of the refugee tonight. Some are in hiding from the terror of warfare. Some are in flight from other things unseen. Wherever we live tonight, may we know we do not have to wander the path alone. There in One who sees us…and understands. In Christ alone we pray, Amen.

The Path to Christmas 19

I have notoriously messed with some Christmas traditions in my time at Fruit Cove. Some of you have stopped sending me Christmas cards because you’re afraid I’ll critique the picture on the front! But seriously, I’m just kidding with you (well, about some of it). One year, Godzilla was present in our nativity scene, thanks to our son and his love of all things dinosaur.

For instance, most of us have the three wise men depicted in our nativity scenes. It’s ok. I’m pro-wise man. But let’s remember, there is nothing in the Bible that says there were three. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they shook up the city and the king! There could have been a virtual army that accompanied them. And the Bible also doesn’t say that they made it to the manger Christmas Eve. In all likelihood they were two years late for the birth of Jesus… but just in time to bring gifts that would help Mary and Joseph keep Jesus away from Herod’s madness.

And… sorry again… angels didn’t sing. They spoke. They “said.” They spoke in chorus. But from the fall of man to the coming of Heaven down to earth in Revelation, the Bible does not record any angels singing. Just saying.

Now the good news is, your nativity is safe. But many of our Christmas carols aren’t. We sing. Angels don’t… yet. But one day they will again. We will hear angel voices blanketing a New Earth as King Jesus is enthroned and reigning.

Until then, we will be content to hear the angels speak. But how sweet will be the sound when we hear them sing!

And suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host appearing saying, “Glory to God in the highest….” Luke 2:13 & 14a

God of Angel Armies, we long for the day when we will hear as You hear now, the angelic chorus singing the truth of Your majesty and greatness. May we be faithful with our voices to “fill the gap” until that day we join our voices with theirs in an endless chorus of praise to You. In our Lord’s great Name we pray, Amen.

The Path to Christmas 18

“God is the answer to our deepest longings.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, Phillips). The path to Christmas is a path of incomplete longing. As far back as I can remember of Christmas Day, I recall the sadness of looking at empty wrapping paper and cardboard boxes housing toys or clothing or food or books or records. Each were longed for eagerly as Christmas Day approached.

And then, it came. And went. And even though I possessed those things most longed for, there was still a lingering discontent in my heart. They didn’t satisfy my deepest longings. And I always dreaded having to help put “Christmas” away each year, as the undecorated tree mocked my lack of full satisfaction with the things I believed I needed to be happy.

We long for many of the wrong things on our life path. Like the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, we search through all the things the world convinces us we need to be happy and fulfilled only to find “emptiness.” “Futility.” “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” he lamented. Nothing this world offers… nothing it promises… can fill that longing.

Christmas promises big. But we need to remember… we still haven’t seen the fulfillment of all the promises made about Christmas. We still live in a broken world… scarred and wounded by sin. We have to find our way to the end of the Book of Revelation for those promises to find fulfillment. Our Christmas choirs point us toward a more heavenly, angelic and eternal chorus of praise that is happening now in Heaven… and one day we will hear it.

The Christmas decorations? Well, they pale in comparison to “twelve gates of pearl,” “a city whose streets are paved with gold,” “the heavenly Jerusalem adorned like a beautiful bride.” These things are the “not yets” of our longings. Yes they are coming… and yes we will see them with the same eyes that look upon our Christmas lights and trees and other beautiful sights associated this season.

But until then, we wait. And yes, we wait with some as-of-yet unfulfilled longings. But, oh, the day is coming! And when it comes, our deepest longings will be fulfilled… by God Himself.

Hallelujah, for the Lord God Almighty reigns. Revelation 19:6

O Lord God, You reign majestically in heavenly places as we wait for the fulfillment of every promise You have made. Some have come in great splendor… some are yet to be. Our every longing within will be fulfilled as we see You reigning. Help us to wait faithfully… patiently… for the day that will surely come. We can’t wait! In Christ, Amen.

The Path to Christmas 17

As I write this, Hanukkah has begun. The Jewish Festival of Lights is underway around the world. Hanukkah lamps are everywhere. It was in a similar celebration in Jerusalem that Jesus stood and cried out, “I am the Light of the World.”

The Advent candles used in homes and by churches on Advent Sundays build the anticipation of the coming of Christmas. Light has come.

The Christmas lights are strung around our homes and Christmas trees, shrubbery and thanks to the invention of LED lights, even inside a few cars and trucks I’ve seen! What is Christmas without light?

