On December Five and Twenty

In our family, we make aepfel skivers on Christmas morning – it’s tradition. It got me to thinking about how many other things we associate with Christmas that are simply tradition, man-made precepts, which are not exactly biblical. Many Christians like to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but this is, in fact, is a mere half-truth. The book of Luke states this about the night Christ was born; “In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.” (Luke 2:8) Generally, shepherds only stay out with their sheep at night two times a year, in the late summer when the sheep are mated, or in the early spring when the lambs are born. Anyone who is familiar with animal husbandry, can tell you that mating season can be managed without camping out in the fields, but birthing is a different story. Babies – whether human or animal – are born when they are born, and more times than not, it’s the middle of the night, suggesting that the time of year when Christ was born was in early spring, “as shepherds watched their flock at night.” We celebrate the “Nativity of the Christ Child,” which is what early Christians called it, on December 25th bcause it’s a tradition; a tradtion based upon something other than what the Bible teaches. In the early “church” only the anniversary of Christ’s death was revered, as was the death of all the martyrs, but the early Bishops, who it seems would say just about anything to get the pagans to convert, started reasoning that perhaps Christ’s birth coincided with the Roman celebration of the Winter Solstice which was December 25th. Because Christ, reasoned Augustine of Hippo, ” for symbolic reasons,” would choose to be born on that day – the Winter solstice, when the sun begins to bring the light back into the world. Since then, more and more “traditions” have been added over the centuries –wise men arriving at the manger (they in fact arrived at the “house where they saw the child and his mother Mary…” Matt 2:11), evergreen trees decorated with brightly colored “witch” balls and set ablaze with light, mistletoe, holly, St. Nick/Santa, giving of gifts, reindeer and elves, songs about chesnuts and snow – layer upon layer of blending that which is holy with that whih is not. Today, as millions of people across the world gather to celebrate the tradition of Christmas, I would submit this for consideration: In Matthew 15, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “And why do you, by your traditions, break the direct commandments of God?” Telling them further that Isaiah had it right about them when he prophesied, “Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas…” Paul also addresses the subject of following man-made ideas when he states in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” And I wonder, with all of the “traditions” we hold dear about Christmas, traditions that even non-believers celebrate, have we turned aside to myths, because it pleases our itchy ears? Something to ponder, to seriously and thoughtfully consider so that we do not find ourselves amongst the Loadiceans, thinking “we are rich” when we are in fact “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, neither hot nor cold and must be spit out of the Lord’s mouth.” ~SLM

Lenice’s Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for these dirty dishes.

I love this prayer for its simple, direct sentiment that’s filled with so many implied blessings; the food which caused the dishes to be soiled, the ability to prepare the food, the place in which to prepare it, and the family who shares its delicious goodness. My friend Lenice keeps it next to the kitchen sink as a reminder that God’s blessings can be found even in this most mundane of daily chores.

~SLM

Who I Am, A Prayer

Help me Lord to remember who I am and what I am supposed to be. You have called me to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, and that means I am to be a reflection of you. Help me, Lord, to be a mirror of your goodness, radiating your love into a world of brokenness and disillusionment, a world that’s lost and frightened, that needs you more than they can even know. Give me words to speak life, not destruction, words to lift others up and give them hope, to comfort and heal, not blame and accuse. In all that I do, fill my heart with your compassion that I may glorify your name, Lord, not take it in vain. ~ Amen

Thy Will Be Done

“Your will be done, on Earth as it is [done] in Heaven.” (Matt 6:10)

Sometimes, it’s really hard to conceive of the many ways in which God’s divine intention present in our lives, and this portion of The Lord’s Prayer is a reminder to us that no matter what, He’s in control. Many times in life, actually most times, things don’t go exactly the way we would have had them go, and when they don’t, we are quick to attribute the outcome to anything but God. After all, aren’t we told in Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good to those who love God?” We charge forward, convinced of our own righteousness, sure we know exaclty what God wants, and eager to prove that he is indeed on our side. We get so mired down in the outcomes we’ve imagined, so caught up in how we think things ought to go, that we forget to wait on God’s will to unfold.

Romans 8:28 goes on to say “to those who are the called according to His purpose.” It’s His intension that is at work here, not ours. Revelation 17:17 says that God puts it into the hearts of people to do what will fulfill his objectives, which means he plants a thought into their heads or lays something upon their hearts, which they are unaware has atually come from him. That’s why Caiaphas acted as he did. He was convinced that putting one man to death, rather than an entire nation was what God wanted, and he was right. It was the direction in which God was leading him, just not in the way he had imagined, and certainly not in the way he had convinced himself and the rest of the Sanhedrin to believe. In his view, that man was a blasphemer, and God would judge him [Caiaphas] righteous for his actions, right?

