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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Story: The Spirit of Christmas... a repost

I am sending this story on... May we all remember the original purpose of our gift giving at Christmas...

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS                   
Contributed by Father Miles O'Brien Riley

I was concluding a three day Christmas retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina when a family gave me this lovely, loving story.

It's just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas—oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it: overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma—the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner city church.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And, as each of their boys got up from the mat, they swaggered around in their tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly. "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved kids—all kids—and he knew them having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. Each Christmas thereafter, I followed the tradition—one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, three more were there. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.

The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Man became the son of God… God became the son of man

Cosmic Hand of God captured by NASA
Gen 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. KJV

After the writer of Genesis gives us the basic outline of creation (Days 1-7) He returns to the most important part and provides a more detailed account of the creation and history of mankind. Although God spoke all other creation into existence, we see He reached down in a way that enabled Him to directly form Adam, His premier creation. The King James version of Genesis tells us that as God breathed life directly into the body of Adam he became a living soul. Adam was formed in the image of his Creator, filled with the spirit of life from His breath and given a soul—free will, emotions and intelligence greater than any other creature. Adam was created to be the “Son of God”!

Four thousand years later Jesus is born as the “son of man”! The Almighty King of Kings, God became flesh to redeem us all. Glory to God in the Highest!

Matt 1:23and they will call him “Immanuel"-which means, "God with us."

Luke 2:11-14 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

You know, God could have chosen a thousand different methods to restore mankind to Himself. After all He created the universe, and all the system under which mankind lives and functions. However, He chose to come to dwell on earth… to live as man (limited to our frailty); to experience our human condition… from birth to death, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult. When He whispers into your ear during prayer “I know, I understand”… He really does! He has been there and done that! He has suffered, He has known joy, He was a child and He was a man—He was with us, He has been us!

1 Cor 15:45-49 So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. NIV

God robed himself in human flesh and lived as the perfect example as a “son of man”. He showed us how to live our human life and become again a true “son of God”. We can bear the likeness of the man from heaven, because He has borne our earthly likeness first.

As we celebrate His birth, let us think about the choice He made, to live as we must live in human form, so that we might live as He lived (before he left Glory to come and dwell as God with us), and now again lives (after His return to Heaven) as the Son of God in heavenly form! What a glorious, awesome future He has provided for us!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is it time yet?

Thinking of Christmas makes me remember the days when I was small (and again when my kids were little) waiting for Christmas morning to come... oh the torture!  It felt like it would never arrive, even though we had an advent calendar to help mark off the time.  Now, get ready I am going to tell you one of those "when I was young ... back in the stoneage" stories.  I grew up on a farm, and even worse it was a dairy farm!  Milk cows wait for no man; when it is milking time you had better show up and do the job...even if it is Christmas morning! So, we had to go do all our chores before we could open Christmas morning presents.  That final two hour wait was longer than all the days leading up to Christmas.  And, my son tells me that it felt like trying to sleep on pins and needles on Christmas eve.

Often it feels the same (or worse) trying to wait for the promises of God to manifest in our lives.  Prov 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.   Do you have a promise you are waiting upon?  Maybe a prophecy spoken to you, or the still small voice of God whispered in your ear 20 years ago and you knew it was God, but you are still waiting for that to happen? 
In my "stone age" story I mentioned that we had an advent calendar to help mark off the time... however, God  usually does not provide a specific date or time for the fulfillment of one of His promises.  I have had promises that would "soon" come to pass delay 8 years or longer.  God's meaning for soon and my meaning for soon do not usually match.

I have recently had some of the long awaited promises of God in my life come to pass... or "start" to come to pass.  God is still faithful and has encouraged me to hold out for the rest of the fulfillment of the promises He has planted in my heart.  He surprised me,  I did not get exactly what I expected (just like Christmas gifts) and the fulfillment did not show up in the exact way that I had pictured it;  but I think the final results will be much better than I could have ever planned by myself. 

If you are still waiting for some promises that seem to be long overdue... don't let your heart be sick, choose to trust God's timing.  It takes a long time to make a diamond, or a pearl; but a cubic zirconia or a cheap white bead only takes a few moments. Maybe you are just in your final "two hours" of chore time before you get to receive your gifts!  It you hang in there for the "real" thing you will receive something of far greater value than if you settle for the cheap imitation that you can give to yourself, or make happen by yourself.

Jer 29:11-14  For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Party!

Matt 18:20 For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them.

I had the great pleasure of joining a group of friends last night for an early Christmas party. Best of all, Jesus came too. It was planned as a group of friends having a simple Christmas decoration/ornament exchange with the added pleasure of seeing someone’s new house! The house was beautiful but even better was the Spirit of peace that rested there. We caught up on the events of each other’s lives and in our conversation we encouraged one another, celebrated a few victories and prayed about some trials. I thought about the scripture in Ecclesiastes that tells us two are better than one and if one falls his friend can help him up.

