Live Christmas All Year Long

(reposted from 2016)

The sentiments expressed here still hold for me. As many of us enter a new calendar year, we’re thinking of how we can make 2018 a good one. Whether you had a generally good 2017 or not, I wish you God’s best in the coming year.
Be a blessing to someone today.

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We’ve reached it: 2016 A.D. Just a week ago, we were celebrating Jesus’ birth; today we look expectantly into a new year. At least as far as calendar years go. With Christmas and the beginning of a new calendar year occurring a week apart, I pause to consider how the two might tie together.

What if we made a resolution to live the Christmas spirit all year long? Take a look at some ideas I thought of and see if you can come up with a few of your own. I’d be glad to hear of them.

Incorporate Music
Occasionally around the first of December, I’ll see my friends post on social media or say outright that they listen to Christmas music all year ‘round. They often sound like they’re apologizing. “I confess,” they say. I don’t think they need to apologize.

Think about it. Traditional Christmas carols are some of the best praise and worship music you can find. Most of them are ancient songs or at least from the last two centuries. o-come-emmanuel

I defy you to read––not sing––the lyrics of a Christmas carol and not see the true message of what Christmas means to Christians all over the world. Consider how listening to these hope-filled songs can turn a trial-filled time of life into a time of remembering God’s faithfulness.

Enjoy Fellowship
Throughout the year we naturally think of some specific days to enjoy fellowship with family or friends. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day for example. Why not go the extra mile (and avoid some of that grocery shopping craziness) and plan a get together in March? September? For no reason except to enjoy the fellowship.

Not to be maudlin, but we are never promised another glimpse of our loved ones once we’ve parted. I’ve heard too many stories of people who lost someone dear to them and one thing they regret is not getting together more often. Just celebrate life together. It doesn’t even have to revolve around food. But do it; you won’t be sorry.

This is one resolution I plan to carry out for sure with as much time as I’m given in the next year.

Enjoy the Wonder
The Christmas story I’m familiar with involves a single star guiding several men from the near east to a place in the Judean countryside. They found Jesus there. While I don’t claim to know how the tradition of lighting up our homes came into being, it has a place in my history.

As a child, my father would drive us around town to look at the brilliant light displays other people had come up with. We kids ooh-ed and aah-ed the same way we did during the 4th of July fireworks display.

Have you ever gone out to take a look at the starry sky on a clear night? It’s worth it to drive out to the country (avoiding light pollution) and watch the “silent stars go by.” That’s truly a credible use of the word ‘awesome.’dew covered web

Consider also that God has given us wonders closer than the starry sky. We often forget to notice the everyday happenings that, if we think deeper about them, are miracles. His creation gives us reason to stop and wonder. Colorful birds. Fragile, intricate spider webs. Clouds building into a thunderstorm. You get the picture. The birth of a baby–even if it’s not Jesus–is always considered a ‘blessed event.’

Be Generous
One of my favorite Christmas stories is “A Christmas Carol.” Even though I know the story inside out, I’ve always enjoyed the end. Scrooge discovers what it really means to give to others; the act makes him feel incredibly alive.
Love, generosity and need know no season. We all can find ways to share more of our treasures: time, money, resources and affection. I’m encouraged by the words of Paul the apostle:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition to noting that God is generous, Paul says He is gracious.

Keep Hope Alive
If we can say one thing about Jesus coming to earth and the purpose of His life, ministry, death and resurrection, it’s this: We have hope for the future.

During any given year we may face trouble which seems to be more than we can stand. Perhaps you’re thinking of the past year or one in recent history in which you experienced a heavy burden. We all can; it’s one of those things common to all of us.

However, for those who receive Christ, the message of hope stands stronger than any trial. Jesus told his disciples that in this world there would definitely be trouble. He also assured them they could “Take heart” because He’d overcome the world.

Remember that hope is something we keep in our hearts to keep us going. It’s also a message we share because we want everyone to know what we know. God has a plan and that plan is for us to be His.

Anno Domini
A.D. stands for anno Domini. It means in the year of the Lord but is often translated as in the year of our Lord. It is occasionally set out more fully as anno Domini nostri Iesu (or Jesu) Christi (“in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ”). The term anno Domini or A.D. is used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of Jesus’ conception or birth. The dating system was devised in 525, but was not widely used until after 800. The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today.

So, is it any wonder? He who gave so generously, with an accompaniment of angels’ music and the wonder of a bright star, also brought to us the idea of fellowship in the Church and the reality of hope for our eternal future.

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God’s Will in a Short Reminder

Most of the time, I’m not confused about God’s will for me. I don’t fret over what I”m supposed to be doing and how God’s going to use me. If I need to know about those things, I can go to his Word and find out. I can memorize scripture to help me remember those things as I go about my day. His instructions are explained in simple terms and usually take the form of simple acts.

As I become more familiar with God’s will for me, I learn that there isn’t anything mentioned that I cannot do, but often there are things I balk at doing. Having scripture like the one above helps to remind me to keep it simple.

