Why Christmas?

But your iniquities have separated you from your God, your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 NIV

Why do we need Christmas? Have you ever thought about that question? Probably not! If the truth be known, you, like me, are just so busy “doing” Christmas, and enjoying it to, that you haven’t stopped to consider the reason for the celebration.

Now, I am not talking about the “reason for the season”. You have no doubt seen and heard that. People have been wearing pins with that on it for two weeks and you know that it is to celebrate the birth of a Savior, but why did He need to be born?

Here’s why: (and, please, don’t miss this point this Christmas season) We need Christmas because with out it we are going to Hell! Now you’re thinking, “what does Hell have to do with Christmas?”.

Without Christmas, without the baby in a manger, the virgin birth, the shepherds in the field at night, the presents wrapped, the bills to be paid, the parties to attend, the expanded waistline….okay…you get the idea….without all the neat things that make Christmas what Christmas is, we would be eternally lost. See, all of us are lost, without hope, because we all have sin in our life. We are born into sin and can do nothing to rid ourselves of the sin habit.

God is Holy, as you know, and so He cannot tolerate any sin. None! He will not hear us through our sin and so, if we remain in our sin, we remain forever separated from God.

But then there is Christmas, Praise God! Jesus did come on that dark night some 2000 years ago! He came so that through Him we can be saved, completely forgiven of our sins, and enter the presence of a Holy God!

There is a Christmas! We need Christmas! Thank God for Christmas today!

A New Christmas Image

I love to study the images of Christmas. This year a new image came to me; one I had not considered before, which really is the combination of two images I have studied many times.

 

Image One:

 

Luke 2:7 says, “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

 

There was no room for them in the Bethlehem hotel.  This fact often reminds me that sometimes my life is too “crowded” for Christ.  I have great intentions for my relationship with Him, but often I choose my “pleasures” over time with Him.  Sad to admit, but if I am honest, and you were to look at my schedule many days, it could be said of me that I have “no room” for Christ. 

 

Image Two:

 

Luke 2:8-9 says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” 

 

The shepherds remind me that God first appeared with the news of His Son to those who society considered outcasts.  I have read that the courts refused shepherds testimonies in a court of law because they considered them untrustworthy. Shepherds appeared at the bottom of the social status, but they made themselves available to the Christ child.  It reminds me that although I have needed more grace than most pastors His grace is fully available even to me! 

 

Image Three:

 

I have never combined the above two images.  Think about this for a moment.  The fact that the inn had no room may have been necessary in order for the shepherds to receive the announcement.  Imagine if there had been room in the inn.  The shepherds would not have been able to visit the Christ child.  They would have had to find a place to take a bath, change clothes, and probably change their occupation if they had a hope of seeing Him. As shepherds, they would have been welcome in a barn, but not in the Bethlehem “Hyatt”.   

 

It is a great reminder to me this Christmas that God comes to those who do not deserve His presence or His love.  Immanuel presents Himself in places the “good people” never go!  He loves people the world has rejected and He makes Himself available without regard to our background, our reputation, the gossip about us, or even our smelliness. 

 

This year I am more thankful than ever that there was “no room for them in the inn.”

Poor Little Baby Jesus

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV

Heaven: Streets of Gold! Angels Rejoicing! No Tears! Perfect Harmony! Bright Morning Star! Love Abounds! Mansions of Glory! No Pain! Everlasting Joy! Heavenly Father! Peace! Comfort! Victory! Sweet Fragrance! Warmth!

Bethlehem: cold. dark. crying. no blanket. no room. animal smells. struggles of life. heartaches. temptation. work. strife. bitterness. envy. prejudice. hatred. murder. anger. lust. sin.

Jesus gave up the wealth of Heaven and all its benefits to come to a world that had basically rejected its Creator, so that you and I, though lost in our sin, separated from Him because of our poverty of iniquities, can experience the richness of Eternity with Him in Heaven. Jesus gave up everything. He literally became sin so that we could receive forgiveness from the sin we cast upon His back.

You will no doubt see a nativity scene this Christmas. Go over to it, paying careful attention to the Christ child. Try to picture that baby some 2000 years ago lying in that cold, dark manger, realizing what Heaven had lost for Bethlehem to gain a Savior.

He became poor so that we could become rich. Your inheritance is waiting. Jesus paid it all! The reading of the will happen soon. Are you in it?

Poems by Ann Weems for Christmas

I have read these two poems numerous times in devotionals and online.  I have never seen a copyright on them, but they are attributed to Ann Weems.  The story I have heard is that she is a minister’s wife who lost her son to murder though I could not confirm that online.  Her poems speak, however, to the heart many feel this time of year as they attempt to celebrate Christmas with a heavy heart.  Perhaps she expresses your heart too. 

