Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas With A Twist

The Christmas season is now in full swing and God has been at work preparing hearts, specifically my heart for one, to take a deeper look into an appropriate response to the “Good News”. We have a Savior and we also have responsibilities in maintaining our personal relationship to Him.

God expects us not only to hear the “Glad tidings of great JOY”, He expects us to respond to that news with actions that demonstrate the transformation that news has brought about in us. If I have any hope of presenting this message in any sort of meaningful way, I suppose I should start at the beginning. What follows is a personal reflection, yet I openly invite you to take the journey with me and along the way spend some time in your own self-examination.

James 1:23-27 “23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (NASB)

I’m convinced that transparency is the key to effective ministry so I am telling this just as it happened in my life, but I will keep it family friendly and “G” rated. A few weeks before Thanksgiving after a Friday night Bible study at my mother’s house I was in the living room talking to my mom about some of the family dynamic and or dysfunction that is taking place right now. Michele was in another room playing with the newest addition to the family, a very beautiful and happy baby boy. She was having a conversation with a niece. 

Okay, you can probably imagine bits and pieces of the judgmental conversation I was having with my mother. We all have families right? So I won’t bore you with the details but I will tell you the emphasis in the word judgmental would have been clearly on the mental that evening. I know this because on the way home Michele shared this comment from my niece, “Well, there is no doubt that he’s part of this family – He’s just like all the rest!” By that I’m sure she meant loud, opinionated and undaunted by the devastation in the force of my words.

Matthew 5:33-45 “33 Again, you have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not swear falsely, but you shall perform your oaths to the Lord [as a religious duty]. 34 But I tell you, Do not bind yourselves by an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 Or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. 37 Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one. 38 You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the evil man [who injures you]; but if anyone strikes you on the right jaw or cheek, turn to him the other one too. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your undershirt (tunic), let him have your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two [miles]. 42 Give to him who keeps on begging from you, and do not turn away from him who would borrow [at interest] from you. 43 You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; 44 But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 To show that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].” (AMP)

Today, I pulled back the curtain and talked about some of my shortcomings, but are we (you and I) that different? Hollywood makes millions depicting family strife during the Christmas season. They could not do that if we didn’t think it was funny and rush out to see someone else’s struggle. Usually the thing we laugh the hardest at hits the closest to home in our lives.

Proverbs 18:7 “A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” (KJV)

Manufactures spend hundreds of thousands to convince us we cannot be happy without their product. They do it in the hope of making billions from the holiday set aside to celebrate the birth of our Savior and God’s FREE gift of peace and good will. In my journey of personal reflection thus far through the Christmas season, I’ve found that I have left myself too unprotected by the grace and love of Christ. What have you found in your self-examination, as you journeyed with me?

Someone years ago said, “JOY=Jesus Others then You”. This Christmas may we all rediscover the joy in putting others before ourselves because we are following the example Jesus set for us. May we stop being driven by foolish pride and exercise His wisdom.

Proverbs 14:3 “A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.” (NIV)

There is wisdom in not opening your mouth. The older I get I look back at youth and remember the “Magic” of the Christmas season. I also remember my uncles telling me, “Boy, don’t let your mouth write a check your body can’t cash.” That statement may have lost some of its effectiveness with the introduction of direct deposit and debit cards, but it means our mouths can get us into big trouble if we don’t learn when to keep them shut.

Ecclesiastes 5:7-8 “For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God. If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.” (KJV)

Right about now, you should be asking, “What’s the ‘take away’ from this message?” Since I began with the observation that the Christmas season is in full swing, I’m going to work really hard at wrapping it all up in a nice package today.

So here’s what is in the box. It’s not enough to simply hear the “Good News”. We have to do something with it. God’s law of liberty compels us to reach out to those in need. We cannot share effectively the life giving “Glad Tidings of Great Joy” without controlling our tongues. We must keep our answers simple and do more than is asked. If we are children of God we cannot merely serve those we think deserve our service. Sometimes keeping our mouths shut is the best protection, but even in the face of oppression and injustice God is watching how we treat each other. Don’t just dream and talk about what we should do. Give God reverence and take action.

And here’s the bow that holds it all together, it’s not our vanity that matters – It’s God’s glory.

Please share the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness this Christmas and don’t neglect the poor. Remember the way you measure blessings to others is the way they return to you. We can all afford to share the love.

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