Tuesday, December 24, 2013

“And Them That Mourn”—Celebrating Christmas in the Face of Grief and Sorrow

The following is an excellent word about the hope that we have in Christ - even if we grieve for loved ones we have temporarily lost . . .

"Families across the Christian world are gathering for Christmas even now, with caravans of cars and planeloads of passengers headed to hearth and home. Christmas comes once again, filled with the joy, expectation, and sentiment of the season. It is a time for children, who fill homes with energy, excitement, and sheer joy. And it is a time for the aged, who cherish Christmas memories drawn from decades of Christmas celebrations. Even in an age of mobility, families do their best to gather as extended clans, drawn by the call of Christmas.

And yet, the sentiment and joy of the season is often accompanied by very different emotions and memories. At some point, every Christian home is invaded by the pressing memory of loved ones who can no longer gather—of empty chairs and empty arms, and aching hearts. For some, the grief is fresh, suffering the death of one who was so very present at the Christmas gathering last year, but who is now among the saints resting in Christ. For others, it is the grief of a loss suffered long ago. We grieve the absence of parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and siblings. Some, with a grief almost too great to bear, suffer the heartbreak that comes with the death of a child.

For all of us, the knowledge of recent events of unspeakable horror and the murder of young children make us think of so many homes with such overwhelming grief."

To read the entire article by Albert Mohler, click here.

Make Me a Child Again

See this Christmas Eve poem - Make Me a Child Again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Simple Ways to Remember Christ this December


I hope that as you go about the final week before Christmas, you will take time to worship Christ in your spirit - and take opportunities to share Him with others.
 
Some simple things that help me experience Jesus in the midst of a busy December . . .
 
1.  Make sure and start every day with the Lord - with some prayer and Bible meditation.  I often remember Johnny Hunt's words, "If you give your time to the Redeemer, He will redeem your time."
 
2.  I love Christmas music, as does my family.  However, in the midst of the "fun" holiday music, I keep a CD or two in my car or computer of Christmas music that says a lot about the Lord.  For my personal tastes and wiring, no Christmas music helps me worship Jesus any more than the classical kind.  I keep CD's handy of The Robert Shaw Chorale and the St. Olaf Choir.  They bless me greatly  as they sing classic Christmas carols about the Lord - His redemption, incarnation, birth, holiness, etc.  My tastes may not be yours - but find something that helps your spirit worship Jesus - even in the midst of holiday rush.  Today I was listening to BEAUTIFUL STAR by The Centurymen.
 
3.  I keep some easy reading handy - on my desk, in my bathroom, in my backpack, in our den.  By easy reading I mean Christian writing that is not too elaborate.  I have a few simple books by Max Lucado, Jack Hayford, and others that contain simple meditations that can be read in 2-5 minutes.  I read one this morning over breakfast on Jesus being the Bread of Life, and my mind and spirit have meditated on it all morning as I have been doing other things.  One of my favorites is Come . . . and Behold Him! by Pastor Jack Hayford.
 
4.  It always helps me in December, after everyone has gone to bed, to sit down by the lit tree for just a few minutes and "be still and know that [He] is God."  A few quiet moments to reflect, give Him thanks, and perhaps read a few Scriptures.
 
Perhaps these simple things may help you, in the midst of the holiday rush, to connect with Christ.  It is as we connect with Him that we have something to share with others. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Scrooooooooge!!!


After Christmas last year, I decided that during December of 2013 I would read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to my family.  Somehow at age 41 I have never actually read the story, though I have enjoyed numerous television and movie takes at the classic Christmas story.  My favorite is still the 1980's George C. Scott Ebenezer Scrooge.


Dickens' written tale is, perhaps surprisingly, a blatantly Christian story.  It is a story of a conversion to a Christian worldview (though not as blatant as an evangelical gospel tract).  Of course, our modern Hollywood and Disney takes on the conversion of Ebenezer leave out the Christian details, but it is obvious nonetheless in the book!  Here Jacob Marley's lamentation of having a selfish heart when he lived as a human . . .
 
Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?
 
The story challenges us all, will we live self-absorbed lives or will we live our lives loving and serving others?
 