Rejoice. Pray in all circumstances. Give thanks. Put those three together and they spell Worship.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Simeon and the Savior

This post is re-blogged from last December for this Advent season following my pastor’s sermon about Simeon last Sunday. While he taught on another aspect of the story, I find it interesting––and gratifying––that he and I are so often on the same wavelength.-Paula

“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24)

Word made flesh visualAt first glance, this short passage of scripture might seem like a simple recording of an event in Joseph’s, Mary’s and Jesus’ lives. But watch what happens when an old man enters the scene.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:25-28).

When I read this, I want to be like Simeon. Certainly, being righteous and devout sounds good, but also to speak to God with the confidence Simeon had. He praised God regarding the baby Jesus. He said,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29,30).

That baby was exactly what the old gentleman had been waiting for.

When it’s time for me to pass from this earth, I hope similar words occupy my mind and heart, because I have also been blessed to see God’s salvation. That fact gives me peace.

During this advent season, the coming of Christ reminds me there’s a wonderful hope for us. We have the promise of God’s glory when we know Jesus personally and trust Him as our Lord and savior. Like Simeon, we yearn to see Christ. We look forward to His return.

One secret to Simeon’s story is this: he listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and went to the temple when prompted. He knew from prior experience that the Spirit would speak. He anticipated the promise which was in line with his going. He trusted that he wouldn’t die before laying eyes on the Messiah.

As I said, I’m blessed to know Jesus and His salvation.

And like Simeon, I look forward to laying eyes on Him.

 

Storefront Churches

Recently, while driving on a remote street in my fair city, I had the opportunity to see a sign outside a church declaring what I’d hoped to see on a church sign for a long time.

“Jesus Is Lord”

Convinced (by people better than me) that a church sign’s purpose is for outreach, I still believe a statement as simple and true as that one indicates where that church’s heart stands. In fact, an auto shop where I have work done on my van boasts this same statement on its sign out front.

Years ago, I saw the movie “Because of Winn-Dixie” at the theater. The film is adapted from the children’s story of the same name. A 10-year-old girl moves yet again to a new town with her father, a preacher. The story is funny, touching and full of wisdom.

The preacher and his small congregation meet in what used to be a convenience store, the Pick-it-Quick. Early on in the movie, Preacher is trying to make a joke about their location to keep things light (tough crowd) and says, “I don’t see anything wrong with making church convenient.”

winn-dixie-at-churchI’m familiar with churches meeting in places other than a traditional church building. And while it’s great to have a nice building in which to meet, I don’t think God cares as much what the building looks like as what our hearts look like.

Imagine some church signs or slogans for churches that meet in former businesses. No irreverence meant here. We can take God seriously and still have fun. But fair warning: I used to be in advertising and I enjoy good puns.

  • Laundromat: “You can be washed whiter than snow”
  • Library: “Lending a good word”
  • Insurance Sales Office: “The Gospel is our strongest claim”
  • Grocery Store: “Hungry for something more?”
  • Beauty Shop: “You can leave here a new creation”
  • Hardware Store: “New tools for living found here”
  • Music Shop: “We sing God’s praises”
  • Book Store: “Come curl up with the Good Book”
  • Video Rentals: “Rated F for Families”
  • Dollar Store: “More than you bargained for”
  • Cell Phone Service: “Get connected with God”
  • Used Car Lot: “Turning lemons into lemonade”
  • Secretary of State: “Get your license to thrive here”
  • Gym: “Helping you jump-start your spiritual fitness”
  • Medical Office: “Healing hearts is God’s specialty”
  • Dentist’s Office: “For a message with some teeth to it”
  • Optometrist’s Office: “Your eyes will see the glory”
  • Office Supply Store: “Loving people file in here every week”
  • Furniture Store: “We have a chair just for you”
  • Coffee Shop: “Enjoy our unique blend of truth and grace”
  • Computer Store: “The only software needed is an open heart”
  • Restaurant: “Taste and see that the Lord is good”

Outreach? Hmm.

We can meet with God anywhere. Our hearts are His favorite place to meet us. The sign we can put out front is a simple “Welcome.”

Nothing silly about that.

“Awesome”

When did it happen? When did the word “awesome” become a throw-away word?

Here’s what I mean by throw-away.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “awe” this way: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration (respect), and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime. For example, “stood in awe of the king” or “regard nature’s wonders with awe.”

But now, it’s an everyday occurrence for people to refer to the most common things as “awesome.”

That t-shirt with the clever saying on it. “Oh, man, that’s awesome.” A program on TV, the actor in that TV show, a video someone shared on Facebook or YouTube, or hey, just about anything can be “awesome.”

But are they really?

Do these things invoke the kind of inspiration felt when we’re in the presence of something or Someone deserving of the definition? God, His creation and any of His works are truly awesome. There are few things that compare.

A.W. Tozer, a theologian and author of many books about worship, living in the presence of God and knowing Him personally, says this:

“What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.”

What comes to your mind?

If our God is all-knowing, ever-present, sovereign, mighty, and constantly and impartially loving, the truest form of “awesomeness” is Him.

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Whenever I go stargazing, I’m in awe. When I think of how a baby grows and is born into the world, I’m in awe. Seeing God work through people who are broken and imperfect puts me in awe. God’s revealed message to us through His Word is awesome. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary brings me to a state of humility and awe.

