Sleeping Through Christmas

Today is Christmas. Much will happen today. Children will open gifts from under the tree that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather today with those they have not seen in a very long time. Many will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the reason for the season. For the most part, the thoughts and focus of today will be on cultural traditions and not on the true meaning of why there is Christmas in the first place. We would not be the first ones to miss out on the reason for Christmas. In the Casting Crowns song, “While You Were Sleeping”, they write:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

 Bethlehem was physically sleeping. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Son of God was born into the world among them. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fan fare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the landscape of the known world, and those to come, changed forever. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Jerusalem was spiritually sleeping. Thirty-plus years later, people were sleeping. This time, the residents of Jerusalem slept while the Son of God hung on a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died for their sin. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for and ought to have recognized,  gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses said He would. He had walked among them. He performed miracles. He taught. He loved. He testified of an for the Father. He yielded. He died. All for this while no one seemed to care. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.”

Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to understand the mission and person of Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns.

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

As a nation we are sleeping today. In the middle of the day, we’re sleeping. With the sun shining bright and eyes wide open, we’re sleeping. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us that reveals our sin, points us to the cross, and calls us to die to self, we’re sleeping. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock a nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. Most troubling is the fact that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will the residents America secure for themselves a place in history as “a city with no room for its King”?

Today is Christmas. We are reminded of the Luke’s words regarding this day. “Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

 

Monday is For Missions : What Are You Doing For Others This Year?

mmThe Christmas season is upon us. Our city has begun putting up lights and decorations on the light poles that line the streets. Families have begun putting up their trees and are well into their Christmas shopping. Our church calendar is filling up quickly. Between class and ministry parties, choir celebrations, and Christmas-themed sermons, we are reminded at every turn that we have entered into a very special time in the life of the church; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It would be very easy for us to get lost in all of the fun and fellowship side of the holiday. There is certainly a place for all of these. I often tell our people that the priority in all that we do is life-changing ministry that leads others to worship the One True God and His Son Jesus. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy Christmas parties. I enjoy spending time with our various ministries/classes in times of fellowship. I enjoy the fun of the Christmas season. I am thankful that in the midst of all this, we prioritize ministry opportunities that intentionally introduce people to the love of the Savior. What does this look like for us?

1. Angel Tree Christmas Party

Angel Tree is a ministry program of Prison Fellowship which reaches out to the children of inmates who are incarcerated in our state prisons and their families with the love of Christ. Angel Tree gives us the opportunity to share the Savior’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the prisoner’s family. Angel Tree works to connect the gift requests/desires of the inmate for his/her family and the need for the children to remain connected to their parent during an especially emotional time of year. All of this happens while maintaining the dignity of both the inmate and the family. We help to provide toy and clothing gifts to the children as well as hand-written letters and family pictures to the inmates.

2. Christmas Party at Local Multi-Housing Complex

Across the street from our church is a multi-housing complex that have been volunteering and ministering in for many years. We take time on a Saturday and provide a simple party for the residents and children. There is food, games, a small gift, and a gospel presentation through the telling of the Christmas story. The greatest present we give here is our presence. This party is a simple way for us to communicate that each one is important and that we care about them. We have found that this event, along with other seasonal events (Easter, back-to-school, etc.), are critical to building lasting and meaningful relationships.

3. Operation Christmas Child – Charlotte Distribution Center

We have some of our people heading to Charlotte to work at the Operation Christmas Child Distribution Center this year. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse which delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, candy, etc. to children around the world who may not have any gifts this Christmas season. Once the shoeboxes leave local collection centers, they make their way to Charlotte to be prepared for their final trip to over one hundred countries around the world.

Allow me to leave you with a question today. What are you doing this Christmas season for someone who will in no way be able to return the favor?

Christmas : A Day of Birth and Death

Today is Christmas. It is a day of birth. The gospel writer Luke speaks of it. “10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is  very important. It marks the entry into this world the One whom the prophets of old had spoken. It marks the entry into this world the One who would lay aside all claims of royalty and live as a servant to all. It marks the entry into this world the One who would make the journey from the manger to the cross securing for fallen man his redemption and forgiveness. This is reason to celebrate. If no Christmas, there is no Easter. If no Easter, there is no hope. It is no secret that this is my favorite time of the year. I look forward to this season more than any other. This season brings with it a sense of amazement and child-like wonder. The carols, family gatherings, gift giving, and the sense of good will on behalf of and toward our fellow man only add to the enjoyment of the true reason for this season. To God I am thankful for this day of birth for it brings a reason to believe and One in whom to believe.

