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!

Post-Christmas Musing: The Essentials of The Way-Faith, Hope & Love

My mind has been going back and forth over what to write in relation to the Christmas Holiday this year.  The celebration has come and gone.  Now I recognize that the Christmas season is definitely a mix. By tradition and works of Church we celebrate the Incarnation alongside the celebrations of the world.  Boundaries get blurred, things get mixed, and perspective can shift from God’s Holy work to that which is of self and our own desires.  In fact at times, the season can be about getting what we want. The reality is that the focus should be to grow more and more in alignment with walking in what God wants, living in surrender.

As previously stated, this Christmas season has been a strange one for me and my family. There is an ongoing mix of grief and hope.  My sister-in-law suffered the loss of her mother in the past year.  My step-mother is quickly slipping away while hope remains that God will bring restoration of her health.   My mother continues to cope with her loss of vision, which continues to fade. My wife hopes to receive word on Monday of being promoted to a Service Manager position at her employer but prepared for the potential disappointment. And for me, there is my ongoing care and love for all of the above as well as thoughts, plans, dreams to transition to a functioning private practice.  In all these circumstances God is bringing the three essential elements of the Way to mind: Faith, Hope, and Love. 

It is worth noting that these essential elements are NOT about having desires met. Rather, it is about growing in each aspect through God-centered surrender.  It is always all about God, yet we can easily make it all about self. In each of the essential elements there is a risk, much like this season, can be a mix. There can be self-focused or Christ-focused faith, hope, and love. The key difference is where is the attention drawn, the actions or acts or benefit to self or the ongoing pointing to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now that being said, let us examine each element of The Way a little closer. 

Faith: It is a word quickly spoken and easy misused.  There are many who make proclamations that faith is some self-actuated behavior that if the right words or thoughts are engage in, then what want will happen.  However, such thoughts are more about self-assurance and gratification then about growing in dependence on God.  Rather, Godly faith is faith that remains when all seems darkest. Godly faith is such that  “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him:” Job 13:15a (KJV).  Faith is keeping focus on God and His ways knowing that “He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23b (ESV). Faith is always keeping focus on what God has laid forth at all costs and without any visible evidence. Recently on December 21st there was a solar eclipse on the longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere.) Now we know that the darkness will fade and morning comes but if we did not know that fact when the darkness comes and light is blocked, there would be much fear.  The struggle here is always to be focused on what God says even when things look worst, or things are very difficult.  Walking in faith is having full assurance in God, that no matter what the appearance, He will remain faithful.  And His faithfulness are not about the appearance in certain results or turning things to our desires in our time or fashion. Rather, it is always about His way, His time, and His actions that bring glory to Him. 

Hope: We all have hopes and dreams. We have desires. However, these hopes, dreams and desires can be for much apart from God and His will.  The true hope is when our hope is focused on the things of God.  Such hope is not easily swayed by the vagaries of life. Rather, such hope rests on the knowledge and surety of who God is.  Yet, we are always torn between having the hope  “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” and hope that all will fall in line with our desires while at the same time knowing we don’t always get what we want. Yet, when there is true hope, hope that is founded on Jesus blood and righteousness, hope that is based on the surety of God and his promises and plans, the hope always is right.  For God and his hope and faithfulness are not based on what is visible, what is seen as many have gone to their graves without seeing the fullness of God’s promise yet received and walked in it daily.  There is a great could of witnesses. So our hope, when in God never disappointments even if things to not appear to match how we think it will work out. As God does things His way which more often than not does not match what is expected, for what He does is far greater than any of our expectations for His ways are perfect.  So, the key is to have more and more our desires and our hopes to match what God is doing which is always about untangling the twists that come from a sinful world and being shaped and restored back to what God intends.  Ultimately, the true hope is to be fully restored and in line with God.  And, true hope is resting in knowing that God meet our desires and needs in his way. He knows us intimately so our hope can be sure that God will give from His abundance, in accordance with His will, as we walk His path.  And His ultimate gift, the ultimate hope, the ultimate gift is that which endures: His love.  In His love is all, and in His love is life everlasting. So whatever we hope for, whatever we want, whatever we desire the point of it all in God’s time and frame is drawing us closer to Him. For with God, all things are possible and He moves us ever toward that which is beneficial and draws us in alignment with Him.  And it is resting in the hope based on Him that can carry us through the dark times, knowing that God keeps His promises in His way and that His ways are not our ways.  True hope is hope in who God is and that regardless of circumstances for good or bad, God has the best in mind.

