It's Christmas Eve

And I'm so excited to gather for worship this evening. This is traditionally one of my favorite times of year to gather for worship. And a Christmas Eve gathering is for me always one of the best of all gatherings.

I have been thinking a lot about advent as we have been working our way through this season and I realized something this year that I think generally escapes me. Advent is a reminder that THINGS AREN'T PERFECT. Biblically, the season advent leads us through the era of the prophets and the silent 400 years before the incarnation of Christ. And certainly that era was not perfect. God's physical kingdom was split and in various forms of captivity. God's people had poisoned their worship with idols and secularism. Religion had become ritual focussed and relationship-less. The oppression of the Roman empire became deathly for may of God's people. It was not perfect.

In the advent season, I get excited about celebrating Christmas and I often an so anxious for that celebration that I don't embrace the message that things aren't perfect yet. This year, in our family and in me I have been trying to realize anew that things are not perfect and won't be until Christ's return. I have been trying to recognize that this should not placate me into a passive church-goer, but motivate me to be a more active source of "light in the darkness," reflecting Christ's arrival to the world around me. The light of HOPE to the hopeless. The light of LOVE to the lonely. The light of JOY to the discouraged and depressed. And the light of PEACE to those in turmoil.

Yes advent is a call to me to expect Christ. To long for His return and to long for His presence. To long for it so strongly that I am moved to BE His presence and thereby experience that presence in relationship with Him and in service to His world.


Teaching Our Kids About Gifts

Christmas gifts that is....

Sometimes I really struggle with Christmas traditions. I feel caught in the middle of keeping the traditions that give connection to my family history and what seems like an ever-escalating commercial approach to this holy day. So, whenever possible we try to draw out spiritual, Christ-centered meaning to our traditions.

Today was a chance to teach about gift-giving.

Merritt and Mason finished their shopping for our family today. Some $5 gifts for mom and grandma, a couple of handmade gifts for dad, and something for Molly too. They really got into the selection process and it was great fun. Then this evening, we wrapped the gifts, placed them under the tree. And in the glow of our multi-colored twinkly-lit tree, we sat down to read. We read the book, Jacob's Gift by Max Lucado.

The story is beautifully crafted by Max Lucado. It is about the young carpenter who ends up building the manger in which Christ is laid. As the story unfolds, the young carpenter's teacher explains to him that just like an earthly father is pleased when his children receives gifts, God is pleased when His children receive gifts.

This opened up wonderful conversation about why we buy gifts at Christmas; about God' generous gift at Christmas; and, our conversation eventually lead us to the topic of giving to people in need. The boys decided to do a few things in this area. They decided to give some of their piggy bank money to their Compassion International kids, to use some of that money to buy gloves for the people who live in the tents outside of PetsMart, and to use some of the fleece in Rhonda's craft bin to make make scarves for them too.

We were able to talk about how giving gifts to God is worship and connect the dots between service and worship. It was a very rewarding family holiday evening. I think this process will become an annual tradition, reinforcing this incredible message for years to come.



I read a survey that said 82% of people without a church are receptive to attend church if invited and escorted by a friend. That’s good news, isn’t it? Here’s the bad news. Only 21% of church-going Christians invited someone to church during 2009.

Maybe it's time to invite someone to church this Christmas. Maybe it's time to help them hear the message of God's incarnation in the fellowship of believers, and to experience it in friendship with a singular believer: you, me, us.


Christmas Thoughts from Irma Bombeck

Here are some thoughts from Irma Bombeck. If you are not familiar with her work, she was a satirist and blue collar philosopher who published many books and brought many significant issues to the masses in America. She writes these thoughts in the empty nest season of her life and strangely I find them poignant to mile life though I am certainly NOT in an empty nest. Maybe they will be poignant to you too.

In her book, "If Life is a bowl of Cherries, Why Am I Always in the Pits?", Bombeck recalled the legend of a church where the chimes rang miraculously whenever someone gave a generous gift.

But the chimes hadn’t rung for a long time, even though kings & potentates had come to give gifts of gold & silver & precious gems. The chimes had not rung for a long, long time.

But one Christmas Eve a little peasant boy came down the aisle & knelt before the altar. As he thought about the Christ-child lying in a manger, he took off his tattered coat & laid it on the altar. When he did, the chimes rang loud & joyously.

Erma Bombeck wrote, "I’ve heard the chimes ring, too. I remember a Christmas when one of my sons brought me a piece of tattered construction paper on which he had tried to draw a picture of praying hands, & underneath the picture he had written, ’O Come, Holy Spit.’"

"When I saw that," she said, "I heard the chimes ring & I knew that a very special gift had been given."

"On another Christmas I received a shoebox all clumsily wrapped. When I opened it, I found two baseball cards & a piece of gum. Again I heard the chimes ring."

"And I heard the chimes ring the time when the kids got together & cleaned the garage & gave that as their Christmas present to me."

"Those days are long gone," she remembered, "days when we fashioned lace doilies into snow flakes, & pipe cleaners into Christmas trees. When we took empty spools & used them for candleholders. Those days are long gone."

"I remember little feet coming down the stairs with a hand-made gift all wrapped up in $2.00 worth of wrapping paper to put underneath the Christmas tree. Those little feet now wear panty hose & fashion boots."

"Little hands that used to break the piggy bank to get 59 cents to buy a Christmas gift, now hold credit cards that are good in any store in town."

