Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

You’ll be reading this Christmas morning, at least if you’re a subscriber who checks your email on Christmas day, and if you did, I appreciate it, and if not, I hope you catch it at some point down the line, because it’s important. A few days ago, In the midst of an internal struggle over whether or not to blast someone on social media, I wrote this:

“Every day, I see things on Facebook that make me want to jump in and comment, especially related to our political situation. There have been things I have wanted to blast, and occasionally I have, and I consider those times personal failures and I apologize. Instead I want to stand by my calling and proclaim, no human being can fix the mess we’re in. Only God can, only Jesus. We need to fully rely on Him, live to honor Him, and do what we can to make the world a better place, shining His light into our world.”

The support for the post was pretty overwhelming, but a few had other opinions. One friend stated the need for the separation of church and state. She’s right, we do need to have separation of church and state. Unfortunately like many I think she is misinterpreting what that means. Separation of church and state to many people involves little more than the silencing of the church on matters of the state, and this was never the intent. First of all, the constitution never mentions separation of church and state. What it says instead, as part of the first amendment, is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Translation, the first amendment protects the church from the state, while not infringing on the rights of worshipers, or of those who choose not to worship. People of faith have a right to have an opinion and to express that opinion and others have the right to disagree. Even a cursory study of church history shows anything less can be disastrous.

On the other side of the coin, two of my other friends, took me to task expressing something of a duty for me to speak out and not be silent. One of them even referenced Bonhoffer’s opposition to the Nazis as an example. For the record I agree that we need to oppose evil, which begs a question. Who is it that I should oppose? Respectfully, the WWII generation had it easy in this regard. The Nazis were patently evil and opposing them took great courage, but it was kind of a no-brainer. Today things are a little different. Both of these friends, I believe, would have me oppose the president and he has done a few things I really do oppose. On the other hand, it is my understanding every one of his opponents supports the killing of the unborn up to birth, and that is something I will never support. My other friend, the one listed above, posted something yesterday that essentially said Christians oppose abortion because it’s easier than caring for all the people that Jesus told us to care for. To me it has never been an either/or, and I look for ways to help as many as I can and to love everyone.

At the end of the day, I feel the need to stick to my prior statement. If you are called to the realm of politics, more power to you, and you are in my prayers. Serve the Lord to the best of your ability and honor Him. Politics however is not my calling. To me it’s a no win situation, and to try to win people to my side will accomplish nothing, because truth be known, I have a hard time finding any politician I can totally get behind. Besides placing our faith in politicians to save us is just another form of idolatry. When I let myself begin to embrace politics and to look for political solutions, I get angry and frustrated, and I start to lose hope. I start to want to blast the very people I am supposed to be loving, and if that happens I am doing the exact opposite of what I am called to do.

It’s Christmas, and Christmas is a time for hope. Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of one who, ironically, has no beginning and no end. Jesus came to lay down His life to set us free. In Him is found a victory no politician and no political solution can ever provide. He is the only leader who is totally dependable and the only One who can, and the only One who WILL, fix this mess we’re in. In Scripture, we are ALL commanded to pray for whatever leaders we get, whether we agree with them or not, and we are called to obey the Lord over men. This is the tack that, with God’s help, I will take. My calling is to speak God’s truth in love, and to spread the Gospel–a message of hope, and good news of great joy for all people.

Christ is the Victory.

At my church this year for advent, I wanted to address something that worries me, that, on the surface, sounds like it shouldn’t. I sometimes worry that we know the Christmas story too well. I know, right? You might be thinking, “Cry me a river, pastor. You think people might know a text too well.” Not exactly. What concerns me is that people know the story so well that they take it for granted, and cease to be blown away by how amazing the story actually is. I mean, this is the incarnation, God becomes a man and comes to earth, born a baby, to experience all of life as we do, set a perfect example, prepare the way for us to receive eternal life, teach us all that the Lord wants us to know and dying to secure the way to God for all who will believe. It’s a beautiful, nearly scandalous story that I never want to see people miss because they think they know it. So how to present this powerful story in a way that makes people really take it to heart? Well I got creative.