Today is a day of death as well. I lost my dad on December 25th, 2012 after a brief six-month battle with lung cancer. It still doesn’t seem real. I remember the events of that day clearly. We were spending Christmas vacation with Terri’s parents in Tallahassee, Florida. Dad was in a nursing home in Tifton, Georgia, about two hours away. We had seen him the day before and knew his conditioning was worsening quickly. We received a call from my step-mother around 6:00am that if we wanted to see him we needed to do so. We made the trip to Tifton. The Hospice nurse was in the room and shared with us what we could expect over the next few hours. I have sat with many, many families as the same information was shared. I must admit, it was very different being on the other side of the conversation. I had the privilege of being in the room alone with my dad when he took his last breath. To have been there to do so, I am very thankful.

My relationship with my dad was better the last ten years than it was the previous thirty. As I shared at his funeral, my dad battled many personal demons that at time led to turmoil and distance. My dad was a Christian. He came to know the Jesus as his Savior through a faith-based alcohol treatment program at the rescue mission where he was living. For this I am thankful. I miss my dad terribly. There are many things I would love to share with him. I would give anything to be able to join him at the Waffle House (his favorite restaurant) and talk over a cup of coffee. One day. Two profound events. Countless emotions. I am thankful that the baby born in the manger is now the Prince of Peace. More than ever, the words of Isaiah 26:3 ring true, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You”.

Will We Sleep Through Christmas?

Today is Christmas. Much will happen today. Children will open gifts from under the tree that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather today with those they have not seen in a very long time. Many will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the reason for the season. For the most part, the thoughts and focus of today will be on cultural traditions and not on the true meaning of why there is Christmas in the first place. We would not be the first ones to miss out on the reason for Christmas. In the Casting Crowns song, “While You Were Sleeping”, they write:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

 Bethlehem was physically sleeping. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Son of God was born into the world among them. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fan fare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the landscape of the known world, and those to come, changed forever. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Jerusalem was spiritually sleeping. Thirty-plus years later, people were sleeping. This time, the residents of Jerusalem slept while the Son of God hung on a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died for their sin. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for and ought to have recognized,  gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses said He would. He had walked among them. He performed miracles. He taught. He loved. He testified of an for the Father. He yielded. He died. All for this while no one seemed to care. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.”

Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to understand the mission and person of Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns.

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

As a nation we are sleeping today. In the middle of the day, we’re sleeping. With the sun shining bright and eyes wide open, we’re sleeping. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us that reveals our sin, points us to the cross, and calls us to die to self, we’re sleeping. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock a nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. Most troubling is the fact that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will the residents America secure for themselves a place in history as “a city with no room for its King”?

Today is Christmas. We are reminded of the Luke’s words regarding this day. “Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

Today is the Day

 Today is the day. Today is the day that all the preparation and planning has looked forward to. Today is the day families gather together to celebrate and visit. Today is the day that children anxiously await with great anticipation. Today is the day of gifts, reflection, and carols. Today is the day for something else. Today is the day the prophets of old spoke of concerning the coming Messiah. Today is the day, as John 1:14 tell us that, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Today is necessary, and the beginning point, as far as mankind is able to see, in God’s plan for his redemption. In eternity past, God had, and still has a love for us that goes beyond our comprehension and one in which words cannot do justice. It is this love for a fallen, sinful, ad rebellious race of humans that motivated God to do something on our behalf, for He knew that we could not save or rescue ourselves. Our redemption and salvation began on this day. If there had been no birth, there could have been no earthly instruction as to who God is and what He desires from us. If there were no instruction and teaching, there would have been no rejection by those Jesus came to first reveal Himself to. If there had been no rejection, there would have been no prophecy fulfillment which solidifies our hope and assurance. If there were no rejection, then there would be no crucifixion and atoning death for the sins of mankind. If there were no crucifixion and death, there certainly would have been no resurrection. A resurrection that assures us that we worship and serve a rise and living Savior. A resurrection that is the fundamental difference between all world religions. A resurrection that testifies to the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Christ to accomplish what He said He could.

So on this day I say thank you to God for the baby in the manger. Thank you for the virgin birth, the insignificant town of Bethlehem, and for the baby in the manger being named Jesus, all of which fulfilled prophecy. God, thank you for the angels that night who proclaimed the good news of the newborn king and comforted the fearful. Thank you for the shepherds who were of the first to see Jesus. Their invitation to see, and their obedient visit, testified that Jesus truly was the Savior for all of mankind. God, thank you for the visit of the wise men who, after having their hearts stirred by you, traveled great distances bearing gifts worthy of a king. Their gifts were appropriate and unknowingly prophetic.

Today is a special day. Today is a day that should not get lost in the shuffle of the holiday season. The gospel writer Matthew wrote, “ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Today is the day of The Gift. Merry Christmas.