Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Conclusion

The phrase that is guaranteed to wake up an audience: “And in conclusion...”

It's New Year’s Eve. Today’s news will carry summaries of the big stories of this year, and tomorrow’s will be about the first children born in the new year. You may rush to donate to your church or charity before the year’s tax-deduction books close. Perhaps you’ll finish off the Christmas sweets today, knowing that the diet resumes tomorrow.

I asked Facebook friends what their biggest stories of the year were. Some answered natural disasters, some getting fired or laid off from a job, some said the terrible economy or which party won the elections, and one said that her husband's life is now measured in days. I think one of the best things in a difficult year was meeting new people, including relatives, and laughing with--or at--friends in Facebook. I like the "If you can't beat it, laugh at it" attitude, which gives energy to push through and prevail after all.

The New Year holiday is significant. It’s the day when people remember one year and look forward to a clean start in the next. The Roman god Janus, after whom January was named, was the god of gates and doorways, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions. It's interesting that the apostle James spoke of the double-minded man as being unstable (James 1:8). There's really only one way to face what's handed to us in this world: forward, head-on. No turning back.

Jesus, who is our true Door and Gate, said, "I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved. Through me they will come and go and find pasture." John 10:9 CEV 

Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV says: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

That's not to say that we should forget our experiences or the ways in which we grew. No, that’s why God gave us reason and wisdom, the application of knowledge. He wants us to forget and forgive ungodly actions and imperfect human ways, and look forward with joyful anticipation to the work He wants to do in us, and through us to humanity. Don’t dwell in past glories or miseries—walk by faith into the future.

The future springs up: could it be a spring of fresh water bubbling up through gravel, or the tension in a metal spiral spring? Either way, there’s irrepressible energy coming to you from God.

What new thing will God do in you in the coming year? What gift has He given you that He’s eagerly waiting to unwrap and set before you? Don’t wait for tomorrow—accept it today!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Hanging of the Greens

With this headline, The Hanging of the Greens, one might expect to find a political-commentary article about how conservatives who deny the global warming phenomena have lynched some environmentalists. Happily, this is a whole different theme! (Read on, below the video.)

The rich woods of Lebanon will be delivered-all that cypress and oak and pine—To give a splendid elegance to my Sanctuary, as I make my footstool glorious. Isaiah 60:13 MSG
In some denominations, people have taken care not to celebrate Christmas traditions from pagan origins, including decorated trees or garlands in the sanctuary. In other churches, Christmas trees carry pledges or gifts to needy families or a community project.
I’ve been employed as a keyboardist and choir director for several denominations, and they have a wonderful tradition that my church hasn’t celebrated: the hanging of the greens. On the first Sunday of Advent, during the worship service, they bring fresh fir and pine boughs, handmade Christmas ornaments (some antique), and carry in a fragrant tree for the chancel. The sanctuary decoration is not left to a committee or a person with a design degree. As they move through the liturgy of praise to God, the choir members, children, couples, singles, and the elderly, all participate in beautifying God’s house and decorating the tree. Carols are sung, candles are lit, scriptures are read, children imperfectly clang the hand bells, and Communion is joyfully shared and celebrated. Offerings of green garlands and ornaments, as well as tithes and gifts of money, are presented to the Lord. In other words, the people fellowship and worship together, their eyes on God.
I hope that you will be blessed by the verses my Christian friends quote and sing in their Hanging of the Greens ceremony:
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints. Psalm 52:8-9 KJV
I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me. Hosea 14:8 NIV
A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch. Isaiah 11:1 MSG

All your people will live right and well, in permanent possession of the land. They’re the green shoot that I planted, planted with my own hands to display my glory.
Isaiah 60:21 MSG

Friday, December 3, 2010

An old-fashioned Christmas

Throughout December, my parents loved to do traditional activities to prepare for Christmas: bake and decorate shaped cookies (to give to the neighbors), hold a Christmas-theme recital for Mom’s piano students, and decorate the house differently each year. We always cooked the entire Christmas feast from scratch. One year, we thought we’d do the “Little House on the Prairie” sort of d├ęcor. We strung popcorn to lay garlands on the Christmas tree, and baked gingerbread men and other frosted cookies, pierced their heads, and threaded yarn through them to make dangling ornaments. (Tragically, many cookies broke when pierced, and we were forced to eat our mistakes.) We finally had enough cookies and popcorn to decorate our tree, and we went to bed.

