Friday, December 17, 2010

Four Christmas Journeys - Part 3

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe from my previous posts, my fondest memories of Christmas have not involved gifts (although they sometimes played a secondary role). Memories of Christmas that have stayed with me have always involved people.

One of my more memorable Christmases was in December of 2001. I had just finished my seminary classes (although I still had a few papers to finish and turn in before they’d give me my diploma) and was preparing to move on from Fort Worth, Texas to my next stop (wherever that would be). As I awaited news from Culpeper Baptist Church about the possibility of being called to serve there in the capacity of Minister to Youth, I got the opportunity to spend time with friends and family in the days leading up to Christmas.

I was able to not only hang out with some of my buddies and former youth, I also had dessert with a special friend from my college years. Kathy Correa and I had defined our relationship as “just friends” numerous times (but I don’t think either of us completely believed it). We had spent many Saturday mornings on the phone as I mopped floors at Wedgwood Baptist Church. I am grateful for the wired headset that allowed me to make all those calls while at work. On Sunday, December 23, 2001, while I was in Miami, Kathy confessed to me (finally!) that she was in love with me. This relationship, seven years in the making, was cemented together over vows just eight months later on August 17, 2002.

Christmas came early for me that year with the greatest gift a person could ever receive.

The gift of love.

True love is not something that can be bartered, sold, or exchanged. It is freely given and is best appreciated when freely received.

This is what makes Christmas such a special time of the year.

We are reminded of God’s gift of love.

God’s love for humanity wrapped in swaddling clothes.

One hymn that has always spoken to me about the depth of this love was penned in the 1700s by Charles Wesley. Here is the 3rd stanza of “And Can it Be?”

He left His Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me!

May you also be found out this season. Found out by Peace, by Hope and by Joy.

And found out by Love.

A love that never wavers. A love that inspires and strengthens us to love others as well.


Related Verses
Isaiah 9:1-7

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.

For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.

The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

1 Corinthians 13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Four Christmas Journeys - Part 2

There was one place in Miami to be during the holiday rush as a child in the 80’s: Lionel Playworld.

It was indistinguishable (at least I thought) from Toys-R-Us, but all of their ads promised to “Turn that frown upside down.”

Yes, I hungered for MANY toys from that store. As I charged up and down the aisles, my senses were assaulted by two categories of playthings: those I could reasonably hope to acquire, and those that I knew deep inside would never darken my doorway.

I did get over the years, among other things, a rocketry set, several GI Joe’s, a few Transformers, and Sea Monkeys.

The items that I could only dream about included: a Star Wars Return of the Jedi Swing Set (mere words cannot adequately describe this, see the link), a GI Joe Aircraft Carrier (my disappointment at not getting one diminished significantly when I realized that they couldn’t really float), and various remote control aircraft (that I was planning to fly off the aforementioned GI Joe Aircraft Carrier … sigh).

Despite being teased every holiday season, I still somehow managed to find joy despite the fact that I knew I wouldn’t get all these toys.

Or rather, joy would find ME.

Joy would find me as I sang carols with my brother and sister in the back seat of our station wagon as we checked out our neighbors’ holiday lights.

Joy would find me as I shivered whenever a cool breeze brushed my face.

Joy would find me as I ate roast pork and all the fixings during Noche Buena with family.

And Joy would find me as I watched holiday specials.

As has become our custom, Kathy and I watched “a Charlie Brown Christmas” a few nights ago after decorating our Christmas tree. This is one Christmas special that I look forward to every year. I always seem to catch something new even though I’ve watched it dozens of times.

Charlie Brown is fed up with the commercialization of Christmas and seeks to find out what it really is about. Everywhere he turns, he only becomes more and more disillusioned, culminating with being barraged by insults over his choice of a Christmas tree.

We all feel like Charlie Brown some days, don’t we?

Enter Linus Van Pelt, who calls for a spotlight and shares what the true meaning of Christmas is:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

With the arrival of the Savior comes joy. Even though we are bombarded with messages about what we don’t have, we can have joy because of what we DO have. Christmas is a yearly reminder that a Saviour has been born to us. One who traded the glory of heaven for a dirty manger. One who willingly suffered the human condition. One who knows firsthand what our pain feels like. One who died and was raised again so we might not have to suffer the consequences of our sins.

One who knows our wants, and graciously supplies all our needs.

What is on your Christmas list this year? Where has God’s joy found you lately?

May God’s Hope and Peace fill you, and may His JOY find you this season.

Joy is a gift that can be shared!

Related Verses
Luke 2:8-20

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

1 Peter 1:3-12
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Four Christmas Journeys - Part 1

This is the time of year when expectations abound.

Whether it be for the “Perfect Family Christmas”, finding the “Perfect Gift” for someone, or hosting the “Perfect Holiday Party” (whatever ANY of those means is beyond me), we sometimes put impossible demands on ourselves (as well as others) and end up tired and deflated by the time the 26th of December comes around.

Feeling like the torn wrapping paper on our living room floors, we vow never to do it again.

We then faithfully keep that vow until Black Friday next year.

Is THIS what God was thinking about when He planned the birth of the Savior of the World?

For the four weeks of Advent (which is Latin for “coming towards”) I want to share four journeys.

The first week of Advent is about HOPE.

Throughout my growing years, I was optimistic for many things during the Christmas season.

One constant wish (in secret) was to get a remote control airplane. I loved military airplanes; this passion was a flame that was fanned by many trips to air shows with my family. To this day, every time I hear a plane overhead, I instinctively look up to identify it. I wanted to be a pilot, but knew my glasses would forever keep me grounded. However, that didn’t stop me from wishing and hoping to get something that I could fly.

I even remember one Christmas Eve as we were driving to the house of one of my relatives for the BIG PARTY thinking about how great it would be to find that Santa had arrived early to their house and left a large box for me containing a remote control airplane. That vision is so clear to me, that I can remember exactly where we were on the journey when I was struck by it. We had just passed Tropical Park on Miller Road and were getting onto the 826 Expressway. I looked out of the car window at the grove of trees quickly flitting by the darkness and dreamed that it would come true. I could even see myself taking it out of the box.

Santa didn’t come early that year, but I was delighted to receive the next best thing one of those Christmases long ago; a Flying Devils play set which had wire guided planes that went around a control tower.

There are times in all of our journeys where we can look back and honestly say, “I can clearly remember this”. Some are momentous occasions; others seem to revolve around things that are more trivial.

However big or little, they all serve as points along our journey.

This Christmas season, as we journey towards the celebration of hope coming into the world in the form of a defenseless infant; let us take some time to look back on our journey to see how far we’ve come.

For you see, we are closer to our destination.

May God fill you with HOPE this week and may you feel a thrill of delight in the knowledge that He loved us enough to send His Son to save us from ourselves.

Related Verses
Isaiah 60:1-9
“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the LORD rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the LORD rises and appears over you.

All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.

Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands.

Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the LORD.

The flocks of Kedar will be given to you, and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars. I will accept their offerings, and I will make my Temple glorious.

“And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel, like doves to their nests? They are ships from the ends of the earth, from lands that trust in me, led by the great ships of Tarshish. They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away, carrying their silver and gold.

They will honor the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has filled you with splendor.