Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2016: The Year of Epaphroditis

As I ponder the events of 2015 and look forward to 2016 I give thanks to God for each one of you.  Thank you for your faithful service to the Lord Jesus and the many ways you sacrificially give of yourselves so that people might experience the love of God.  Thank you also for the many Advent, birthday and Christmas greetings I have received and for your prayers and support.

As we anticipate another year of life and service to God I call you to consider making 2016 the “Year of Epaphroditis.”  During December I have been studying the letter of Paul to the Philippians, and no matter how many times I have read it there is always something new and fresh in the Word that informs our present time. 

Epaphroditis was sent by the Christians in Philippi to visit Paul, who was in prison for preaching the Gospel.  In those days a person in prison was not afforded daily rations of food.  The only sustenance came if someone from the outside brought in food and money. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

From Horror to Hope

Photo by Beats Advisor
There is a horror movie out this Christmas known as “Krampus.”  According to Wikipedia “Krampus has its roots in Austro-Bavarian, German-speaking alpine folklore.”  It is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who, during the Christmas season, brutally punishes children who have misbehaved. 

This movie is not on my holiday must-see list, as I don’t have the stomach for horror movies in general, nor one about an evil side to Christmas in particular. 

Christmas is about love from God that came down to earth with the intent to not punish but save us from our misbehaving.  I prefer a depiction of the baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by adoring shepherds and mysterious international visitors from the East. That's a must-see story.

However, if you study both the Matthew and Luke Gospels Christmas does have a very unpleasant side, one that is as current as today's morning news.  The true facts of Christmas call us to respond to the Christ’s nativity in ways that go beyond seasonal giving to the poor, special worship in our churches and festive gatherings with friends and family.

Jesus was born into an oppressed people.  The Jews were under the occupation of the Romans. His birth in Bethlehem (and not back home in Nazareth) had a lot to do with the Roman government wanting to ascertain just how much the Jews could be taxed through a mandatory census.  Still today, many of the world’s wealthy use their power and influence to oppress the poor and the powerless.  As I reflect on the Global Climate Summit in France, I am concerned about the many vulnerable tiny islands that stand to lose everything if global warming continues to rise.  It is clear that rich nations are oppressing poor ones by abusing the earth’s natural resources and by valuing profits over human existence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Push Back, Lean Forward

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” the song tells us. At least that’s true on store shelves heavily stocked with Christmas gifts and decorations for sale. And beyond the look, there’s the dubious sound of Christmas for some: “Cha-ching, cha-ching.”

A continuous string of commercials over the next month will ring with the same message: “Buy, buy now, and buy more!”  The onslaught of ads that started long before Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber-Monday will continue long after, with hefty credit card bills arriving close behind.
But the church has a unique opportunity to show and share with people the true meaning of this season of Advent and Christmas and to model respectful, creative kinds of gift-giving and celebrating. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ (Romans 12:2)  

How will you have a Christ-filled Christmas this year?  You don’t have to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but you can instead push back against its “care-less” commercialism. Why not emulate the star that guided wise men, and set a shining example of a more excellent way for the world to follow?  Here are a few thoughts:

1. Observe a Holy Advent

Advent is the beginning of the church calendar and it begins four weeks before Christmas. During this time the church ponders the coming of Christ: past, present and future.   It is also a time to look within.  The best way to prepare for Christmas is to lean forward by exercising the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, study of the Scriptures, tithing, worship attendance, Holy Communion and devotional reading.  Ask God to reveal the things that you need to change in your life.  Get involved in a Bible Study at church or in your community.  Don’t miss a single Sunday of worship.  Faithfully give of your means to help the poor.