What follows came to me a week or so ago.  I guess it was something I needed to hear at that time and place.

There is a wide spectrum of personalities in the Christian world.  Sitting in the middle (or trying to sit in the middle) I see the two extremes.

There are the extreme holiness people.  Stern judges, determined to expose and punish sin wherever they find it.

Then there are the touchy feely ones.  Searching for the next big goosebump service.  Living by their emotions and allowing their emotions to lead them astray.

I fear that we see the Trinity that way.  Jesus is touchy feely.  Love, joy, peace, forgiveness.  Freedom.

The Holy Spirit is wisdom and guidance and conviction but He is also encouragement and peace and joy.

God the Father is stern judge.  Determined to expose and punish sin.  Always a frown on His face.

We know that’s not true.  They are all the same.  They are one.  Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”

So what happens the first moment I set foot into heaven?  Jesus will greet me joyfully.  The Holy Spirit will celebrate.  And God the Father?  Creator of all things, majesty on high, righteous judge?  What will God the Father do?

The first moment I set foot in heaven…

God will dance.


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The True Meaning of Christmas

I’ve posted very little in the past few years.  I used to do better in December but even that has been sparse the last two or three years.  I write but I don’t post.  Afraid I will offend somebody.  So here I go again.  Who knows if this will see the light of day?

That title is attention getting, isn’t it?  If you are not a Christian you may say Christmas is family and friends, parties, entertainment, good food.  Some vague feelings of warmth and joy and friendship.  If you are a Christian you are sure of the true meaning of Christmas and you will quote Linus from A Charley Brown Christmas.  “And there were in the same country…”  You will state emphatically that Jesus is the reason for the season.

I agree with you but I wonder if in our enthusiastic defense of Christmas we have forgotten why He came.  He came so we could have new life, so we could be changed.  He came so we would not be controlled by anger and hate and fear.  So we would be different and we would stand out in our difference.

I wonder if we have made anger and hate our friends.  And we will not turn our backs on our friends.

I wonder if we have become comfortable with our fears.  Have we come to the point where we are afraid to let go of our fears?  Are we afraid to trust?

So what is the true meaning of Christmas?  It’s that Jesus came so that we could have love and not hate, so that we trade our fear for faith.

Maybe this is the year, this Christmas more than all the others, that we turn our backs on our old friend ‘hate’.  That we decide to let go of fear and decide to trust.



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An Engraved Invitation

I’m reading through the New Testament and the last few days I’ve been reading in the gospel of Luke.  And of course that brought me up against Luke Chapter Two, the birth of Jesus.

Several years ago I wrote something called And There Were in the Same Country, A Redneck Christmas.  I guess it’s still out there somewhere.  It’s about two good old boys smoking dope and drinking beer and working on their pickup truck when the angels appear and tell them about the birth of the Son of God and about how they could find Him in a barn on route 21 just west of the intersection with route 23.

I’ve always had this idea in the back of my mind of how this came about.  The angels are about to bust wanting to announce the good news, wanting to celebrate.  God doesn’t want them to shout to the whole world so He says, “See that remote hillside down there, the one with the sheep and shepherds?  Go down there and tell them.”

Lately I’ve had occasion to rethink that.

Think about the wise men.  They studied ancient texts.  They studied the scriptures.  They studied the heavens.  And they journeyed to where their studies took them, to Bethlehem and the manger and the baby Jesus.

So basically they invited themselves.

Ah, but the shepherds.  God said to the angels, “See those shepherds down there?  See those dregs of society, those people that nobody wants at the next table, that nobody wants to live next to, those people that nobody wants to have anything to do with.  Go tell them.  Go give them… an engraved invitation.”

And they did.  They presented an engraved invitation.  You know those cards you get that have a chip and a speaker in them?  It was like that except when they opened it, it wasn’t the Beatles singing the birthday song.  When they opened it a whole mountaintop opened up, like in the Sound of Music.  But there was no Julie Andrews spinning around.  No Trapp Family singers.  There was a multitude of angels singing ‘Glory to God in the Highest’.  With fireworks.  You think Pops on the River has great fireworks.  You haven’t seen fireworks till you’ve seen angels do fireworks.

So there you have it.  The wise men showed up.  That’s great.  God wants everybody to come.

But the shepherds? The dirty, smelly, shepherds?  Those people who nobody wants to be around?  Those people who are supposed to stay away in the hills with the sheep, away from civilized people?  The shepherds got an engraved invitation.

