Ever wonder what God might have to say to YOU today? Here are things to ponder, and things to receive into your heart. If you have a question, put it in the comments. I respond as much as I can.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day Meditation

You "shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."
This was what the angel told Joseph, Jesus' stepdad.  It's quite amazing, because it's so all encompassing.  Think about it with me for just a few moments:
1. Paul says, "Sin entered the world, and death through sin...
2. Paul also says that when Jesus came, He came because mankind was full of hate, being hated, and hating one another, and Jesus came to cure that.
3. And lastly, Paul says that before Jesus came, we were "without hope, and without God in the world."
4. Now set this beside the words of John the Baptist, so very long ago, when he was walking with two men who were to become some of Jesus' first followers:
"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
All the terrible evil men and women do to each other.  All the sickness and pain and heartache. All the death and suffering.  All the anger and hatred and rage and murder.  All the separation we feel toward our fellow humans. All the pain and sorrow and tears.
This is what the implication is when we consider that Jesus' arrival on earth signified a complete change in the future of mankind, and that while it's still future, we have hope of eternal life, a home in heaven, and joy forever.
He takes the evil and replaces it with good, without our deserving it in any way.  He says, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved that being made righteous by His grace (kindness), we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life..."
He does that for you, for me, and for anyone else who wants it.
What about you? This is for you, if you want it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Meditation

Christmas Eve is a time of anticipation. It's a time when we worship God through His Son, and await the retelling of the Christmas story in all its beauty and power.
Who could have thought that the King of all Creation would come as a lowly peasant child, born to poor parents in difficult and humiliating circumstances?  How could Mary have known the year before she got pregnant (at 15?) that the following year she would undertake the most frightening journey of her life, to bear the Messiah?  How could Joseph have known that his hopes and dreams for a family with Mary would be dashed to pieces, only to be resurrected by the words of an angel? How could the shepherds have known that tomorrow morning, very early, the host of heaven would appear to them and announce the birth of the Messiah?  How could the Magi have known that their lives would change forever with the appearance of a certain Star?
I remember very well my first Christmas morning after becoming a Christian.  I went to church for an early Christmas service at 5 AM, and everything seemed different.  It was as if I had been transported into a world I had never known, populated by angels and God and the entire spiritual world, which I felt I could see with my mind's eye. It was as if a new consciousness, a new reality had opened up to me, and everything was the same, but different--as if I now understood that there was a parallel universe with all these beings in it that I had not known before. I remember getting out of the car, walking through the parking lot in the pre-dawn darkness, thinking how different everything was.  It was the same, really.  I was different. I had experienced contact with the living God, and He had accepted me.  I knew there were angels, God, the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, all present in that moment, surrounding the parking lot, and it was as if I was one of the shepherds who heard those first words of announcement with the accompanying songs: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"
It was completely real, yet not something I could ever communicate (see how feebly I do it even now!)--the world I had always wondered about, the universe God inhabits, was real, and I could sense it.
I don't want to get all mystical on you, but the fact is that this world is real to every Christian, and the corollary is that it is exceedingly hard to communicate this to people who are not Christians.  Atheists haven't the tools to grasp these things, so they say that they're not real, because they can't experience them from their vantage point.
Other religions speak of some glorious state of transformation, when one comes into contact with the Divine, but that is an "achievement" that comes from many years of study and dedication.  Here I was, 18 years old, a Christian for almost exactly one month, standing on an asphalt parking lot, looking at the pre-dawn sky, feeling the presence of God as truly as I can tell that this is a warm day in a San Diego winter. I didn't study and meditate my way to that experience, either.  It was a gift. An indescribable, beautiful, real, powerful gift, which came to me the moment I decided to follow Jesus Christ and have Him in my life as my Savior.
I was later to find that other people just "didn't get it," and it was very frustrating.  When you're young, you somehow think that your experiences are shared, that everyone who says, "I'm Christian" has an experience like yours.  I found, of course, that many did.  I also found that some people had intellectualized being Christian, as if you could "prove" that Christianity is true and right, and others had rejected the reality of Christianity for some reason I couldn't understand, and now everything was mechanical, and of course I found that people who were not Christians really didn't get it.  It was as if they didn't have that sensory organ, the one that enables you to experience the spiritual world.
Thing is, I couldn't deny it. It was too real.  As real as the first taste of ice cream.  As real as a sunset. As real as a lover's arms around you.  As real as the house I lived in with my Mom and Dad. REAL.
That's my problem when someone who doesn't believe starts talking about how Christianity can't be true, that it doesn't make sense. I try to explain it, and it's like trying to tell a blind man about a sunset.  It's like trying to describe how it feels to hold your child in your arms to a robot.