Yesterday’s Pain

In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one
Yesterday’s Pain
Some of us walk in Advent
tethered to our unresolved yesterdays
the pain still stabbing
the hurt still throbbing.
It’s not that we don’t know better;
it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves.
On the way of Bethlehem, will you give us a hand?


Not celebrate?
Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears have no end?
Not celebrate?
You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you.

Sober Reminders

I have a great life.  I have had years of struggles, which have greatly shaped the person I am today, but these days life is fairly calm and I hate to complain even when I am having a “bad” day.  In a church our size, there are always “sober reminders” to keep me grounded.  One would think I would become callous to disappointing news after hearing so much of it each week, but some things will always leave me speechless.  In those times, I learn more about the reality of life.  Other people’s struggles remind me how desperate each of us is for God’s mercy and grace and how incredibly blessed my life is right now.   

 

There are things that no matter how many times I hear them always take me by surprise.  Things like:   

 

  • When I learn a wife is leaving her husband for another man, it reminds me that what we see in couples does not always represent the reality of what takes place in the privacy of their home. 

 

  • When I hear that a young father received an unexpected stage 4 cancer diagnosis, it reminds me that life is fragile and family time has great value. 

 

  • When I sign another military “notification in case of tragedy” form indicating that I have to bring “bad news” should something happen to the solider, it reminds me that others serve our country so that my family and I can be safe and worship freely. 

 

  • When another teenage daughter becomes pregnant, it reminds me how much pressure is on our teens today and how desperately she needs our love and direction for life. 

 

  • When a mother or father loses their job, it reminds me that their biggest concern this Christmas is not what to buy but how will they buy anything.

 

  • When I find out the reason a couple has been married for years, but does not have children is infertility, I am reminded that there is a pain in a couple’s heart that I will never quite understand. 

 

  • When I talk with a family who has lost a child to tragedy, it reminds me that some pain in life never completely goes away. 

 

At Christmastime, “sober reminders” always help me remember that Jesus came to those who are hurting, those down in heart, and those in need of a Savior.  

Situational Evangelism

Sometimes sharing your faith with them is a matter of helping them understand their circumstances in light of God’s plans and desires for their life.  If you can connect the two points, a relationship with God makes much more sense. 
 
Recently I received this email from an Internet friend through my devotional ministry (http://www.mustardseedministry.com).   My friend knows how to share her faith, but the situation appears so desperate it has her in quandary of where to begin.  (I have changed the names and deleted a few details to protect identities, but the crux of the story is the same.)
  
Dear Ron,
I need some advice.  I have a friend who has a daughter who lives about 600 mi. away from her, but she is involved in drugs.  My friend (Joan) and her husband are in the process of adopting her three grandsons (all under the age of 8 year old) due to the daughter’s inability to care for them. Joan doesn’t have a relationship with the Lord.  I have a feeling that she has some tough feelings right now.  I really want to bring her to the Lord, but I’m at a loss for some reason right now.  She is in so much pain and she misses her daughter so much. I need ideas on how to share and communicate God’s love to Joan. Thanks so much. 
Patricia
  
Dear Patricia
It will take boldness on your part Patricia, but the fact that God has placed her on your heart so strongly is probably God’s invitation for you to share your faith with her, so I would encourage you to act on it, as scary as it might be. Scripture is clear that when we speak on His behalf He gives us words to say.
   
I would probably approach Joan in terms of a relationship. She loves her daughter in spite of the fact that she is addicted to drugs. She loves those three grandsons. Joan’s heart hurts for her daughter and she would like nothing more than a renewed relationship with her, but the drugs are in the way. They are “separated” 400 miles by distance, but even farther because of the impact. the drugs have on her life. It’s sad, which is why you are concerned for her. 
  
Now take Joan’s situation and put it into context of her relationship with God. God feels the same way about Joan. He loves her. He wants a relationship with her, but Joan’s sins have separated her from a relationship with God. If she will only believe in Christ’s saving grace she can have the relationship with God she needs; now more than ever.

 
God bless you as you introduce your friend to Christ.
Ron
  
If God stirs your heart concerning someone near you who is absent of a relationship with Him, be bold and willing to share your faith. Put it into terms of a relationship, then trust God to give you the right words to say. 

Allowing Children to Explore Their Own Faith

I want to encourage you to release your children to explore their own faith.  Okay, that sounds very liberal.  I apologize, but let me explain. I hope your children have a solid faith in the one true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I would make that a part of daily prayer and intentionally lead them towards that reality for their own life.  The truth, however, is that your children are some day going to question their faith.  At some point in life, most people I know have questioned whether what they have always believed is true. My encouragement is to let some of that process occur while your children still live in your home or under your authority. 

