The Colors, The Glory, The Wonder of Christmas

The Colors, The Glory, The Wonder of Christmas

There is something about Christmas that requires beauty. Everything about this holiday calls for beauty.  And so we are preparing. As I am writing a score of people have fanned out across our campus and are decorating. Trees are being erected.  Colors, red and green and gold and silver are everywhere. Our already beautiful place where we worship is becoming more so.

Why this need for beauty? What is it that makes us crave such beauty, especially at this time of year? The first Christmas was probably not pleasing to the eyes.  Mary and Joseph wore no bright colors. The birth took place in what to us would be a place of no beauty at all. The shepherds who appeared later were no doubt poor and ragged and dirty. Why the beauty? Why do we want it?

At that first Christmas night heaven and earth mingled one becoming indistinguishable from the other. Angels, bursting with glory, stood among shepherds and then surrounded them. The glory of God engulfed these common men.  Who knows what glory rested upon them transforming them into something more glorious than the angels even.  Brightness, that the earth had not seen before was revealed and in that revealing the dull colors of earth took on glory, shining with radiance they had not seen in the long forgotten eons since Eden. And there was singing.  Multitudes of angels, a chorus which our choir is intended to replicate sang out words we repeat now in our carols. This is what happens when heaven and earth come together, as they were intended to be, as they once were, as they will be.

So we are lighting trees in our sanctuary. It’s not too far off to say that in this place where we worship we are creating burning bushes to remind us of the glory of God that can be glimpsed if we open our eyes and we look. We are bringing out our best colors. Look, there you’ll see an angel and over there another. Maybe there are more. Look again. Look harder. The shepherds are here. So is Mary and her husband Joseph.  Have we any wise men able to see and understand what is happening here?

We are bringing heaven and earth together just as it was on that long ago night.  There is only one thing we need. All this we do, all this we have done is a prompt, an inducement. You see there is one place, surely, where heaven and earth come together and the favor and the glory of God rests. That place is you. We need you.  The focal point of all this beauty, all this glory, is you. We need you to be here so that the glory has a place on which to rest truly, the place it belongs.  We need you.

Come. Come and see. Come and see what Christmas is, what it looks like. Come and see what happens when the Son of God is born.

The Basics

A question. When was the last time you picked up your Bible, read something in it, and thought “I need to change.”? Or when was the last time you listened to a message in church and walked away saying, “I’m going to do what the message said.”? Has it been a long time? Then you need to change. Change what? That. That resistance to hearing and then following through with life change.

The Bible, nor messages preached from it, have their final goal being to make you smarter. The goal is to make you like Jesus. It is to change you. Messages preached, too, have a goal of changing you. Every message preached, whether it’s me or one of the other ministers on staff preaching it, is constructed around two guiding questions we ask ourselves while preparing. They are: What do I want people to know and what do I want them to do. You are to do something. Listen hard for what that change is.

The Bible is full of this counsel. You’re studying James in Sunday School. James says we are to be doers of the word not just hearers. It says if we look intently into the word, and continue to do this, and do what it says we will be blessed in what we do, meaning our attempts at obedience will be helped. Jesus said that everyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is wise. He said everyone who hears but does not put his words into practice is a fool. Jesus said that members of his family were only those who “hear God’s word and put it into practice.” I am assuming that you want to be blessed, be wise, and that you certainly want to be a member of Jesus’ family. Then practice what is preached. Some might object, saying, “Yes, but the Sunday morning message isn’t Jesus’ words, they are your words.” At the risk of not being humble I object. Listen to what scholar Ian Pitt-Watson says, “The Word of God comes to us in three ways: first, In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; second, in the written Word of Scripture…, but third, is the Word preached….preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” Or listen to I Peter 4:11, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”

Recently, in the series on Reconnecting we’ve been asking you to do some thing, to reconnect with basic habits. Pray. Are you having a daily time of prayer. Worship. Are you coming to worship together with us every week? Community. Are you showing up for Bible Study? Evangelism. Are you telling someone about Jesus? Service. Are you using your gifts to glorify God in serving the church? Stewardship. Are you bringing to God what is already his, the tithe? Doing these things is not the mark of super sainthood, meant only for the few. Doing these things is basic discipleship. It’s what being a member of the family is.

This Means You

Here’s a thought.  What if you actually did the things we talk about? What if when you hear a teaching in Bible study or heard a message from the pulpit on Sunday you actually decided to do what it said? Listen, this is important.  What we are doing is not entertainment. What we are doing and saying is intended to make a change in your life. Listening to teaching and preaching is not about whether you enjoy the message. It’s about whether or not you hear it and then do what it says.  The Bible is pretty plain about this. Hearing and not then doing is a sign of self deception.  Either we think we don’t need to do what is said because we are good enough as we are or we think the purpose of what is said is for our enjoyment and not for our instruction.  Both are wrong.  Hearing does not become listening until we are living, or trying to live, the truth you’ve heard.

We are actually expected by God to live lives like those described in the pages of Scripture. We are to live lives that are marked by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to be like Jesus, and like Peter and Paul.  We are to be like even those unnamed people in Acts who are living extraordinary lives that can only be explained by saying that these people were invaded by God himself.   We are to do extraordinary miracles.  We are to love as widely and as ridiculously as God does and include people we would, unless God were at work, consider to be enemies.   We are to live as if heaven has already come here. 

