Friday, December 23, 2011


It will not be any surprise to most of you that Christmas is coming. There is a wide range of “celebration” of Christmas. I use the quotes because some in the family of God do not celebrate Christmas at all. Some celebrate it with all the trimmings: tree, cards, presents, carols, lights on the house, etc. (Of course, many who are not part of the family of God celebrates Christmas with all the trimmings too. And many do not.)

If you read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola, you will discover that many Christian practices do not originate in the Bible. Christmas has a similarly “tainted” background. [WARNING: I am not documenting any of the “facts” I will mention. I have heard them, seen them or read them. I cannot attest to their veracity. If you know better, differently or more accurately, there is the comments section.]
  • There are various origin theories of the Christmas tree, from Martin Luther to the druids. (Not to mention wreaths, bells and mistletoe.) So, is it an innocent decoration or an non-Christian religious symbol? 
  • No one knows when Jesus was born. So, the early church picked December 25th to coincide with secular holidays. I have heard of two, one celebrated by the Romans and the other by the early Celts.
  • Santa Clause is a caricature of an early Christian, named Nicholas. People’s understanding of him is largely derived from a poem published in 1823. And most television programs around Christmas are animated stories about him and others extrapolated from the poem. 
  • There is the yearly campaign against materialism. (Not to mention campaigns against public nativity scenes, public decorations, and probably public caroling.) Many Christians react against Christmas as being all about presents. Understandable if all Johnny can talk about is finding an Xbox under the tree. But many stores depend on Christmas for survival. (I have heard that stores receive 20-40% of their business for the year from Christmas. Bad business plans? Too many stores?)
These are just a few of the concerns about celebrating Christmas. In the interest of full disclosure, I and my family do celebrate Christmas in more or less the traditional manner. And, in a year where life seems more complicated and hurried than usual, I would like to share a few things that I have been thinking about.

I presume that since God invented everything else, God invented holidays. It is obvious from the Bible that he instituted several holidays for Israel: Passover, Feast of Booths, First Fruits, etc. So, it seems God thinks that having holidays is a good idea. And although Jesus did not give us yearly holidays, he did institute observances. God seems to think that having occasions of remembering, reflecting and reassessing are good.

God did invent culture. All cultures will be represented in his kingdom. And the contributions of all cultures are good. And if a tradition or observance from a culture can be redeemed to fulfill a holy, faithful and positive influence, then it will add to our understanding of God, our restoration into his image and an aid in furthering his mission.

Materialism and consumerism are not just expressed at Christmas. Because there is an entire industry dedicated to convincing people that they need certain products to be fulfilled, cool, popular, healthy and beautiful, addiction to stuff can happen any day of the week. Commercials bombard us every day: TV, mail, telephone, billboards, and the internet. Only a revolution of hearts and minds will change that.

Holidays are what you make them. Christmas can bring out the worst in people. Or Christmas can be a time of renewing relationship with God, strengthening family bonds, celebrating what is good in life, assessing what is important, how a person can walk in that, and what needs to be changed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kingdom of Priests

We began some time ago, considering a young church and problems it was experiencing. It celebrated men and gifts at the expense of others. God, we know, gives men and gifts to enhance, improve and build the family of God as whole and those within the family.

Another aspect of this was expressed as the church would meet many individuals focused on expressing gifts in a way that helped themselves and ignored the others there with them.

The church is a family and a body because no one person can represent Christ alone. It is as the entire body seeks Christ together, serves each other and servers together to touch those outside the family that Christ is proclaimed and demonstrated. It is in the gathering that equipping, serving, loving within and without best takes place.

The current form and structure of the church was developed because corrupting influences were entering the church seeking to blow it apart. And someone decided that the only way to protect it was to turn it over to specialists and experts. That was never God’s intention. God’s intention was everyone is an expert. Everyone equips. Everyone serves. Everyone connects with people outside the family. And everyone works together. It is a nation and a kingdom of priests. Everyone in the family is a priest.

If everyone in the family does not act like a priest, maybe they are not equipped correctly? Or maybe they are into their own thing too much?


Prophecy is God speaking into the heart and mind of one person, and saying “give this message to ...”

A prophet’s audience could be one person or it could be a whole nation. A prophet’s message could be about the future, an explanation that clears up a mystery, or an affirmation of something everyone already knows. If God says “go and tell Hartford, CT that I love them” it is still prophecy. It is what Hartford needs  to know and what God wants to tell them.

Final Meaning

There will come a time when God will real the truth about everything. There will be no mysteries to reveal, so prophesy will be worthless. All the things we say, “know’ and theorize about will be confirmed or refuted, so all our words and knowledge will be worthless. Our religious posturing, our convictions, and our theories will be worthless.

