Recently, someone very close to me endorsed a video that spoke of Christmas as evil. So, I watched the video. It was from some ministry I’ve never heard of that went on to report that Christmas has it’s roots in paganism, that Jesus was not born on December 25th, that Christmas trees are pagan in origin, that Santa Claus is evil etc, etc. As I sat there I got increasingly uncomfortable and irritated. Not because many of the points are untrue, because many of them are (e.g. such as the point about Christ’s birth, the tree etc. but definitely not true about Santa…but I digress). No, I was growing uncomfortable because of the heart or the intention of what was being discussed. It’s cold, hard legalism. And legalism will get you no where. It won’t earn you anything. Being legal doesn’t please God. Having faith in Christ pleases God.

I could spend ALOT of time speaking about why legalism is deadly (and it is). But I don’t think I will. Let me just post a reminder here that the Pharisees and teachers of the law excelled at what they did not do. They had over 600 different laws that they kept religiously to keep themselves holy and pure. And yet, Jesus called them white washed tombs with dead mens’ bones inside. He called them pits of vipers etc. He also said that unless someone’s faith exceed that of the pharisees they will never enter the kingdom of heaven and that the harlots and the tax collectors will get into the kingdom before the pharisees ever do. These are cutting words and should provide a sober warning against legalism.

So, back to the celebration of Christmas. This issue goes beyond Christmas trees and Santa Claus and dates. For these things are just symbols. They speak to the heart of what Christmas means and is. At it’s core, Christmas is the celebration of the coming the Messiah! The rescuer! It’s Jesus! The only one who can bring salvation. The only one who can fix the brokeness in the world…including all of humanity. Is that wrong to celebrate?! We know it’s not. The birth of Jesus should be dear to every Christian. He is our dear Savior, King, and friend. He is our hope and our salvation. We love because he first loved us.

The celebration of Christmas itself points directly to Jesus. Dates and the trees and mythical bearded philanthropists with flying reindeer are really just tools. For me (and countless others I suspect) they help provide a richness and a magic to the holiday. It is a time remember and reflect on the importance of “light coming into the world” and “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling with us”.

And frankly, I don’t care one iota about whether Christmas trees were originally pagan (or any of the other elements of Christmas) For me they point to Jesus. Who made the trees anyway? (see Genesis 1 if there’s a question). And Santa being Satan by rearranging the letters. Ugh. It’s this kind of junk that makes it difficult for people who far from Christ to take Christians seriously.

For me, Christmas is deep, and bright, full of wonder and hope. It is a magical and mysterious time. Christ the Savior is born!! Hallelujah!!

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of peace to you

– Ancient Celtic blessing

This blessing denotes a kind of peace that is earthly, present in the “here and now” , not off in some ethereal, other worldy place. Christ came into our world, not we into his. He is Emmanuel, God with us. THAT is powerful. And Easter is all about Him dying for us in the here and now. He is our savior here and now. But it also true that he is not a “salesman who will sell us the things we just want to hear” as Keith Green put it or a big Djinn that, when the right incantation is said will give us just what we want. For then, he would not be God, we would.

So much of grief is coming to terms with this hard truth. It is the ultimately splash of cold water to wake us up from that delusion. My Mom is gone. I miss her terribly. And there is no explanation. No answer to the “why” questions. Why me? Why now? Why was she taken in the horrific way that she was? There are no answers so far.

Even so, the faith fact remains that God is faithful, just as the Bible declares. He has proven so time and time and time again in my life. So, I am faced with the decision, will I still follow him even through the hard times? Yes, I will cling to Christ. I will grasp hard upon his strong hand and trust that he knows where we are going. Come what may, I will follow Christ.

Words to focus on today:

Lord grant me the grace
to have freedom of the spirit.
Cleanse my heart and soul
so I may live joyously in Your love.

– From Sacred Space

Note to self, focus only on what today holds. Live in the moment. No worrying about tomorrow. Trust only in God alone. Walk each moment, step by step, with the Spirit. Regardless of the circumstances live in the freedom that only God can give.