I especially appreciate my friend who took the time and trouble to host the event – it is so easy to become too busy to stop and join with like minded friends to bask in friendship and fellowship of the Spirit. In Phil 2:1-3 Paul exhorts the believers to respond to one another in a certain way :

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

I think Paul would have looked at our time of fellowship last night and proclaimed that his joy was complete! I know mine was.

Maybe it sounds trite, but I encourage you all to find time for true fellowship in the love and joy of Christ during this busy season; as Paul said in Hebrews 10:25… don’t neglect meeting together…but encourage one another. When we join together (formally or informally) and invite Jesus to join with us, we do end up encouraging each other. We have a twofold benefit: being encouraged and getting to encourage someone else. Hey, what is a birthday without a party? Happy Birthday Jesus, and thanks for the a reason to party with you and your friends!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 7 Ahhh...Rest.............. I Surrender!

Gen 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

I have missed my blog (and I am hoping you might have been missing it to). However, I had a good rest over the Thanksgiving holiday (and recovered from mild sickness). I hope you all enjoyed a Rest as well!

The origin of our word holiday is the designated Holy Day established by God when He called the Israelites out of Egypt and gave them the Ten Commands. Deut 5:13-15 states God’s third commandment to set aside the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath (Hebrew: Shabat – to rest, cease) and as we see in Gen. 2:3 He blessed it and made it holy (Hebrew: qadhash—set apart, consecrated, hallowed). Upon this seventh day God rested; His work was complete and good and He set aside time to rest, enjoy the fruit of His labors and gave us an example to do the same.

When Moses is first stating this third Commandment in Deuteronomy he reminds them that they were slaves. Deut.5:15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. We must understand that we will never have REST until we have FREEDOM in Christ! We are first freed from our sins, but we must continue in a path of freedom from self, from pleasing others, from living under condemnation, from the influence of this world… the list goes on and on! When we can live in God’s type of Freedom we will be living in His continual REST!

Observe the words of Isaiah (the Old Testament prophet who is most respected by the Jewish people):
Isa 58:13-14 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the LORD.

What are we admonished to do in this scripture?

1. Delight in God’s plan for our Rest. We will further look at this plan in Paul’s New Testament discussion of the Rest of God found in Hebrews Chapter 4.

2. Not going your own way. Remember that Jesus says “I am the WayJn.14:6. We must come to Him and enter into His life to be able to resist going our own way.

3. Not doing as we please. Rom 8:78 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. If we live by the control of His indwelling Spirit we can resist and overcome our carnal or fleshly desires .

4. Speaking idle words. Matt 12:34-37For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." The person who has truly committed all his words to God has submitted himself to the Spirit of God and this will produce great abundance and life! Only a changed heart and mind can consistently produce positive, Godly words.

The Rest of God is no longer established by a set aside day of the week; but rather is found every day in living according the Spirit of Christ that dwells within us and influences our reactions to daily life. Col 2:16-17 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Now, to further discuss “delighting in God’s plan for our Rest”, we will dissect Paul’s teaching on Rest in the fourth chapter of Hebrews. As Is 58:14 tells us we will find our JOY in the Lord when we can enter into His Rest-- we must surrender to Him!  Can we follow His plan, His timing, His choices for us instead of our own?

Heb 4:1-7 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. Note: you can miss the Rest of God—even if you are His child. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. The message of God’s Rest failed because they did not live in FAITH. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. He CEASED from his work and He rested; we must also CEASE from our own work, rest in faith that HE will work out all our problems and produce a GOOD result and a GOOD plan for success in our lives. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." 5 And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." 6 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Why did they disobey? They failed to TRUST God (lack of faith). 7 Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when must we trust God and rest in Faith that He will solve our problems and work a perfect work in our lives? TODAY! when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."

Heb 4:9-11 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, the effort we make is in yielding our heart, mind, will, emotion and thinking to the control of the Spirit—we CHOOSE how we think and feel! so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

Jesus is the source of REST and His Spirit is the power over fear, worry, doubt, negativity… as we see in Mark 2:27-28 Jesus is the Lord of Rest: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Why is the 23rd Psalm so popular and powerful to us? It describes a life of Rest under the care of the Good Shepherd.      Ps 23:2-3 He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. 3 He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised.

May you pause to appreciate His care and REST in this busy holiday season! Remember it is His Birth we celebrate, let Him plan the party!  SURRENDER!

I just want to let you all know that I am planning to blog more frequently. I expect to do a complete study (like the one above) about twice a week. I would like to use the other days to discuss your comments, ideas and general topics applying God’s principles to our daily life…. Send me your thoughts, ideas, questions. Please JOIN into the discussions! Comments can be left by clicking on the Anonymous choice under comments, if you do not wish to fill out a profile or to become a regular follower of this blog.