Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Is What Christmas Time Means To Me

Christmas makes you feel emotional.
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.

Those words are the introduction to one of my favorite Christmas songs. You may not recognize them but you will recognize the rest of the song.

City sidewalk, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style.
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

City street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch, this is Santa's big scene,
And above all this bustle you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

It's an ageless song, isn't it? Whether you prefer Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Michael Buble, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, or a host of other classic and modern artists, you are sure to find a recording to suit you.

Yes, it's one of my favorite Christmas songs. But there is no mention of the real meaning of Christmas. You may catch a glimpse of it in the first verse where people are happy and treating each other joyfully. By the time the second verse comes around with the focus on shopping you see the writer wasn't trying to tell us about the true meaning of Christmas.

I'm OK with that. I'm not one who thinks everything about Christmas has to include a Bible verse. I like giving and receiving gifts. I still believe in Santa Claus; he's just not who I thought he was when I was a little kid!

But you can't have Christmas without Jesus. I want to tell you what Christmas time means to me.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. His birth was the fulfillment of promises God had made through prophets centuries earlier. Jesus is the Son of God and he IS God. he lived the same kind of life you and I live filled with the same struggles and emotions and temptations you and I experience - but he did not sin. He overcame everything life threw at him to remain holy and pure.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who was the sacrifice for our sins. God demands a perfect sacrifice and Jesus met the qualifications. His death was in my place - yours, too - so that by believing (which is not just head-knowledge but a total commitment of myself) I could be reconciled to God.

Jesus not only lived and died, he also resurrected and lives again. Even today Jesus is alive. He returned to heaven where he is preparing a place for those who believe and will return one day to gather us to himself. In the meantime, his Spirit is with us to help us live each day to bring glory to him. I want my life to honor Jesus and help others to see how they can also be reconciled to God through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and return.

This is what Christmas time means to me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peace on Earth

Somewhere along Rushing Road about 5:20 this morning I was overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus came that there would be peace on earth. I began to pray that it would happen. Then I remembered that I believe the Bible teaches that peace will come upon the earth when Jesus returns to establish his 1,000-year reign. We may have pockets of peace before then but the pageant-wish for world peace won't really happen.

I jogged on.

"But Lord," I prayed, "what if right now we experience just a 24-hour period of peace? Can't the conflicts between nations, religions, races, and preferences come to a halt for just a day?"

I jogged on.

"Lord, just let me be at peace and be a peacemaker today. Let me hold my tongue, subdue my anger, see people with love, treat people with respect…"

I jogged on.

Within a minute I was having thoughts that absolutely betrayed my prayer! I don't know if it was Satan trying to trip me up or God telling me this would not be easy.

Only when I've kept my focus on Jesus have I been able to be at peace and be a peacemaker today. There have been times today where my focus fell from the Savior and I failed to be at peace in, keep the peace during, or bring peace to the situation.

The skies above the pastures surrounding Bethlehem were filled with angels one night long ago. They said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14 NIV).

Peace is not the absence of turmoil. It is not an attitude. It's not a response or a mind-game.

Peace is the presence of Jesus that overwhelms those who keep their focus on him.

I jogged on.

I stumbled. Not on Rushing Road. But in my daily routine trying to honor Christ in a fallen world.

The lesson is as clear as a Bethlehem midnight to me; I hope it is to you, too. Even in the midst of conflict, peace surrounds those who focus on Jesus.

Monday, December 08, 2014


I've often quoted a particular passage of scripture to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Today I am grieving. My grandmother died yesterday after five months of health problems. She turned 90 in May, went to a kidney doctor in July for a regular appointment (her kidneys had been hitting about 30%), was admitted to the hospital the next day, and has been home just a handful of days since then.

My mother is one of 4 daughters, one of which has already passed away. My grandfather passed away several years ago. My grandmother was is vibrant, leading part of our family.

By the way, the first grandchild was my sister. I was second but the first boy after the five girls (daughters and granddaughter) so I'm sure I was the favorite!

Mom (we all called her that even though she was mother to only the four daughters) went into hospice care Friday afternoon. About 48 hours later she died. The daughters and sons-in-law, most of the grandchildren, and a sister and her family were gathered in the small room as Mom took her last breath. We had thought at least a hundred times before that she had taken her last breath but after what seemed like minutes she would gasp again. So this time we waited expecting another breath.

That breath never came. I headed to the nurses station to report to them that we thought Mrs. Appleton (I felt odd calling her that) had died. The two of them came to the room and, with so much grace, listened for a heartbeat and let us know that we were right.

The tears flowed. Tears had been flowing for weeks but these were different. Earlier tears were of confusion, disappointment, frustration, of denial. These tears were from grief.

Honestly, I've only experienced tears like those a few times in my life. I've been sheltered, I know.

I've watched families go through this plenty of times. As their pastor I've hugged and held them while their tears flowed. I almost always say, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this." I don't say much else right away. Presence has been more appreciated that words - especially since words don't carry much comfort in the immediate experience of loss. "I love you." "I'm praying for you." "I'm so sorry." I've found that those words mean the most.

And I've been on the receiving end of those words for the last 24 hours. I'm convinced more than ever that the caring words of friends are of great value in such times. My friends are the best!

"Brothers, we do not want you to…grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

I've watched families grieve over the loss of a loved one in such a way as to express their lack of hope. I fully understand the hurt and loss associated with the death of a loved one. Christians - whose hope is in the Lord - grieve differently because we do have hope.

God does not say that we will not or should not grieve. He says that our grief should not be laden with hopelessness. The passage quoted above is part of Paul's words to believers to help them understand things related to the end of this life and the realities of eternal life.

These days are not filled with grief, although grief is part of these days. Hope is the banner that covers the grief. It doesn't mask or hide the grief; it helps. My hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that what God said is true: those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord have an eternal home in heaven and one day Jesus will gather all believers for a meeting in the air that will usher in his kingdom.

Grief is a reality. Hope helps us as we grieve.