It’s The Perfect Gift Because It’s The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

Rate this:

1 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.  The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 

3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice.  They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.  4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.  You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.  5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.  They will be fuel for the fire.

6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! {Isaiah 9:1-7 NLT}

We’ve been looking at The Perfect Gift.  Remember I said that The Perfect Gift has 2 essential elements:

  1. First, it has something of the Giver in it.
  2. Second, it meets a need in the receiver.  Now, I need to add one more element that makes a gift The Perfect Gift.
  3. The Perfect Gift Is The One That Keeps On Giving.

Some gifts are made to last only a short time—like a gift card.  Some gifts wear out.  And other gifts?  Well…the are made to hide in the top of some closet.  But The Perfect Gift is the one that the receiver continues to experience for a long time to come.

Often the spirit of Christmas is overshadowed by that spirit of selfishness.  Often that spirit is intentional, but sometimes it is unintentional.  If we are not careful, we will become self-absorbed with our wishes, our wants, our desires, and our own will.  That first Christmas marked the beginning of God plan to ultimate and decisively deliver humanity from those unimportant and self-centered desires. 

God gave This Gift because This Gift can deliver every person from the things that rob and finally destroy their heart and life.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

Being a True Disciple Of Jesus is not a casual thing that we do occasionally and at our convenience.  To really experience the living Jesus by receiving The Perfect Gift for our own—Demands More From Us.  To accept the perfect gift does not mean we become inhibited.  To Accept The Perfect Gift Means We Become Inhabited! 

I do not mean this the wrong way or to be considered disrespectful with what I am about to say.  Nor do I mean to downplay this mysterious event of Incarnation—God becoming flesh—because I marvel and am amazed at this breathtaking mystery.  But it is too easy to love the baby in the manger.  Who among us doesn’t love every baby?  We are not called to love and follow the baby in the manger.  God Demands That We Love And Follow The Christ Of The Cross!  Face it, The Cross Is A Tougher Image Than The Manger

Yet this is where Jesus calls us to follow Him.  This is serious stuff because it means total and complete surrender to the Love of God expressed perfectly on the Cross.  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us.

Christmas Is About The Messiah And Our Acceptance Of And Submission To The Messiah.  Remember what that word “Messiah” means—“Messiah comes from the Hebrew word, Mashiach, meaning “The Anointed One,” or “The Chosen One.”  To be the Anointed, to be the chosen, isn’t an ordinary thing.  In the Old Testament, anointing was reserved for 3 particular offices:  Prophets, Priests, and Kings—offices set aside for God’s purposes.  Jesus As Messiah, Is The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.

That first Christmas marks the beginning of The Choice that Jesus made even before time began.  Jesus would enter directly into the fallen mess of creation to reclaim and restore it back to God’s Kingdom.  The Arrival Of The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King—Ushers In The Most Radical Movement Of God Since Creation.  His arrival is an offer—the offer to accept for ourselves that Jesus is The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.  Jesus has been Anointed for 3 Offices:    

1.  Jesus Is The Decisive Prophet.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He completely understands the mind of God.  All other prophets receive glimpses of that mind.  But Jesus Reveals The Whole Mind Of God Because That Mind Is In Him.  Not only this, but He sees our real mind and heart.  Prophets are also called to show where we are missing the mark.  To make us aware of what we are missing, and how God can and will restore us. 

False prophets fall into 2 overall categories.  First, False Prophets point out where we’re wrong without giving us the True Remedy.  And False Prophets aren’t truthful—they are mirrors of our own imaginations.  They feed us what we want to hear.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He Perfectly Reveals God’s Heart.  A Heart That Longs For Us To See Our Own Sickness So That He Can Bring God’s Desires Into Our Minds And Hearts.  He shows us HOW we can live the life we are created to live.  Not only is He the Decisive Prophet:

2.  Jesus Is The Decisive Priest.

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because continually He serves in the direct presence of God.  Human priests can only point toward God.  But no priest is closer to the heart of God than Jesus.  He Doesn’t Point Us To God, Because He Is God!

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because He intercedes for messed up and broken people—not the “oh, so righteous” feeling people.  True priests are those who feel for the condition of The Fallen Image Bearers.  The Decisive Priest is drawn to and into the messiness of deceived and broken people.

