We Need A Little Christmas

Celebrate always, pray constantly, and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.  (This is God’s will for all of you in Jesus the Anointed.)

-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (The Voice)

Someone lost her adult son this week.  Someone else has a son with stage four cancer.  Someone else I closely know had the anniversary of losing his young son this week.  I also know someone else who’s husband left her and their kids.  I know someone who’s romantic relationship has broken up after a hopeful year.  And I know several women who lost their husbands in the past 15 months, who are grieving.  We also said goodbye to my neighbors of over twenty years, yesterday, who are moving away, to be closer to their family.

The gospel of Jesus, the good news of the kingdom, is that God has come and rescued us for time and eternity.  Jesus is emmanuel, God with us.  Jesus saves and Jesus is with us.

He promised he would always be with us and would send the Holy Spirit, who is the comforter.  This is what he told the disciples at the last supper, when he was saying goodbye to them and we get the same benefit.  Being a Christian is not just about going to heaven when you die, but having Christ in you when you live.

That is the good news.  I have this thought that we need to celebrate Christ coming often.  Christmas is not once a year, but part of our whole lives.

When someone receives Christ and believes the gospel for the first time, that day is their Christmas.  Christ is birthed in their heart or rather, they are birthed into the kingdom of God.  Then throughout our lives, we continually celebrate Christmas: Christ coming as a gift and the gift of being born into Christ’s kingdom.

We all are celebrants is the mass of Christ.  We take Christ into our lives daily in celebration.

Baby Jesus was born into a dangerous and violent time.  Jesus comes as God’s gift to save the world and redeem it.  He changes everything.

Jesus does not hand out tickets to heaven, but changes lives and teaches us to ask God to bring heaven to earth.  Jesus brings redemption to chaos and suffering in humanity.  Jesus also heals us and delivers us.

Jesus life that we share is also a life of suffering, where we are with and in him, utterly depending upon Father, and living by faith in God as our papa.

Today, right now, we need a little Christmas.  We need to come back to remembering what life is all about and what is important and what we celebrate.  The good news about Jesus is good everyday, especially when we are digesting bad news in our lives.

The good news is so good that it almost makes us forget the bad things we are experiencing.  The good news is not a distraction but the transformative event that changes everything.  We celebrate Jesus coming because he is the gift from God that redeems.

Jesus is the redeemer.  He takes us and pays for us.  And more.

Jesus does not just make the pain or sorrow go away.  His redemption is that he comes into it and is with us in it.  The good news is that we are not alone or left alone.

Jesus coming does not just cheer us up.  He comes to change everything and redeem us.  When we celebrate Christmas, with all of it’s accoutrements, like holly, trees, lights and gifts, santa, reindeer, decorations and fun foods; they all point to the gift and the joy and the celebration of Jesus coming.

The Organizing Principle of Life

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!

The earth and everything in it,
the world and its inhabitants,
belong to the Lord;
for He laid its foundation on the seas
and established it on the rivers.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in His holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not set his mind on what is false,
and who has not sworn deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord,
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek Him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Selah

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is He, this King of glory?
The Lord of Hosts,
He is the King of glory.

Selah

-Luke 2:14, Psalm 24
Photo: Pixabay
Many people are going through trials and even tribulations.  There are big problems and small ones.  Some smaller ones feel big.  
There are people that are dying, who witness to us about their faith in the Lord and have a worshipful attitude of heart.  I don’t know if you have met ones like these.  They have in place in their lives that God is our glorious King.
There is a verse, by Paul, that says, “In every thing (in all circumstances) give thanks, for this is the will of God” (1 Thess. 5:18).  To be in God’s presence is to worship Him.  In Heaven, there is continual worship of God.
“Glory”, is not a word most of us use in every day life.  The first time it is used in the Old Testament is from the lips of Laban’s sons, expressing their jealousy towards Jacob, who was, “getting the glory”, or “getting the wealth”, that they wanted (Gen. 31).  We call the American flag, “Old glory”, signifying the honor that we bestow on it, because of what it represents.
Glory means, abundance, riches, honor, and splendor.  Glory has to do with the dignity of position, character, or reputation.  God is the King of glory and we use glory and honor in our relationships with one another, while never glorifying anyone or any thing except God.
We give glory or honor to one another and act honorably, in line with God’s glory.  We see and function in our relationships, according to God’s glory.  To dignify others and receive dignity from one another is godly and reflects God’s glory.
No matter who you are and where you are and what you are going through in your life, he is the King of glory.  God’s will for all humans is given in Luke 2:14, in a statement:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!