Had a dream last night of being in a hospital waiting room. Amy, Harry, and I were there together and so was Jonathan Sprang. Jonathan said to us all “Don’t worry Y’all, it takes time for things to happen. Imagine how hard it was for David to wait to be king while being hunted by Saul. It took 10 years.” I added that it must have been really confusing for David as he was anointed by Samuel who was THE prophet of God at that time. That would be like the Pope coming and telling you that you were going to be President or the CEO of a major company…something exalted. Yay! A prophetic dream!
Interestingly, the OT lectionary reading is the story of Samuel’s calling. The Gospel reading was of the disciples’s calling. And the reading from Psalms (139) was beautiful with the picture of God surrounding (“hemming”) the Psalmist in above and below and all around and that the Psalmist was wonderfully and fearfully made. There emerges a picture of God’s calling being an intimate, loving one. One full of joy and purpose and fulfillment.
Also, from the dream comes a message of patience. Again, our timing and God’s timing can be so different. Our collective, societal/cultural attention span has only gotten worse/shorter over time. We live in a time of instant everything (instant gratification) and our level of entitlement is high. Surely, God will give us exactly what we want exactly when we want it! Holy cats, we are so very spoiled! If God did this, He would not be God. We would. That is the root problem of the evil of our age (or at least one of them) is that we are so very selfish and self serving. We want to be our own gods. We want deities that bow down to us and do we want. And thank fully that’s not how God is.

The loss of my Mom has made me painfully aware of how tenuous/fragile and short life is. What a precious gift it is! And how very little control we really have over it. And my recent discovery of my anger towards God reveals subtle and deeply engrained a sense of entitlement can be. How dare God take my mother too soon! How dare he? He’s God! And again, that’s assuming a lot! To bridge off of C.S. Lewis in “The Problem of Pain” that much of evil is the result of the foolish/selfish/evil decisions of others. And my Mom was killed by the poor decision of a young man. Did God cause that? I don’t think so. Did/does he give the young man free will. Yes. There’s the rub. What’s the Christian response? How would Jesus respond? Love your enemies, He said. Well, at least in this case, pray for him.
So, back to the dream. Be patient. Wait upon the Lord. Be strong my soul within me and trust in the Lord. Selah.

Insomnia has driven me to be up…so I thought I might take the opportunity to do some writing. The loss of my Mother is proving to be hard. Wow that’s an understatement. So very many thoughts. So many memories. And it’s rather ironic that the very last post I wrote was on loss.

I think my sleeplessness is in response to just so many hard things in my life. The death of my mother is just one of many things. Why are there so many hard things occurring? Why so many trials? I could choose to bemoan them I suppose. And don’t get me wrong, I do and am letting God know how much all this is hurting and asking for His help. But, I guess I’ve learned the lesson of how to respond to hardship. When my heart is faint within me, lead to the Rock that is higher than I the Psalmist says.

Rather than focus on loss this time I think I’ll focus on gain. Rather than focus on darkness I think I’ll choose to focus on light. Or more specifically on hope. I was reading Romans 5 and 8 last night and the message of hope really stood out to me. Romans 5 speaks of hope being the ultimate result of perseverance in response to hardship. And the 8th chapter talks about hope being specifically not the product of seeing something that is hoped for. Sounds a great deal like faith really. Well, both passages are instructive. Back to the 5th chapter, we are told “now hope doesn’t disappoint”. Wow, there’s an understatement! Hope is vital! One of the passages from Proverbs further comments that hope deferred (or absent would be my translation) “makes the heart sick”. In other words, when you have no hope it only brings a downward spiral.

Hope is bright, warm and essential. And in light of the faithfulness of God…there is ALWAYS hope. My wife, Amy, likes Christian teacher Charles Stanley. I remember a message given by Mr. Stanley several years ago in which he said that God is worthy of our praise no matter what we are going through. Even if we aren’t seeing good things happening in our lives, God is praise worthy because of who He is and not just because of what He does. And I’ve remembered that. I think it’s true. God is good no matter what is occurring. And He is faithful whether we can see Him acting of not. His faithfulness can bring hope through the vehicle of faith if we let it. It can be the lift us out of the pit as Psalm 40 declares.