The next morning, I went to the living room to admire our — hey! What happened to all the cookies and popcorn? Gypsy, the 25-pound miniature poodle, lay behind the tree, looking guilty as sin, with probably two pounds of Christmas treats in her tummy. She’d stood on her hind legs and walked around the tree, eating everything up to 36 inches from the floor. The glass and paper ornaments remained pristine.

Gypsy didn’t know the Genesis story about not eating from the tree in the center of the garden, or the one about David eating the sacred bread in the tabernacle. She was smart, but she was just a dog with a sweet tooth. Stolen bread tastes sweet, but soon your mouth is full of gravel. Proverbs 20:16 MSG. Gypsy wasn’t completely at fault. Valuables are safe in a wise person’s home; fools put it all out for yard sales. Proverbs 21:20 MSG. We should have known that edible decorations would be too tempting for a dog!

Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes. Mark 4:24-25 MSG. Pet lovers understand that whatever we give our animals in treats, toys, vet bills, and other expenses, we receive back in rich measure.

This is a worrisome time in the global economy. We’re trying to plan our personal, church, and corporate budgets for the next year, wondering whether we should freeze at current levels, invest now while prices are low, cut back on essentials, or conserve every penny against the time when pennies are again worth stooping to pick up. Pay off those bills to avoid interest, or take advantage of tax deductions and depreciation? Should we look for extra income from freelance or part-time jobs?

It’s gift-giving time in almost every culture, whatever the religious (or non-religious) beliefs. Should we limit our spending? Stimulate the economy with the purchase of a giant electronic marvel or gas-guzzling vehicle for the family? Think about handicrafts or homemade goods for gift-giving? Is there anything left of you to volunteer at a soup kitchen, tie quilts at the Dorcas meeting, deliver meals to the homebound, or rock preemies at the neonatal ward?

Perhaps instead of giving Dad another thing for his shelf (and eventually the garage rafters), we should consider giving a gift in his name. You know the kind: groceries or a check to help the local food bank, or one of many animal rescue organizations. And for your brother’s teenagers, a gift to a a child sponsorship group like Compassion or World Vision, or a Haitian relief organization, or to a charity like

Doing good deeds motivated by love, and leaving the materialism and rush behind, will give us that feeling of an old-fashioned Christmas. Christmas is about the heart, not about stuff. It’s being like God: compassionate, merciful, loving and forgiving – not doing the expected thing for advertisers and corporations.

That applies to all of us. Let’s invest our tender care, our gentle touch, our careful respect, in people. It’s the best gift we can give. Material goods pale in comparison to pleasant relationships. We’ll all be blessed beyond measure.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6 NIV. That is exactly what Jesus did when He came to dwell with us. Surprisingly, He expressed His faith in us: His faith that we would listen to His voice and learn to be like the One Who expresses Himself through love.

If we love Him, we will keep His commands, which are to love the Lord with all we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That kind of love would blow modern Christmases out of the water! It would be a bright, guiding star in the darkness, leading seekers to the Light.

It starts with YOU.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eternal life and Hanukkah

© 2004 Christy K Robinson

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. John 10:22-23 NASB

There is a festival of lights that pierces the long nights of winter, and it’s been celebrated for more than 2,000 years. The festival recalls the 168-165 BC Maccabees’ revolt against the assimilation of Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Syrian Greeks who had desecrated the Jerusalem Temple. When the Maccabean Jews reclaimed the Temple, there was only one day’s measure of consecrated oil to burn in the large menorah. Because of their prayer and sincere intention to cleanse God’s sanctuary, He kept the lamp burning for eight days, until more olive oil could be obtained and ritually purified.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication.” Jews and Christians believe that this dedication and purification of the Temple was a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of the desecration and cleansing of the sanctuary. Today’s Hanukkah customs include gift-giving and family celebrations. Many holiday foods are fried to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

Jesus celebrated Hanukkah! John 10:22-23 NASB says that Jesus was at the Temple during the festival of dedication—Hanukkah. Jesus used this Hanukkah celebration to compare the miracle of extending the life of consecrated oil in a lamp, and the heart consecrated to Him. God is all-powerful to grant eternal life or measureless oil. He’s more interested in your heart than He is in ceremonies or the accoutrements of worship.

The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:24-30 NASB

Eternal life which no one can snatch from God’s nail-scarred hand. He extends His hand to you right now, just as you are. Accept your gift!


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