Christmas Eve Musing: On Christmas Past- Memories & Honor with Joy & Sorrow

Once upon a time a man wrote a story where a person looked at impact of Christmas past, present, a future to the point it changed his life and led to repentance. It is a story that captured the hearts and minds of many. In praying about what to write this season the focus on Christmas past, present, and future is what developed in my mind. See this Holiday; these days have become a very important day for the Church as a whole. Like a certain character in a book if each of us takes time to reflect on the past, present, and future elements of Christmas there will be impact that can lead to change.

Christmas it is a day that is meant to be a celebration and remembrance. It is a season that reminds us and focuses on what God has done and given in the gift of the Incarnation. A reflecting when God came to earth with a plan to reconcile all willing to receive to him, bringing peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Christmas as we know it today developed over time and a variety of stories and actions that have become part and parcel of the day. Now it is noteworthy, that God did not initiate this holiday itself. This celebration does not actually fall on the exact date of Jesus birth. Rather, it has become simply a day set aside where the focus is on what God has done. It is a day to think, learn, and look back on Jesus being born, coming to earth with His mission. It is a day in which Thanksgiving and Honor is given to God almighty. God’s act of love is remembered and acts of love are demonstrated to others. Those acts then create more memories and traditions that ultimately serve to Honor God.

Each family has traditions. Some remain consistent over time. Some fade as life changes. The traditions develop around memories of the ways love was demonstrated. In general we repeat the things that brought present memories to us, so that those we love can have a similar experience to our own. We care and give because we love. Sure, not all that has occurred on this Holiday is pleasant, pleasurable, or joyful. Sometimes there are hard and difficult times. Traditions end. Times change. Death and suffering take their toll. Yet, there are the memories formed and memories created. Even the hard times have moments of significant meaning for each individual. For God is always at work demonstrating His love, showing that He is now accessible and with us, because of the gift He gave of Himself that this Holiday commemorates and gives honor. And how we have been impacted by God and others has lasting impact. Otherwise none of us would have traditions. What we do we do because of what we have received for we act based on what we have received, hoping others receive similar.

Now while we have these traditions that touch us, ultimately each of us has our own personal memories. For ultimately any looking at the past is very personal. We are able to look at the joys and pains; the elation and grief. For in this world there is always good mixed with bad. Even the celebration of Christmas demonstrates that fact for we live with Christ-center thoughts and traditions and the other stuff. Good and bad. Those we love express the love, but they fall short. They may give what they can with good intention or be focused on self; or more often a combination of both. Now here is something that is special. This Holiday focuses on God loving and giving a gift unlike any other. God gave the only good and perfect gift: a gift of both Joy and Sorrow for God came to be with us, be among us to suffer greatly so that we may be reconciled to Him and enter relationship with our Creator. Now just as God’s perfect gift bring mixed emotions. So do our experiences and memories. We are touched in many ways with good and bad; love and pain. Each of our lives and stories are different. Each person has a unique Christmas past; ways that you have been impacted by others. Ways gifts have built you up. Ways actions have results in fears, defenses, and barriers. We all have them.

Initially when started writing this story the though was to perhaps share a memory of joy, disappointment, and even sorrow. Ask me in person and will gladly share stories. This article though is really to encourage personal reflection. Embrace the pleasant and painful memories. Embrace both the Joy and Sorrow and let each impact how you interact with others in this time and season. Identify, recognize, and remember what has gone on and see where God is working. Then give God glory and honor in your actions. Take time this season to grow in relationship to God and others as you remember your Christmas Past for whatever it is, look and you will find God’s love reflected, in both the best and the worst. And as you enter those memories and your Christmas past let “Hosanna’s” spring forth and the refrain of the Angels take root “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will to men.”

Biblical Holy Day Musing: Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)- Sorrow turns to Joy.

Tonight is the start of one of the final fall festival in the Jewish calendar. Sadly, as with most of the Biblical festivals we know very little about this day and the experience of the Holiday, yet it is one that will be part of the experience to come (See Zechariah 14:6). This festival is not just a day but an 8 day party. This festival does not involve fasting or sacrifices. This involves celebration. It is not a somber time, it is a time to celebrate. Now, admittedly this writer does not have much understanding of the rituals, traditions, or symbolism of the days of this festival but in reading about the Holiday the concept of embracing Joy and Happiness in this time is central.