God wants everybody to come.  But there are some…

Alcoholics and drug addicts.  People on welfare.  Illegal immigrants. People who sleep under bridges and overpasses.  Those people who hold up cardboard signs on street corners.  He wants those people to get an invitation.

The thing is He doesn’t use angels anymore.  He wants us to deliver the engraved invitation.

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The Extravagant Gift

Wise advise this time of year would be to not give extravagantly.  Don’t break the bank or go deep into debt to show love that you should be showing all year.  That is wise advise in respect to giving of Christmas gifts.

There is another aspect to giving, extravagant giving that says otherwise.  We should be giving extravagantly continually, every day of the year.  Abraham did.  Moses did.  David and Isaiah and Elijah and Jeremiah did.  Peter and James and John and all the disciples did.  And Paul did.

They did and millions of others have as well through the centuries.  They gave themselves to Christ.  They surrendered their lives to Him.  And here’s the thing.  When they, when we surrender our lives to Him, we exchange a life of no value to gain a life of infinite worth.

There is One other who gave extravagantly.  Jesus Christ surrendered all.  He exchanged a life of infinite value for a life of no value ( or so it seemed).  The exchange, the sacrifice had already been made the night He was born.  He gave extravagantly.

So what should we give this Christmas?  Should we give extravagantly?  Give our all, our everything, our lives?   Not just on Christmas but all year, from this day forward, forever.

After all, what have we got to lose?


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Who Knew?

Matthew Chapter two tells about the Magi who came to visit the baby Jesus.  We call them wise men.  A popular song calls them kings and says there were three of them.  I don’t know if they were wise men or kings.  I don’t know how many there were.  I do know they were rich.  They brought expensive gifts.  I imagine they came with an entourage.  They probably made quite a splash in Jerusalem.

I wonder why the wise men/kings came.  They read the prophecies.  They studied the stars.  But did they think that this was The King?  Or did they think he was to be just a king?  Maybe they came to bow and worship, to give expensive gifts just in case.  Maybe they were just hedging their bets.

You wonder who knew.  Who understood just what this child would mean?  Elizabeth and Zechariah certainly had some idea.  Joseph had an inkling.  Mary most of all understood that this child was very special.  But who knew?  Who really knew that this child would be the One who would divide history?  Who knew that through this child, by this child everything would change?

That’s what happens when Jesus comes on the scene.  Everything changes.  We get confused about that.  We think it’s about the color of coffee cups, about saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, about laws and politicians.  When Jesus comes on the scene everything changes.  When Jesus comes on the scene I am changed.

And that is the task before us.  It’s not about who’s running the government (or who thinks they are running the government).  It is about Jesus and that by Him, through Him everything has changed.


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A Christmas Fast

I hardly post anything anymore.  When I started out I wanted to write stuff that was amusing, clever, entertaining while at the same time maybe reaching a few souls with the gospel.  That’s long gone I’m afraid.  Can’t see the humor.  I have managed to come up with stuff postworthy for December (leading up to Christmas) the last couple of years.  But this year…

I got inspired and wrote the following longhand at work the other day.  Let’s see if this means anything.

It’s been a challenging year.  Emergency room visits that turn out to be, well, false alarms.  Visits to the doctor.  Various intrusive examinations and tests.  Followup visits.  All of the exams and tests came up negative so that’s reassuring.  But all the same I have suffered an erosion in the past year, an erosion of peace.

I wonder if that’s what hinders us, not the big things but the little things that constantly wear away at us.  The constant drip drip drip of the little distractions that erode our peace and joy.

I know we can’t shut off many things that come at us, that distract us.  But there is one thing we can do.

What I’m getting at is a fast.  Not of food.  After all it’s Christmas.  There will be treats.  No, I’m suggesting a fast of news.  Imagine (if you could turn off the noise) getting to January and looking back and seeing all the things that were going to happen that didn’t, the things that did happen that we weathered just fine, the accusations and finger pointing that didn’t mean anything.  That would be cool, wouldn’t it?

I know.  I know.  Google doesn’t have a ‘no politics’ button.  We can’t completely shut off the noise.  But we can choose not to focus on it.  We can choose instead to focus on Jesus.

After all it is Christmas.

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This Is What You Are Looking For

I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the theater the other day.  I like watching those old movies that had such an impact, especially on the big screen.  They never have the same effect, though.  Maybe it’s because I know what’s coming.