 
Ebenezer was a man very rich according to the world’s standards of money, business, and commerce.  A self-absorbed man.  A man with a shriveled, cold heart.  A miserable, pitiful wretch of a man.  A man who did not seem to enjoy the world, its people, and its pleasures around him.  But also a man who changed in the latter years of his life and became a totally different person.
Ebenezer Scrooge experienced the transformation of a lifetime, becoming a beacon of goodwill and cheer after his visits from the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future.  Most everyone has heard of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  We enjoy at least one of the television renditions yearly.  Many people do not realize, though, that Dicken's original story is one of Christian conversion..  A miserly, self-ruled man who submits himself to the Christ of Christmas.  Replete with biblical-Christian language and references (which are ignored in our modern and secular retellings of the story), Ebenezer comes to know His Creator in a real way, and the One born in a manger changes his life.  (Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?  - Jacob Marley)  Scrooge spends the rest of his life making amends to those he has wronged, spreading goodwill and compassion, and keeping Christmas every day in his heart.
Ebenezer, though late in life, allowed God to forgive him, change him, and use him.  A man who became a source of goodwill, selflessness, and generosity to many others.  And his eternity secured by the Babe of Bethlehem, enjoying His Presence, goodness, and blessings.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Refusing the Scrooge Spirit

Every holiday season, I enjoy and appreciate the thoughts of Pastor Jack Hayford as they relate to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He has written and preached much over the years about sanctifying, redeeming, and celebrating the holidays.

Here is a portion of one of his many articles available on his website about Christmas.  This particular one is called "Refusing the Scrooge Spirit."

"Over the years, I've encountered an amazing number of people who have decided not to celebrate Christmas. They've been taught it was designed after a pagan holiday. Or they say that nobody knows when Jesus was born, so it's hypocritical to celebrate on December 25th. It is true, of course, that we don't exactly what day Jesus was born. But the fact is, we don't know it wasn't December 25th! At issue isn't which day, but that there ought to be some day. And Christmas on December 25th is the day that has been celebrated for a long time.

Many people were raised in a "good Christian home" where they were told, "We don't celebrate Christmas because it's commercial, and it compromises the truth of the gospel and who Jesus really is." And built into them is a deep resentment toward anything that has to do with church and God and Christ and the Bible. Sadly, they pass that along to their kids.

In other cases, it's not that people don't like Christmas, but the season carries with it certain demands that may cause them to heave a sigh and think, "Celebrating the season is going to be a lot of work." If we have a family and kids, there's the decoration of the house and the tree, plus shopping for and wrapping presents. There's extra cooking that goes on, invitations to the homes of friends, and special events at the church."

To enjoy the entire article, read here.

Christmas Gift Recommendations


I know during this season we all look for appropriate gifts for others in our lives.  If you know me well, you know that I love books and that I enjoy giving books to people.  Reading a book to me is like sitting down with a person and listening to their testimony, receiving their counsel, learning from their life experiences.  So, when I give a book away, I feel like I am giving away a portion of that wisdom and testimony.  (My theology professor in seminary 16 years ago exhorted the young men in the room that we should plan on spending at least $2000 a year on books in order to be well-read pastors!).  Many people have said before, "Readers are leaders."
 
It has also been said that five years from now (apart from divine sanctification), there are only two things that will make you a different person - (1) the people that you meet and (2) the books that you read.
 
If you are still looking for a timely gift for persons in your life, here are two recommendations:
 
One of the unfortunate realities that you see in life, church, and ministry is that many people allow their emotions to control them in very unhealthy ways.  Patterns of putting too much stock in what they feel often lead people to embrace lies in their minds that lead to destructive patterns of behavior.  I have seen it sadly way too many times.  This year Charles Stanley came out with a book for such situations:
 
 
Secondly, everybody has been hurt by somebody.  That is life.  We all have hurts - some worse than others.  The truth is, we can choose to move forward and heal, or we can stay stuck in the same patterns of rejection and isolation for years.  Stephen Arterburn wrote an excellent book I highly recommend about choosing to heal.  (I gave this to one man several years ago when he went through a divorce.  He told me numerous times that he read that book over and over during the aftermath of the divorce and it helped him greatly.)
 

 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fun in Lynchburg, Virginia

My family enjoys visiting Lynchburg, Virginia!  Several years ago we began an annual trip in early December to enjoy Liberty University and to attend The Virginia Christmas Spectacular at Thomas Road Baptist Church.