There is a distinct flow to the fall festivals. It starts with the alarm, the call, the trumpet, the awakening of Rosh Hashanah and the ushering in of the new. It is followed by ten days focus on change and repentance. Then comes Yom Kippor, the day of Atonement, or At-one-ment; it is the day of cleansing, of sacrifice and ultimately of judgment. It is a solemn day. Then five days later it is party time. Note that during the days preceding Sukkot there is much focus on change, self, and being right with God. In that there is much sorrow. When truly engaging in recognizing areas of change and then stepping into them, it is not easy. Leaving old ways for the unknown new is tough. There is grief involved in leaving the old behind, in turning to follow what God leads without knowing how it will play out. Yet, starting tonight and for the next eight days, God designated a party. So what is that about?

Well, one thing I have learned about the day in learning about the events of this upcoming week is the booths/tabernacles/shelters/tents. Hand-crafted shelters are made and lived in or at least meals taken in the temporary shelters. The imagery really points to the temporariness of the things of this life and even that, which is of our own hands. We live in dwell in the temporary but there is something greater: God and His love. Everything that God offers pales to what we depend on. It is in recognizing the fragility of self and own works and the greatness and fullness of what God gives. It is taking focus off of own life, pain, and sorrow and embracing joy, letting the feeling swell because of the goodness of God who has given all beyond measure. Such consideration turns sorrow into Joy. The changes lead to what God will do when the focus leaves self and turns to God. In such action does sorrow turn to Joy, in this does mourning become dancing, as recognition is given that God brings that which is beyond measure and lasts.

The whole focus is that beyond our circumstance to what God provides. He provides refuge and strength. We change not of own accord but obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit through obedience in faith. The little bit of reading about this celebration points to demonstrating the whole submission of self to God in faith. It points to complete surrender of self in every aspect and direction of life. In such surrender is sorrow turned to Joy. For the focus is on God and His Glory. It is a focus on the great things He has done. It is a time to PARTY.

So here is a challenge. Each day for the next 8 days take time to focus on what God is done. Celebrate. When you feel sadness, pain, or anxiety, take time to praise God. Something stressful happens praise God. Make concerted effort to bring your mind, heart, soul, and strength to focus on what God has done and celebrate. This is a time for Joy, let Joy envelope you to the core. May the Holy Spirit feel you with Joy beyond measure as you set aside all that burdens and turn all to God; for His ways are not our ways, and He always delivers what He promises. Beyond measure! So rejoice. Party! For God is Good and His Love Endures Forever!

Video Selection: Jesus You are Holy performed by Charolette K.

In response to my last article my sister-in-law Mary Blake referenced a song, Jesus You Are Holy. It is a worship song written and performed by Katie Miner on her Live From Sunset Strip album published November 16, 1999.  My understanding is Charolette K. made some alterations from the original arrangement, yet this is the only version I have ever heard.

Here are the lyrics to the song. Hope it blesses you.

(Chorus)

Jesus You are Holy

Jesus You are holy

You are glorious

You are worthy of all praise…

All praise

Jesus You are holy

You are glorious

You are worthy of all praise…

All praise, all of my praise… all of my praise

1)You have seen me in the darkness

You have covered me with light

Rescued me from sin and fire

Behold! Your glory now in sight.

Yes, the glory of the cross

2. You have taken my disease and

You have healed me with your blood

Joy and sorrow deeply mingled

Behold! Your glory now in sight.