 God, in glory, who is glorious, who we glorify; wants to give us peace on earth; to those he favors.  That peace is peacefulness in our lives.  It is the opposite of worry, anxiety, strife, and agitation.  And the people he favors or who bring pleasure to him are simply people who respond to him.

Psalm 24 gives a bigger picture of God’s plan.  These words describe a person who responds to God and note that we do not come to God or get saved through our works, but we receive his power to do the right thing from him and act on it, saying, “Yes, I will let you save me and receive your power to save me and now here is how I will live because of that work you are doing in my life.”  Being obedient to do the right thing results in blessings, but only God can bestow righteous standing before him through Christ.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in His holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not set his mind on what is false,
and who has not sworn deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord,
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek Him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

We seek him, who has sought us, to receive righteousness and salvation.  But it is another step to seek God’s face.  Seeking God’s face is intimacy with God, opening your heart to God in your daily life.  We will be in trouble when we are people who sought him in the past, but are not seeking his face today.

It is always a temptation to be a Christian in name only, but God is alive and relational, wanting interaction and to walk together with his children.  We are stewards of our lives, but always his child and his slave.

So, there is some paradox there.  God relates to me as his child and as his slave.  We need to live our lives happily responding to both paradigms.

The center of everything is the glory of God.  We want to be in alignment with God and his gloriousness.  God is glorified through saving us and then we bring him glory by living saved lives.

As a person in Christ, you are God’s child, upon whom his favor rests.  You also are his slave and it’s not a bad position because the master is completely good and righteous.  In those two roles that are yours towards God, you live out your life.

You are a citizen, a neighbor, a pensioner, a retiree, a friend, a husband or wife, a student, an employee, or a leader of a company or a business; to name a few roles you might have.  No matter what your place or role in life here, above that, you are God’s: God’s child and God’s servant or slave.  He takes care of his children and he also takes good care of his slaves.

This is the bottom line:  God, who is glorious, lavishes his glory upon us, saving us.  We are now his: his children and his slaves.  And he takes care of what belongs to him.

God’s plan is to save us.  Jesus exemplified God’s glory.  He is the glory of God.  He calls us into God’s kingdom and saves us and we become his, to be cared for by him.

The King of glory saves us, coming into our lives, when we open to him.  His glory shines upon us and we are his children.  And he is a good shepherd and a good father to his children.  And we are on a path, following Christ, dying to our selves, and being his slaves.  And he is the master and takes care of us, because we are not only in his care, as children, but he is living his life through us and his father watches over his life for his glory.

You might ask, “How can I give thanks in all circumstances?”  This is the answer.  God, his glory in his son.  Having his life in my life and becoming rightly related to Father through him gives me thankfulness no matter what, and he uses the stuff of life to help me learn to walk in that relationship and draw upon the life that he gives me through Christ to be his child and let him be the master.

Sing To The Lord A New Song

Sing to the Lord a new song!

