Quote for 12/11/2017

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.    Isaiah 7:14 NKJV

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This Bible verse is part of my earliest memories.  I knew the words before I knew what they meant!  What six-year-old understands virginity?

Has this verse been part of your Christmas for so long that you pass right by it’s incredible message?

First, this was Isaiah talking centuries before Christ was born.  Who in his right mind would come up with the idea of a virgin having a baby?  Anyone who heard this from Isaiah himself must have thought the old boy had finally had one too many visions.

Then it actually happened generations later!

Joseph knew it wasn’t him, so he was going to divorce Mary.  Mary knew it wasn’t him too.  The angel told her.  And then the angel let Joseph in on it too.

How do we know it’s true?  There’s only one book in the history of the world that is flawless; the Book that contains the very Word of God.  The Bible.  Every time someone tries to disprove it, science and archeology confirm it.

Countless people have died over the last 2000 years, because they knew this to be true; the virgin birth and Jesus’ Resurrection.  The Apostles died horrific deaths rather than recant the truth of the one, true God.  Them and their contemporaries.

The Lord Himself did indeed give us all a sign; a virgin did indeed conceive a Son and called His Name Immanuel!

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Christmas Memories

Christmas ShepherdsThen the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.   Luke 2:20

I started searching my memories of Christmas in childhood. I wasn’t sure what all might come to mind as I started making an effort to recall Christmases past. Here is what I came up with.

1950s Church clothes (2)

Circa 1950’s

I remember Wednesday evening Advent services. This was the 60’s when people still got dressed up to go to church. Even the Wednesday evenings Advent and Lenten services saw us making the effort to dress up to respect where we were heading. That’s one big difference! We’ve gone from Casual Fridays to Casual Always. This despite studies years ago that demonstrated that dressing down led to poorer work performance. It’s true that clothes really do make the man…or the woman as the case may be.

 

Dress up for church? That’s for Christian snobs who only come to show off. Or so they say. I was taught that it was about respect.

Wednesday attendance did not equal Sunday mornings, and that was to be expected, given people’s work schedules. Still, I remember the anticipation of every Wednesday, another candle lit on the Advent wreath, another week closer to Christmas!!

Toledo Hospital

But with a star on top

There were two ways to go home from church after an Advent service. I always begged my dad to drive straight up Parkside Boulevard coming home at night so I could see the Christmas star atop the Toledo Hospital on the far side of Ottawa Park. I was always disappointed if he decided to cut off onto Mt. Vernon, missing the sight of the star. That was always a big deal for me – seeing that star on the way home.

 

Christmas Eve was a bigger deal than Christmas Day, really. That’s when the church pulled out all the stops. We had a great music director, so there was the choir, trumpets, hand bells,…the whole shmeer!

There were the Christmas carols sung as we held candles in the lights-out sanctuary and tried not to flinch as the hot wax dripped on our hands. It was a spiritual event! I never felt so alive!

milk-and-cookies-for-santa-elena-elisseevaI remember a bona fide visit from Santa when I was very young. After Christmas Eve worship, my mom put out a few cookies on a paper plate with a glass of milk for the Big Man himself! I was astounded beyond measure the following morning to see an empty glass and crumbs of cookies on the paper plate. In addition to that, scrawled on the plate with a crayon, was “Thank you!”

Santa was really there, and I had the proof!

Santa faded over the years, but the majesty of a Christmas Service remained. Attendance went down. It went from having to show up early to avoid the folding metal chairs in the narthex to plenty of room in the sanctuary with space to spare.

Christmas morning never has held the spectacle of Christmas Eve, but I always enjoyed it.

I stopped going to most Christmas services quite a number of years ago. I know we’re supposed to welcome visitors with open arms and hearts, but the rudeness eventually outweighed the glory of it all. The last Christmas Eve I attended for several years was because a visitor walked across the very front of the sanctuary and cursed, loud as could be! With a huge smile he yelled, ”J**** Chr***, Bob! How the hell ya been?!?” Right in front of the alter. That was the pinnacle of rudeness and disrespect that had grown year after year.