The only things that will have any worth is our trust in Jesus, our expectation of receiving good from God, and our giving to others.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Love - 5

Love seems to view people with a positive attitude. People fail. They behave selfishly and dishonestly. The steal, cheat and lie. Love does not give up on them.

Love is realistic. It does not approve of or encourage evil. Rather it encourages and approves the opposite. And some people will attempt to do evil. Man was not designed for evil. Man was designed to be holy. To ignore, cover up or abet evil allows harm to befall the victims, and it allows harm to befall the perpetrators. Evil cuts across the design of what fuels a human being. So, love will not condone any action that brings harm. But love never sees failures as the final word.

Love holds up ones that do fail. They try to protect them from the worst consequences of failure. They work to bring recovery and restoration by healing relationships, strengthening walks, conduct and attitudes, and minimizing what circumstantial damage has occurred.

Love remains committed, believing the best, even in the midst of failure. Love recognizes the power of God to change harts and lives. It is stronger than the worst evil to shape lives. As people fall, they can be strengthened and enabled to rise from the dirt, to stand, and to continue to stand.

Love walks along side. They journey may be very long and hard. Love continues to walk. People may limp and stumble. Sometimes in this life, a person may not be able to rise. Love has the strength to keep walking as long as it takes.

We all know circumstances where it seems impossible for one person to keep walking with another. The heart may wish to keep going, but we are weak. Our hearts may not have the strength to love that long, that hard or that much. That is one reason God created a family. One person may not have the strength of heart to walk for years. So, others in the family need to step up, step close and all walk together.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Love - 4

Probably the main focus of love is giving. The direction of love is away from one's self. A person focuses on someone else. What are that person's needs and wants? What resource or service can I give away?

This is the prime challenge of sin. Our egos scream very loudly. Our needs and wants loom large before us. It is very difficult to see around them. It is very difficult to hear any other message.

In the US, the success of business is often tied to seeing a need and developing a way to fill it. This is probably the most altruistic prescription for commercial success. All too often, someone has an idea, attaches it to a need or desire -- legitimate, moral or otherwise -- and promotes it as the vehicle for fulfilling that need or desire.

People have a need for significance. So, they will proclaim a message that a person's possessions build a person's significance. I am not condemning a person's need for significance. I am not condemning a person's cleverness in designing, developing and persuading people concerning the postive aspects of a product. I am trying to point out that the success of the American economy rests on the success of businesses getting people to become consumed in themselves, their small corner of the world, and how different products and services can make that niche bigger, better, brighter, more healthy, more satisfying and more fun. That is, if it doesn't make them smarter, prettier, richer or more popular.

As we have mentioned before, God has placed love first. And as I have said before, God has designed us and has communicated that design to us. Since, love is first, people will function better if the place love first in their considerations.

It is almost as if this emphasis of society is a weapon used by the enemy to divert us from our design, our destiny and the proper functioning of our hearts.

To flow with God's grace, to be restored to our original intent and design, to live as we are meant to live, we must see around and through these attempts to get us to focus solely on ourselves. We need to see others. But more, we need to see and live in ways the give to others. We need to give within the family of God. We needto give ooutside the family of God. We need to give in our communities and neighborhoods. We need to give halfway around the world.

It must start with moving our egos out of the spotlight, and becoming awake, alert and aware of the lives around us, and of those we connect with every day.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Focus of Living

I was reading part of a book, where the author was describing a crisis in his life. The crisis put him in a position where he could not -- for a relatively long, but temporary period of time -- pursue life in his accustomed manner. He was forced to look at his fundamental approach to living. He realized that he did have a basic approach, strategy and posture that he engaged in when dealing with the issues of life.

I assume we all do. Some people try to overwhelm life by throwing intense bursts of energy at it. Some people assume it's not what you know, but who you know. So, it's a matter of networking, smooth talking and gaining an audience. Some people assume it's a matter of what you know. Some people work hard to understand what's expected, what the boundaries are, and stay well within what's expected.

What is God fundamental approach to life? It could be argued that it is obedience. After all, he does give commands and if we keep those commands, we are in the center of his will. It could be argued that it is faith. After all, faith does please God. It could be argued that it is love, prayer, worship, evangelism ... or something else.

I remember a time when I considered success in life to mean attaining a certain position in a certain organization. To attain that position, I needed to fulfill a large number of roles in that organization. In each role, I gained added training, experience, and I demonstrated my commitment and loyalty to the organization. Eventually, I would arrive at that position ... and success. (And I never did attain that position.)

Now I doubt success in life can be found in a specific position. I doubt God's basic approach can be defined by any of these words. Maybe we need a new word that is a mash-up of all of these together.