"We’ll have a good Christmas this year," she said. "We’ll eat too much. We’ll mess up the living room & throw the warranties in the fire by mistake. We’ll put bows on the dog’s tail. We’ll take bites out of cookies & put them back in the plate. We’ll listen to Christmas songs, & have a good Christmas."

"But, Lord, what I wouldn’t give to bend over just one more time & receive some toothpicks held together by library paste & to hear the chimes ring - just one more time."

Have the Merriest Christmas season ever. And hey, why not live it out all year long... except for the frantic pace though.


I mentioned a week ago that I wanted to focus in my blog on Isaiah in the gospels. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday and all the preparation involved, I did not get a chance to finish my post. But I was working on the study during my times of reflection.

When it comes to allusions and quotations, Isaiah was an obvious favorite for gospel writers and for Jesus as well. This is really no surprise given that Isaiah was certainly the most prolific, of the published prophets, in his foretelling of the coming Messiah.

As I was looking through the gospels, I notices a preference for Isaiah 53, and changed the focus of my survey to see where this single chapter is quoted not only in the gospels, but also in the epistles. Here is my reference list. I'm sure it is not complete, but it is definitely inspiring during this season of advent.

Some of these allusions are very clear. Others use parallel concepts that probably have their root in Isaiah 53. Where appropriate, I have boldfaced the words that are central to the allusion or parallel. Verses are listed in the order they appear in the New Testament. The left column shows the corresponding verse in Isaiah. There are a couple of other allusions (outside of ch. 53) included because of their significance to the Christmas season.

I know that for me, this was an inspiring and informative survey. I hope that this chart gives you inspiration that leads to worship.


And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:11 = Matthew 3:17


"This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" (Matthew 8:17; quotes Is 53:4)


"Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope." (Matthew 12:18-21; quotes Is 42:1-4)


"just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28=Mark 10:45; conceptual parallel. See "for many" language in Is 53:11-12)


"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28 = Mark 14:24)


"Jesus replied, 'To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?'"(Mark 9:12)


"It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment." (Luke 22:37; Jesus quotes Is 53:12)


"He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:25-27)

53:6-7, 12

"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29)

"When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 'Look, the Lamb of God!' " (John 1:36)


"The crowd spoke up, 'We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, "The Son of Man must be lifted up"? Who is this "Son of Man"?'" (John 12:34)


"This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: 'Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'" (John 12:38, quotes Is 53:1)


"The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
'He was led like a sheep to the slaughter
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.
The eunuch asked Philip, 'Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?' Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus." (Acts 8:32-35; quotes Is 53:7-8)


"Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification." (Romans 5:16)

"For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19)


"But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our message?'" (Romans 10:16, quotes Is 53:1)


"Rather, as it is written:
'Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.
'" (Romans 15:21, quotes Is 52:15)


"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve." (1 Cor. 15:3-5)


"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21, conceptual parallel)

53:6, 12

"Who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." (Galatians 1:4)

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

"...and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2)

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25)


"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransomfor all men -- the testimony given in its proper time." (1 Tim. 2:5-6)


"Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:14)

53:4, 6, 11, 12

"so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:28)


"...Trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." (1 Peter 1:11)

53:11, 9,7, 5, 6

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
"He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth."
(quotes Is 53:9)
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (quotes Is 53:5) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:24-25)


"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit..." (1 Peter 3:18)


"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2)

5:4, 6, 11, 12

"But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin." (1 John 3:5)


"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

Doing the Things You Love

I love gardening. It's creative. It's solitary. It's tangible and measurable (I can tell immediately if I have been successful). I also love discipleship. It's relational. It's eternal. It's world-changing.

I think it is important to do the things you love. It is awesome when you can make a living at doing the things you love. Sometimes you can make a good living at it. And sometimes you can just make a little extra at it. But sometimes the things you love don't offer an opportunity to earn anything. I think you should still do them. Somehow do them.

You see, I believe that the things we love reveal part (maybe just a small part) of our purpose in this life.

Look at Psalm 37 - Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

There has long been discussion about the word "of" in this passage. You see, in some contexts the word used for "of" can be translated "for". And since this context leaves the possibility that "for" could be appropriate, the question of translation remains. That little change from "of" to "for" does change the meaning significantly.

I lean toward the translation that God gives us the desires FOR our heart. I lean this way, primarily because it fits the whole of what God teaches us in the scripture much better. And many people live their lives for God without the desires of their hearts ever being fulfilled.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

That is Jeremiah 17:9. And here the prophet of God teaches us that we should not trust our own heart and its desires. Now, if we put both of these verses together (with the translation "for") we can learn something. God puts things in our hearts when we make Him our delight. When we shun the delights of our fallen human heart and allow God to put new desires in our hearts, we can find God's will revealed.

And so.... I think we who love the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength should pay careful attention to the things we love, AND DO THEM. Ohhh, and remember to "do everything as unto the Lord." Whether you can be paid to do it or not, make sure that you do the things you love out of delight in the Lord, and to Him, and for His kingdom.

So, discipleship and relationships that reach toward God together are part of my profession and I love doing that for God. And gardening is part of my personal devotional life. The garden is often where I pray, reflect, meditate on the word, and listen to God. And in both ways I can find my purpose in this life.

So what about you? What do you love? And how can you do what you love for God?

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