Yeah, I’m a Christian snob, I guess, but I think guests or the twice-a-year crowd should at least act like guests and show a little respect for the place and the service. So, that was the last Christmas Eve service I went to for many years.

The first church I went to in Memphis actually voted to stop having Christmas morning services, since no one felt like going to church when there were so many presents to unwrap, so much food to eat.  *sigh*

christmastreeThis year I’m trying to make every Advent service. I plan to attend the Christmas Eve Festival Worship as well as Christmas morning. There are too many good memories to let the bad ruin it for me. It’s time to recapture the joy of what it’s all about. It’s time to…return, to rekindle the fonder memories and make a few new ones before any more time escapes me.

christmaseveservice

Quote for 12/10/2017

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear,     Deuteronomy 18:15 NKJV

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Jesus is that Prophet.  And so very much more.

Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Jesus told His disciples and us the signs to watch for the end times, most notably in Matthew 24.

His greatest prophecy is how those who believe in Him and are baptized will be saved!  He foretold how, when we help those in need, He will remember those things done, because we love Him.  He will welcome us into His glory and fellowship forever!

Quote for 12/9/2017

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.    John 15:5,8 NKJV

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Tiffany Branch

Oh, wow!  A Tiffany Branch!         (Who Woulda Thunk??)

If Tiffany Lamps had existed in Jesus’ day, I think this passage might read differently.  You work with what you’ve got.  I’m thinking for today it might look like –

 

“I am the Light Bulb, you are the Tiffany lamp.  He who installs me and I am in him, gives much beauty in life; for without Me your colors cannot shine.  By this my Father is glorified, that your colors shine; so you will be my disciples.”

Caralyn of BeautyBeyondBones is a prime example of a branch bearing much fruit, of a Tiffany lamp whose colors were wasted until she let Jesus into her heart, until He lit her up and made her shine.

We are all Tiffany Lamps, all created with beauty built in.  We, as a race, put the light out when Adam and Eve chose self and Satan over God.  But what God created is still there.  The colors of a beautiful life are still in our being.  They just need the Source, the Bulb, the Vine to be restored to their intended glory!

If you already believe in Jesus as your Saviour, how much light are you giving off?  Are you bearing “much fruit?”

If you are alone in spirit, if you are not attached to that Vine of life, if your soul is dark, call out to Jesus.  Right now!  Ask Him to graft you, a withering branch, into Himself.  Ask Jesus to –

Light You Up!

Christmas Class

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.   Romans 12:1

Nativity

It isn’t just that He came…

It isn’t really about the gifts. It’s about commemorating Jesus’ birth. The gifts? Those are part of the celebration much like food. And even then, the food isn’t so much about the food as it is about sharing the celebration and being a community. It’s about how you do it at least as much as that you do it.

 

That applies to life in general, true?

I described this concept in In Doing It With Style in October of 2016. Short version; I found a young lady’s wallet in the parking lot at work. Instead of just tracking her down and handing it back, I quickly memorized some information from her driver’s license and made it look I ran into her randomly.

Wallet Return

Not really me

“I’m getting a name here. Are you Caitlyn?”

 

I acted like a psychic, telling her stuff I never should have known. After sufficiently freaking her out, the grand finale was telling her she recently lost something of great value.

“Oh, yeah. Your wallet.”

How do you spell “relief?”

See?

My daughter takes care of horses at a stable. They recently got a new border; a nice filly who is a young girl’s Christmas present. My daughter’s equine education included how to braid manes for show horses. She bought some purple ribbon – the girl’s favorite color – to braid into the horse’s hair on Christmas Eve so the horse will be all fixed up for the girl’s surprise Christmas Day.

Here’s where my daughter really tugged at my heart and gave me a few tears. She said she’s doing this and always tries to do things like this because of all the times I made the extra effort to surprise her and her sister, to give them good memories.

Bicycle Store

So many choices!

