Thursday, December 22, 2005

What God Wants for Christmas

What God Wants for Christmas
& All Year Round

Kerry S. Doyal -

Talk about trying to buy for Someone who truly does have everything! It is hard enough to shop for parents – if they need it, they buy it. How do you pick out something for the One who owns it all already?

Yet, God has a "Wish List," things He wants that are not yet His. Want to know what and who is on it? Want to help fulfill it?

Actually, there are lots of things on His list: His desire that we be holy, as He is holy, that we pray, love Him, love others, serve as He did… and the list goes on (see Gal. 5:18-22).

Also on His list are people: for His people to be fully committed to Him (Rom. 12:1-2), and those who are not His people to be offered to Him, by us, His priests (Rom. 15:15-16).

Priests were to present clean, acceptable offerings (gifts) to God. They represented the people to God and God to the people. We, as God’s holy nation of Priests (1 Pet. 2:4-10), are called on to present ourselves and other people to God as a gift, seeing them come to faith and maturity (Col. 1:27-29).

Find the gift "suggestions" in these two portions of Paul’s letter to the Romans: "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Rom. 12:1 - NASV).

"…Ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable… For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed…" (Rom. 15:16, 18).

First and foremost, if you are one of His, He wants all of you. Not select parts, not certain days and ways – but unreservedly, unabashedly all of you. He finds such gifts quite acceptable, in fact, pleasing. All of you to Him is the perfect gift.

Partial gifts in this arena are not nice gestures, or good starts - they are insults to the Almighty. You are –as Paul reminded the hold-out Corinthians – not your own any more. You have been bought with a price – Jesus’ blood (1 Corin. 6:18-20). We have no right to hold back on God.

Gentiles (non-Jews) were defiled outcasts, unacceptable offerings. Thankfully, God has a heart not just for His chosen people, but for outsiders as well. They – we– of all people, are on His list (Rom. 1:16, 17). Do we have a heart for the left out, over-looked, and life-losers? Do they matter to us like they matter to God?

Here are some shopping tips for presenting people to God as a priestly offering:

First, seeking to bring people to God as a gift requires a measure of pluck & passion – courage and care. Evangelism can be scary, but love conquers fear. Paul was so passionate about gifting the lost to God that he was willing to swap his own salvation for that of others – his fellow kinsmen, Jews (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1). Oh for such concern about such eternal matters.

To have any hope of giving people to God, also requires persistent pursuit. Lost people are sometimes deep in the woods, hard to find, if I may. We need not just a desire, but a drive, one that is in gear (Rom. 1:8-17; 15:7-24). Mere wanting and whimpering does little to get ‘er done (sorry).

As missionaries reach Europeans by going to Europe, so too we reach our community by getting off our duffs. It is not the responsibility of the spiritually needy to come to us, or even come to church. "As you are going," Jesus said, "make disciples" (Matt. 28:18-20).

Pleading prayer is another part of an effective Priest’s life (Rom. 10:1-4). Funny thing, we can ask God to help us in getting Him a gift. Far from keeping this a surprise, we are to enlist His help in the process of bringing people to Jesus.

Finally, persuasive proclamation of Jesus is part of the process too (Col. 1:27-29; Rom. 10:13-5). If they do not hear about Him, they cannot believe or call out to Him. How will they hear without some one to proclaim Him? Live the gospel well, and tell it too.

Remember: "God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

Since God wants people for Christmas, and all year long, let’s make the same pledge Paul did: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:28-29).

For such grand and awesome gifts for God – that of ourselves and of others who need Him - we have God’s blessing to shop until we drop.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mercy or Justice? Your Druthers

Mercy or Justice? Your Druthers
- a true story -

She leaned forward against the rail, tightly clutching her purse, clearly tense, and embarrassed. Almost pale with fear and intense with earnestness, she responded to the Judge who had called her name, brought up her case.

This tired looking woman – wife and mother – was facing the Judge on drug charges. Possibly it was a pain medication that got out of hand. Maybe a party-lifestyle caught up with her. For whatever reasons, she was buying, using and being spent up by drugs.

What had been private was now all too public. Whoever happened to be in the courtroom that day – like me for instance - could hear of her woes, see her tighten in shame.

How many other places would she have rather been that day? How many "highs" would she have foregone to avoid this uncovering of her low condition? How many concealed, dark escapades would she have exchanged to prevent this in the light-of-day exposure?

The Judge was straightforward but respectful. She respectfully answered him. She did not deny her offense. She did not make excuses. She publicly confessed crime, admitted her problem.

Remarkably, several others whom the Judge summoned that session stayed seated as they seemingly chatted with the Judge. Some even saying, half mumbling, "yeah" in a culture and a setting that expects and deserves "Sir" at a minimum.

Unlike those, she stood, looked at him, spoke respectfully - reverently if you will - and owned up to her crime. Instead of concealing her sin, her problem, her law offense, she came clean.

As a result of her demeanor and decorum, she received mercy. The Judge became her Advocate. Speaking to the Prosecutor he said, "Here is a lady that has abused drugs and now they are abusing her". The one who could sentence her now himself sought mercy for her.

"Ma’am, are you in treatment now?" he asked. "No", she replied without any hesitation born of calculation. "Will you seek treatment?" he asked.

"Yes", she replied, even offering to help them catch those who sold her the drugs.

