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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” – Hebrews 2:10-11 (NIV)

As we get into the Christmas season, the days seem to go by rapidly with thoughts of shopping, cards, and preparations for our annual celebration and the end of another calendar year. We don’t often take time to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and our personal stake in it all.

At Christmas we who are followers of Jesus are often aghast at how the world around us prepares for the season with a mad frenzy. However, we ourselves become so caught up in the process that we forget our own sins, failures and shortcomings that were actually the reason God chose to send His Son to redeem us. This is denial at the highest level.

We are all subject to denial. For years of my life I tried to avoid or admit to personal failure not realizing that by doing so I was standing in the way of my own transformation. I’m sure during that time I never missed a Christmas Celebration.

The news this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the victims of war, refugee movements and other major calamities. We don’t have to look very far to see the depths to which humanity has fallen.

If we ever needed personal and societal redemption it certainly is now! However, I’m not sure that true transformation of heart and character can be genuine without failure and personal setbacks. It’s very much an enigma to me.

Even though Jesus Christ did not experience failure as a result of personal sin, as fully human He did identify with all of us in His sufferings. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that He was “made perfect” through His sufferings. And in doing so He invites us into His family! He accepts the broken, the wounded and suffering and dares to call us family – brother, and sisters.

There was something that would have been incomplete about the life and ministry of Jesus without suffering and setback. I think the same is true for us. There’s something incomplete about our own transformation without suffering and failure. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but now I see there is no other way.

Jesus Christ came into this dark, broken world to bring transformation to our lives. We don’t often realize it was because of our personal failure and brokenness that He came. We’d like to think that we are “pretty good and decent” people who try to do our best and don’t have to ask God for very much. It’s that very attitude that blocks our personal transformation.

Now for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on my own neediness and failure for which I have no answer other than the Incarnate Son of God and His work in my own life and soul. Without His redeeming work I’m stranded without transformation and my sin and failure have no redemptive value whatsoever.

Christmas should be a reminder to us all the God sent His Son into a broken world to transform it. It won’t happen through political movements or self-improvement programs. God’s plan is more personal and profound that we ever realize.

Whatever failure, setback or suffering has been part of this year for us we must remember that Jesus joins us in our deepest struggles and doesn’t shrink back from accepting us as brothers and sisters. When we surrender to Him even failure can be transforming if we allow its lessons to transform our hearts. That seems to be what God’s family is all about and I’m so grateful to be accepted into it – all because of Him.

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“But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” Job 2:10 (NLT)

Have you ever received a Christmas gift that you found difficult to accept?

Have you ever been downright disappointed in what you’ve received?

I know I have. I vividly recall one Christmas in my late teen years when my parents gave me a gift that I flat out rejected. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Today I’m really embarrassed that I behaved so poorly and was so unappreciative of my parents who had previously never failed to make Christmas a special occasion.

Being a somewhat typical man, I admit I’m hard to shop for when it comes to gifts. I can’t always make up my mind what I really want anyway, so how could my family know what gift to give me?

I don’t know about you but I struggle with the idea of acceptance. We love accepting things that we enjoy especially when fun surprises come our way. But when we get what we aren’t expecting – especially when it comes in the form of disappointment, adversity or suffering – that’s when we are not so sure we can accept the gift.

Being the natural perfectionist that I am, I’m always looking for the best deal I can find so when I get less than what I think is best, disappointment can quickly sink in.

I have found that when I set my standards high and don’t figure in setbacks and suffering into the mix of life, I set myself up for struggles with disappointment and a lack of acceptance.

Lately, I’ve been listening more carefully to people who have graciously struggled with pain, suffering and adversity in their lives. Many of them describe even adversity as a “gift” from God. One that we don’t ask for, but which inevitably comes our way, living in this fallen world.

A colleague of mine has been struggling with cancer for over fourteen years. Barring a miracle her condition will not change for the better this side of heaven. The painful process she’s been through she describes as a “gift.” She has had countless opportunities to speak to others of God’s grace and provision for her during her time of affliction. I don’t know if I would be that accepting if I were in her shoes.

From time to time professional golfer Gary Player alludes to the fact that he had a difficult childhood in South Africa but grew up with the dream that he would be one of the world’s greatest golfers in his generation. He is often quoted as saying that adversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind even though we don’t see it that way. By facing adversity with a more than positive attitude his accomplishments continue to back up his bold statements.

Jealousy and envy also make acceptance a difficult task. When we think that others have it better than we do in some area of life we look at our own situation and covet the possessions of others. We never expect that they might be looking back at us with similar sentiments. We aren’t so quick to envy others for the suffering they endure even though it might just be the making of us.

Part of accepting God’s gifts to us – the pleasant and the painful – is the realization that He is doing something unique with each one of us that only He can accomplish with our willing participation. We refer to this as a “faith” journey with God, trusting that His way for us is tailor-made and whatever is beyond our control comes directly from His gracious hand.

This Christmas I find myself desiring a new perspective on acceptance and gratitude. The more that we can accept what God gives us and respond to Him with a heart of gratitude the less disappointment will be part of our daily life-experience.

God’s greatest gift to the world was His very own Son – our Christmas Treasure. The rich gifts that He offers to all of us – His grace, mercy, peace and forgiveness – can’t be measured or removed once received.

When we gladly accept Him, in all His richness, we can easily accept whatever else may come our way – without disappointment!

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“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:32-33 (NIV)

“How much did you save on Black Friday?”

This question looms large in households throughout American communities as the run up to Christmas begins now in early December.