Their favorite childhood memory? Their first “Big Girl” bicycles. That even comes in first – slightly – over their first overseas trip to London. Why?

 

The story is told in Enjoying Joy, but here’s the short version. They were still in grade school and only marginally big enough for adult-sized bicycles. It was a chancy proposition. We had to go to Toys R Us to get a birthday present, and I told them to stay by the bicycles and dream while Mom and I shopped.

I asked them when I returned if they found the bike of their dreams. Oh, yeah! Each stood proudly next to their ideal bicycle, knowing that the day to get it was far off. That’s when I told them to grab the ticket for each one. Today’s the day.

Faked ‘em out, but good!

That’s how Julie and I raised them; childhood is about memories. Bad ones happen too easily, but good ones take a little effort. It’s an effort that is oh, so worthwhile! How many kind deeds has my daughter done that I don’t know about besides this horse project?

Mane-plait

The bike episode was a one-off for me. It was a fun gig. I had no clue it would turn out to be a life lesson!

So what are your Christmas plans? Are you going to celebrate with the mandatory presents and meals, complaining inside at how expensive this is, how much work it is, OR…are you going to do it with some class, some style? Are you going to rely on the price tag or the presentation? Will it be a signature on a card or something heartfelt, something personal?

In other words, are you going to commemorate Christ’s birth by giving of yourself as He did? Are you going to let price tags and Hallmark do your talking for you or are you going to give of yourself as Jesus did?

This year, celebrate Christmas with class!

Christmas Celebration

Quote for 12/8/2017

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.    John 14:6 NKJV

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This is where people of other faiths or no faith often get their hackles up.  They want to know who we Christians think we are that we think we are the only ones who are right!  We are accused of looking down our noses at all the world from a place of self-righteousness.

And they are partly right!

There are Christians who can be very judgmental of others, and I won’t go into reasons why here.  I do want to dissect this verse and situation, and I’ll be brief.

Christians aren’t saying Jesus is the only Way.  JESUS is saying He’s the only Way.  This doesn’t come from self-righteousness.  It comes from having earned the right to say it!  He was flogged till one could see bone.  He was crucified, which is the most grisly, slow, tortuous death someone could have.

And He was innocent!  He went through all of that and more just because He loves us and wanted to pay the price of death for us.  He wasn’t the only Way until He lived our life, endured our temptations, and died our death.

He couldn’t have been until He earned it.  For us!

A Jew, A Gentile,…and a Beauty Walk in to a Bar

My friends, I just spent some time listening to a podcast interview with Caralyn of BeautyBeyondBones.  You’ll recall my recent review of her new book, Bloom.

I’ve been reading her blog for about two years, shared many comments with her, and even met her once while on one of my business trips.  This interview, however, was a very fresh and refreshing opportunity to listen to her at length.  The format is fun and relaxed, and I can guarantee very worthwhile listen!

via Episode 54: Beauty Beyond Bones

Quote for 12/7/2017

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

John 11:25 NKJV

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These are Jesus’ words to Martha just before he raised her brother, Lazarus, from the death.  When He asked her if she believed this, she responded that she believed He is the Christ of God.

Her brother was dead, and she was in mourning.  She could as easily have been mad with Jesus for not getting there soon enough to heal Lazarus.  Faith was edging out grief, despair, anger and more.

Not only was Lazarus returning to life, but so was Martha.  Her faith in God was restoring her life here in earth.  JESUS was restoring her life to her with the promise of who He is and what He came to do.

How many of us are the walking dead?  How many of us lose life well before we die due to despair?

Jesus can resurrect us in this life with the joy of Him!  And He will resurrect us in the next life forever!

Christmas Light

Candle SingleThen Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”   John 8:12

I have struggled with Christmas in some years. I just didn’t feel that Christmas spirit. I wondered what went wrong. Misgivings have made this struggle more difficult in recent years. However, several things have coalesced in my mind that have given what, for me, is a sensible conclusion. I’m going to come at this from a few very different places, so try to bear with me.