Jesus Is The Decisive Priest Because He Is Also The Lamb!  No other priest can do what Jesus has already done.  The priests of other religions want you to do something for their “god” before that “god” can do anything for you.  But This Priest, The Decisive Priest Is The One Who Offers For Us, And Is The Sacrifice That Once And For All Delivers Us From Sin’s Power And Dominion.  And Jesus is also Anointed for 1 more office, the Highest Office of All:

3.  Jesus Is The Decisive King!

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Holy!  Human leaders are guided by other interests.  They are all flawed somewhere.  But He Demands That We Be Holy As HE Is Holy.  He never accepts second place.  He will never play second fiddle.  He will never accept our leftovers.  He’s Jealous and will never share His rightful throne in our heart with anything or anyone else.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Eternal.  Every other kingdom, each dominion, and all other authorities will end one day.  They are never final.  Only His Dominion will last.  And He will hold every other authority accountable to Him.  Not only authorities, but each and every one of us.  This ought to be frightening—because it is!  But This Very Demanding King Has Something Else, Too.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Full Of Grace And Mercy.  He pours everything about Him into restoring us—WE are the object of His Desires.  And HE and HE alone, should be the object of our desires!  Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is, Well, HE IS!  Nothing we say or believe will ever change this fact.  Argue about it.  Deny it.  But Jesus is the King of Kings.

God doesn’t ask us to follow a baby; He calls us to follow the Conqueror of Death and Hell.  Christmas is a great time to remember Easter—because the power that conquered death is the power given to us when we open our heart to Him.  Joy and power are ours when we see for ourselves The Perfect Gift. 

God Loves Sinners Like Us!  It’s useless to give your heart to the child in that feed trough.  Give your heart, mind, soul and strength to the One who first died on the Cross then rose from the dead!  Then rise up in joyful worship!

Joy isn’t just for Christmas or Easter—it’s for every day all day long.  Begin living in and through the Holy Spirit.  Trust, really trust that God will never lead you wrong—He will challenge you—but He will never lead you wrong. 

You may not understand what God is doing—you may not even like what God wants to do—but Christmas reminds it’s the right thing, always the right thing. 

God isn’t interested in the qualified people—He’s Wanting The Least Qualified Because We Are The Ones That He Can Pour The Holy Spirit Into.  Now, here lies the Great Contradiction to the world’s value system.  The world’s value system says that in order to receive, you have to Get All You Can, Grab All You Can, And Then Grip The Can

The value system of God’s Kingdom is that in order to receive, you have to share, help, and love unconditionally.  Have you given your heart to the baby—or have your given your heart to Lord and Savior of all?

No one wants to be on Santa’s “Naughty List” but on his “Nice List”.  Hey, it is doable—when push comes to shove, we can be rather nice at times, nice enough to be on Santa’s “Good” list. 

But let me ask you:  Is Your Name In The Lamb’s Book Of Life?  Before you answer, let me share the truth with you:  You can never be good enough, do enough good, to get in The Lamb’s Book of Life.  It’s God’s Gift, for those who will surrender everything to Him, and follow Him.

Jesus Is The Anointed One:  The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King! 

There’s something I realized in this week’s preparations, and it made me realize my own failure.  It’s something I should have said every week, but I haven’t.  So, I’ll say it now—and hopefully as long as I am preaching: 

You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  Jesus didn’t stay in the manger.  He didn’t stay in Egypt.  He Didn’t Stay In Nazareth.  He Was Always On The Move—And He Still Is On The Move.  He’s Moving Forward Advancing The Kingdom

That’s why each week I offer you The Next Steps.  And here is this week’s Next Step: Where have you settled in your journey? And where is He calling you to go deeper?  The Shepherds didn’t stay at the manger.  The Wise Men didn’t stay at that house.  Shepherds went back to their fields and the Wise Men returned to their homes.  But they weren’t the same.  If you are not sensing the call of The Spirit to go deeper and follow Jesus more closely, then this is your moment to come to this altar, and ask The Perfect Gift to show you how This Gift Keeps On Giving.

MERRY CHRISTMAS BECAUSE HE'S IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!