And who better to call us to be light to the world than Jesus. This is one of those interesting places where Jesus calls Himself something, and then calls us the same thing. He never says, “You are the Bread of Life,” or “You are the Gate to the sheepfold,” or “You are the great Shepherd.”

But He does say “you are the light of the world.” You. Me. We reflect a light given us in Jesus. We are not to hide it, or be ashamed of it. It is His glory “rubbing off” on us. He said, “No one lights a candle and puts it under a basket.” That would be like taking two days to untangle your mile and a half of lights, painstakingly putting them up… and then never turning them on!

We are to “let it shine.” He came that we might KNOW light, and that we might SHOW light. And there’s no better time to let your light shine than Christmas. So as you travel your path to Christmas this year…

…light the way to Jesus.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shone. Isaiah 9:2

God of Light, Lord of Glory, to You alone does all the praise belong. We are people who once walked in darkness but now, because You have sent the Light of the world in Jesus, we walk in great light. May we truly reflect that Light who came into the world for a world still living in the darkness of sin and lostness. May our light never be hid from their view. Through our Savior we pray, Amen.

The Path to Christmas 16

The path to Christmas is seldom easy. We do not read of any who were present that day of Christ’s birth who found an easy way there. And sometimes our path to Christmas is more difficult than others.

This year is my turn at a difficult path to Christmas. Our first months after Pam’s death have been a mixture of highs and lows. We have been greatly loved as a family by the churches we each serve. My children, in spite of the hectic lives they lead, having carefully made time for me as a more constant presence in their lives. And the Presence of the Lord, despite the pain I feel, has been so incredibly real to me.

But Christmas… well you know how this holiday goes. It is filled with memory “hooks” that pull our minds back to sweet times in the past. No doubt, Pam’s favorite holiday. She was a “Christmas” girl.

It seems that every other Christmas carol I hear was “her favorite.” I guess there were very few that weren’t. Our house was normally the most “decked” in the neighborhood. Thankfully this year my neighbors across the street got the decorating memo, so I don’t need to put mine out. I’ll just borrow the light from theirs!

The truth about Christmas, though, is that Christ came with great joy… and great sorrow. We read quickly past the story of the babies around Jerusalem who were slaughtered by a mad king, jealous of a baby “king” whom he heard had been born right under his nose.

Mourning filled the houses of many as they buried the lifeless bodies of their infant boys. I guess that’s one part of the Christmas path we don’t want to explore, until we don’t have a choice.

Jesus was born in the midst of our fears, our sorrows and our suffering. His path, beyond all, was the most difficult… and the most tear-filled.

But this year, especially I am so very grateful He made it.

” A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning….” Matthew 2:18a

Loving Father, we know that as Christmas approaches, the path of many is a labored one. Suffering has visited some in the form of grief, of cancer, of surgeries, of dementia or of divorce. Loss of jobs has been a part of some stories, and some simply come to the season again… lonely. We pray for the struggling, the hospitalized, the homeless, the prisoner, the family struggling with depression or addiction. May the Light of the World who came to dwell among us, especially visit them this year. We need it. In Jesus’ name we pray.

The Path to Christmas 15

Glory. It’s a word we think we grasp without really plumbing its depths. I do not profess to know the depths of such a rich and meaningful term, and believe it will take lengths measured with an eternal calendar to fully understand it.

But “glory” and “Christmas” are closely tied. We cannot truly know one without considering the other. The apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we BEHELD HIS GLORY (emphasis mine)…”

So how can we behold the glory of the eternal God, who none have ever seen… or ever seen and lived to tell it… when we can’t even stare for a few seconds into the brilliant, noonday sun?

The heavens declare the glory of God, according to the Psalmist. The angels shouted of His glory Christmas evening. A beautiful sunrise or sunset hint at it. But Jesus revealed it. He showed it in a way that was unmistakable… “veiled in flesh, the godhead see…” The glory resides in Jesus. And the only way we will see it as it is will be through this One who is God in flesh.

One day, standing before the Father in Heaven, we will see the glory in its fullness. Without veil… without filter… without dilution. It thrills my heart even now as I write this to know that my sweet wife is seeing that glory RIGHT NOW, the same glory she sang and played music about for over half a century.

But now, in Jesus, we can “behold His glory….” Don’t miss this part. To “behold” doesn’t mean to glance at something and then look away. It means to stay with our gaze transfixed and to “see with understanding.”

And in Jesus, there is no greater way to see.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace toward men with whom God is pleased. Luke 2:14

Glorious God, as the stars and sun emanate light and power, so does your Presence so much more. Make us long for nothing greater, nothing higher, than to see and know that same glory. Through the Son who reveals it to us we pray, Amen.

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