Blessed be Your name, Most High for who you are in my life. Thank you for the Godly example of my Mother in my life. Thank you that make all things new and that you walk with us through all our trials. I will cling to your promises which are precious to me. Thank you for listening to my prayers. I know that they don’t fall on deaf ears. You are good and faithful, Almighty God. You are faithful and true. Please hold my hand at this time. Sometimes it’s very hard and I am still a man in need of a rescuer. Thank you, Holy Spirit that you are a comforter. I will receive your comfort at this time.

Well, if there is someone actually reading this, may God grant you peace and grace, fellow sojourner.

I’ll spare the long time in coming…blah, blah, blah…

So, lately I’ve been losing things. I lost my gym bag, a pair of gym shorts (which I suspect was in said bag) and of course, the ever present parade of missing socks. Today it looks like the 24 Hour Fitness won’t refund my $60 which they promised to. And of course, there’s the ongoing crud with my house. It’s been remarkably disheartening. It almost makes you think “well damn, what’s next!?”.

But I refuse to let the sense of loss own me. Is that my hope is in? Things? It’s a good soul check.

Dear, Lord, please be near to me. Please help me realize that “things” are never satisfying but only you are. Blessed be Your name Most High. You have always been faithful to me. And for that I am grateful.

So, after another long lapse I am posting again. This time my inspiration was a screw up on my part.

Over the weekend I accidentally locked my keys in my car. And long story made short, I ended up having to pay a locksmith $175 to get back into my car. Ouch. That’s money that is hard earned and could have been better utilized elsewhere. In other words, a very costly mistake.

And because of that, I’ve actually been beating myself up over it quite a lot. But I have to just stop and ask myself, is God angry about that? No, probably not. He is tremendously full of grace and mercy. It was an honest mistake. And we are told that mistakes can actually be helpful as a lesson.

What is my lesson learned besides the obvious “make sure you keep your keys with you before you lock the car door”? For me it’s how marvelous God’s mercy is! He forgives us. And we should likewise be forgiving, even ourselves.

And I’m mindful that forgiving oneself is not easy. With forgiveness there is a releasing of wrong doing. So, there is an element of trust here in God that He is able to sustain me in the midst of my own short comings. He loves me with an everlasting love and calls me Son. The Creator of all that exists, including unbelievably vast galaxies, loves me. That’s astounding! I’m going to ruminate on that for awhile.

Peace to you today, fellow traveler.

I love the following quote from Sarah Bessey:

“My faith is now a dance between the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures and my community, it’s alive. I’m being changed from the inside out, and I want to prophetically live the ways of Jesus into every corner of my small existence. I know where I belong and I know my true identity at last.”

That’s a statement worthy of being an anthem. I love the imagery of this quote of working with God being like a dance. My GF Amy and I have enjoyed some dancing together. She’s a marvelous dancer and has taught me a step or two. And though rough and novice as I am as a dancer, I see the power in this kind of methaphor. The steps, the swing, the motion…all speak of holy momentum (applied to as a spiritual metaphor). A purpose and plan to it…and a joy in it as well. We must be in step with out Savior. He is leading…we follow. We do dancing as well. And it is work…vigorous at times in step with the music. And if we are new to a dance it may take concerted thought as well. Step, 1, 2, 3…swing.

The inside out part is one that is huge in my church community. We hear that a lot at Catalyst. And it’s an important one. So much of the Kingdom life (especially from an NT perspective) is heart focused. For example, it’s no longer the law of Moses but the law of the Spirit. It’s the circumcision of our hearts now. God sees the heart and is not so concerned with the exterior. Whole books could be written on this. But suffice it to say that the exterior is where far too many believers seem to be fixated. Talk this way, dress this way, do this, don’t do that. And though those things have a place at times in the larger scheme of things….it’s really missing the point. It’s not what you do that’s important to God as much as who you are.