"Is your husband supportive of you in this?" the judge inquired, further displaying concern for her beyond mere satisfaction of the law. "Yes", she said, honoring a man who stood by his woman.

Turning now to her Counsel – court appointed, state funded – the Judge said "help me here. What can we do for this woman?" The next moments were spent discovering and discussing treatment options for her. Where could she go? Who would be able to take her right away?

Making his intentions and heart abundantly clear, the Judge addressed all those involved in making decisions about her future with these unforgettable words: "I don’t want jail for this lady, I want treatment."

Obviously relieved and even some what revived from having felt mercy’s sweet touch, a different woman walked out of that courtroom. It is quite likely that she was unaware that they, in that Kingsport courtroom, had just incarnated Proverbs 28:13-14.

"He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD,
but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble." (NIV)

Mercy is a reprieve from deserved justice. It is available and freely offered to all who will ‘fess up and come clean with God through Christ.

If you need some courage and encouragement to come out of hiding, drink in some or all of these passages about God, His mercy and you: Romans 5:1-11; 8:1- 2; Psalms 5:1-7; 32; 51; 57:1-5; 2 Samuel 24:14; Isaiah 55:5-9; Hebrews 4:12-16; James 5:7-11; 1 Peter 1:3-7; 2 Peter 2:9-12.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Expecting and Accepting "X-mas" from the World

John 1:10-14 "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (NIV)

"Christmas has become too commercialized." "They’ve taken Christ out of Christmas." "It is little more than a secular event." "A Holy Day is now just another holiday."

Along with complaints about traffic and long lines at the stores, these are some of the laments we hear this time of year. Such "godly gripings" have become as traditional as exchanging gifts, caroling, watching "It’s a Wonderful Life" and downing eggnog.

Seeing Jesus excluded from His own birthday celebration naturally stirs the hearts of those who love Him. But I wonder if we have a biblical expectation of the world in this matter.

Starkly stated: of course the world has secularized Christmas. But what did we really expect? How "Buddah-filled" would a Christian’s life be if they lived in Japan?
Followers of Jesus need to quit expecting the world to be Christian-like in their beliefs or behavior. Bunnies at Easter and reindeer at Christmas are far more sensible and consistent from the unbelieving world than a genuine honoring of the risen Savior, whom they do not know, nor claim to know. Jesus is not their conquering Messiah so why should they hypocritically act as if He is?

Christians need to collectively mark and mourn the passing of our Christian heritage and seek to win a secular world (which is redundant) to Christ. We no longer live in a Christian nation (if we ever truly did). Let’s accept that and move on to reaching out to them with His love and message of salvation.

God has not left Himself without a witness (see Acts 14:17; Psalm 19), even if that is a secularized, seemingly Christ-free Christmas. The impact of the birth of the historical Son of God is seen even in the leaving of Him out. Our holiday madness begs the question: from whence does this gift giving, tree trimming, carol singing come? Pagan winter solstice celebrations hardly suffice as an answer. Jesus is indeed the reason for the season – historically even if not devotionally.

This is like replacing BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini) with BCE and CE (Before Common Era). It stills begs the question: what marked the beginning of the "Common Era?" One may excise and "commonize" AD (the year of our Lord) but, as in life and history, Jesus’ imprint is still felt. No matter how you label it, Jesus split and defined history.

You find little in the gospels of Jesus’ disappointment with the world not recognizing Him. He knew what to expect. Blind people cannot see. They need sight. It was when His people did not have a clue about Him that He was stirred and grieved (see Matt. 23:37).

The world does not merely need to be Christianized or made more moral – though it does well and wise to be moral. And we are wise and good citizens to work and pray towards that end.

Nor is their greatest need to better teach or appreciate how Christian our nation’s heritage was – though history done with integrity can hardly overlook this and be honest. Civil religion leaves us civil and religious. While being civil is obviously good, being religious, well… the verdict is still out. Did not Jesus say: "what would it profit a man if he gained the whole world yet lost his soul"?

Our world’s greatest need is to encounter and bow before Christ Himself. Hopefully, they are enabled to do this as He is seen and heard in us year round. For non-Christians to commercialize Christmas is on-target, in character behavior for them. Why would they – though they should – make Jesus central on Dec. 25? He is not the other 364 days. They are being consistent. Why do we not honor their lack of pretense instead of blasting their honest omissions? Do we want them to feign fellowship with Him, furthering both their and our confusion over their identity and

Instead of being grumbling, mumbling curmudgeons (Grinches?) who wonder why Christ-less people took Christ out of Christmas, let us seek to be caring, compassionate neighbors who realize they never had Christ to take Him out in the first place.

Anyone can use "X-mas" as a chance for cheap shots. Jesus might be most honored by His followers making the most of this seasonal opportunity to share and show His love to others - a love that might be deepened by confessing and repenting of unbiblical expectations of the unsaved.

Instead of griping and fuming about Christ’s absence from Christmas this year, let’s fully insert Him in our daily lives as well as our annual natal hoopla. Away with demeaning a secular world - is there any other kind? – for trying their best to honor the "spirit of Christmas."

Let us commend their efforts to show love, share and serve others – even if it is merely seasonal sentimental piety (if it is only that). Let us understand their "tip of the hat" deference to the God-man for what it is and what it cannot be. It falls to us to display and declare year-round worship of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Creator made creature.