I started reading through the text, selected four people intimately involved in the story and really studied all that the Scripture says about them. This led to a series I called “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” In the series I looked at four “men” (one of them was an angel, hence the quotes) and told the story as best I could, from their perspective as if I were them, dramatically. It was one of the most commented upon series I have ever done, but aside from that, it blessed me. I had to really delve into the story. I had to dig deep and I had to really put myself in their shoes, because I was going to quite literally put myself in their shoes. I had to think things like, “How would they have experienced this moment?” and “Would he really say that?” It was one of the most rewarding study experiences I have ever had.

The other thing was, I had no desire and felt no leading for costumes, but his would I get the people to forget it was me and imagine the person in question was speaking to them. I ended up doing what I do best, i.e., making art. I did a portrait of each of the people I was portraying and put them in the front of the sanctuary. Rather than speed painting these “live” since advent series’ tend to be very full, I took my time and painted them in my studio. This also ended up being a blessing, because I could really push myself artistically. I had a great time with this series, but that’s not why I share this. I share it to encourage you to take the familiar passages and find a different way to present them—a way that will be faithful to the text and yet creative enough to get people to see something they already know with fresh eyes. I believe God gave us our creative gifts for this very reason. How can you help people to really see God’s truth?

Here are the portraits. They are Gabriel, a shepherd (who I named Itzhak), John the Baptist (because if you’re going to talk about preparing the way for Jesus, he can’t be left out) and finally Joseph.

This is a brilliant presentation from a brilliant artist that pretty much nails the meaning of Christmas.

This guy is one of the best.

lightndarknessI wrote this for an advent reading for Christmas Eve at my church and thought it might be good to share here. If you’re from my church, you might want skip this one.

Imagine this room was totally dark. You couldn’t see a thing, but then someone lit a match, a candle, even a small spark. It might be small but in total darkness it’s the only then you would see and it would completely draw your attention. That’s the power of light. It makes darkness disappear. Even a tiny light overcomes the darkness.

Think about our world. Now imagine it in total darkness. In some ways it’s not terribly hard. War and terror and disease and pain and a whole bunch of other things that could make our lives and our world feel very dark. There are times when we might be tempted to look at God and ask “How could you let this happen?” What we need to remember is this is not the world as God intended. As a matter of fact the first words of God recorded in Scripture are “Let there be light.”

Having said this on the first day, He didn’t make our sources of light, the sun the moon and stars until the fourth day. Before that, He was the light. He is the light. 1 John 1:5 reminds us, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

The darkness in the world is the result not of God’s will, but of the fall of man. If the world is dark, It’s our fault. Still God’s desire for us is not that we would walk in darkness, but that we would live in the light of His love, not just in this world, but forever, and so He set a plan in place to make it so. Isaiah 9 foretold it. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 700 years before the birth of Christ, God proclaimed it, the light is coming. 2,000 years after that first Christmas night, the light is here. Can you see it? Can you see Him?

Jesus came to be so many things, Lord, Savior, King, Teacher, Perfect Example and yes Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. He is all those things and many more, but one of the big ones is found in John 8: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He came to be our light, to light our path through this life to eternity. No believer can deny that and yet we might ask “If that is the case, why is our world so dark.” Then you might read John 9:5 “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So does that mean Jesus is no longer with us? No, remember the angel told us He would be Immanuel, God with us.” And He is with us. And maybe, just maybe that’s why in the Sermon on the mount, He pointed to us, His followers and said “You are the light of the world. “ The light has come and He gave His life and He lives in us, and we are called to shine with His light. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light and that light still shines. The question for us is will we shine? He is the light. Let Him shine through you!

People do a lot of talking about the real meaning of Christmas and I wonder how many people actually get it, so I made this really simple chart. Christmas is really important. It’s the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus but the reason for the birth is the cross, Jesus came to lay down his life for you and me and of course the reason for the cross is the resurrection. Jesus rose again and because He did, if we place our faith in Him, we get to rise too.

Share it on your social media when you get it. Let’s get the whole world Running A.M.O.K.!

I decided I needed a little something more for a Christmas program at church and I thought back to a script I wrote in 2001. At the time I was a church youth leader. Much is made of the fact that Mary the mother of Jesus was probably quite young, a teen, not much different than many of the students I was working with. Before long a strange idea hit me. If Mary and Joseph were in my youth group and told me the story of Mary being with child what would have my reaction been. What came out of that thought was one of the favorite things I have ever written. I really wanted to use it, but there was a problem. The computer I wrote that piece on has long since been recycled and I changed web hosting providers. There was a good chance the piece was lost forever, but I thought to Google it. Fortunately it came up, unfortunately it came up on a paid content site, having been uploaded by someone else. Someone else is profiting from my content.