I love to think–sometimes out loud (which many times gets me in trouble), sometimes in my mind (which occasionally wanders off and takes a while to come back)–and especially in my writing. But today, THIS DAY, I simply cannot match my thoughts to those who told about that moment when Mary gave birth to Jesus.

So, today, I will share with you what one of those who walked with Jesus had to say about that moment, and what followed. Not Matthew’s or Luke’s account–but John’s account. There are no full inns or stables or mangers or shepherds or Magi–just the wonder of that event. Read this slowly, and take it all in–especially that part about God moving into our neighborhood. That phrase is why I’m led to share it with you from The Message: John 1:1-18

1-2 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

3-5 Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,

    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

15 John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

16-18 We all live off his generous bounty,
        gift after gift after gift.
    We got the basics from Moses,
        and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
    This endless knowing and understanding—
        all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
    No one has ever seen God,
        not so much as a glimpse.
    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,

        who exists at the very heart of the Father,
        has made him plain as day.

For some of you, this is a hectic day trying to make all of your expected appearances. For some of you, it’s a day of deep sadness because you are alone. Remember, PLEASE REMEMBER, that Jesus has moved into YOUR neighborhood, whatever it looks like. He didn’t shun leaving Heaven to enter Mary’s womb–He didn’t shun being born in a stable–He didn’t shun the Cross. And He won’t shun your neighborhood–after all, He’s Moved Right In! And to quote another person:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood
A neighborly day for a beauty
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day
Since we’re together, we might as well say
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please
Won’t you please
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Mr. Rogers made this song famous–but it’s Jesus who makes it POWERFUL.

Saturday Stories–A Christmas Story

“So they can all see the baby Jesus.”

Rate this:

Being a pastor, I am often blessed to hear others tell wonderful stories of faith that have impacted their lives.  One such faith story comes from the time when I served the Weeden Heights congregation back in the 90’s.  Jimmy and Elaine Springer were such faithful servants of God, and I considered myself to have received an extra blessing by becoming more than their pastor, but also their friend.  One day Elaine shared with me a simple but powerful image of why we all need a child-like faith.

 See Jesus This Christmas

It was during the Christmas season.  She and Jimmy had decorated their home to match the festive holiday season.  Among their many decorations was a Nativity Set, complete with all the characters and animals.  Elaine said she carefully arranged the scene so that each figurine’s face was looking outward.  This way, each person who looked at the scene could see the faces of Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men.  During a visit from their grandchildren, Elaine said she walked past the Nativity Scene and all the characters had been moved.  They formed a circle around the manger, and the baby, Jesus.

Well, she carefully rearranged them back to their original state, only to discover sometime later to find them in a circle again—all in a circle around the manger and the baby, Jesus.  When she asked her grandchild why she had rearranged them in a circle, the child’s reply is a classic and full of faith:  “So they can all see the baby Jesus.”  Needless to say, the words spoke to Elaine’s heart, and the truth was ever so clear.  The Nativity Scene was indeed correct—each person, each animal facing and focused on the Christ child.  Needless to say—the Nativity Scene remained that way, all characters in a circle that focused on Jesus.

The Lesson 

It was a special Christmas when a child reminded everyone, that this Holiday Season is really about one thing—Jesus.  And I remembered the words of Paul in Hebrews chapter 12—“Keep your eyes on Jesus!”  This time of year is truly a busy and sometimes stressful time.  Crowded streets and highways, parking lots that are full, huge shopping crowds, long lines, finding the perfect Christmas gifts; all this and more sometimes makes us forget what the Season is really all about. 

So, if you are all stressed out, I have a word for you; that word is—STOP!  Take your eyes off the crowds and lines and sales, and circle up around Jesus and focus on Him!  Right now, or when you get home, go to that Nativity Scene in your family room, then move all those figurines into a circle around the hope and love that can only be found in Jesus.  And if someone asks, “Why are these figurines in a circle?  I can’t see their faces.”  Tell them, for God’s sake, tell them, “Look where they are looking—see the face of Jesus.”

And from this Kingdom Pastor, who often struggles to keep his focus, I want each of you to experience the inexpressible Joy, Hope, Peace and Love that comes from “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”

Saturday Stories–I Will Be Joyful Even If It Kills Me!

