What Are We Celebrating?

It’s that time of year again!

Time for making cookies, shopping for gifts, decorating the Christmas tree and all our house inside and out. Time for family gatherings, parties at friends, watching Hallmark Christmas movies. The list goes on and on.

As I listen to people talk about the holiday, it almost seems at times as if it is more of a stressful time for some than a joyous celebration. People wonder if they will get the right gift for that special someone, if their decorations will look as nice as the neighbor’s next door, if they will have enough time for all they need to do to celebrate this holiday.

And I have to ask myself: what are we celebrating?

The Early Church did not celebrate Christmas. For them the important date was the day Jesus arose from the grave. Granted without His birth He could not have grown up and died for us. But for the Early believers, the important thing to celebrate was His resurrection. Two of the Gospels do not even mention the birth of Jesus but all four Gospels give great detail of the last days of His life as He was crucified, buried and rose again. The Aposle Paul shared that this was the heart of the good news.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Doing some research into church history, I discovered that the first Christmas was celebrated December 25, 336. The Roman emperor Constantine decreed this celebration to take place throughout the Roman Empire and Pope Julus I selected the date of December 25. Bible scholars tell us there is nothing in the Bible or in Early Church history to know the date of the birth of Jesus. Many reason that it was more lately that his birth was in the spring. Would shepherds be out on the hills with their sheep in the middle of winter?

Many pagan societies observed this date as a celebration of the winter solstice. This was the shortest day of the year and would lead to the return of the sun. In ancient Germanic cultures, they would burn a Yule log, light bonfires, tell stories and drank ale. Ancient Romans had a seven-day celebration, Saturnalia, beginning December 17. They would have a sacrifice at the temple of Saturn followed by several days of a carnival atmosphere. oldest winter celebrations in the world.

It is believed by many scholars that the Pope chose December 25 to try to turn people away from the celebration of Saturnalia and begin to follow the Christian way of life.

Whatever the reason for the choice of December 25 it has come down to us as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But again, I ask: what are we celebrating?

I recently visited a Christmas celebration at a local mall. I wondered what someone who had no knowledge of our customs and came to the celebration would think it was all about. There were all kinds of items with Santa Claus, the elves, the reindeer. But I saw nothing about the stable, the manger, Jesus.

Now – do I sound like Scrooge?

I certainly do not mean to. I love the decorations, the Christmas movies of the Elf on the Shelf and all that goes with our holiday in America. This week I will be busy putting up my tree and decorating my home all in red and gold, looking for that perfect gift for my husband.

But I wonder: What if you were told your friends were going to have a party to celebrate your birthday. You get excited and come to the party expecting greetings from everyone – and maybe some presents. You arrive early because you are so happy your friends want to celebrate this day with you. When you arrive, no one acknowledges your presence. No one offers you a seat at the table. There are no signs saying, “Happy birthday.” Instead, another person is seated at the head of the table. Everyone is talking to him, wanting to have their picture taken with him, toasting him. You are totally ignored.

You might go home wondering: what were they celebrating?

I hope you will enjoy this month and all the food, decorations, shopping, family gathering, parties. But I hope you will truly remember who and what we are celebrating.

I hope you will take time to listen to this song – and ask yourself: what am I celebrating?

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To What Do You Pledge Allegiance?

I try to stay away from political posts because my goal for this blog was to encourage, and maybe make someone smile.

However, our current political scene is so chaotic, and our politicians are contributing, not to unity, but division. What makes me sad is to see the church trading its beliefs to gain political power. So when I read this today in my study, I must share it.

These are not my words. The following is taken from the book “The New Testament in Its World” by N.T. Wright.