What was my reaction? Well I thought about lodging a copyright complaint with the service, but that didn’t feel right in this case. I’d rather have it out there helping people than lost forever which it might have been. In the long run, I decided to just be grateful that people are still seeing it, and secondly, I decided to post it here for free. If this sounds like something that might bless you or your group. please feel free to use it. I call it Mary and Joe’s Counseling Session. I pray it blesses you. Click here to download your copy.

I love the Christmas season. I love everything about it but the weather that sometimes comes with it here in PA, and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, the holidays are almost here. There is one other pressure though. As a pastor I am painfully aware of how often the people in my care have heard this most blessed Christmas story. I want to make sure that I bring this unchanging story to them in a way that is fresh and interesting. I could fret over this, but instead I choose to see it as a creative challenge. You should too.

What are you doing to creatively express the greatest story every told? Are there opportunities for you to do something in your church to enhance the celebration? Is there something you mighty do to hep people see the story with “fresh eyes?” I there a way to express it to someone who is not as familiar or a way to take the story to the streets of your community?

For our church, this year my wife started my wheels turning. She was working on something for decorating the area around our advent wreath and she decided to create a sign based on the lyrics of a classic Christmas carol, (I won’t tell you which one, since my church folks read this blog and I want them to be surprised.) As I looked up the carol in the hymnal to defamiliarize myself with the lyrics, I saw that there are four verses each with a unique theme surrounding the story. As providence would have it there are also four Sundays in Advent. Suddenly I was inspired and the theme began to take shape. That was my inspiration, what’s yours? Share it in the comments below.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re doing.

In Isaiah 9, written 700 years BC we read “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” This prophecy told us about the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. In His ministry, Jesus called Himself the light of the world, but later He flipped the story. He said You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Jesus came to be light, to light this sin-darkened world. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Then as He died for our sins and rose again, He empowered a new light, a light that would reflect His light into the dark corners of our world. That light is the church, you and me. We are here to light the way, to help people go from darkness into light, to help people to find the light of the world and then become God-light reflectors.

Brothers and sisters, in this time of year when we put lights on everything that doesn’t move, let’s remember to be light, today and all year. We are the light of the world.

Merry Christmas…

creacher5-1amemeThere are a multitude of ways to celebrate the birth of our Savior. We who are creatives have the unique opportunity to make the invisible, visible. One of the things I love to do is cartooning. The unique combination of words and pictures allows me to be really clear. Consider the image you are seeing the the left. It was created for my web comic Creachertoons. The idea came to me one morning and I was able to get it onto the web quickly. It’s just a simple message that juxtaposes Jesus’ power and might with His humble beginnings. It’s a way to help people remember that the baby in the manger is now the King of Kings. I used the lamb to remind us of the lamb of God, our Sacrifice. The baby in the manger became our sacrifice and now reigns forever.

Of course there are a multitude of ways to express this concept. One of my all time favorite songs is Jesus Freak by dcTalk. As I thought about the concept of this post, I thought of the line from the song, “People say I’m strange, does that make me a stranger? My best friend was born in a manger.” It’s yet another way to remind people that there’s a lot more to that little baby. I think we need to remember that and because we are creatives, I think we’ve been entrusted with helping others remember.

I love Christmas, many if not most people do, even unbelievers. Sometimes I worry though that it’s more about the gifts than the Giver. Sometimes I also wonder whether or not we love Christmas because the baby in the manger seems harmless. Christmas is a lot more than a celebration of baby. It’s a celebration of love, of sacrifice. It’s a celebration of incarnation. The Word became flesh. God becomes man. God is born of a woman, a virgin. God grows up, endures the struggles of being human, the temptations, lives a perfect life and an example. He confronts our sin and wickedness. He stands for righteousness, pays a price and comes to our rescue at the price of His own life. Then just when it looks like all hope is lost, He rises again and becomes the very embodiment of hope. He purchases eternal life for us and sets the church in motion. The church is His chosen instrument for pointing people to their Savior and to salvation. It is our task to minister reconciliation to the world. It’s out task to express Jesus. To turn an invisible God visible in word and deed. Creatives, this is our call.

As we celebrate our Savior, as we look forward to a brand new year, how will you express Jesus?