Last Saturday I told a story about my son, Matthew. Now, I never used my kids as examples in my sermons. . .while they were living at home. After they left the nest–they became fair game. This week’s story is about yours truly. But unlike Matthew’s story, I’m NOT the hero. It was from December of 2007. I’m calling this story:

I Will Be Joyful, Even If It Kills Me!

In December, 2007 I was forced to do something (again) that I claimed I would never do this time of year.  It is something I absolutely loathe.  Every year at this time I say I will not do it, I will not do it!  And every year I find myself forced to do it.  I find myself groaning in my heart, much like Paul when he wrote in Romans 7:15—For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  What was it so terrible I found myself forced to do?  I HAD to go to the local discount super center to pick up some things.  The items I needed were only there, and if I could have made myself get up at 2:00 am, I would have gone then—but that’s when I do my best sleeping.

Understand something. . .these are “my” people. This is the area I grew up in as a child. For the most part, these are good, solid, salt of the earth people; EXCEPT when it comes to Christmas shopping. My people turn into monsters and vile, evil hordes. Oh, there are those exceptions; but those exceptions are almost as rare as the winning lottery tickets. If Dante lived today, I’m sure he would have included an extra level of hell!

 So, with a sense of dread and angst, I entered the challenge—of finding a parking place, and then dealing with those annoying people who stop on the main aisles to converse with friends and family.  (I’ve often wondered why some families don’t just go ahead and announce that their Family Reunion will be held at the local Wal-Mart.)  Some people seem to find it a thrill to go shopping this time of year—I am not one of those. 

I suppose my dread comes from my past experiences of having worked in a retail environment during this time of year.  Not that I believe in different levels of hell and punishment (because I don’t)—but if I did believe that, working retail during Christmas would certainly be classified as one of the lower levels.

But before I left the house, I decided this time I would, no matter what, display in my face and words and actions, the spirit of joy, love and peace. On the drive there I kept reminding myself, “Self, be joyful!” The idiots and morons on the highway was challenging my resolves. And once in the parking lot, there were those asinine people just sitting there, waiting for someone to leave so they could have a close parking place. They’re too lazy to walk, but not too lazy to fight like a barbarian for those specials.

Still, when I parked, my resolve was intact, a bit battered, but intact. I began the walk smiling and being joyful.  (Yes, sometimes preachers do practice what they preach!)   I made it a point to tell everyone “Merry Christmas” with a smile and sincerity in my voice.  And, I must confess, I saw a change in people’s expressions when I am joyful toward them. (Hmm?  Could it be something to this thing of sharing joy?)

Well, to make a short story long, I finally navigated several detours (because of people conducting family reunions, don’t get me started again) and like St. Nick, checked every item off my list and entered the next challenging level of holiday shopping—finding the check-out with the fewest people.  Having conquered that level, I placed my items on the counter and thought about what a stressful day she must be having. So I started to engage the cashier in some cheerful conversation–God knows she needed it. Then she had the nerve to be cheerful to me first.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how she managed it, but she did.  When she asked me how I was doing, I thought, “Now, here’s a great opportunity to witness!”

 What happened next was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit just blind sides us with grace and love.  My reply to her (and I thought it a clever opening line), “I am blessed by the Lord.”  And without missing a beat, her reply was “And highly favored!”  The sound of joy in her voice when she said that was so uplifting to me (so much for me being a witness, in fact, I stopped witnessing and started be witnessed to).  But what she said next, spoke so powerfully to me that I need to share it with you. 

With the sound of holy laughter and joy in her voice, this lowly cashier said to me:  “Too blessed to be stressed!”  Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, my drive home was much more full of joy than my drive there, and it wasn’t because the adventure was over, but because God used an ordinary cashier to remind me what this wonderful season is all about—That We Are Too Blessed To Be Stressed!

Can you even imagine a portion of the stress that young Mary must have felt when Gabriel first announced God’s plan for her life?  But Mary’s faith was able to override her emotions (and some might say logic) and her faith enabled her to become an instrument of God’s presence and His love, as I was reminded of God’s love and presence by that cashier. 

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.  Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said. Luke 2:42-45 (New Living Translation)

And in our text today, her cousin Elizabeth affirms God’s activity in Mary’s life with that power line in verse 45:  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said!  And in response, Mary burst forth in song, like in a Broadway musical.  Mary gave us the very first Christmas song as she sang praise for the presence, power and activity of God in her life.  Mary was way too blessed to be stressed!           