Watching this one did remind me of one thing: the part music can play in story telling.  Close Encounters has that five note sequence: Re, Me, Do, Do, So.  John Williams is a master at creating simple note progressions that become a short of shorthand for the story itself.

Music can be more than enhancements to the story.  Music can be story in itself.

I recently read a biography of Beethoven.  I big book.  I had to read it in gulps.  There was a lot I just scanned, the stuff about specific keys and chords.  Completely over my head.  I did learn a lot about the man himself, though.  He was convinced at an early age that he had a gift.  I wonder if much of his anger and depression and isolation was because he was afraid that his gift would be wasted or would not find its place in the world.  All of us are born with a gift and few of us completely fulfil the promise of that gift.

Beethoven lived in the time of the French revolution.  He was thrilled by the promise of freedom, of the end to inherited royalty, the end to privileged aristocracy.  But then the revolution turned deadly.  Hope then depression.  Out of that came Napoleon, and Beethoven was again hopeful.  A benevolent despot. Freedom, equal opportunity, an end to poverty and hunger.  But then Napoleon made himself emperor and began to establish a new aristocracy, a new royal lineage.  Napoleon was defeated and a return to the old order brought even greater oppression.  Beethoven was once again thrown into depression.

The biographer again and again makes the point that Beethoven’s music begins somberly, then goes through turmoil and warfare and discordance, then ends with joy.  Always ends with joy.  Beethoven’s life and music were a lifelong search for joy.

This is nowhere more evident than in his last symphony, the ninth, named Choral.  It begins with a whisper, uncertainty.  It almost sounds like an orchestra tuning up.   From there it moves to the suggestion of warfare, of marching armies, of drums and trumpets, of battles and bloodshed.  It continues that way, growing ever more discordant and unsettling until…

The fourth movement is where Beethoven was heading all along.  (It begins at the 52 minute mark.)  Not far into it we encounter an old friend: that simple two note sequence we heard at the beginning.  But it sounds more confident, more sure of itself.  From there it moves on but this time there is not the sense of armies and battles and bloodshed.  This time the music conveys the sense of anticipation, of hope maybe?  A sense of something wonderful that is coming.  Embedded in the music are little three or four note snippets that give promise of that simple tune we know is coming,

Then it just stops.  Well, it doesn’t really stop.  Even with headphones you have to turn up the volume to hear it.  You can almost feel it rather than hear it. In my hillbilly understanding I call them bass fiddles.  They are playing that familiar tune, the one we’ve been waiting for.  In both my YouTubes the conductors have been conducting with great zeal and showmanship.  Now they, both of them, are standing quietly, just watching and listening.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s tradition.  Maybe everybody does the ninth that way.  But it does lend drama.  It makes a statement.

We dance and shout and run the aisles and we think that is where joy comes from.  But I think it’s that small voice, that whisper in my ear that can barely be heard.  That whisper that says ‘I will heal’, ‘I will provide’, ‘I will protect’, and that one whisper that is more important than all the others.  “I’m right here.’

Now instruments of a higher register join in and the cadence steps up a bit.  The violins come in an octave higher.  Then the brass joins in and we are lifted still higher.  Now the phrases in their excitement are tumbling over each other, one beginning before the last one is done.  At one point the violins go staccato, Bum Bum Bum, in their ecstasy, in their joy.

And now we come to the choral part.  I don’t know how you feel about it but to me German is not a pretty language.  But even at that we have been carried up to a place where even the singing transmits the feeling of joy.  We have been transported by the music.

The YouTube has closed captioning and the words convey a foggy sense of wellbeing.  Beethoven’s religion seems to have been an odd combination of faith and philosophy.  His idea of a better life felt something like ‘the fellowship of man’.  Better days ahead.

In some parts of the world, especially Japan for some reason, performance of the Ninth is a kind of new year celebration thing.  It’s a way to begin the year with a new hope, a vague promise that the next year will be better.

But we don’t depend on vague promises or earthy philosophies.  Our joy is not dependent on present or future circumstances.  Our joy comes from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit, from God the Father.  

It’s likely that the world around us will continue to get worse.  People will continue to look for relief in sex and drugs. They will continue to wallow in fear and anger.  But we can live above all that, in spite of circumstances.  We can live in joy, the unspeakable joy of the Lord.

And then we can say to the world around us ‘Here.  This.  This is what you’re looking for.’

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