Love - 3

Love is an equalizer. It is part of the force that shapes a person's world view at the core.

With love, people do not put others in lower, inferior positions. They do not put themselves in a higher, superior position. People express love by regarding others as valuable and profitable. They identify them as human beings. So, who they are and what they have is valuable. They identify with them. There is sympathy and empathy with dreams, wishes, pains and sorrows.

Love thinks truly, honestly and fairly as it touches one's self, other people and the relationship between the two. And because it touches the heart, it touches words and actions.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Love - 2

Love is first. It is the foundational attitude/action/mind-set. Love encompasses what we think, what we feel, what we say and what we do. It is something we all need, we all receive and we all give. But it also something we can all grow in understanding of and in doing better.

For followers of Jesus, love is the stuff of all relationships. Love needs to be seen in every interaction between someone from God's family and anyone else. That's why love is sometimes best seen when someone fails to love.

When someone acts or speaks in a way that causes pain -- emotional or physical -- the natural response is to cause pain in return. To retaliate. Love may defend itself if there is danger. But it does not simply get even. It controls those feelings. It doesn't snap.

Certainly, because of sin, members of God's family do snap. But, as they learn to love, they learn to hold onto their emotions, and snap less. Love does not give full expression to anger. Love absorbs the emotion. it does not let the fire come close to the gas fumes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Love - 1

Eloquence without love is just a bunch of noise. Understanding all the mysteries of God, revealing the future, the mission and the heart of God without love is just so much hot air. Sacrifice without love is vanity and chasing the wind.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Power Behind It All

It doesn't matter what spiritual gift, what supernatural enablement, a person possesses, if it is not motivated, exercised and applied to other people with, by, through, over, around and about love, its effect will be a big, fat zero.

The Spirit gives, blesses and empowers these gifts. The Spirit fulfills, completes and empowers his mission through these gifts. No love brings it all crashing down.

No, gifts, no training and no education can match up with the power of love.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Purpose of Gifts

A while ago, we were considering a young church that was experiencing a number of problems. I speculated that because they fundamentally had a worldview that agreed with the Greek worldview, they did not understand God's worldview. They valued different things than God valued. They valued things differently than God valued them.

This church valued gifted men. it valued them in such a way that it created factions in the church. I sometimes wonder if the factions began because people valued different gifts. They followed the man because he was especially gifted in a particular area.

When a person begins to follow Jesus, God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, begins to live with the person in a special way. If the person follows Jesus, then he has that relationship with the Spirit. If the person has that special relationship, then the Spirit grants him a gift, a supernaturally empowered ability. 

In this church, these abilities caused a pulling away from one another. But that's not the plan at all. The spirit grants these abilities to pull god's family together.

Each person has needs. Each group has needs, If the group is organized in any way, they will need to address personal and group needs eventually. The group will organize and initiate something to address these needs.

If there is a group comprised of unmarried, college students, they have no need for a nursery. But put a group of college students together, there will be boy-girl pairings, marriages and children. Once, there are children, the group must develop a philosophy, a strategy and a plan of action for dealing with children in the meetings. One can follow the common plan of separating people in age related groups with it resulting issues. Or one can decide that children need to grow up, and one of the problems of modern society is too low expectations of children's behavior. So, they plan to keep the children involved with the adults as much as possible. This is one issue. And these are a couple of solutions to that issue.

God's solution is combining within a group, gifted people capable of dealing with those problems. All the resources necessary for dealing all the issues already reside within the group. And the resources are the gifted people. Some of those gifted people, God gave to equip, to restore or to train other gifted people to serve in more complete, fuller and more sure ways.

The combination of this preparation by the Holy Spirit and by other people results in each individual functioning better, and the group functioning better.

The human body functions, grows and reproduces when there is clean air, clean water, wholesome food and appropriate exercise of body, mind and spirit. If each part does it job, it will produce a more healthy situation.

But god has added something else that brings the whole thing to a critical mass, and pushes it past the tipping point.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mission and Gifts

We have Jesus' marching orders -- make disciples. We have Jesus' supernatural enablement -- gifts of grace. do they go together?

People with certain gifts inspire. Others give vision or encourage. Others can give instruction about skills, ideas or attitudes. Others heal physically or psychologically. Others serve, meet needs or provide. The overall effect is progress, growth and momentum. The overall aim is building the body of Christ.

The process of building continues until everyone has the same relationship with Jesus, the same understanding of Jesus, and the same character that behaves like Jesus. All the children of God are mature. They are not following fads. They are not following glitz.

Too often the followers of Jesus get mesmerized by shiny objects and bright lights. They major in the minors.