Love: Ultimately, we all long for pure love. We want to be valued, be safe, and secure. We want to know we matter.  Yet, in this life we can often focus on our lack of being loved. Fact is none of us live up to God’s standard of loving, and we all want to be loved as God loves us.  We all have hurts and pains that get us twisted up and in turn we act in ways that hurt others, in turn twisting them up. We lack being loved wholly, leaving us not only broken but resistant even to true love, for the pain results in fear.  So we grasp on to what we know. God’s love is beyond that which he grasp. God’s love is greater than the “something other than” love to which we cling.   God’s love always brings us to restoration and wholeness.  God’s love never changes.  God’s love endures forever. Yet, we often fail to grasp God’s love, twisted by the varied bits of harm that comes, concluding that love falters, but not grasping true love.  We exchange our limited love for limited love; self for self.  Yet, the love of God is shown in love for others.  The love of God is shown in giving up that which is adored and valued for the benefit of others.  True love comes with great cost.   True love is found in surrender to the point of surrendering our very lives.  Living in love is working to the good of others and pointing them to the truth, so the sins of self and others caused wounds and twists and distortions, can be made right.    Now it is important to note, that while our love is faulty and frail, every action we take that reflects God’s love results in lasting reverberations that have long lasting impact. However, that impact has it limits as our love in not ever enduring, but it lasts far beyond our scope or vision.  He action of moving beyond self, of considering others better than self points to the one True way which is Jesus.  He that set aside his divinity, became a servant and suffered in every way yet remained untwisted and whole, and set aside His life so that all who come may live.  Oh, what marvelous love that is beyond our perception in every way for we only really know limited, self-focused love that falters.  We can taste God’s love, know that it is good but our experienced is distorted and partial for God’s love is far greater than comprehension. 

Now taking these thoughts back to reality, back to life on this earth as currently know it.  Again pointing to surrender as watch those I love hope, struggle, heal, slip away, suffer, grow, and live whatever God has come their way.  There is one sure foundation in all, that no matter what happens and however what happens is perceived, that God is working to draw me into ever deeper understanding of Him and growing my ability to walk in true faith, hope, and love. And this is the essence of “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13 (ESV) which is that God the enables what we are unable, so in all these circumstance the possibilities and direction belong to God and God alone.  Whether blessing or sorrow; mourning or dancing, it is all in His hands and for His will for no matter what, He is faithful and His love endures forever, blessed be His name. All Glory to the King of Kings! Hallelujah! Amen

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.

Musings on Repentance 1: Glen Beck’s Call for Awakening versus Biblical Repentance

Glen Beck has made the news because of a speech he gave on the Washington Mall on 8/28/2010 which was an Anniversary date of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream speech.  The speech was part of a rally hosted by Glen Beck that when by the title of Restoring Honor.  The speech made the news because Glen called for the nation to return to God.  The speech garnered varied reactions ranging from unqualified support, skepticism, or criticism. Many Christians were alarmed that such a call came from a person known to be a member of a Latter Day Saints (Mormon) congregation.  Some have spoken with Glen Beck and have come away convinced he understands and embraces the idea of atonement.  Well, given all the reactions this writer decided to listen to the speech and having done so have found it to be quite disturbing.  Yes, Glen Beck calls for an Awakening and a turning to God by acts of faith, hope, and Charity. He spent time pointing at the need for firm reliance on divine providence as written in founding father documents. However, his call for Awakening does not match the Biblical view of awakening or repentance. Let’s examine a bit closer what he stands for as indicated in his speech. You may want to take the time to view the speech for your self before you read the further commentary in this article. The speech can be found at: http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/45013/.

In listening the speech there were four concepts espoused by Glen Beck that do not correspond to Biblical principles or Biblical repentance.  Glen Beck did use some words that have an element of truth, but the truth he spoke simply served as a means of accepting the other content of his message as true.  There are four key message elements of his speech that are in direct contrast to Biblical repentance and awakening. 

The first element that is in contrast to Biblical repentance is that Glen Beck emphasized the importance of self-determination. He opened the speech with a comment “One man can change the world.” “It is you.”  He made frequent references to Moses and his staff.  He encouraged people over and over to “pick up the stick.” Meaning get involved in the efforts to alter the course of the nation. He used the metaphor even of Egypt and slavery to make his point. However, the slavery he refers to is not being involved in political action and having restrains to self-determination.  True, he does reference seeking God and acting in faith, hope, and charity. Yet, it is all for the building up of self.  He even alluded to his being a broken man and having made changes. Yet, he points to political actions to “set people free.” 