Next, living out one’s life prophetically into every corner of our small existance. Very well said! Love the humility and the responsibility of that. It is somehow acknowledging that we can’t do everything…but we can do something. And that we are stewards over what God has given us. Blooming where we are planted as it were. It reminds me of how Jesus said that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit. We are expected by God to produce fruit. But we are just one tree in a vast Vineyard.

Finally, the last line is very poignant in deed. Knowing who we are in Christ is so very critical. This is a point I come to time and time and time again. It has so many applications in life! Just one for me is not worrying about what people think or say about me so much as what God thinks and says about me. It’s the process of pleasing God far above what others think. My goal is to know purpose and identity in Christ so deeply that all other human beings are colored by that realization. So that if harsh or cruel things are said, it just falls under the subjection of Christ.

And that’s a nice summation to the whole quote perhaps. That if Christ is all in all, and if we can live in that truth…we will dance and sing and live in that reality. We will not need to have prolonged anger, or jealousy, bitterness or resentment….or any other darkness in our lives. We can truly live as sons and daughters of the light and feel no shame or fear in that.

I’ll end this with yet one more quote from one of my favorite singer/song writers, Kemper Crabb:

“We must dance, dance, dance, dance in God’s honor. We must yield all of our steps unto the King. We must dance, dance, dance, dance in God’s honor. Let His praises ring through out the Earth!”

Ok, here’s a decidedly much more transparent post (and perhaps quite raw, random, and chaotic). But I’m keeping it real! Not that it matters as I’m not sure anyone is actually reading this. Ha!

Read some today on the weaknesses of ENFPs and it startled me. Much of my behavior is in there! For example, it is VERY common for ENFPs to be angry -> bitter hatred if someone judges them. This stems from the ENFPs deep seated desire to listen to everyone and our trusting nature. And when we are betrayed we HATE it. It helps to know that it’s not just my problem but my personality type. I share this characteristic with millions of others. But that doesn’t make it the end. It’s not a “just the way it is” type situation. It’s still a substantial weakness. What do I do now? It makes me think of the Spirit controlled temperments book. It deals with different archetypes, but the message is still relevant that it’s the Holy Spirit that can make the difference. I can change. I can feel the challenge of this change. It’s been a LONG time in coming.

Having said that, the true challenge is not truly in accomplish a bunch of tasks. No! The challenge is maintain the balance grasshopper. Regardless of how pragmatically efficient I may ever become it will not mean that I will be a capitalist pundit, a mindless worker bee, a worshipper at the altar of freneticism, or any such thing. The challenge will be to not lose my soul. Not to lose my sense of wonder at life and my center of peace.

Work is necessary and extremely important! Again, the Benedictine motto is inspirational: Ora et Labora. Prayer and Work. We need a balance of both. Work, yes. But also reflective worship and spiritual life. And I dare say that the many of the church fathers and mothers were so good at this that they could do both at the same time harmoniously.

Well, ok, that’s the bar…and it’s set high. That’s what being the man of steel will mean for me. To change my life to be more structured, proactive, organized…and shunning procrastination. All the while, not losing my sense of balance and heart of peace.

But maybe that’s the deeper message here, is that heart of peace. Or heart of Shalom…God life. Yeah…I’ve lost that for a while.

Dear God, help me to continue on this path of active life, active giving. But help me not to lose sight of you. Give me discernment.
Seek first the Kingdom…remember? That’s where the heart of peace comes.

What’s the word say that is the precursor of the “then the peace of God will protect your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”. Is that Philippians? My mind is so fuzzy. It is Philippians! 4:7 to be exact. It is the passage that says “Be anxious for nothing, but in EVERYTHING, with PRAYER and supplication make your needs be known to God…”. That’s when the peace comes. Awesome.

Perhaps one final thought, maybe there is too much angst. Too much striving. Rick, my former mentor once told me that even if you mess up God will find you. Don’t worry about that. Very cool guy.

Ok, not the final thought. Don’t fear people …FEAR GOD! That means putting Him first. Woship Him and seek Him first and all the other stuff falls into place. Yeah, I like that…

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