When Paul says that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) he is emphasizing that the Messiah, who reigns in heaven, and who will one day return from heaven, is the object of our hope and loyalty. There was nothing wrong with being a citizen of Rome, just as there is nothing wrong with being a British or an American citizen. But when the gospel of Jesus is unveiled it reveals the true empire, the true citizenship, the true lord and in that light all the pretensions of empire, not least the arrogant and blasphemous claims of the emperor himself, or the propaganda of power-hungry presidents, are exposed as folly. The church’s vocation is not to bless the power, policies, and pantheon of civic leaders, but to measure them by the standard of Christ, to pursue the things that make for peace and justice, and to proclaim that all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The church was never intended to be the religious department of any empire, but always to be building for the true kingdom, setting up an embassy for the one true lord, living lives according to his symbols, his teaching, his story and no other. If that means suffering, that will mean following the pattern of the Messiah, and confidently expecting his rescue and reward. The church’s loyalty cannot be auctioned off to those who promise it political influence; not can its core convictions be pummeled into submission to fit the reigning zeitgeist. For citizens of heaven, the gospel should be declared, not domesticated.

Want Eternal Life?

A rich young ruler came to Jesus with an important question: “What can I do to inherit eternal life?”

Depending on what religious background you come from, there could be different answers.

Some religions reject the very idea of “eternal life” and believe your spirit will live on in some form or another and that reincarnation depends on how you lived in the present life.

Other religions believe you inherit eternal life by the good deeds you do in this life.

Christianity is unique in stating there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life, but that it is a free gift given by faith in Jesus Christ.

Yet, when we look at this young man’s encounter with Jesus, the answer Jesus gave seems to imply we do inherit eternal life by what we do.

Jesus told him “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Is Jesus saying that we are saved by obeying the commandments? What about the verses that declare we are saved by grace and not by our own efforts?

When the young man asked Jesus exactly what commandments he should keep, Jesus recited six of the ten commandments. The young man informed Jesus that he had kept all these commandments all his life, but then asked, “What do I still lack?”

The rich young ruler was confident of his goodness. Still, he apparently recognized that something was missing. He had been honest and truthful. He had kept himself pure from sinful deeds. So what did he lack?

Jesus saw that this young man was leading a selfish life. He had not cheated anyone, but he had also not been willing to share his riches to help others. He lacked the love of God for others.

Jesus was pointing out the one area where the man did not fulfill the Law. If inheriting eternal life meant giving up his wealth, he was not willing to do that. His love of wealth became the obstacle to his following Jesus. His love of money prevented him from obeying the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”

Today many look at this story and say that only applied to this young man because Jesus knew the young man’s heart was focused on money. He would never ask us to sell all we have and give to the poor.

Probably not. But I think the lesson for us is to examine our own heart. Is there anything we want to hold on for ourselves and not surrender to the Lord. Maybe it is our money. Are we generous with the financial blessings we have been given? Do we spend it all on ourselves or reach out to the needy in our community? Maybe it is our time. Are we willing to turn off the TV and spend some time in prayer and God’s Word. Or give up that nap we had planned and go visit someone who is lonely and in need of encouragement. Maybe it is our talent. Do we seek how we can use the God-given abilities to not enjoy ourselves but to help someone else? Bake that cake for a neighbor, knit a scarf for the homeless, play music to the elderly in the nursing homes.

Eternal life is a gift from God. But we need to make sure that there is nothing that stands between us and a love for God that puts Him first, others second and then ourselves.

Is there anything I lack? Lord, show me.

Our Father’s Love

Reading this week a familiar parable Jesus told about the prodigal son that took his part of the heritage of his father and then proceeded to waste it away on careless living. The Bible says “when he came to his senses” he went back home to ask his father to just let him be a servant.

It is a very familiar story to anyone who has ever attended church or read the Bible. Being so familiar, I truthfully began to read over it quickly.

But this time something caught my eye.

The scripture says that the father saw his son “when he was a great way off.” Imagine the father every day going out to the road and looking down the path in hopes of seeing his son returning home. Imagine every evening before retiring for the day, taking another look down the road. Hoping, praying to see his son coming home.

The days, weeks, maybe years of disappointment as his glances show no sign of his son. But he never gave up. He kept looking, hoping, expecting an answer to his prayer.

As I read that this week, I thought of those who I am praying for. Loved ones, friends who have walked away from fellowship with others – some out of hurt, some out of misunderstanding, some out of losing sight of a relationship with God.