Christianity cannot be proved to the satisfaction of atheists, of agnostics, of folk in other religions, but it CAN be experienced in such a way that you cannot go back.  It's too real.
Come with me. You won't be like me, you'll have your own experiences, but you will never regret following Jesus Christ.
He is forever.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Meditation #3: Jesus and the Organized Church

I recently read in Stephen King's book On Writing (yes, THAT Stephen King) that he's "always believed in God, but has no use for organized religion," and that his childhood room contained all kinds of awards for Bible memorization.
I think that this pretty much describes many folks' approach to the church as a whole.  As children, they were taken to church by parents or other relatives, and they believe.  As adults, they reject the idea of organized religion, church, and the like, but retain their belief systems and have some sort of relationship with God.
I have wondered about this many times over the years.  After all, I spent about a third of my life as a Pastor, I taught in Seminary, and have gone to church most of my life. Why don't people like it?
What's wrong with it? Is there something wrong with the spiritual aspects of the religion itself, as the atheists tell us? Is God maybe not real, and therefore all the worship us idiots give Him is pointless?
Well, remember that most of the folks who say they've "left the church" still do retain their faith.  In other words, they still believe in God, even though "church" has some pretty bad connotations for them. Some do not, of course, and I am truly sad about that.
Thinking back to when I was a pastor, and thinking back to what folks told me when they said they had left other churches, here are my thoughts:
1.  People leave churches because they are hurt by them.  It doesn't have to be as significant as what recently happened in so many Roman Catholic churches--they were molested by people who should have protected them, but there are many ways churches hurt people.  They hurt people by using them. They hurt people by intentionally acting against them, such as when someone makes a bad life-decision (in the minister's eyes), and they exercise "Church Discipline." Churches are often unfair in the exercise of this so-called discipline, and they discipline the weak and those unable to defend themselves. So you've found a sinner in church.  Don't get so overheated.  You're a sinner yourself. You will both answer to God, not the minister, and the minister himself will stand there with you, not to accuse you, but as a fellow sinner.
2. People leave churches because they are "used up." They are volunteered out, tapped out, and empty of resources. When the leadership of any given church sees this, they usually exhort the person who's suffering this weariness to give more--resources, time, energy. Finally the man or woman leaves, bitter, tired, disillusioned.
3. People leave churches because they are tired of the evil in them. So many times, evil is misidentified.  Evil is not the single mother who made a series of life choices that ruined her.  Evil is power used to crush the small. Evil is bowing to money. Evil is the leadership wrecking someone else's life / emotional life in order to assert itself over that person. Evil is looking at people as "giving units."
4. People leave churches because they see that the leadership is unfair. The money in a church leads to power in the organization, and that power conveys favorable treatment. This is terrible, but it is disgustingly common.
Thing is, Jesus taught against every one of these things (for his blistering sermon on evils in the religion of his day, "written on asbestos and delivered in a tin envelope," see Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 23)
He forgave and encouraged the Woman taken in adultery. He alone saw how she felt, and lifted her up.
He spoke against the use of ostentation in religion as a mask for fraud and theft ("Woe to you, Pharisees, who take widows' houses, and make long prayers...Stop making my Father's house a robber's den").
He denounced the use of power in religion as a means of social prominence. And so on.  Read the four Gospels.  You'll see what I mean.
He spoke openly about the evils in the religion of His day, and the power brokers killed Him for it.
In other words, Jesus didn't have much use for organized religion, either.  However, He always went to the Synagogue.  He worshipped according to the Jewish religion (He was "born under the Law" and followed it). He didn't give approval to the evil, but He applauded the good. He wasn't "in tune" with the religious power brokers of His day at all, and He focused on the people who believed in God, or who would believe in Him, whether they were rich or poor--those whose hearts were "honest and good," and those who wanted something real.
He really came for this.  To make things real for us, and to get us away from the forms of religion that were dying, since nobody much liked them anyway.  This was such a fresh breath of air everyone who desired the real, since what Jesus did was simply replace the worship of old with a true relationship with God (or at least the offer of it--he wasn't selling anything, and He didn't force anything on anyone).
This is what Christmas really started, since the birth of Jesus was intended to begin something new in the story of mankind.  You see, the devil takes things over.  He has his willing sidekicks, men and women who will do his bidding, and many of these are in churches now.  They were in the Synagogues then, in religious leadership in Palestine, kings and princes of the religion.
