After the angels leave...

Today's thought:

Luke 2:20, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

The shepherds probably talked about that night for months and months to come. They probably relived it and retold it again and again. But there came a time when it was back to life as normal. Though life was back to normal I cannot imagine they were ever "normal" again. One cannot be touched by God in this way and not be changed. 

It is like Peter, James and John being led by Jesus up a high mountain. When they get to the top Jesus is transfigured. The physical guise is pulled away to reveal Jesus as he truly is. His face shines like the sun. His garments turn white as light. Surely this description is just that and therefore fails to capture the incredibleness of the actual scene. Then Moses and Elijah appear. Moses embodies the law and Elijah the prophets, the very things that testify concerning Jesus. The disciples are amazed and want to stay in this place of spiritual awakening and mystical experience. Peter says, "Lord it is good for us to be here." Then One more Witness to Jesus comes when God the Father speaks from a cloud, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased—hear him." The disciples fall to their faces in terror. After a moment they feel the gentle touch of the Master and when they look up all is normal again. They had to go down the mountain for at the bottom there was work to do. They had to go back to life as normal. Though life went back to normal I doubt they were. 

The wrapping paper has been tossed. Garbage men across the country try and lift the gargantuan pile of Christmas past. The candles have been blown out. The lights turned off. Christmas is over and we must go back down the mountain. We must return. We return to our jobs, to meetings, to stresses and our modern concerns. The kids have appointments. Bills need paying. Groceries must be bought. Laundry must be washed. On Monday morning the alarm will go off again and we will go back to life as normal. Do we go back the same? How can we.

The shepherds went back rejoicing and praising God. They returned to the same life but brought the joy of Christmas with them. There was resolutions they had made having experienced this event that must be kept. The only place they can be kept is in the mundane normalcy of day-to-day life. A poet wrote: "The test of a man's devotion will come some other day. They love God most who are at their post when the crowds have gone away." As Covett Roberts said, "Character is the ability to stay with a resolution long after the mood of the resolution has left."

The irony is that we draw closest to God in the valley than on the mountain top. Now that the Angels have left and the star has faded from the East, now is the time to draw closer to God. Now is the time to draw into a deeper relationship with Him. We read our Bibles. We devote ourselves to prayer. We fast with the desire of the coming Lord. We gather together on Sunday and praise His name. We return glorifying and praising God. We return to the normal not being altogether normal ourselves. Roll up your sleeves. There is work to be done. Now is when the work of Christmas begins:
"When the song of the Angels is silent;
When the star in the sky is gone;
When the Kings and the princes are home;
When the shepherds are again tending sheep;
When the manger is darkened and still,
The work of Christmas begins." — Howard Thurman

Prayer: Father, now is the time we get back to work, the work You have called us to, knowing and loving You in our day-to-day lives. Now is the time to draw closer to You. Now is the time to read Your word, pray in earnest and fast for change. Now is the time to draw close to Your presence. You have promised that if we seek You with all our hearts we will find You. Be found in us today, we pray, in Jesus, amen.

From our family to yours...


From our family to yours: "And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?" Merry Christmas to one and all and may you discover the more, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the reason for the season! "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

Christmas: the true meaning...

Today's thought:

Matthew 9:12-13, "On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Christmas is a special time of year—the lights, the presents, the food, the music—but somehow we have made Christmas about the celebration and have forgotten why we celebrate. Do you know the meaning of Christmas? If you can read the following story and know how it is the Christmas story then you understand.

In the mid 1800's, waves of foreigners introduced diseases that ravished the native peoples of Hawaii. Among the cruelest of these diseases was leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease, for which there was no known cure. As the severe deformities associated with leprosy spread, so did fear. It was decided that those afflicted should be forcibly outcast onto a remote peninsula on the small island of Molokai. This peninsula is exposed and battered by the Pacific ocean on three sides and cut off from the rest of the island by one of the world's tallest and sheerest ocean cliffs.

The souls outcast here became prisoners in their own land, harshly kicked from boats, washing onto shore without adequate supplies, infrastructure, medicine or tools. Families on surrounding islands powerless to help, mourned the cruel fate of their loved ones. Thus, the leper colony named Kalaupapa was formed.

On January 3rd of 1840 a boy was born, one of eight children, named Joseph de Vuester, in Belgium. His father, a farmer, sent him away to college to become an industrial businessman. Instead, while there, he met a group of missionary priests and decided to become a priest himself, taking on the name Father Damien.

Father Damien had a brother, who also entered the priesthood, named Auguste. Auguste was planning a missions trip to Hawaii. At the last minute Auguste got sick and died but before he died he asked his brother to go in his stead. Damien, who was praying about becoming a missionary, readily agreed, and he went to be a missionary to Hawaii. After several years on the island the Bishop asked for volunteers to go to the lepers of Molokai. Damien volunteered and took a boat to Kalaupapa.