I stand in awe of the King.

The other day I was listening to a song by one of my favorite Christian singer/songwriters, Rich Mullens. In “Awesome God,” he writes

“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an awesome God.”

That chorus is repeated over and over, a technique in songwriting I’m usually not fond of. But in this case, I don’t mind singing like that. Matter of fact, I was singing at the top of my lungs how awesome God is.

In my van. In front of God and everybody.

Because God and His creation are the truest form of the word “awesome

When You’re Called To Worship

Reference: Luke 2:1-20

When we get the chance late at night, Matthias and I lie on our backs and watch the sky. Marvelous things happen there. High clouds float on a wind we can’t see but feel tugging at our hair. They disappear in wisps trailed by more clouds and we name them by shapes.

We play our favorite game on clear nights when the sky is dotted with stars. Matthias, a pensive fellow, says the sky is poked full of holes for the light of God to shine through. Matthias really loves God; he teaches me a lot. I’m glad I was assigned watch with him in these fields. Living out here can be lonely. Besides, he says things like that about holes in the sky.

We name the stars knowing God has already named them and sometimes we find shapes in those too. That particular night a shape we never expected appeared in the sky.

It was an angel.05_Shepherds_Angels_JPEG_1024

I’m young but I’m not a madman. And there are more witnesses than Matthias and me. We all saw and heard. The stars paled in comparison to the light that shone around that angel. I believe the light of God really was shining then, not just through the star-holes. We were terrified. The sheep began to stir.

But the angel spoke to us and told us to not be afraid. I stepped closer to Matthias anyway; I couldn’t stop trembling.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel said. Its voice had a strange tremble as well, but it was clear as a bell on that clear night. Have you ever heard an angel? No, of course you probably haven’t. Oh, it was…fearsome.

But wonderful.

Then the angel spoke a message describing the birth of a baby in the nearby town of Bethlehem. Born to us, the angel said. “Christ, the Lord.”

“The Messiah,” I thought, “the Messiah has come!” Matthias fell to his knees. I did likewise just because I didn’t want to let go of him.

The angel then told us where to find the baby. The fact that the Messiah was a baby born that very night was incredible enough, but he was lying in a manger. That was the end of the message. I was stunned. I had heard it all. There was no doubt I had heard it right. God had surely put it in my heart.

found-watching-sheepThen, even as the angel finished speaking, suddenly the sky filled with them and they began to praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The sound was just like that of the other angel, a trembling but clear voice and so loud I thought the sheep would bolt and run. Miraculously, they were now still.

We were mute in the angels’ presence and as they finished their chorus of praise they fled into heaven. Matthias and I slowly stood. He recited the Shema; I think out of habit. I believe he was as nervous as I was. We all slowly began to walk toward one another and then ran. We met in a circle and stopped. Josias began to speak but his voice broke.

He started laughing.

Oh yes, laughing. And so did we. How happy were our hearts! No one else can understand the beauty of it. But the lovely irony was not lost on Josias and we knew too. God had chosen we lowly shepherds to be the first to see his Messiah.

“We must go quickly. All of us, even the sheep,” Josias said. “When the Lord calls, we obey.” Everyone was solemn now but still full of joy. Of course we would obey.

The City of David was full of people since a census was in process, but we found our way to the stable. It was small and dark. I cannot imagine why such a place would be the birthplace for this child, but I wanted so much to see him I laid my questions aside.

The mother was young like me. They–Mary and Joseph–were kind and welcomed us. We told them our story and they somehow didn’t seem surprised at the angel’s appearing. They acted as if angels to them were commonplace. Mary nodded knowingly, pondering it.

She unwrapped the baby a little so we could see him. I don’t know what I was expecting; he was just a baby. Nevertheless, he–Jesus was his name–was the Christ. We all kneeled and worshiped him. I have to admit I felt like weeping. I didn’t. I’m the youngest and the men would have laughed at me.

We stayed there a little while and Mary and Joseph inquired about where we were from. I noticed Matthias kept looking at Jesus and at one point wiped a tear. I promised myself not to say anything.

Finally, we left to return to the fields. As we walked out of the city the only sounds were our feet shuffling along the streets and the occasional bleating of sheep. How can you begin to talk about the experiences? Angels lighting up the sky, news of the Messiah and then seeing him like that–so pure? You have to stretch your mind to make it all fit.

When we reached the edge of Bethlehem, Matthias stopped us, sheep and all, and said, “We cannot keep this to ourselves.”

We looked at him, begging with our eyes so he’d continue. “No,” he explained, “The angel said it was ‘good news of great joy for all people.’ In obedience to God, we will spread the news.”

Can you imagine our joyful laughter at that? We began clapping each other on the back and we started right there in Bethlehem. People were amazed at what we told them.

Eventually we returned to our field, but we couldn’t stop talking about it. We praised God for the child and the good news the angels delivered. As we settled into our humble grassy dwelling, we agreed that because of that child’s coming, worship would never be the same.

Excerpt from “Approachable Jesus” by Paula Geister, copyright 2008