The Thanksgiving Holiday is held on the fourth Thursday of November in the US. The day after this national day of feasting has been referred to for some years now as “Black Friday.” It’s a day when many people are off work for the extended weekend and major pre-Christmas sales begin.

This year Black Friday began on Thursday evening. Before their turkey dinner was even digested consumerism tightened its stranglehold over many Americans who gladly participated in the mayhem. Pandemonium was created when consumers shopping in certain locations began to attack each other hoping to be the first to escape with “Christmas blessings” in material form.   

My nephew wasn’t alone when he referred to the day as “Black-Eye Friday” on his Facebook page.    

As a product of a consumer society I now have a better understanding of myself, materialism and the number it does on my own soul. I come directly from a culture of people who constantly measure or quantify everything from bank accounts to beauty secrets. I want desperately to know “how much” of just about everything in my life.

“How much is my house worth?”

“How much do I have in the bank?’

“How much fun did I have at the party?”

“How well are my kids doing?”

“How does my marriage measure up?”

Not only do we have arbitrary measures for our own lives and all we possess in comparison to others, but we judge people based on their purchasing power and then feel satisfied and justified when we beat someone else out of a bargain.

Too often our treasure is in the things of this world of ours that can be measured.

A few years ago it gradually began to sink in that God’s Kingdom cannot be measured. The values that should dominate our lives are not measurable, at least by human standards.

Who can quantify eternity?

Who can find any measurement for the eternal God?

What about qualities such as love, kindness, patience?

If we look for it, we can see evidence of God’s grace all around us, but are never able to contain or quantify it. What are the statistics of heaven? Can we even dare to speak in those terms?

God designed His Kingdom to be just that way and Jesus His Son told us so. Somehow in God’s economy, He is the sole Judge of what’s valuable. We are told to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first and then the material and the measurable will take their rightful place in our lives. 

This presents a problem for a consumer society. It’s been said that the best things in life are free, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the best things in life are immeasurable.

When we get focused on the measurements rather than the eternal value of God and people we lose sight of where true life really exists.  The measurements of the world are not the measurements of Heaven.

Next time you start feeling that you, your spouse, your children, your job, your income or your possessions don’t “measure up” to standards start asking yourself, ”Whose standards am I living by?”

The flow of our culture is to gather and compare and consume. The flow of God’s Kingdom, as embodied in Jesus Christ, is to receive gratefully from Heaven and joyfully give to others out of a heart captivated by love.

This year Black Friday’s values really spoke deeply to me. Or perhaps it’s better to say that true Christmas values spoke louder by way of contrast.

In the Christmas season we reflect on the reality that God sent His Son here to bring us through faith into a Kingdom that cannot be measured. How a consumer-driven society handles an immeasurable truth like that one is an issue that only an Eternal God can address. 

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” –  2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Genuine happiness seems to be an elusive commodity these days. Seems it always has been.

Now that the holiday season is upon us expectations are high again this year that the festive season and the New Year will bring happiness to us all. The rush is on to get decorations up, cards in the post, gifts purchased and then try to enjoy the process in the midst of it all.

I don’t know about where you live but in my neck of the woods the traffic is slow and the shops are congested. The economy is bad, the experts tell us, but you can’t see it while walking through our local mall. The shopping frenzy seems more intense than ever.

I just wonder when it’s all over in January if we’ll be a happier lot. I doubt it.

I’ve been doing a lot of serious thinking about happiness in recent years. It might be because I found a few years back that despite the fact that I had just about everything a man could want, I wasn’t a particularly happy individual. I’m sure my friends thought that I was a reasonably happy man from all outward appearances. However, when I was alone, it was an entirely different matter.

When a close friend started talking about exploring the “inner world” I really didn’t appreciate what he was saying so I started probing it more for myself. I discovered that each of us really lives in three “worlds” or perhaps “dimensions” might be a more accurate term.

The first “world” is our own personal  world comprised of what we think and how we feel. In this world we have ultimate control, for the most part. We can choose where to focus our attention at any given time. The second “world” is our environment around us and all that it comprises. Over this “world” we have influence but probably little, if no control. But the third “world” is the eternal world – the one that exists beyond our senses and has an eternal dimension. The eternal world is there whether we acknowledge it or not and ultimately we must all face it’s reality.

Because we exist, we live in each of these three dimensions.

The glory of the Christian world view is that God, who is the personal Author and Creator of everything, broke into our physical realm and invaded our planet. Jesus, God’s Son has come and we celebrate His coming – especially at Christmas. He came to reveal God the Father and shows us the way back to Him.

If given our permission Jesus will enter our  “inner” world and will connect it with the “eternal” world. This is what the Apostle Paul alludes to in the verse referenced above. The follower of Jesus is but a temporary vessel physically but is indwelt with an eternally valuable treasure.

Our world is obsessed with temporary “treasures.” In a consumer-driven society we live by the principle that as we acquire more, our internal happiness gauge will gradually increase. But ultimately it results in being enslaved to a system that will never fully satisfy.

Many think that the hero of Christmas is Santa Claus who will bring everyone the gifts that will give them happiness if they’ve been “good enough.”  But the true hero of Christmas is Jesus Christ Himself who offers us a quality of life that is real and available apart from all material possessions and pressing problems.

This Christmas, as always, God is seeking a permanent dwelling place in our inner world. When His indwelling light shines through us maybe this dark world will look a little brighter to those around us. Maybe that’s what Christmas – and true happiness – is really all about.

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