New Year’s: Searching For Reasons

Do you celebrate New Year’s? Should it be celebrated? 

New Year’s

Our Federal government proclaimed New Year’s a holiday on June 28, 1870. As a nation, we have been officially celebrating it for 146 years.

Thing About It

New Year’s doesn’t acknowledge a president’s birthday, or a famous explorer, or a champion of human rights. It doesn’t embrace any religious purpose. It doesn’t celebrate our nation’s freedom or honor the sacrifice of fallen soldiers. It isn’t a national day of prayer and fasting as was the original declaration of Thanksgiving. 

Reasons People Celebrate New Year’s

  • It’s a national holiday
  • Promise of a better year
  • The parties
  • An opportunity to drink
  • It’s on the calendar
  • It’s something to do
  • It’s what we do
  • What else is there to do?
  • It welcomes the New Year
  • It’s an American tradition

As Near As I Can Tell

As near as I can tell, the entire focus of New Year’s is the end of one year and the beginning of another. It’s the turning of a calendar.

Some New Year’s Numbers

  1. New Year’s Eve is the most popular drinking day in America.
  2. One million will crowd Time Square to watch the ball drop.
  3. Another billion will watch from around the world.
  4. $3200 is the price for a direct view of the ball from the Marriott Hotel.
  5. 360 million glasses of Champagne will be served.

Millions will drink too much and put people’s safety at risk.

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In Closing

I’m not against celebrating New Year’s. I’m just struggling to find a reasonable reason to do so. It isn’t about honor, or remembering, or acknowledging something sacred or patriotic. It doesn’t encourage faith, thanksgiving ,or anything spiritual. 

I guess having fun is the purpose of New Year’s? 

Be safe. Be responsible. Be wise.

Shalom 

 

 

Encouragement & Prayer

Today’s blog is simple: blessings, encouragements, and a prayer.

Some Blessings & Encouragements

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless you with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians 1:3

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Ephesians 1:18

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:19

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ. Romans 8:37-38

A Prayer

Good morning Holy Spirit. Thank you for connecting us to the Father and for interceding for us. You are our counselor and helper. You are our spiritual conscience and guide. You transform us daily into the very image of Christ. We are blessed, and more blessed, because of you.

Thank you Holy Spirit, Amen.

what-is-the-holy-spirit-dove

Shalom

Pt 12: Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas conclude today, the day to reflect.

It’s The Morning After Christmas

I’m thinking about the events of the past few weeks. The parties in our home with friends and coworkers were sweet and enriching. The three days I got to spend in the Texas Hill Country were fun and restful. Our Children’s Christmas Musical was a night to remember.

The Christmas Eve service was a beautiful expression of God’s love expressed in the birth of his son. Seeing hundreds of candles lifted up in honor of the infant king never fails to move me!

Our Christmas Sunday service was just tremendous, so very uplifting, immersing us in the good news of great joy.

Then finally, it was Christmas at our house. The fireplace was crackling, the stockings were filled, and brightly wrapped presents eagerly awaited us. It was a Christmas I’ll never forget.

Regarding Joseph & Mary

Their trip to Bethlehem, with Mary nine months pregnant, must have been very hard. I’ve imagined their experience out there in the cold, with the animals. What a difficult place for Mary to deliver her firstborn child.  I’ve thought about that night, a night of angels and shepherds. It was a night divine, a silent and holy night.

Nativity

I’ve wondered about their anxiety with Herod trying to kill the baby. And what about the other families; the infant sons who Herod arranged to kill in his efforts to exterminate the new born King. How horrible for them and how distressing to Mary and Joseph knowing other families lost their babies while they escaped to Egypt. What a burden to carry.

And Finally

Christmas is a lot of things to a lot of people. But in the beginning, it was the night of Immanuel. The night our God came near. For God so loved his world that he gave us his son. Ours was a world in great need of love, forgiveness, and a savior. 

TheNativity (600 x 300)

 When we say, “Merry Christmas” what we are really saying is:

     “May the God of all grace bless you in the celebration of his Son’s birth.” 

Merry Christmas

Pt 11: Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s early Christmas morning and I’m the first one up. 