I once read an article about how Christians can be deceived by wolves in sheep’s clothing. We can start doing ridiculous things just because “the church” has led us to them. Two big examples given were Christmas and Easter. The author wrote that Satan must be having a great laugh over how he’s managed to fool Christians into worshipping God on Satanic feast days.

That’s a concept I struggled with for years. What are we doing celebrating the birth of our Saviour on the feast day of that which He came to defeat?!? The same goes for Easter.

I struggled for years with loving the memories of the lights, the lightness of a true Christmas. My best friend and I from high school days would spend Christmas Eves going to church services around Toledo, hitting everything we could starting in the late afternoon and on to the midnight festival worship at my home church.

Christmas-Tree-Light in Darkness

Light in the Darkness

That last was spectacular. Precisely at midnight, as communion was being celebrated, the bell choir would ring everything they could get their hands on. It was an avalanche of bells falling from the loft, and the entire congregation would leap to their feet! The bells became the opening of “Joy to the World” and it was monumental! It felt like a beacon of sound and light in the dead of night.

 

Fast forward to today and another piece I very recently ran into regarding CERN and dark matter. And I promise I’ll make this as non-technical as I can. Here goes…

First, CERN runs a hadron supercollider for research into theoretical physics. They conduct what even Steve Hawking thinks are very dubious and dangerous experiments regarding anti-matter and the so-called God particle. If you want a bit more information, try my articles Weirdness at CERN and You Can’t Make This Up.

The difference between matter and anti-matter can be stated succinctly like this: matter does not easily ignite. Setting wood on fire requires building a certain configuration of kindling to get it going. A nuclear bomb requires several pounds to obtain the critical mass and exceptionally precise conditions are needed for an explosion.

Anti-matter, on the other hand, takes a great deal of effort and cost to contain and prevent it from exploding. Further, any explosion or combustion really is chaos writ large and complete.

A person has both dark and light energies in them. We can’t live in a material world without anti-matter/dark energy. A person is connected to both realms at the same time on the energy level. A person’s thoughts and feelings determines which energy they draw from.

Dark SpiritCERN has found out WHY paranormal activity exists. It’s a function of anti-matter/dark energy. Dark matter/energy affect our emotional state. It causes violent thoughts and behavior. It increases paranormal activity wherever it is accumulated. In fact, it is said they have even quantified how much dark matter/energy will cause someone to go berserk. Dark matter/energy attracts demonic entities.

Christmas Tree GoldenWhat all of this led me to think is that celebrating Christmas during the former feast times of the winter solstice is like planting a “Light Bomb” right on the enemy’s doorstep. Remember my description above of the midnight festival service at my home church. It was full of light, joyous sound, singing, and praise as we commemorated Jesus’ birth! It was a beacon of light amidst the darkest times of the year, a sure defense from the forces of darkness.

I invite you to discover Christmas anew this year, this first Wednesday of the Advent season. Don’t do it with toys. Don’t do it with spending money on things soon forgotten or broken.

Spend the next few weeks building your Christmas Light in your heart. Build it until you can join with others on Christmas Eve and set off another Light Bomb to drive darkness out of our lives with the joy only Jesus gives.

christmaseveservice

Quote for 12/6/2017

I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15 NKJV

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“I lay down my life for the sheep.”  I related yesterday how shepherds actually made themselves the gate to the fold.  In that sense, they literally did lay down their lives for their flocks.  They had the likelihood that they wouldn’t lose their lives, but, as King David demonstrated in his youth, they were willing to make a fight of it if threats arose.

Jesus laid down His life, knowing that He was going to die.  100%.  No wiggle room.  Even so, He knew He would rise from the dead.  Still, the prospect had Him sweating blood in Gethsemane just before he was arrested, praying for a plan B.

It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but He did it.  He did it, because He loves us, even though not everyone knows Him.

“I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Not “My” sheep.  “The” sheep.  He willingly laid down His life…even for sheep that would not follow Him.

Is it any wonder we celebrate His birth with growing anticipation all through Advent?