When he arrived he was appalled at the sight that greeted him. The place was filled with people who could only be described as, "the walking dead." They were disfigured, had open seaping soars, lived in horrific conditions, with diseases of all kinds running rampant and a prevailing hopelessness. Damien went to the Church to conduct services and this is how that event is described:

"The building was full and it was boiling hot. Damien was confronted with all the physical unpleasantness of leprosy. There were too many people with supporating sores, so that there was a stench of rotting flesh. Moreover, one of the symptoms of leprosy is that the sufferer salivates excessively. The people were constantly coughing, clearing their throats and spiting on the ground. Damien had to turn away in order not to be sick. He went to the open window but the building was surrounded by ill people who had not been able to get into the Church." [Eynikel, Hilde: Molokai. The Story of Father Damien. (Trans.) Lesley Gilbert. Lond]

But it was when Damien went to what they called, "the dying shed," that Damien's life changed forever. When he opened the door on the floor lay a young man, a boy, with a swollen face lying twitching on a dirty sheet. Maggots crawled in his open soars. Though the Bishop had strickly forbid Damien before he left not to touch any person with his bare skin he knelt down with the young man, took off his glove and gently caressed a part of his uninfected skin. He told the dying boy of the glories of heaven and the love of God. Then the boy died in Damien's arms.

In that moment Damien decided to devote his life to the lepers of that colony. For over fifteen years he served them. He improved their way of life, dug their graves, got them water, helped build them huts, ministered the grace of God to them, was father to some 100 orphaned children. One day as he was preparing a bath he spilled scalding hot water on his foot. He saw the skin blister but felt no pain and then he knew. He too was now one of them and was going to suffer and die with leprosy. He began his next sermon with these words, "We lepors..." He gave his life for those people and died as one of them.

This is the Christmas story. Do you see it? If you see it then let the truth wash over you and hear the Angel say to you, "I bring you good news that will cause great joy..." (Luke 2:10).

Prayer: Father, the long awaited One has come and we rejoice in His arrival. He came to comfort, heal and save. We celebrate Him and the grace He brings to us, that He left the glories of heaven to call us sinners into His healing love. He is "good news of great joy!" Praise You for Your great gift. In Jesus name, amen.

[Adapted from: The Christmas Experience - Part 4: Experience God's Joy. Listen to the full message here:]

The Giver has become the Gift...

Today's thought:

John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

Over time most things loose their intended purpose.

Many people don't realize that Santa Claus, based on the real historical person of Saint Nicholas, a leader in the early church from the city of Myra, also has another less-known title—the patron saint of pawnshops. How could this jolly old fellow be known as the patron saint of such a seedy business? 

In the Middle Ages, "montes pietatius" were charities similar to urban food banks. They were created as an alternative to loan sharks. These charities provided low-interest loans to poor families. Started by Franciscans, they became widespread throughout Europe.

In a traditional story, which is probably based on real events, Saint Nicholas generously provided a poor man dowries for his three daughters, gold coins in three purses. The symbol of gold coins in three purses became the symbol of pawnshops and fit with his title of patron saint. In the 1300s, people in poverty met caring friars when they entered the doors of pawnshops. The shops existed to help the poor get back on their feet. These friars had their best interests in mind.

Today, often the opposite is true. Over time, pawnshop owners lost sight of their identity. Created for good, pawnshops have drifted away from their purpose. From caring for the needy to an instrument often preying on families in distress, pawnshops have lost their original intent. [Adapted from Peter Greer, "Santa Claus—Patron Saint of Pawn Shops," Peter K. Greer blog (12-5-12)]

Like pawn shops, has Christmas lost its original purpose? In many ways yes. But that purpose can be restored if recaptured in ourselves. Jesus' purpose for coming to earth, as John tells us, was to save. This is what the Angel said to the shepherds, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:11). 

The next question is: to save us from what? The simple answer is ourselves. We all have failed morally in so many ways (Romans 3:23), and if we're honest with ourselves, we see we have not lived up to the standards God has placed in us. That failure has condemned us before God. John goes on to say in John 3:18, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

The Baby born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago was on a rescue mission. Jesus said in a Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." As Leutenant Dan asked Forest in the 1994 movie, Forest Gump, "Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?" And Forest responds, "I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir." Most people don't. But Jesus is looking for them. He is seeking you. When He finds you He offers you salvation. Like any gift you have to receive it. It is not a gift you can take, but must accept.

Christmas has lost its purpose if Christmas has become a season of taking. We take and take and take. It is from God we take. The Bible tells us that every perfect gift comes from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17). Yet, we rarely give thanks. We take and do not recognize the One who gives. We rarely stop to thank Him or talk to Him. 