When we pray this, it’s not because we’re giving God permission to direct our lives, or the events that surround us, but in recognition of the fact that God is most certainly in the driver’s seat. Whether we’re intenionally aligned with it through humble submission as Christ was, or through stubborn self-righteousness like Caiaphas, it’s still God’s plan, still his will being done on earth as it is also done in Heaven.

~SLM

Let There Be Light

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1:1-4)

We are called to walk a path of light, to “be a city on a hill” that we may shine brightly before men, as a beacon, and that means to step away from the darkness, to leave its ways behind, to live in the light. In the beginning, God pulled the light from the darkness as a means of setting it apart, separating it, sanctifying it, making it a foil for the darkness. 1 John 1:5-6 tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” We cannot live in the light while we relish the acts of darkness. They are mutually exclusive groups, sharing nothing in common, and are therefore incompatible.

What, then, is God’s light? How do we define it? Is it not but a contrast between two opposing elements, between black and white, between all that is good, right, and true with that which is not? In Ephesians 5:8-9, Paul says, “For you used to be in darkness; but now, united with the Lord you are light. Live like children of light, for the fruit of the light is in every kind of goodness, rightness and truth.” Truth is what gives contrast to darkness, what exposes all that we thought to be hidden. But more than this, contrast is also what brings to light all that lurks in shadow, because sometimes, “darkness” is more subtle than mere blackness. It can also be like filtered light that’s been misdirected and distorted until its purpose is obscured, no longer providing sharp relief, and no longer serving as a beacon. Paul continues in Ephesians 5:11-14 saying that we should “have nothing to do with the deeds produced by darkness, but instead expose them…everything exposed to the light is revealed clearly for what it is, since anything revealed is a light.”

Every instance of “light” in our world is just a reflection of God’s ultimate goodness. If you trace the light back to the source, it’s God! And, that’s why Paul tells us in Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The light of God is not only our protection, but also our calling as His chosen people, His children. Every day we are in active battle with a world of darkness, and that’s why we’re told to “put our light on a stand, and not under a basket” and this means we must place it in the most advantageous spot for all to see, that we may provide a sharp contrast to the darkness. Think of a time when you were in a dark place, and the light brought you out of it. What form did light take in that moment? And looking back, can you see how it was strategically placed in your life to show you the way, to deliver you from evil and to bring you into God’s light?

The color black appears as it does, because it actually absorbs all visible light reflecting nothing back to the eye – it takes. Likewise, the color white is simply the reflection of visible light – it gives. What we learn from these opposing properties is this: When we choose not to be reflections of God’s light, only taking in, we not only live in darkness, but we also create darkness in our hearts. And in contrast to this, when we are reflections of God’s light, casting everything back, we become co-creators with him through Christ.

A Prayer:

Help me to remember, Lord, who I am and what I am supposed to be. If I am to be your light in this world, that means I am to be a reflection of who you are. Help me, Lord, to be a positive reflection, to remember that everything I do and say must reflect rightly upon you, that I may not take your name in vain, but bring honor and glory to you in thought, word and deed. ~Amen

 

~SLM

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

What About The Law

Many Christians today don’t think they should follow the law, because they reason, they are covered by the blood of the lamb, and therefore are not in need of the law. We don’t need to follow the “Jewish” laws, because that’s legalism, and isn’t legalism what Christ taught against, when he called the lawyers and teachers of his day hypocrites?

Is this, in fact, truth, or just something we want to be true, something we tell ourselves in order to justify our own idea of what God’s plan entails? What about the Ten Commandments? Christians certainly believe in those. Are they not a part of the law? Christ himself said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). In fact, he goes on to say that “not one pen stroke of it would pass away until God’s purposes were complete.”

So what about the law, and what does it mean to be under the law? I heard an excellent example the other day from Adam at The Parable of The Vineyard YouTube channel, and it went something like this:
When you drive your car down the street and you go the speed limit you are abiding by the law. But let’s say you roll through a 25 mph school zone at 35 mph and you get pulled over. The police officer gives you a ticket, and a summons to appear in court. You are now no longer abiding by the law, but are under it. You can only be under the law, when you violate it and a penalty has been assessed, in this case a fine.