Christmas Traditions

I’m always the first one up. I light the candles, get a fire going, and crank the AC down because we live in Houston. Then its coffee and carols. And then it’s my daughter, coming out in her pajamas to sit with me by the fireplace. She’s 27 and married, but she still likes to begin Christmas with her dad, as she’s done for many years. The rest of the family will be out soon and the presents, stockings, and wrapping will all be front and center.

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For Mary and Joseph?  

Christmas morning was different for them. They made it to Bethlehem, an exhausting trip, especially for Mary. As they approached the village, they surely were looking forward to a warm room and a comfortable bed. But it wasn’t to be, for the inn was full.

Did the exchange go something like this:

Inn Keeper: “I’m sorry folks, but we’re booked solid.”

Joseph: “You don’t understand, we’ve traveled for days and my wife is expecting. You must have something?”

Inn Keeper: “Well, it isn’t much, but you’re welcome to stay out back with the sheep, donkeys, and camels.”

Joseph: (looking at his exhausted and very pregnant wife) said, “Okay, we’ll take it.”

It Was Time

Mary was in labor. Was it a difficult delivery? Did she have any help or was only Joseph by her side? She probably didn’t have her mom or any help at all.

But the Savior was born. I imagine Joseph cutting the cord and Mary swaddling him in strips of cloth. The infant king nestled in his mother’s arms. All of heaven was in joyous celebration; with the angels singing in glorious praise.  

It was a silent night, a holy night, a night adorned by a brilliant star in the east. At long last, after thousands of years, God made good on his promise, he came to be with us.

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To Close

It’s early morning. It’s just me, a perfectly lit tree, and my perfectly beautiful daughter. The fire is crackling, the coffee is fresh, and the carols are softly playing.

It was a very different experience for Mary and Joseph. But it all started with them. They brought the Savior into the world and his coming was good news of great joy. He came because we needed him. We still do.

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It’s Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas

Pt 10: Twelve Days of Christmas

These days, a happy, or unhappy, trip is measured by flight delays, bag arrival, and the rudeness factor of passengers. Traveling can be rough. Bless my heart, right?

Back To Bethlehem

The betrothed couple faced a hard journey, for Caesar Augustus had declared a census of the entire Roman world. Joseph would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of David.

He and Mary traveled together, going southeast around Samaria, then along the Jordan River to Jericho. Then they headed southwest to Bethlehem, eight miles south of Jerusalem.

It was a ninety-mile journey and Mary was nine months pregnant.

Mary Joseph 2

The Trip

Riding a camel, travelers could make twenty miles a day, fewer on a donkey. We don’t know if Joseph owned such animals; it would be uncommon for a young couple to have them. But given Mary’s condition, it’s unthinkable that she would have walked the ninety miles.

 They could have stayed in homes at night, given the sacred honor of Jewish hospitality. But they might have pitched a tent. Temperatures would be in the 50’s and in the 40’s at night. In December, the nights could drop to freezing. It would be a difficult trip for Joseph and nothing short of miserable for Mary.

On The Trail

I wonder what they talked about; was it all about the baby?

Maybe they discussed prophecies? They knew the baby was due. Did they connect the dots between Micah’s prophecy and being in Bethlehem? Did they discuss what would happen if the baby came while they traveled? Did they know that Jesus could only be born in Bethlehem?

Mary Joseph

For Consideration

We know Bethlehem is a part of Christmas, just part of the story. But truthfully, the trip was difficult, dangerous, and painful. 

His birth was announced by angels, witnessed by shepherds, and honored by the Magi. He survived King Herod and life in exile, and then finally made it home. When the time came, he went to the cross. But before any of that could happen, Mary and Joseph had to make it to Bethlehem.

To Close

Our Savior was born to strong and determined parents.

They were so young, so unprepared, but willing and submissive to God.

We should be grateful. There would not have been a Christmas if it wasn’t for them.

Merry Christmas

Pt 9: Twelve Days of Christmas

What criteria did God use for selecting the Messiah’s mother?

The Usual Things?

Was he looking for a sweet personality? Perhaps a top tier, upwardly mobile, highly intelligent woman? Did those things matter? Were there other considerations?

Other Considerations?

The Messiah had to come from the tribe of Judah, of the line of David, and have a virgin birth. He would be called a Nazarene, so God needed someone from Nazareth, and Nazareth was a very small village. How many virgins, from the tribe of Judah, of the line of David, could there be in Nazareth? He only needed one.

Was There Something Deeper?