Honestly sometimes I lose hope that they will ever return. But this parable reminded me that I must remain faithful in praying, expecting and never stop looking down the road to see them returning home to God.

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Words to Build a Life On

Although I wrote this 8 years ago, it is still true today.

Grandma's Ramblings

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When I was a young girl just learning to read, my primary storybook was the Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible for Young and Old.  Originally published in 1904 it was the complete Bible story including the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Unlike most of today’s Bible Storybooks for children, this book was a continuous narrative of the Scriptures told in one hundred sixty-eight stories.  I loved reading about the Old Testament characters – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel and King David.  While other children of my generation read books about Dick and Jane that said,

See Spot run!

I was busy reading about the prophet Samuel who said,

Is the Lord as well pleased with offerings as He is with obeying His words?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen to God’s word is more precious than to place offerings on His altar.

Today I am an avid and…

View original post 1,067 more words

Friday’s Fruitful List

The Bible lists nine fruit of the Holy Spirit. I find it interesting that it is fruit not fruits; singular not plural. Appears God desires for us to display all of His attributes; not pick and choose. It should be our prayer for all of the Holy Spirit’s presence to be shown in our life.

  1. love
  2. joy
  3. peace
  4. patience
  5. kindness
  6. goodness
  7. faithfulness
  8. gentleness
  9. self-control

Jesus said we would be known by our fruit.

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit...Matthew 12:33

Two things I note about fruit.

First, for a tree branch to bear fruit it must be attached to the tree. Cut apart from the tree, it will soon wither and die. Jesus told us:

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

So, we cannot on our own display with any consistency the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is the beauty of it. We do not have to work hard and strain to be loving, have joy, self-control etc. When we “stay in the vine” we will produce the fruit as naturally as an apple tree produces apples.

Second, the purpose of fruit is to provide nourishment for those who pick the fruit. Sometimes I think we feel having fruit of the Spirit is to make us some wonderful Christian. But I think the purpose is to provide love, joy, peace etc. to those around us who need it.

I pray I will have the love of God so those I meet who need someone to show love will find it in me. I pray I will have the joy of God so those I meet who may be discouraged will be encouraged by what I say or do. I pray all of the fruit will be shown in my daily life as I meet others so that I can be an encouragement, maybe provide a challenge, certainly show the character of Jesus to others.

It’s Not Fair – or Is It?

Reading this week in Matthew the parable Jesus told of workers and their pay. He tells of the owner of a vineyard who goes out to find workers to harvest his crops. Apparently, there were men who had no permanent job and would gather in town hoping for someone to give them work for the day.

Arriving early in the morning the owner offers the group of men gathered there a day’s wages if they would work in his vineyard. The amount of wages being agreed on, he took the men to his fields to work. As the day went on, he decided he needed more workers to get the job done so he returned to the town square and found more men looking for work. With this group no set wages were agreed on; the owner simply said he would pay them whatever was right. He continued to go back to the town square throughout the day and hired more workers each time with the understanding he would pay whatever was right.

At the end of the day when time came for the workers to be paid, he told his manager to pay those who had been the last to be hired first. Was this fair? Imagine you were one of those who had worked throughout the entire day having to stand in line and wait while those who only worked one or two hours received their wages first.

The men who were paid first received a full day’s wage. Seeing that, those who had labored all day thought they would be getting more and were probably excited about the prospect of making more than a day’s wage.

However, when they came to be paid, they received the same wage as those who had only worked a few hours. They were not happy campers.

Was this fair?

When the workers complained to the vineyard owner, he reminded them that they had agreed to work all day for a day’s wages. That was fair. He had kept his word. They were given exactly what he had promised and what they had agreed to.

In our culture this would be a source of lawsuits and demonstrations. How does that line up with “equal pay for equal work.”

Wondering what Jesus really meant by this parable, I think of the meaning of God’s grace.

The workers had not been taken advantage of. They received exactly what they had agreed to and what was the going rate for a day’s labor. This story shows the owner’s generosity, his mercy, his grace to all.