Scripture and preaching and teaching can transform us into these people if we let it. This means that when you hear you must take time to consider what you hear.  Let the words, the thoughts, linger. Compare yourselves to what you hear.  How do you measure up? Do you need to stretch, to try something new and different? Do you need to let go of something? Whatever it is do it. Do not be satisfied with the partially made being you are.  Listen. Hear. Obey. Live.

There is an old preacher’s story I’ve used from time to time. It’s a story about a church who’s membership was ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddled down to church and filled the sanctuary. The duck pastor would preach stirring messages.  He’d say, “Ducks, you have wings!” The ducks would quack “amen.”  “Ducks,” the pastor would say, “you are made for the sky!” More approving quacks. “Ducks!” the pastor would continue, “Spread your wings and soar!”  The ducks would all stand and raise their wings to the sky and quack and quack amens.  And then the benediction would be said and then all the ducks would waddle home.

It sounds funny when we tell it about ducks, doesn’t it?

A Season of Reconnection

Ah, welcome September. So happy to see you Fall and cooler weather.  Hello, school days. Nice to have you back, Football, my old friend. But of all the things I’m glad to see back I’m most glad to see a season of reconnection when people begin reconnecting with routines, schedules, and church.

       You’re going to hear a lot about reconnection this Fall. Reconnection will be our theme in the months ahead beginning here in September. Reconnection will begin with Homecoming 2018 on September 16th. On that day we’ll, as usual, invite home so many members of our family as we remember those gone before and we'll hear a fine message from one of our favorite sons, Steve Davis. Steve grew up in our ministry and has gone on to do well as a minister of music and pastor. But reconnection will not end with Homecoming. We’re just getting started.

September 23rd will be Reconnection Sunday. On that day we’re launching an entire season in which we will consider all the ways we each need to reconnect with what God is doing in our lives and church. We’ll ask questions like “What is the reason we’re here? What’s a church for?”  I think the reason we’ll find might be the simplest, most obvious, and most challenging reason you’ll ever hear. You’ll have to wait to find out what it is. As we consider this answer to this most important question we’ll be asking you to reconnect with a number of ways we grow our spiritual lives.  We’ll ask you to reconnect with prayer and become a truly praying person. We’ll ask you to reconnect with worship and to gather with the rest of our body each Sunday as we together show the world what the real world truly is. We’ll ask you to reconnect with a Bible study group because we know that what we really need is to be together face to face with a group of believers with the Scriptures in between us. We’ll ask you to reconnect with our mission to the outside. We are here to show those outside what real love is, real family and real life is, and to invite them to come join us. We’ll ask you to reconnect with servanthood by saying yes to helping and making sacrifices. That’s, umm, kind of what Jesus did, isn’t it? And aren’t you and I supposed to be like him? Along that line we’ll ask you, too, to reconnect with stewardship. God gives each of us a portion of his world to have as our stewardship. He wants us to manage it for his glory.

Along the way will be fun and fellowship opportunities.  Lunch at Homecoming.  Breakfast on the 23rd as we launch Reconnection. A camping trip. The annual Tailgating event on October 21.

Here’s the main point.  We’re going to ask you to make an effort to be like Jesus. We’re going to ask you to, if you love Jesus, to love his church too.  We’re going to ask you to actually reconnect and show that love. 

If you do, you’ll make a difference. 

212 Degrees

It’s August and it’s the season for checking.  Moms and dads are checking school supply lists to see if they have the pencils and notebooks and crayons their kids need to be successful.  High school students are checking their class schedules. College students are checking to see if their financial aid package has come through. Teachers and school staff are checking, too, everything from what students are in what class to whether or not the buses have had their oil changed.  As school begins there’s a lot of checking to do.

The same at church.  Do we have enough people for Kids Life on Wednesday night?  What about menus for suppers? Changes for Sunday School?  What will the schedule for the teens be?  Worship on Wednesday or worship on Sunday night? There’s lots of checking to do.

And you have some checking to do to.  There is a verse in Romans 12 which is part of a checklist of things we as believers need to makes sure we are paying attention to.  The list checks off things like making sure your love is real and sincere, that you are faithful in your prayers, and that you share with people who are in need.  In the middle of that list is this item, “Keep your spiritual fervor.”

Fervor.  Is it out of fashion?  Is fervor something we have only during the early days of our faith and then as “maturity” settles in we too settle in to a more plodding, less passionate kind of relationship with Jesus?  Not according to the Bible.  We are to keep (that’s a command and that means we are to put effort into this) our spiritual fervor.  The sentence could be translated as “keep your spirit hot.”  Or consider this.  The word fervor in the original language has strong connections with the idea of boiling.  Think of the heat and activity of boiling water.  Keep your spirit at the boiling point.  Long ago I mentioned this in a message and a few days later a songwriting member of the congregation surprised me with a new song he called “212 Degrees.”

Keep your spirit at the 212 degrees.  Be on fire for Jesus.  Put it on our list of things to do. 

So how? Start with recognizing that your spirit has maybe grown a little cold.  Admit to yourself that you have been distracted by other things.  Then do what the song from the old Sing and Celebrate songbook says.  Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in  his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  They will.  I promise.  Just start looking fully and constantly at Jesus.  That’s the hard trick.  Start your morning with him.  Keep your thoughts on Jesus.  Go through every moment of the day endeavoring to live in a continual conversation with Jesus.  It will be hard, challenging work but you will be rewarded in so many ways.