Gabriel told Mary some incredible things. He said that God favored her and that she would deliver the Holy One, the son of David. That she would be with child and yet remain a virgin. That the power of the Most High would overshadow her. Can you imagine? Most of us would have fainted on the spot. But not Mary. Her response was,

              “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

Was that the deeper quality God was searching for, a submissive spirit?

Amazing Strength

The Messiah’s mother would have to be incredibly strong. Do you remember what Simeon said at Jesus’s dedication?

                    “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

She watched her son be beaten and scourged. She heard the insults and hateful words She witnessed the hammering  of spikes. Did she wince when the old rugged cross settled into it’s resting place, with a sudden and violent thud? Probably not as she wouldn’t have wanted Jesus to see her pain, only her love.

She bore his cross with her head held high. Only a mother could do that, and maybe not every mother.

Mary was an amazing person, she had to be. She was heaven’s choice to be the Messiah’s mother, she was the choice of God.

The Bible

In Closing

I think Mary was smart, gifted, and beautiful. But God’s criteria had little to do with such things. He was looking for a gentle and quiet spirit, for a deep well of inner strength, and for someone with unimpeachable character. He found her.

This Christmas, let’s be thankful for Mary. For she embraced the most difficult challenge of all. She gave birth to her son and then raised her son to die.

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Thank you Mary.

Merry Christmas

Pt 8: Twelve Days of Christmas

We often know the right thing to do, but choosing to do it is the real test.

Some Difficult News

Imagine, your fiancé has just informed you that she is pregnant. You know the baby couldn’t possibly by yours. You are beyond disappointment, you are devastated. The two of you were promised to each other and the promise was based on you both being virgins. Sadly, your dream of a sweet life with her has ended.

How could she do this to you?

Unbelievably, she swears she hasn’t been with a man. “So how can you be pregnant,” you ask her. She says, “The baby is from God, through the power of the Spirit. Gabriel appeared to me and said this was going to happen, I promise!”

You respond with, “Uh huh, okay.” Then, with a bitter soul, you bellow out your anger, tell her it’s over, and leave forever.

Doing The Right Thing

Instead of being bitter, what if you chose to be considerate. You decide not to embarrass her with shame and public disgrace. That’s exactly what Joseph did. He must have been broken hearted but he still chose compassion over vengeance. He chose to be righteous.

Then the angel explained everything to him. Can you imagine the next conversation between Joseph and Mary?

joseph and mary

To Think About

Jesus is Lord, King, and the Savior of the world. But some 2,000 years ago, in a small Galilean village, it almost ended before it started. A lesser man would have walked away and called for the stoning pit for Mary. But Joseph wasn’t a lesser man.

Jesus Did The Right Thing

When the time came, Jesus chose compassion instead of wrath and judgment. He gave up his right to condemn. Even on the cross he forgave those who were violently cruel to him.

Yes, Jesus did his Father’s will. But from the human perspective, Jesus turned out just like his Dad. Joseph must have been a wonderful example to his son.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

In Closing

We don’t know much about Joseph. But he was heaven’s choice to be the Messiah’s earthly father. In this season of Immanuel, I am deeply grateful for Joseph.

Because he was a righteous man, we are all blessed beyond measure.

Merry Christmas

Pt 7: Twelve Days of Christmas

I turned to my Dad for help when I was kid, but I didn’t always listen. 

Speaking of Help

When I was 13, I built a large, balsa-wood plane from scratch. It was harder than I imagined so I asked my Dad for help. He was a pilot, an expert in aviation, and he advised me to build the plane in ways I thought were totally unnecessary. I didn’t listen to him, didn’t want to do all the extra work. But as it turned out he was right. I should have listened, I should have done what he said. I guess I didn’t believe.

16_73_14_father_and_son_modeling_toy_airplane_in_garage
Fathers and Sons: How Many Planes Have Been Built Together?

The Father’s Son

Our heavenly Father said a lot about his son. That he would be born in Bethlehem, that it would be a virgin birth, and that he would be called Emmanuel. The Messiah would sit on David’s throne and have the Spirit’s anointing. He would be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

He said his son would be despised, forsaken, and pierced; that he would be abandoned and sold for 30 pieces of silver.

Have we listened, do we believe?

