Friday, December 30, 2016

IN DEFENSE OF TRADITION

If there ever is a time when we are reminded of traditions, it is at Christmas. Every family has them. At this time of year, it sometimes seems as if every move is governed by tradition. There are Christmas-time customs that tell us where, how, and when we should decorate the tree; where, how, and when we are to have the Christmas meal; and where, how and when we are to open the gifts.

There is the traditional Christmas program that we all must attend. We sit in the darkened church, watching the little children recite the lines that they so laboriously memorized with the help of their moms. Sympathetically, everyone in the crowd silently prompts these shy performers as they try to remember the next word. Throughout the hushed audience, unspeaking lips move, hoping that their silent utterances will somehow help this tender little one through his or her piece.

Of course, not all the children are so inhibited. Some kids grab the microphone as if they grew up under the tutelage of Sir Winston Churchill himself, and bellow out their lines as if they had just learned that everyone in the church had discovered that their hearing aid batteries had gone dead. Then, as a final flourish, these little performers finish with a grand bow.

We sing the traditional hymns. We snack on traditional munchies. We find great comfort in tradition.

Not everyone who likes tradition, however. They find it boring and unimaginative. Some secretly delight in upsetting tradition. Some find excitement in the new and unique.

Each has his own perspective. I, myself grew up with many traditions at Christmas time. Our Christmas Eve Day was the very definition of predictability. It included the Christmas Eve program at the little church down the road that we always attended after the evening chores. After the program, we would always stop in at my Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house for a few moments. I am sure it was only a few moments, but for me, it always seemed like hours. This was because, according the traditions of our family, it was only after the program and the visit to the grandparents that we were able to go home and finally open our presents.

But my adult years have been quite different. For many of these years my own family and I lived overseas and often found it more difficult to have one Christmas even remotely like the previous one. (to continue, please press the READ MORE button below)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

SURPRISED BY CHRISTMAS

The little village in a South American country through which I was driving one December day was swelteringly hot and dirty. The houses were mostly of adobe, and the people of the village were poor goat-herders, whose daily task was to wrestle out a living from the dry and desolate soil of the desert plain.

Everything around me spoke of struggle. Even the basic necessity of water could only be obtained by going to the village well, dropping a bucket into the deep round shaft dug into the ground, and then pulling it up using a rope and a pulley. The reward for this labor was a half a pail of water that both smelled and tasted strongly alkaline.

Even the air in that place refused to be too charitable with its refreshment. The air that we breathe ought to be equally abundant and vitalizing to all, but in that desert village, every breath only brought into my lungs air that felt too hot. Added to that disappointment, the scorching breeze that blew that day, instead of making the air more refreshing, only filled it with a fine dust. The dust in the air caused dirt to form on my face as the sweat rolled down from my forehead, and especially around my nostrils. My nose needed to work doubly hard to strain out any dirt before allowing the air to enter my lungs.

I was short of breath. I felt that I could not breathe. I was not getting adequate oxygen by breathing through my nose only, but because the air was so dirty, I was very hesitant to part my lips even just a little in order to draw in a deeper breath. I did not want to breathe in all of that dust.
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Monday, December 19, 2016

WORSHIPING THE BABY CHRIST CHILD


Whether or not the date is an accurate one, or despite the way in which the church arrived at the date, Christmas has long been the time of the year when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. It is true that in our churches, we celebrate Christ often throughout the year. As a church family, we gather to celebrate Jesus at least once a week. In many of our homes, we celebrate him every day. However, for very many people, the only time that Jesus is actually celebrated is twice a year – at Christmas and at Easter. For most of the year, people are so busy with their lives that they have very little time to think about Jesus. Because of this, it is good to have a celebration like Christmas to remind us of the Messiah. However, the celebration of Christmas is not without some dangers. 

The Dangers of Christmas

Christmas, along with Easter, are the big religious holidays of the year. As I mentioned, for many people, these holidays are really the only times of the year when they think about Jesus. Because of this, these people have come to have a distorted view of who Jesus is. If you think about it, you can see why.  At Christmas, we see Jesus as a little baby lying in a manger in the crèche. He is a helpless infant and totally in need of his mother’s protection and care.

Likewise, at Easter, we again see a Jesus that appears helpless. This time we see him beaten and bloodied and hanging on a cross. This is especially true in many church traditions where the emphasis is placed strongly on the suffering of Jesus, yet the fact of the resurrection sometimes almost goes uncelebrated. This becomes a danger when so much is made of the crucifixion and less is made of the coming back to life of Jesus.
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Friday, December 16, 2016

"COME"

Finally we have arrived at the very last words of the book of Revelation and, in fact, of the entire Bible. These last words can actually be summed up in a single word. “Come.” 

First, a Few Words of Caution

There is also a caveat in this final portion of the book. John writes, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19 NAS).

These are cautionary words and should be heeded. It may seem a rather obvious warning to those who follow the Scripture, but because so much of what is written throughout the book of Revelation is not completely understandable to us, it sometimes becomes very tempting for those who study it to substitute that which is beyond our ability to comprehend with their own ideas about what must happen. It is a short step between theorizing what a particular passage may mean, and assuming that we have a particularly accurate insight that others do not have. 

An Invitation

But that warning aside, the concluding remark of our revealed Scripture is one of invitation. The message is: “Come.”
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Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE ROOT AND THE STAR

The way in which Jesus identified himself more than any other in the New Testament was by calling himself “The Son of Man.” We probably would not think that this would necessarily be so. The struggle that Jesus had with the people of his day was not to convince them that he was a man, just as were they, but that he was also God. Nevertheless, although he spoke many times and in many ways of his special relationship to the Father, never did he refer to himself directly as “The Son of God.”

It is not that he was trying to keep this aspect of his life a secret. He did many things to demonstrate that he truly was from heaven. He performed healings and fed people, and did deeds that were direct fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Other people recognized this and even called him “The Son of God.” When they did, Jesus never denied that he indeed was the Son of God. Rather, he affirmed to them that what they said was true. 

Jesus Presented as the Son of God

And many others did ascribe divinity to the man Jesus. His disciples did, the people who saw the miracles that he did recognized him as divine, even on occasion demons called him the Son of God. Even the very first and last testimony about Jesus while on he was on the earth was the fact that he was the Son of God. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to have a baby, he told her that the child would be called the Son of God.

Gabriel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:31-33 NAS).

 That is how Jesus came into the world. Then, when he was put to death near the end of his earthly presence, and when the centurion who had been in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus realized what he had done in killing him, he said, “Surely this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). 

Jesus Presented as the Son of Man

However, Jesus preferred to call himself the Son of Man.
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

WORKING FOR THE KINGDOM

The ways that we work in this world are pretty well defined. The goals that we have as individuals in deciding what our work is to be are also usually quite well established – we all seek to find a job that we like, one that we are good at, and one with which we can make a decent living. Some people may include the words fulfilling and satisfying in this description of finding good work, as in having a fulfilling career.

I purposely did not use these descriptions, because they are more subjective in nature. The work that is fulfilling today, may become frustrating tomorrow. That which began as being satisfying and challenging, ends up being boring and disappointing. This should not surprise us about our work experiences, because that is the extent of any reward that the world can give us. Everything in the world fleeting. It is all just temporary.

The poet Robert Frost wrote about this as illustrated to us in nature itself: 

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay. 

King Solomon also came to the conclusion in life that “nothing gold can stay.” He tried every means to find a lasting satisfaction in his work, but found that every sense of fulfillment was fleeting. Here is what he said: 

I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees… I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 ESV) 

A pessimistic attitude, no? Not really...(to continue reading, press the READ MORE button below)