I believe it is a good reminder to us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the mercy and grace of God. Sometimes we may think “I’m a good Christian. I have never cheated on my husband. I have been a loving mother. I give generous to the church and to those in need. But I am slow to recognize how sometimes I have acted selfishly, been unkind or critical to others, turned a blind eye to someone in need.

And so, we really want God to be fair? To give us what we deserve? Have we lived a perfect life with no need of mercy or grace? Thank God that he is not fair.

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. Psalm 103:10

Second thought – the workers who came late to the field, did they not have a family that needed to eat also? How was it wrong to give them a wage that allowed their families to also have their needs met?

Some of us may make great sacrifices for the work of God. Then like the thief on the cross with Jesus, others slip into the kingdom on their deathbed without having done anything for God’s kingdom.

Is this fair?

This scandal of grace is a sign of the unbelievable goodness of God. It’s possible that someone could look at a lifetime of service and feel, like the early laborers, that they were cheated. But this is the wrong way to look at faithfulness.

When we truly recognize the lavish generosity of God’s mercy, it’s a game changer. We stop focusing on what’s “fair,” and begin to humbly appreciate God’s unbelievable benevolence. Hopefully, we recognize what the early laborers missed: It’s a privilege to serve a God who is so kind and unselfish.

The Jesus project

Do You Know What is the Truth?

In reading the book of Jude in the New Testament this week, I was reminded of his warning to the church that there would be false teachers that pervert the truth of God’s Word.

Thinking of “truth” reminded me of Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” Pilate asked this question in response to Jesus’ claim to be the very essence of truth. No doubt Pilate was, like many today, very cynical about what is truth. Or, perhaps he really was longing to know what the truth was.

Many today say there is no such thing as absolute truth. What is true for you may not be true for me.

In some ways, they are right. If we are standing face to face and someone asks us where the door is, to me the door would be on my right, but to you it would be on your left. In that situation, truth is relative – different for you than for me. However, what would be absolute truth in that circumstance is if someone asked us if there was a door. We both would have to say yes.

I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar but my simple research tells me that the Greek word for “truth” is aletheia, which literally means to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” In other words, the truth is there to be seen, nothing hidden. The Hebrew word for “truth” is emeth, which means “firmness,” “constancy” and “duration.” Psalm 119 states that God’s Word is firm and constant.

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven.

Jesus declared He was the truth.

I am the truth, the way and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Making that statement today will immediately lead many to object. It can be offensive to those not of the Christian faith.

Here is the dilemma I think the church faces now. On the one hand, Jesus has clearly called us to love and appreciate everyone – regardless of their sex, ethnicity, religion etc.

On the other hand, if He is the truth, we cannot compromise our belief.

But what is keeping me awake some nights is how many are taking this Christian statement and using it in a most un-Christ-like manner.

The calls for us to make this a “Christian” nation frightens me. Jesus plainly told us His kingdom was NOT of this world.

The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; no one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is inside you.”

My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight… but my kingship is not from here.

Jesus taught that His kingdom would not be like any other. However, like any kingdom there would be rules. Rules like:

  • Love your neighbor
  • Treat others the way you like to be treated
  • Be merciful
  • Forgive others
  • Be humble
  • Serve others
  • Bless those that curse you
  • Pray for those who persecute you 

The list could go on, but it can be basically summed up in one word: love. Love in the Kingdom of God is not an option; it is a command. If we want a Christian nation, then the only way to achieve that is not by electing the “right person.” It is not by enforcing our Christian beliefs on others. It is not putting down those whose lifestyles are in opposition to God’s Word. It is by loving those who are outside the Kingdom.

This is how the Early Church became so strong that eventually even the powerful Roman Empire recognized it. But loving and caring for others.

So please beware of the false propaganda we are hearing today from those who claim to be speaking for God. Often, we allow false information to be spread among us because it is interesting, and we are slow to put an end to it. We must stand for the truth – not compromise our own beliefs to be politically correct. But at the same time, we must remember only the love of Jesus can change a person’s heart.

Friday’s List – “I AM”

In the book of Genesis when the Lord spoke to Moses out of the burning bush instructing him to go to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of bondage, Moses asked his name. The reply was “I am that I am.”