-Psalm 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, & 149:1; Isaiah 42:10
When God works in your life it is always fresh and new.  God is about redeeming us.  He does new merciful work in our lives every day.  New mercies, new deliverance, and new redeeming works call for new songs.
Even though we have and sing older songs that are good, we should have new songs to celebrate the new, and there will be fewer and fewer old songs on our lips, because there will be more and more new ones.  We don’t throw the old ones away, but God constantly gives us new songs to celebrate the new things He does.  
God is always inspiring new songs.  At one time, each song was new, and celebrated God’s work for the people of that time.  If you look up a favorite old hymn, you might find that the same poet or song writer, of whom you love their song; wrote hundreds of other songs.  Each of those unknown songs were new and fresh, new songs, at one time, and graced the people who sang them.
When we sing a new song, our spirit’s leap within us, because of the fresh message of worship to God that the song puts in our hearts.  Since ancient times, there have always been new songs, because music and words contain endless combinations of expressions of worship and praise to God.  God created us with the endless creativity or our creator.
When you select a greeting card or write a greeting or note, prose, or poem in that card, to your loved one; do you write the same exact words every time, or do you say something new?  It takes some effort to say something, to write something fresh, but some people make the effort, and the receiver of the card is pleased.
The new song we sing is about what God is doing in our lives now.  It is about what God just did for you.  What new thing is God doing in your life?  That is your new song.  If you have no new song, you might not have anything to report on God working in your life.  You might want to look again and re-engage with God and find out what He is doing in your life and get your new song.
God is always working.  God is always redeeming.  That is what God does.  The Father is at work, on the move.  What is He doing in your life?  That is your song.
The new song is a celebration of God’s redeeming work in your life.  What’s the new song, now, for you?  What is the, “wow”, the, “oh my”, or the, “I stand in awe”?  Experiencing God will give you those reactions.  
God does new things all the time.  What new thing has God been doing in your life?  There is your new song.  The old songs are fine, but God gives new songs.  God is the living God who is active doing new things.  Do you see the new thing He is doing in your life?  See it and celebrate it with a new song.
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Photo credit: Carolina Wren from Bungalow Retreat website 

Jesus is The Everything of The Christian Life

God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
-1 Corinthians 1:9

Do you carry with you each day these three things?

  1. That God is faithful. 
  2. That you have been called by God. 
  3. That God has called you into is partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you carry with you the awareness that God is faithful?  God is trustworthy and loyal to faith.  God moves in good faith.  You can trust God.  God’s faithfulness is a settled matter and if it is unsettled in us, we need to get it settled.  That’s our homework, if it is an issue.

If you are a Christian, you have been called by God into partnership with God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Partnership means fellowship or communion.  We call the Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper communion because it symbolizes  a participation or sharing in Jesus’ broken body and poured out blood to save us.  Eucharist actually means gratitude or thanksgiving.  Communion, as in the Lord’s Supper, is all about thankfulness for what Jesus did for us.

We are called by God to be thankful for Jesus’ work on the cross and remembering that and bringing to mind our thankfulness for it should be front and center in the life of the Christian.  This is the reason why some faith traditions participate in the Eucharist or taking communion each time they officially gather in services or convocations.

The words communion, the lord’s supper, and eucharist are descriptive words.  How different faith traditions have interpreted the words written in the New Testament have led to how those faith traditions express their faith and what they do when they gather and how they do it.

If we are Christians, we have been called by God.  God has initiated something in your life.  You have a history in God and with God, initiated by God.  Now, it’s not just your-story, but you have his-story.  Your story now is his story.  God called you.  That means God summoned you or invited you you.  Are you still responding to that calling, summons, or invitation?  God initiates, we participate.  What is God doing in your life?  That is a good question to start your fellowship with when you gather with another or other believers.

Since we are Christians, we already know what God is calling all of us to; and that is Christ.  But it’s not just like flipping a switch or checking a box or praying one prayer.  God calls Christians to a life in Christ, as in partnership, fellowship, and communion.  Communion means a life of intimate sharing, in the spirit.  Sharing means we share the life, the love, and the suffering.

The Christian is a person called by God, the relationship is initiated by God; into a life, a participatory, communal, life shared with Christ; the Son of God and Lord.  This is what a Christian is.  This is the Christian’s identity.  This answers all the questions.