And so can you!  When you believe that God will do what God has said that He will do in you, for you and through you, the blessing continues.  So, as the countdown continues—more parties, more gatherings, more shopping, don’t get stressed out like I did.  Be ready and be alert because God is going to break into your ordinary and sometimes stressful days with joy and love.  For many people, they are too stressed to be blessed.  You do not have to be one of them because of God’s presence and power.  Open your eyes and hearts to see the ways God is blessing you. 

What Are You Gonna Do Now?

He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US!

Rate this:

(My message this week….)

Isaiah 9:6-7  (NLT)

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike.  And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route.  I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west.  I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home.  Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure.  We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again.  We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?”  She said, “No, where are we?”  And I said, “I haven’t a clue.”  She replied, “No, really, where are we?”  And I said, “Really, I don’t know.  But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.”  I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.

Driving to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever, considering a different route.  Now that Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to go back to the dull routines of everyday life.  We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us. 

But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty.  More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!”  And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.

In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message:  The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us.  Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah:  For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation.  In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus.  Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us! 

And at the same moment The Son Is Given To Us—Jesus Is Also Divine.  The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem.  The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine.  The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus. 

And this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son!  The Mystery is that God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen:  He Comes FOR US!  God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens.  God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on.  He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory.  God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus.  There was more than the weight of the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of all peoples in all ages. 

Ever felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders?  Ever felt like the weight of a project at work was on your shoulders?  But try to imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on your shoulders.  God’s eternal purpose is carried on the shoulders of Jesus.  God has no plan “B”!

And in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives, we encounter the mystery of grace.  Isaiah says, “He will be called” and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter. 

  • We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful!  It really is an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace! 
  • We Encounter The Counselor!  The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world. 
  • We Encounter The Mighty God!  We come face to face with Him who holds all power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love! 
  • We Encounter The Everlasting Father!  We encounter the only one who will never ever give up on us!  Love, grace and mercy that is Never Ending! 
  • We Encounter The Prince Of Peace!  He gives us peace not because of what we have done, but because of everything that He has done for us.

There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.

  • In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life. 
  • God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him. 
  • In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness. 
  • In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast. 
  • In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.  
  • Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.

This is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us.  Now, you have a choice.  You can go back the way you came into this encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us.  Or, you can go back into the real world, a different way. 

Think about those Wise Men.  In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person.  When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about?  The sand storms they faced?  The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey?  The beautiful palace of Herod?  That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem?  The wonderful eating places they found?  Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?

We don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that was given, and The Son that they saw in person.  And it should be the same for us.  This morning you are faced with a choice.  Go back to the old life, the usual things, the ordinary things. 

Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person.  Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works.  Then spend some time at the Cross. 

Focus on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.  Focus on the nails.  Focus on the crown of thorns that pierced His head.  Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says “Father, forgive them.”  Now, how can you be the same person who walked in that door this morning?

This Child, This Son who is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they encountered.  And when they encountered Him they went home a different way.  It was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People

Different people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way.  The mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world!  And It Ought To Change Us!  Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known to us.   

They went home a different way because they were different people.  The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery:  He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us.  This Different Way changes everything.  3 things should change in our lives:

1.  It Changes How We Think About Life!

Life is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks.  Life is meant to be about relationship—with God first and then in relationships with others.  Because of The Child, because of The Son, life isn’t about us and what we want.  It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.

2.  It Changes How We See Life!

See your life in light of what God can do, not what you can accomplish.  Start looking at situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth.  Start seeing people the way God sees them—people in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love.  Stop Seeing Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.

3.  It Changes How We Live Life!

Make your life an offering to God.  Make every thought, form every word, make every choice as an offering to God.  Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled:  The Road Not Taken.  He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path.  Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled.  In the last verse he writes these famous words:  “I shall be telling this with a sigh.  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  You are about to go home, back into the world, your world.  Which way will you go?

Your Next Step

Decide if you will go back to life the same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a different person.

The Image Of The Season

What is the best and most perfect image for this Season of Christmas?  Let’s look at a few of those images.