Yes, the glory of the cross

Final Musigs on #AACC National Conference: Stepping back to home and embracing God’s path

Well the time has nearly come to leave this area of mountains and water.  It is soon time to get to where the engagement and moving ahead begins. A time of refreshing, building up, and drawing deeper has come to a completion.  At times like this it is easy to put oneself at the time of the transfiguration. An experience of God moving occurred.  It is easy to want to stay in it, have it continue but there is a mission ahead.  Jesus knew what was ahead, the disciples did not.  As for me and what is ahead, steps to take are clear but what is to unfold is not.  It would be much easier to stay in the heights and draw deep, but the time serves the purpose to prepare for what lies ahead. As for me steps that lie ahead include actively working on the next steps of building a  practice. There are seeds to be sewn. There is also the prospect of putting together a book based on the concepts of this article: https://peacebringer7.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/seven-spiritual-principles-for-transcending-suffering/. Also there is the building up of wife and family and engaging in what God sets before me at the church he has me placed.  So time to return. One of the experiences of this time was the ever present awareness of deep pain. Lives in pain are touched by many, and many are in pain.  Now to go back, face those in pain at home, while sorting out what is ongoing in my life.  So, now it is time to take the steps toward home. God before me. A path of mystery, pain, and joy ahead.  Praise God for what he has done, what he is doing, and for what is to come.  Hosanna, for I follow the King of Kings.

On Responses to Jesus Resurrection

Thoughts over the past week have centered on the varied reactions to the Resurrection of Jesus.  There were distinct reactions from those who followed Jesus and there was a distinct reaction of those who rejected to the point of overseeing his crucifixion. Now for his followers there are the women, the eleven disciples, and others.  Regardless, the reactions generally were the same with variation based on individuals.  Each account involves some initial shock and disbelief. The women asked the angel where he took the body.  The disciples did not quickly believe the reports of the women. Peter and John who met the women on the road went to check it out for themselves.  Of course we all know Thomas’s famous doubt even when face to face with our risen Lord. But the fact is the resurrection was so wondrous, so contrary to the grief that the first response was that of shock, doubt, and denial. 

After the initial shock and wonder, soon came wonder, joy, and astonishment as well as confusion.  All they knew is Jesus who was dead was alive. He ate with them. He talked with them. They were able to touch wounds even so far as to place hands in his side.  They all went through a major mood swing; loss of hope, depression, uncertainly followed by pure joy, excitement, and wonder.  Jesus who was just killed was alive. Jesus was alive, fully alive.  His body did not show signs of the tremendous abuse he went through other than the wonders.  When you understand just how incredible the resurrection was, the doubt of Thomas is a bit clearer.  How could it really be Jesus, fully alive, fully functional after all he went through, yet this was the true fact.  Jesus was alive.  It is really hard to fully grasp the depth of response.  Think of your worst possible moment, the darkest time in your life.  Now imagine after that darkest moment you find out that it is reversed in an incredible way beyond expectation or understanding.  Such a reaction is but a taste of what Jesus followers experienced.

Now there are others who had a completely different response. Essentially they are those who conspired to see Jesus crucified.  They didn’t struggle with the feelings of the disciples, rather they went to self-protection and keeping their image their reality in place.  They protected their power and position.  They had to have a plausible story, for it would be hard to deny the resurrection testimonies without a plausible story. So what did they do?  They conspired further. They bribed the guards to put their lives at risk and say the body was stolen.  It is a lie still believed by many today.  The lie and the conspiracy was all about keeping power, for what they feared is if Jesus was truly from God and the story was true, they lose all power.  Everything they worked for and made decisions over was but nothing.  They wanted their power.  So they continued to protect themselves and paid for lies to be spread.  Over time the lies would grow as the supernatural events of the day pass from memory. The dead leaving graves became just a story quickly brushed off. 

So thinking this over, the question really is how does Jesus resurrection impact you?  Are there things you seek to maintain control and cannot surrender.  Do you believe God is capable of redeeming any who would come?  Because it is the power of the resurrection that bears witness to redemption, the empty tomb speaks.  Will you listen to the truth and let it touch your life and change you from the darkness surrounding to glorious and joyful unimagined change?  This is the resurrection.  This is God’s love.  This is what is true peace on earth, Jesus died and rose again so that all may live. Jesus is the only way, there is no other path.  There is nothing anywhere that truly has the demonstrated power of resurrection.

Passion Week Musings: The Darkest Sabbath

Today in my mind and heart is best referred to as the dark Sabbath.  During this Passion Week, it is the day Jesus was in the grave.  He breathed Has last breath, declared it is finished, and was taken to the grave. Since he was in the grave on the Sabbath his body was not even properly addressed, that was too be finished on Sunday. The day of Jesus laying in the grave is a dark day with the emotions of those who followed and placed their faith in Jesus as Messiah in a dark, dark storm.