The Hebrew words are ehyeh asher ehyeh. Many Bible scholars believe this could be translated “I will be what I will be” or “I will become whatsoever I may become.”

This phrase could be considered an idiom, an expression whose meaning cannot be understood by the individual words. Like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “it costs an arm and a leg.”

So what was God saying by calling Himself “I AM

I think to Moses he was saying that He would be whatever Moses and the Israelites would need as He led them to freedom. To us today the great “I AM” tells us He is faithful and will be whatever we need in any and every situation we face.

With that in mind my list today is of the “I AM” Jesus spoke while on earth.

  1. I am the Bread of Life.
  2. I am the Light of the World.
  3. I am the Gate for the Sheep.
  4. I am the Good Shepherd
  5. I am the Resurrection and the Life.
  6. I am the Way and the Truth and the life.
  7. I am the True Vine.
  8. Before Abraham was, I am.

This week, I encourage you to think about these things Jesus claimed to be. What do they mean to you that he is the bread of life, light of the world, etc.?

The Seven Churches of Revelation and Me

Revelation is a book of the Bible that I have found confusing and difficult to understand. Throughout my life I have attended Bible studies, read books and listened to a host of people give their viewpoint on the meaning of the book.

Several years ago, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins wrote a series of novels called “Left Behind.” The books are the authors’ interpretation of Revelation. They write of a seven-year conflict between the Tribulation Force (people who have converted to Christianity after what they call the “rapture”) and the New World Order led by the Antichrist. The series was adapted into four movies. I never read the books, but I did see a couple of the movies.

There are as many different interpretations of what the book of Revelation means as there are different church backgrounds. Some of the different ways of looking at the book are:

Preterist

This line of reasoning says we should view the book from a historical context and try to understand it as being written to the people of John’s day. We try to understand the political and religious times and how the readers then would understand John’s words.

Historicist

This approach says many of the events of the book seem to have taken place in the first century. This gives us an outline of history of the church in the past and a glimpse of what may yet happen in the church until Christ returns.

Futurist

Believers in this group (which is where LaHaye and Jenkins fall) believe the books tells us of future events which will take place at the “end of time.”

Idealist

This group teaches that Revelation does not pertain to any particular time (past, present or future) but is simply a story of the constant struggle between good and evil.

My church background was of the “futurist” viewpoint. I must confess, however, that listening to all the teachers who seemed so sure of what they believed only added to my confusion. I had to ask “how could they be so sure what all the images in the book really stood for?” Most of what they said seemed to me to be simply their opinion without any definite proof of their “theories.”

Yet it was almost considered heresy to suggest that these teachers who claimed to have perfect knowledge of the meaning of Revelation should be questioned. My solution was to just avoid any Bible study on the book of Revelation.

Years have passed and our local church offered a study on Revelation. I decided to give Revelation another chance.

The lesson was on chapters 2 and 3 which tell of John recording a message from Jesus Christ to the seven churches.

I was prepared for the usual explanation. 1) these churches represent different stages of church history. Each of these stages can be traced to specific times in the history of the church. This point of view says we are in the stage of the last church, Laodicea. 2) these churches represent different types of churches that would be throughout time. Of course, those who take this point of view always see their own church as one of the two churches that had no criticism from Jesus and other churches as one of those that received strong criticism.

What a surprise as I found a new take on these chapters.

Church is not a building, not an organization, not a denomination. The church is made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ. I am the church.

What I need to take from these two chapters is not some eschatological, deep mystery meaning. I need to look at the praise and the criticism each church received and ask myself how I stand up to that.

  • Have I lost my first love? Am I as excited about God’s Word and His church as I once was?
  • Have I remained true to God’s Word? Am I compromising my beliefs to fit with my culture?
  • Have I become lukewarm to the things of God? Have I lost my sense of what is valuable and pleasing to God?
  • Do I need to strengthen my faith?

I am not sure where this study will lead but I am approaching it to learn any lessons that will help me be the “church” I need to be and not worry about the “mysteries” found here.