So I think that Jesus is saying to all of us,
"Worship God. Believe in Me. I'm not so sure I have much use for organized religion Myself, but don't reject the good because you are angry with the bad. Go to church.  I went to the synagogue and the temple, but I replaced it with something intended to be far different.  It was. It can be again. Don't let the evil in religion get you down.  Make it better. Be on My side.  I'm on yours.  If you are hurting and need help, I'm here.  I will never reject you." (He specifically said this: "Whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out.")
So let's give Him a Christmas present.  Let's devote ourselves to Him alone. Let's learn to love again--to love people with His grace and love.  Church? Maybe. But certainly Him.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Meditation #2: Does Jesus Matter?

He certainly does.
While there are those who insist that Christianity is merely an ancient superstition, with no basis in reality, uncounted millions of people disagree with them, and worship God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Why do they do that? Why is He so important to so many?
To the true Christian, Jesus is of the greatest importance because
He is not merely the "Founder / Leader of a great religion;"
He is not only the Teacher who is followed (at least in lip-service) by millions,
He is not just the Miracle-Worker whose works ring powerfully through the annals of history;
He is not just "The Way and the Truth and the Life;"
Nor is He only "The Shepherd of the Sheep, the Good Shepherd,"
And He's not merely the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
He is all these things, but with the true Christian, it's personal.
He's MY Good Shepherd
He's MY Leader.
He's MY way to God.
In other words, with the true Christian, believing in Christ is a very personal matter that brings him into a relationship that transcends religious behaviors and observances. It's stunningly simple, easy to do, but resisted and forgotten by many among us.
I wish I could somehow communicate this to the atheist--that to me, Jesus is as real as my own breath, as real to me as my body, and it's all because of Him actually entering into a relationship with Me that I had no right to hope for, not in a million years.
I think that if I could communicate this to people who don't believe in Him, they might seek Him and find Him for themselves, and experience the reality of God's own dear Son.
Christianity is not about the mistakes Christians make, the sins they commit, the failures they have, the evil they do; all of these, it is true, have been used as arguments against Christianity, and they are valid to some extent, in that they say "Christians fail."
My response to that is, "So what?" Jesus never said His followers would be perfect.  In fact, His commands and teachings assume they won't be.  Even His twelve Apostles got yelled at from time to time--for their lack of faith, their lack of commitment, their lack of understanding, and quite a few other things.
That does not invalidate their relationship with Him, nor does it invalidate my relationship with Him, or yours.
All it says is, "Christians are sinners."
Well, Duh!
If they weren't sinners, why would they need a Savior? If I wasn't a sinner, I could go to heaven all on my own. It's my sin that makes me "fall short of the glory of God," and I NEED a Savior.  That Savior has to be one who can give God reason to forgive me for my sins, one who can pick me up and lead me into a better life than I could have chosen for myself, one who can pick me up, dust me off, and send me back on the true path after I've really fallen, or the whole thing--the whole Christian thing--is no good. If I can't be sure I'll get to eternal life after this, why bother to believe?
So I do believe, and perhaps you do as well, not because someone smarter than you or me told us it was the thing to do, but because we've both partaken of the personal miracle that started when we believed in through His Son, Jesus.
Please don't ask me to explain.  Explaining what happened to me at my conversion would be like me asking you to explain the origin of the universe, or like me asking you to explain why the stars are fusion powered, or where the oil we use to produce gasoline in our cars really comes from.  You cannot do any of these things, because you can't go back in time and watch it happen, so you don't really KNOW.  Same with conversion.  Even though it happened to me, and it's the "real-est" thing I've ever experienced, and even though He's been real in my life ever since, I cannot tell you what happened. I know I entered a permanent relationship with Him.  That I do know. The theologians (and I am one of those) tell you all kinds of fine words that supposedly explain it all, but they don't.  It's kind of like being alive.  You know you're alive, and you can see that other people are alive, but you really don't know what "alive" is.  You are there. You are conscious. You feel, and think, and love, and hate, and hurt, and cry.  You have children (some of you), and you rejoice that they are alive, devastated if they die, but what is life?  We don't really understand it.
In the same way, I can't understand my eternal life, my relationship with God, but I for sure know it's real.  It's as real to me as any other part of my life, and more real than some.
I know I was forgiven of my sins.  I could FEEL God's acceptance so many years ago.  I could tell that I was / am different.
Am I still a sinner? Yes.  In spades.  For me, sin is an inescapable reality, and I know I'm not perfect. So what?  I try, and will keep doing so until He takes me Home.
Christmas is what started all this.  When Jesus came, He changed everything.  He filled all the ancient prophecies with reality.  He made my life--the spiritual life--possible.
For that, I am grateful every day, and often every hour, because He is so dang REAL.