During the arrest and crucifixion the disciples responded their ways in similar vein, they just did it differently.  Some just ran. One ran so hard and so fast in fear that he left his clothing behind.  Some followed and watched it all, shocked. Some followed but defended self to the point of denial.   Fear, shock, and self-protecting denial occurred on the day of crucifixion.  Then Jesus died.

Imagine if you will your own storm of emotions that would occur as the one you left all to follow. The one you placed all hope and faith died the most horrendous death possible. He did not fight back. He did not defend himself to lies.  He just died.  Before he died he said confusing things like “My God, My God, why has though forsaken me.” and “It is finished.”  He even took time to assure His mother was cared for and attended to.  It would be absolutely devastating.  Then you take this man, this one you loved and put all trust, and see his dead, bloody, lifeless body placed in the grave. All your hopes, dreams, and faith seemed for naught, empty, and shattered.

We at some point each have tasted some measure of grief, but no grief ever experienced matches the grief of the disciples on that day.  They had to feel immense shock. They had thoughts such as:  How could this have happened?  Why didn’t he save or defend himself?  What does this mean? How could this happen if he is the Messiah?  Those questions and emotions would likely quickly turn to anger, even anger at the father.  Thoughts such as: God how could you let this happen? How could you give us the Messiah only to have him die?  How dare Jesus not defend himself, didn’t he know we all depended on him, gave up everything for him?  The emotions would quickly move toward despondency. There would be thoughts like: Now what? There is no place left to turn?  There is no hope for anyone? This doomed us all?  God cannot be real, so what is the point?  There also had to be lots of confusion and aimlessness. Thoughts would arise such as: What now?  What do I do tomorrow?  Where do I go from hear? Do I return to my old life?  I cannot go back, where do I go?    There are probably many more thoughts and emotions experienced on the darkest of Sabbaths.  For there is no other day in time where there seemed to be less reason for hope, more confusion about what lies ahead, more reason to question God.  The darkest Sabbath had it all.  For the disciples were shocked, grieved, and wounded. 

Now there are times even know in this life that what God is doing is hard to understand. We have expectations that are shattered. We have expectations of ways God will act, but what God does makes no sense.  We are often left wondering, grieved, confused, and questioning.  But know this; God’s plan is always for His glory. His plan is far better than our expectations, hopes and dreams.  We are not going to always understand or have answers.  Yet, we can always trust God to be faithful.  The darkest Sabbath was but a short moment in time.  Darkness grew and celebrated but that dark day did not last because God’s plan and power is soon to be revealed. The tomb is soon to be found empty.  God’s love and power is made manifest for all.  And the darkest levels of human emotions for those that spent every day following and walking in surrender to Jesus would turn to greatest Joy as the clarity and understanding of confusing words spoken occurs as the tomb will be empty.  If you are currently in a dark day or dark Sabbath, know full well, that when tomorrow does come, it comes with full hope and joy and the period of darkness was but a moment.  For while the day is dark, know that Sunday is coming!

The Saints Win

The Saints win.  Yes, that is the result of last nights Superbowl game.  Yet the words mean more to a Christian. Before going on further in my thoughts, I do not believe the game was won on the basis of name or anything symbolic that can drawn from the results of the game. Fact is, it is just a game. 

Now that being said, it is important for Christians to remember the end results are that “The Saints win.” The victory is already declared.  God has conquered sin and death and brought victory.  The forces of darkness, the tyranny of suffering, the selfishness of humanity are all defeated, the end of the story has been written. We just are playing out how we get to the final chapter. 

Now for someone who has accepted the Gospel and believes God has won it is at times hard to keep that focus.  The forces of darkness and tyranny of suffering seems unending.  It is easy to focus on the evil and pain, but we can have a different focus. Not on the pains, hurts, and struggles of this life, but recognition that God is in Heaven on the throne and He saw to make a way that selfishness can be overcome and everything made right. So, set you sight on Jesus, His victory, and walk in surrender.  In so doing you will sense the Joy and Peace of knowing victory is assured. The Saints win.