Imagine what that must be like for God. Imagine if I invited you over for a Christmas dinner and you came and ate a beautifully prepared ham with all the fixings. A table full of delicious and wonderful food. I brought you drinks. I made your favorite deserts. Yet the whole meal you do not talk to me. You just take everything and don't say a word to me. Then you push back from the table, put on your coat and head for the door. Before you leave I say, "Wasn't it good? Didn't you enjoy it? Don't you want to stay and talk?" You turn and say, "Yes. It was good. I enjoyed it all but I want nothing to do with you! I don't want to talk to you. I don't believe you exist." And you leave.

Imagine how God feels. He gives and gives and gives in the hope we will turn to Him in gratitude. Most people don't. So, God has done an ingenious thing for the giving of His Christmas gift. It is a gift you cannot take but must accept. To accept God's Christmas gift you have to accept not only the Gift but the Giver for the Giver has become the Gift. You can't accept one without the other. Have you accepted Jesus? You can trust He is the greatest gift you will ever receive. That's the purpose of Christmas.

Prayer: Father, You have given us the best Gift of all, a relationship with You. You did this by giving of Yourself when You sent Jesus into the world. He did not come to condemn but save. But if we recieve the Gift we fulfill the purpose of Christmas. Thank You that the Giver has become the Gift. It is by His grace and mercy we can pray in His name, in Jesus, amen.

[Adapted from the message, "The Christmas Experience: Experience God's Purpose." Listen to full message:]

The mystery of the incarnation...

Today's thought:

Matthew 1:22-23, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us")."

There is no greater mystery in the mind of a thinking Christian as the incarnation (Immanuel: "God with us"). How was the infinite God born as a finite baby? How could the Creator of all things be born into His creation? Could a painter paint himself into the painting? Could a playwright write himself into the script? That is exactly what God did.

Listen to Paul's explanation of the incarnation, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:5-7 NASB). Now, what did Jesus empty Himself of? Another question we can't answer. What we can confirm is Colossians 2:9, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form."

Yet, should it bother us that we can't explain this, the greatest of all mysteries? After all, how much of the infinite God can finite man really understand? As C.A. Carson, a research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explains, "You're dealing with formless, bodiless, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Spirit and finite, touchable, physical, time-bound creatures. For one to become the other inevitably binds you up in mysteries." [The Case For Christmas by Lee Strobel]

So, how could God become a man? Dr. John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician and scientist who is also a defender of the existence of God and Christianity among the upper echelons of academia says: "I remember being asked this once at a large gathering of physicists who had come to hear me lecture on the relationship of science to theology and one physicist after the lecture said, "How can you possibly believe this?...Come off it! This is going way beyond to assert that the God who designed the universe and upholds it actually became human. Can you explain it?"
I grinned and said, "Yes. But I want to ask a question first. My question is much simpler. It is this: what is consciousness?"
He said, "Oh, we don't really know what consciousness is."
So, I said, "Ok. Well let's try something simpler that comes closer to the realm of physics. What is energy?"
He said, "Ah, well, energy is something we know a lot about. We can measure it. We can use it. We can convert it into different forms..."
"But that's not my question. My question is, what is it?"
He said, "Well, we don't know."
I said, "You believe in these things but you don't know what they are?...I suspect you were about to write me off as an intelligent person because I believe in something which, if it is true, of course, is infinitely more sophisticated and complex than the things we were talking about." He said, "The reason you believe in consciousness and energy, even though you cannot explain very much about what they are, is because of their explanatory power. They make sense of various things you observe." 
He said, "That's precisely right."
I said, "It's exactly the same, of course at a deeper or perhaps a higher level, with my faith that Jesus is both God and man. It's the only solution that makes sense, that makes sense of the evidence of His life, the uniqueness of His claim that He backed up by showing He possessed the attributes of God..." [John Lennox - How can Jesus be Both God and]

Perhaps the greater mystery, though, is not how but why. Why would God leave the glories of heaven to be born in humble means to a common couple so long ago? That we can answer. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

After returning home from a long tour, Bono, the lead singer for U2, returned to Dublin and attended a Christmas Eve service. At some point in that service, Bono grasped the truth at the heart of the Christmas story: in Jesus, God became a human being. With tears streaming down his face, Bono realized, "The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself by becoming a child born in poverty … and straw, a child, I just thought, "Wow!" Just the poetry … I saw the genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this … Love needs to find a form, intimacy needs to be whispered … Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh." [Quoted in Matt Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us (InterVarsity Press, 2011), p. 28-29.]

Indeed, it is love, for God is love and Jesus has made Him known to us. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth... No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known" (John 1:14, 18).

Prayer: Father we delight in the mystery, Your incarnation, that has made You known to us. That You left heaven to be born in such humble means shows us love that took on flesh. We love the mystery and we love the Gift, that the Giver became the Gift, a Gift we each can recieve this Christmas. In Jesus name, amen.