So, let’s also say that when you get to court, a concerned parent from the school offers to pay your fine, and all he asks in return is that you abide by the law, and not speed in the school zone. The judge then releases you, and are once again living according to the law. Now, when you leave the court, do you immediately go out and race through a school zone again, or do you think of the concerned parent who paid your debt?
Here’s the paradox: If we live by the law, we are not under it. It is only when we break the law that we find ourselves under it, because breaking it, like living by it, has consequences.

This is how it is with Christ. We acknowledge that he paid the penalty for us, but does that mean we are free to ignore the law, say that it doesn’t matter, because Jesus paid and I don’t have to? He told the adulteress, when all her accusers had disappeared, “Go, and sin no more.”

God’s commandments are not an arbitrary set of rules that we can follow or not according to our own desires, but an expression of the attributes of love, God’s love for us. In total, he gave Israel, his set-apart people, 613 commands. Of those 613 rules to live by, He wrote the first 10 with his own hand, which suggests they must be pretty important. In fact, all 613 can be encapsulated in those first ten. They are how we show God our love, and how we can also reflect His love to others. And, the ten can also be subdivided into just two, the two Christ spoke of in Matthew 22, when he said all the law could be summed up by this: Love God, and love your neighbor.

“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” One to four are all about loving God.

1. You shall have no other Gods before me. Number one is about loyalty: Love is Loyal.
2. You shall not make for yourself graven images, no idols that you might bow down to or serve. Number two is about faithfulness: Love is Faithful.
3. Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain, don’t misuse it, do not bring God’s name to naught. Number three is about reverence: Love is Revenant.
4. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Time set-apart on a recurring and regular basis to spend with God. Number four is about intimacy: Love is Intimate.

“And the second is like unto it; love your neighbor as yourself.” Six to ten are about loving your neighbor.

5. Honor your mother and father. Show them you are grateful for all they have done for you, indeed given up for you, and that you value their guidance. Number five is about respect: Love is Respectful.
6. Do not commit murder. This one seems straight forward, right? But it’s not because it also applies to gossip as gossip is, in reality, a form of murder, since it assassinates character. Number six is about harmlessness: Love is Harmless.
7. You shall not commit adultery. Keeping sacred the special bond of marriage that is the foundation of the family unit. Number seven is about purity: Love is Pure.
8. You shall not steal. Taking what does not belong to you is the epitome of selfishness, and emphasizes getting rather than giving. Number eight is about generosity: Love is not selfish, but Generous.
9. You shall not bear false witness. Don’t speak falsely, lie, speak unjustly, or devise ways to deceive others. Number nine is about truthfulness: Love is Truthful.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or goods. We should not crave nor desire what is not ours. Number ten is about contentment: Love is Content.

Christ tells us in John 14:15, “If you love, keep my commandments.” 1 John 2:5 says that if we keep doing what he (Jesus) says, then love for God has truly been brought to its goal in us, and we are also told in 1 John 5:3 that loving God means obeying his commands, and that his commands are not burdensome.

~SLM

Out of The Mouth

hanging hearts-matt15-10

When I was a young, my momma used to say, “you can think whatever you’d like, just don’t say whatever you think.” It was one of those sayings that are passed down from mother to daughter for generations. She had heard from her mother who had heard it from her mother, and along with it, she’d also say, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” If you think about it, its pretty practical advice, sage even – what I like to call Kansas farm sense – and usually not what a teenage girl wants to hear, but wise council never-the-less, straight from the book of proverbs.

Proverbs 18:8 tells us that a “gossip’s words are like choice morsels, they sink into the inmost being,” and 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power over life and death; those who indulge it must eat it’s fruit.” Let that wash over you for just a moment. Let it penetrate and take hold. What are some of the things that come out of our mouths? Are our words bitter, sour, vile and nasty filled with outrage and hateful barbs, or are they sweet, tender, gentle and caring filled with hope and loving kindness? The things we say matter, and whether we speak praise or slander, truth or lies, those “choice morsels” are the fruit we must eat.

In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth – this defiles a person,” and in verse 18 he explains that whatever comes out of the mouth precedes from the heart. Think about that for a minute. It’s what we have been holding dear, what we have filled ourselves with that we carelessly let fly out of our mouths. Our words have power, power to build up or power to tear down. They also have consequences, and that’s why it behooves us to measure them carefully, to think before we speak, to understand that what we say and how we say it will come back to us, if for no other reason than to continually examine what we’ve been holding dearest in our hearts, and to know that we’ll may have to eat those words – the fruit of our tongues, which springs from our hearts.
~SLM