The second element that is in contrast to Biblical repentance is that while he hearkens to engaging in prayer and engaging in firm reliance on divine providence, he emphasizes the importance of “America.”  He clearly espouses the concept of America as a “special nation.”  He referred to the documents from the founding fathers of the country as being “American Scripture.”  He indicated that if “America” does not change the course it is on, then there will be no one to step in when the “world” is in trouble. In essence, he elevates “America” to a savior of the world status.  This is elevating the country of the United States to an unhealthy level and looking for human element to saving the world.  The perspective of the Christian faith is that nothing will be made right until Jesus returns and everything will continue to get worse.

Another disturbing element of Glen Beck’s speech was the frequent references to “looking within.” He made comments such as we need to “strengthen our spirits” and we need to explore “inner space.”  The need for such “inner exploration” is not part and parcel to the Christian concept of awakening and repentance but rather calls to finding what you are sure of and finding some form of spiritual guidance for inner strengthening.  And while it was not directly said, it suggests pointing to some inner element of “the divine.” For Glen Beck made constant references of to humility. He even declared God as King, yet he frequently focused on self effort.  Even his push for “faith, hope, and charity” really seem inclined to being found in looking within in and choices made.  Yes,  Glen Beck did proclaim that we need to look to God and look to love, yet the direction he pointed folks to look was within.

The last disturbing element of Glen Beck’s speech  is that  what he pointed to is everyone needs to know what they believe. He indicated that belief is important, he stated truth was important but only as elements of self.  In terms of truth, a person needs to be truthful and have no lies in your life.  He proclaimed  “truth shall set you free” but the determiner of truth is self and what you believe. He emphasized that what was important were the “universal principles” of the varied faiths, not absolute truth.  His embracing nebulous universal truths was highlighted even by his action as he called for a “Black Robe Brigade” of people of varied “faiths” that were standing for advocating political answers with a human moral base centered on universal principles.  This is not by any shape turning to submission to a Holy God and Jesus who is “THE WAY,” rather it is being actively involved and engaged in solutions of this world to change moral behavior and political focus. It is quite different that biblical awakening and repentance.

At the core, Biblical repentance is not turning to self or elevating self with the aim of some political world changing purpose. Biblical repentance is turning away from self-effort and following God’s ways. Yes, that involves loving God and others. Yes, it involves turning to Jesus as King.  But it is something that is not about elevation of self or society but simply doing what is right before God and turning away from that which is self.  The Bible is filled with evidence of what repentance looks like.  The story of the Prodigal son is one example.  It is a coming to an end of self and turning to God.  True repentance will result in a turning to Jesus.  The attitude seen in Biblical repentance is shown in James 4:6-9 (ESV) “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”   There really is stark contrast.  Look at Zacchaeus for a Biblical example of repentance. He was crooked, greedy man. He met Jesus and he changed his life to the point of even returning more than he stole.  He was called and he followed. Biblical repentance involves two actions, a turning from self and turning to God.  It is leaving the old way for a new.

Glen Beck offers ways to arrange the world and life to best accommodate desires. It is holding on own life in a way, it is far different from the self-surrender of scripture.  There is a verse passage in Ephesians that really sums up the difference between what Glen Beck is promoting and the Biblical view.

Ephesians 5:6-17 (ESV) Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  

 This passage  exposes those  appear  to proclaim a turning to God yet really are elevating self.  The passage also commands to have nothing to do with those who are deceptive.   For there is always really two ways, the way of God and the way of the world.  There is Godly sorrow and repentance that leads to salvation as those who lose their life will gain it. Then there is the way of the world, the works of flesh, the elevation of self that has no life and leads to death and destruction.  One is real, one is but illusion.  Glen Beck’s call is to that of illusion leading to death. There is no life there.

A time of passing

Well, I just got word from my mother-in-law that my wife’s grandmother died this morning.  She was 99 years old. When we last had the chance to visit last fall it was hit or miss as to what she could remember and she was very weak.  She was a woman of faith and led a long life.  She has left this world and will soon be seeing Jesus.  Yet, when such times of passing come it is hard on those who have been touched and love those that leave.  Sadly, we will not be in position to go to Brazil for any memorial service at this time and the time of grief and sadness for my wife will be great.  So please keep us in thoughts and prayers and if know my wife drop her a note of encouragement in her time of grief.