We are to focus on truth. We are to focus on love. By application of truth and love, we should grow to think, speak and act like Jesus. Jesus empowers each part. And as each part completes its work, the whole grows.

And because the whole grows to think, speak and act like Jesus, it has a transforming effect on its society and culture.

Isn't that the core of what being and making disciples all about?

Friday, November 18, 2011


When a person chooses to follow Jesus, God gives that person a special connection to himself. God's Spirit takes up residence in the temple of the human heart. And the Spirit gives each follower a supernatural enablement. The Bible descries it as a gift of grace.

There has been a lot of debate about these gifts in recent years. But the Bible states several things quite clearly.

(1) The gift is for the common good. One picture the bible gives of the people of God is that of the human body. There are numerous part, internal organs and bodily functions. Each of these are necessary to maintain the proper health of the group and to promote growth and reproduction. So, each gift is necessary for the health and growth of God's family. If members do not complete their function, it will weaken the group. Either it will not function well or it will become ill.

(2) There are many gifts, because there are many needs. Meeting all of the needs is vital to the group. We are not in the position to say one person is more important than another. If you are on a ship, and the engine is overheating, to the point that it will explode if nothing is done, the captain is not the most important on the ship. The most important person is the third rank mechanic who knows where the relief valve is.

(3) It is the Spirit who gives each gift. It is the Spirit who works through each gift. It is the Spirit who places each gift as he wills, according to his mission and wisdom.

If any gifts are more important, it is the equipping gifts. People with these gifts restore the life and health of God's children, so they can do the best, and be the best, at serving in whatever capacity they have. (The evangelist does not share the good news. He trains, restores and heals the remainder of the family so they can share the good news and be the good news.)

If someone proclaims Jesus as Lord, God has given them his Spirit. The Spirit has given them a gift of grace. And all members of the family, in reality, do have a capacity that must be embraced or the family falters. Everybody has a place.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Holy Spirit Makes Family

If a person declares that Jesus is king over all, that person has the Spirit of God. And no one can speak against Jesus if he has the Spirit of God.

The Spirit of God marks, claims, motivates, teaches and transforms all those who know Jesus. God downloads himself into any and all who choose to align themselves ith him, who give him their allegiance and become part of his family.

And if you are part of God's familyu, anyone else who is part of God's family is part of your family. It does not matter how they act. It does not matter if their practices, their religious label or their style is different from your. They are family.

Make Disciples

At the end of Jesus' time on earth, he instructed his disciples to go to the end of  the earth and make disciples. Decisions to follow Jesus are important. Decisions to become part of Jesus' family are important. But is that what becoming a disciple is?

Jesus said that when a disciple is fully trained, he will become like his teacher. So, the process of discipleship is not simply the passing on of information. The intersection of teacher and disciple molds a life. Transformation flows into every area of the disciple's life. It changes speech, thinking, goals, the way he works, the way she approaches people, and the way he spends his money.

If a disciple is supposed to become like his teacher, then Jesus' disciples should become like Jesus.

  • Jesus, at times, prayed all night.
  • Jesus consistently rubbed shoulders with the outcasts of his day.
  • Jesus consistently gave his time, energy and love to serve those who came to him.
  • Jesus consistently spent time with a small group of people to love, transform and equip them.
  • Jesus always spoke truth.
  • Jesus always kept the goal in mind, and always walked toward it.

Again decisions are important. But the job Jesus gave us was not to secure decisions. It was to make disciples.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Individualized Grace

In a number of places in Scripture, Paul asks his audience to make certain to make sure to pursue a certain lifestyle. To pursue certain qualities. He knows it is not what people say that matters. It is what people do.

Speaking is part of doing. It is an important part. This “speaking” and “doing” that Paul is concerned about are the things that arise from everyday living.

A philosophy has no worth if it can’t be brought into the real world. It has to be able to be practiced at work, at school or in the home. It must be doable playing football, baking bread, writing a program or writing a symphony.

One of the main qualities Paul calls us to pursue is unity. When a person chooses to follow Jesus a number of factors enter into his\her life that cause him\her to become aligned with all the other who follow Jesus. There are differences, just as there are in any family. Even identical twins have differences. But our commonalities ought to produce enough centripetal force that it is stronger than the centrifugal force.

But unity does not mean uniformity. Paul says Jesus gives each one an individualized allotment of grace. Jesus’ family is not a mass produced army of clones. Rather, each one is a hand-crafted masterpiece. Each one is set into a beautiful mosaic; precisely placed to maximize the wonder of the artwork. Gifted men are given, not to do the work, but to train the family so the family can do the work.

With all the members of the family doing the work, each in his\her individual way, the value of each person grows in importance. With all the members of the family doing the work, each in his\her individual way, the potential for transformation of society and culture increases.