 

With that in mind, here are five quick suggestions to consider to spur a life-long faith and to allow your children to explore their faith:

 

1.      When children are very young, set the stage for them spiritually with what you think is best for them.  For example, if church is important, and I think it is, then do not let a 2 year old determine whether you go to church.  Take them to church on a regular basis so it becomes a natural part of who they are as individuals.

2.      At the same time, let the children’s needs play a part in deciding what church to attend.  As tough as it may be on grandparents not to have their grandchildren in the same church, it would be better to have your children actually love their church experience than to attend somewhere they do not enjoy going. 

3.      Find opportunities to talk about faith and God in non-threatening, everyday environments.  Talk about God should never be limited to “church time”.  Make God part of your normal life.  (He is you know!) Model living a life for Christ in front of your child.

4.      As a child, having been raised in church and heard all the “stories”, attempts to explore his own faith, do not feel the pressure to answer every question they have.  If children are seeking truth, guide them towards the source of truth (God’s Word) and let them explore it for themselves.  This is the only way to make sure your children actually “own” their faith.  When one of my boys was questioning eternal security, for example, I suggested he read the conflicting passages on the subject and encouraged him to reach his own conclusion.  (He did, btw, and landed in the same place I land.) 

5.      Keep the lines of communication open even when your children are questioning what they believe.  I have known so many parents who “freak” when their children express opinions about their faith that are contrary to their parents.  I have never seen this reaction work to their favor.  It usually causes further separation between the child and the parent.  This is where I believe Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.) comes into play.  Parent towards Christ early in your child’s life, release them to explore, keep praying for them and loving them, and the principle in Proverbs is that they will return to their roots in time. 

 

Children are going to question their faith someday.  Any faith worth having involves periods of testing over time.  Chances are good that you questioned your faith at some point.  Allow your children to test their faith in God, but pray it happens while they are still in your home or listening to your counsel so you will be there to help them find their way Home again. 

Battling Depression

I received an email through my internet devotional site from a woman battling depression.  Her question was, as a pastor, what would I tell someone who has been diagnosed with depression. 

The great thing about responding to her is that I can speak not only from “clinical” or seminary training, but from personal experience.  I’ve battled mild depression firsthand. 

 

If you wonder if you are experiencing depression, whether mild or severe, I encourage you to talk with your physician.  Depression is nothing to play with and should be taken seriously. 

 

Some symptoms of depression are:

Experiencing a continuously sad, nervous, or irritable mood. 

Feeling as if life is hopeless.

Losing interest in things you once enjoyed.

Trouble sleeping

Loss of weight or other repeating health problems.

Having the “blahs” all the time; generally feeling fatigued

(If you start to have thoughts of suicide, hurting yourself or repeating emotional breakdowns, please seek help immediately! )

 

I would never attempt to solve depression for you here, but there are some things I can offer you for those times where you struggle with mild depression. 

 

Follow these steps:

1.      Read God’s Word. Depression is most often caused by believing things that are not true.  We fear the unknown, we feel bad about our life or our situation, and we live out of partial truth or untruth.  The best way to battle untruth is with truth.

2.      Pray.  God loves you and wants more than just a distant experience with you.  He wants a relationship with you that is deep and personal.  When you are at your weakest point, God is there to help you.  Talking with Him intimately is better than most trained therapists can offer. 

3.      Surround yourself with positive people who trust God.  A lot of times when we are depressed we hang out with people who make us feel worse rather than better.  Look for friends who will encourage you. 

4.      Take medicine if needed.  Find a good doctor you trust and if they recommend medicine, don’t be afraid to follow their advice.  There can be chemical imbalances in our body which can cause our emotions to act up and just as an aspirin helps when you have a headache sometimes with depression we need medication to heal our minds and emotions.

5.      Counseling.  Find a good, God-fearing counselor who is trained to talk through life with you.  We all need this help at times.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for it…. (Or too tight to pay for it!)

6.      Ultimately the greatest thing you can do for yourself to battle depression is to give up control of your life and your emotions and begin to trust God completely.  Understanding this truth will set you free.  (John 8:32) 

 

Again, I urge you to seek help if you are severely depressed.  I truly believe, however, that your greatest help will always be found in the truth of God’s Word and in your relationship with Him. 

Cross Street Live Family Worship Experience

This Sunday night our church launches Cross Street Live. I am not an emphatic person most of the time, but I honestly believe this could be one of the finest moments in the life of Grace Community Church. Cross Street Live is an opportunity for kids to bring their parents to learn and worship! It is fun, high energy and especially designed for elementary age kids and their parents. Our team has invested countless hours into planning this night, which we hope to repeat throughout the year in 2009. As with anything we do at Grace, this is a community event. You don’t have to attend Grace on Sunday morning to enjoy Cross Street Live.

Spread the word to your friends today.

What: Cross Street Live

Where: Rossview High School Auditorium

When: Sunday night, December 7, 5:30

For more information send an email to office@gcomchurch.com.