God is faithful.  That means you can trust God.  That means he finishes what he starts.  That means he has a plan.  That means you can count on God.  God calls us and initiates our salvation, then takes us all the way through our lives by putting us in Christ and forming Christ in us.  That is the whole Christian life.  Everything in our lives is about God forming Christ in us.  It is that simple and that clear.
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Picture credit: Pastor Bob, from Fort Worth, TX: Living the Lectionary blog

Thanksgiving Song

We Gather Together (1597)
By Adrianus Valerius
Translated to English by Theodore Baker, 1894

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Pray your prayers with thanksgiving

When I’m bothered about something to the point of anxiety and distress, I remember the “be anxious for nothing” prayer direction in Philippians chapter four:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and
petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.


Taking stuff to God in prayer is great advice. But Paul says to tell God about what’s bothering you with thanksgiving. I think that what this does is to keep us from prayers that are just negative complaining prayers, where we recite the facts of how the proverbial glass is half empty.

Adding thanksgiving puts a positive note into your prayers. God is fully aware of the thing that is driving us to prayer. Being thankful in prayer is an act of faith. Being thankful says, “no matter what I believe God is good”.

Praying with thanksgiving is not victorious denial. We are not thankful for sin, death, or loss. We are thankful for God, who is good no matter how we feel.

Want to know God’s will? Give thanks!

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ
Jesus.
1 Thess. 5:18

Why would Paul say that giving thanks, no matter what, is God’s will? I think it’s about alignment of you with God. God is good no matter what. This isn’t self-help or affirmation therapy, but wisdom from God.

We don’t say thanks for sickness, loss, or defeat. But in all circumstances, we thank God for his goodness. No matter what happens, God is good.

Getting into God’s presence with thanksgiving

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his
courts with praise! Give thanks to him;
bless his name!

Psalm 100:4

The inspired psalmist says that we cross the threshold of God’s domain by thanking him and we get into His dwelling place with praise. When you are calling upon the King of all, isn’t it absurd to begin with a complaint, a request, or even a confession? Beginning with thanksgiving and praise establishes the relationship. It states the obvious, but it also states reality. And this establishing is for your benefit. God already is firmly established in his identity. We have to re-establish it in ourselves as long as we’re alive on earth.

To try to come into God’s presence without thanksgiving and praise is to implicitly take God for granted or deny his God-ness. Your heart is not in alignment and your words do not connect with God. God still hears your prayers, but you don’t get into God’s presence.

Thanksgiving and the blood of Jesus

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

That song, by Robert Lowry, a Baptist minister who wrote 500 songs and lived until 1899; tells of what I believe is the ultimate thing we can be thankful for.

The early church began calling the taking of communion or the Lord’s supper, the eucharist. That word means thankfulness.

Coming home

He got right up and went home to his father.
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him.
His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

It was twenty years ago now, when I began coming home as a prodigal son. I was raised in the church and had a personal relationship with God in my childhood. After I turned thirteen sometime, I had an experience where God asked me to let Him be Lord of my life. This was 1973 or 1974 and in our Evangelical church, especially as a child, I never heard about salvation versus Lordship. But in that experience, as a thirteen year old, I knew what God meant because I had a vision of Him taking the steering wheel of my life. Unfortunately, I did not say yes and God heard me. From that day, I lost my intimate walk with the Lord and began my rebellion.

By late 1985 and early 1986, God was wooing me. I was trying to read the Bible but couldn’t understand it really and I tried to pray and could really only continue to ask for protection on the freeways and a few other small things, but could not really connect at all. But also, during this time, I began to go back to various churches with friends. They would have these simple praise songs at a Calvary chapel I visited and the songs made me cry and cry.
By May of 1986, I was on the road to coming home. I had a long, dry repentance; but I was drawn very strongly. I took these long walks, pondering my life and where I had gone wrong. My spiritual hunger kept increasing and on Father’s Day of 1987 I finally found a church that I would call home for the next twelve years. Someone was also praying for me during this time and said that they would just cry. I later realized that perhaps God was crying over me- broken hearted. I later realized that Jesus parable of the two sons was about me and Father God as well.
There is a revelation here when Jesus says that while the son was still a long way off, the father saw him. He was hoping and waiting. Perhaps scanning the horizon whenever he was outdoors. Then one day, there his son was, and the father ran to meet him. Very awesome. The love of God. Have you experienced it?

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