In A Few Days

Believers all over the world will be celebrating the birth of Christ. Millions will attend a candle light service. At home, fireplaces will share their warmth, stockings will be hung and presents placed under the tree. Christmas morning we’ll be standing knee deep in wrapping paper, it will be chaotic, and so very glorious.

Before the glorious morning arrives, we should take a moment to reflect on the Father sending his son to die for a sinful world. And why did he die? Because we needed him to. Because we were lost and helpless. And because Jesus our Messiah listened to his father, he believed, and so he came for us. 

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In Closing

That plane I built was really sweet. It looked great and flew like the wind, once I built it just like my father said. I should have listened the first time, I just needed to believe.

Merry Christmas

Pt. 6: Twelve Days of Christmas

The Lord sent a messenger to tell the Christmas story. Then the story was given to other messengers. I love the idea of God sending the message of his son to the world.

An Illustration

My grade school had a milk program. Each day a kid was picked to be milk monitor for his class; and it was a big deal. The honor was earned and awarded, and occasionally, it was awarded to me. It felt great to get the milk. I was appointed, I was the messenger; because of me people got milk!

God’s Messengers

God had messengers. On the night of Jesus’ birth, he sent an angel to share the good news of great joy, that a Savior had been born. The angel gave the message to some shepherds who immediately went to Bethlehem to see the new born Messiah. It’s a great story.

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The Shepherds

They weren’t Priests, Rabbis, or Pharisees. They were simple, ordinary men, probably poor, uneducated, and nothing special. Except they were the first to see the Christ. Think about it, God chose keepers of sheep to see the new born savior. And where did they find him? In a most ordinary place, a place that was nothing special. They found the Messiah in a covered stall used for draft animals.

shepherds-field

The New Messengers

Do you think the shepherds told anyone what they had heard and seen? The scripture says they went out and told everyone. The angel came with heaven’s glory to share the message with shepherds reeking of sheep. Then the newly minted messengers went out and told the world.

I guess God decides what makes a man special.

To Close

Being milk monitor was pretty good. But not as good as seeing the infant Messiah and getting to share the news. I think the shepherds turned out to be pretty awesome messengers. Theirs was the message of angels, the message of God.

“Today, a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas

Pt 5: Twelve Days of Christmas

Typically, illustrations portray the three wise men kneeling before Jesus, along with angels, shepherds, a donkey, and some sheep and camels. The nativity scene. But who were the Magi?

nativity-scene4
Typical Western Portrayal of The Nativity

A Fascinating History

 In the first century AD, the Magi were scholars, astronomers, and philosophers. They were also missionaries and priests. They traveled to learn about the faith of other cultures. It’s believed they had the writings of Daniel; from the Jewish exile in Babylon, and it’s possible that they were partly Jewish, again, from the time of the exile. They would have revered Daniel’s prophesies, and handed them down to each generation. It would explain their reason for going to Jerusalem. The Magi’s visit was a proclamation to Jerusalem, and to the world, that the Lord’s Messiah had come.

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More Historically and Culturally Accurate,  But Not The Wooden Box Manager

Then There Was Herod

By contrast, there was wicked King Herod, a descendant of Esau and Ishmael, not from David. He had deft political skills, was voraciously ambitious, and was a visionary architect and builder. In fact, his political ambitions superseded all sense of morality. He had three of his sons put to death and even executed one of his wives. He was a wicked man and a wicked king.

As a ruse, Herod sent the Magi to find Jesus, saying that he too wanted to worship the new born king. Of course, he wanted to kill him. But the Magi out foxed Herod, and the whereabouts of the infant Messiah was hidden from him, the most powerful man in Palestine.

The Wise and the Wicked

The wicked one sought to kill to protect his fragile empire. The wise ones wanted to worship the King of Kings, to lift him up, high and exalted. Herod the megalomaniac, tolerated no rivals and easily exterminated anyone who got in his way. The wise men brought gifts, beautiful and meaningful, to honor the infant Messiah. They gave gifts to Jesus.

On Christmas Eve

Children will leave milk and cookies for Santa. Christmas morning, parents and grandparents will have gobs of gifts for the kids. That’s the Christmas I know and love.

But what will Jesus be given? Will it be loving devotion, a heart-felt moment of praise? I guess the answer depends on whether we are more like the wise or more like the wicked.

To Close

Let’s answer this question: What gift does Jesus most want from me?

Merry Christmas!