1 Christmas TreeThe Christmas Tree.  Now that’s what ought to speak into the hearts of people.  Right?  For many, it’s all about “The Tree”!

1 christmas lights.jpg

The Christmas Lights.  Ah, there’s nothing like loading up family and friends and driving through neighborhoods to see all the pretty lights.

1 santaSanta Claus!  Oh most definitely YES!  Taking the kids and waiting in line so they can sit on Santa’s lap and allow that narcissistic personality out with a WISH LIST which more often than not, is a WANT LIST.

 1 presents

Christmas Presents!  Now we have it.  We wait all year-long to receive presents!  Presents that we have “earned” because we have been on Santa’s “Nice” list.  Yeah, right!  (Sorry for the cynicism.)

heart of the season

But for many, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, it’s the Manger Scene!  Manger scenes are nice and our images of them are always clean and neat.  Have you ever noticed that the images of that first Christmas are always neat and clean?  I wonder, if those who have that image have actually stepped into a barn and carefully looked at a well used Feed Trough?  To any Churchian or Tenured Pew Sitter who might actually be reading this, you do know that a manger is a feed trough, don’t you?

1 feedtrough

One of my deepest concerns for those who occupy the pews, is that we have sanitized the Christmas Story to make it neater and cleaner, and thus, have sterilized this powerful saga and made it impotent.  Nothing was neat about that first Christmas.  Mary is pregnant, out-of-wedlock pregnant!  Joseph hears her insist that she’s a virgin (now that goes against what his Dad told him about the birds and the bees) and that this child in her womb is the Son of God.  God just doesn’t become human in Joseph’s theological world.  Rome decrees a census and taxation and now they must journey, with a very pregnant wife, to Bethlehem.  They get there but all the rooms are filled so they go to that barn.  Then there’s that rough and rowdy band of shepherds who show up, unannounced.  Then there’s those Wise Men who upset Herod and all of Jerusalem.  Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus have to escape to Egypt, where by the way, their ancestors were slaves.  And the families of Bethlehem watch in horror as Herod has their toddlers and babies slaughtered.  Yeah, that is a real “neat and clean” story.

But allow me to ask you a question:  What about Jesus?  I mean, just before He disappeared from the Throne Room of Heaven to become a fertilized embryo, what was HIS image of the Christmas Saga?  Which of these two images do you think Jesus had?  Your answer will reflect what you believe in your heart, that either God loves you, or, that God’s loves you enough to make you whole.

The Manger or the Cross?  One speaks to our wants, the other speaks to our deepest need.  I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the last image Jesus saw before leaving Eternity to enter into time was that Cross.  Nothing was neat about His arrival into time, and nothing was neat about His exit from time.  To see an image of Jesus on the Cross without the wounds and the blood (now that’s a “neat” image of the cross, but not true!) is to do the same thing to the Easter Story that many have done to the Christmas Story–it’s sanitized, and impotent.  It a useless, feeble, futile story and not the Saga of God’s love for us messed up human beings who are supposed to bear the image of our Creator.

Jesus never said, “Hey, if you want to follow me, pick up that neat and pristine manger and remember that beautiful baby.”  No, He never said that.  What He said is this:  “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NLT)  As messy as that barn and feed trough were that night, the Cross was even messier.

Yes, go visit that feed trough covered in animal slobber and remember that this Baby ruled in Heaven and created great beauty out of nothing but chaos.  Also remember He continues to grow up.  He worked with his earthly Dad, Joseph, and probably made other “mangers”, chairs, tables, and platters.  But His best work with wood wasn’t in that Carpenter’s Shop.  NO!  His best work with wood came later as He was suspended between Creation and the Creator and became The Sinner who bore our sins and suffered our punishment.

So as you put out your “Nativity Scene”, or go to see a church present a “live Nativity Scene”, remember; remember that the image Jesus had in His heart the instant before leaving Heaven for Mary’s womb, the image He carried in His Heart and Mind as He walked this earth as one of us, the image He had that night in the Garden of Gethsemane–and it was The Cross.  He had that image because He loves you and I enough to be placed in that animal slobber covered feed trough so that He could then be stretched out on that Cross, suspended between Creation and Creator, to be treated as THE Sinner, THE Sinner that we are.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!