Day 1- Thanksgiving: What’s the difference

I’m writing this to you, to help you maximize your Thanksgiving holiday as a family. You could choose to do this from Wednesday-Thursday, Thursday-Friday, in one sitting, or not at all. Whatever you choose, please meet with God over this Thanksgiving and I would recommend doing this with me.
 
 
 
Scripture Reading:
Psalm 19:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
 

Psalm 100:4-5 ESV

Know that the Lord, He is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good;his steadfast love endures forever,and his faithfulness to all generations.
 
This holiday season you will see many requests and online appeals to “be thankful”, hoping to dial down the noise of busy lives and vitriolic discourse that has been plaguing our society. That is good, we could definitely use that. However, while we will hear some uplifting messages, have a more peaceful sounding season overall, and all behave suitably Christmassy (and less Grinchy), it all grossly falls short of what a grateful believer in Jesus can really step into concerning their life with God. God is calling us to an awareness of His work in our lives. Mere platitudes and generic good thoughts don’t cut it. Even attending church services and christian deeds won’t accomplish it. He is calling believers in Jesus to a live a life with the constant awareness of Him; knowing Him and of His salvation, not just our awareness that we have “much to be thankful for” in some generic sense.
 
Before we go any further, I need to draw a clearer distinction between what is generally understood as “thanksgiving” and what the Bible calls “thanksgiving”. Hopefully, you will see what I mean in a second. When we ask people around the table “What are you thankful for?”, we get responses like “’I’m thankful for family” or “I’m thankful for good health”. Most, if not all of us, smile and move on to the next person. What we heard was really good! The person just expressed that they are aware of something they have. However,  if you pay close attention, we are in a culture that promotes an awareness of what we have without an acknowledgement of a source. So, is a person wrong when they say things like that? Absolutely not! Awareness of what we have is a great place to start. We have just not been trained to be intentional or directional with our thanks in light of this awareness. When I jokingly summarize this state, I often reference the fact that if you ask some kids in cities where cheese comes from, they will say “Walmart” without skipping a beat. This kind of thinking is indicative of a condition that is bigger than we imagine and we are all affected by it. In daily life, there is almost no necessity to attribute a clear source to what we have, we just assume that we have it when we want it.. For some this is an intentional exclusion, because attributing credit elsewhere means they are less of a “self-made man/woman” in their own eyes. Now, most of us don’t see life like that, and we truly are thankful for those around us who make us better, and we’re thankful for the things we enjoy through other people’s work. But still, we find ourselves throwing out the “walmart” answer when it comes to seeing and acknowledging the true source of the little and big things we have. To help myself and my family grow in this area, I use a simple fill-in-the-blank statement, that helps us with intention and direction. This practice might help you as well
 
I AM THANKFUL TO________ FOR _________.
“I am thankful for family”
now becomes
“I’m thankful to God for His faithfulness to our family”
That directs our thanks to God and acknowledges His faithfulness. When I think through that, I’m reminded of all the things He brought me through. Man!<mind blown> Am I thankful for my family story in God or what?!
(OR)
“I am thankful to you (Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa), for raising us a family”.
Giving honor where it is due on earth as well is a principle that helps us build strong relationships on trust. We grow the people around us into confident givers of the little or much that they have from God.
 
Both intention and direction matter. A well directed statement, made just for the sake of saying it, is useless. I’m just parroting something people expect. In the same way, a well intention-ed statement with no direction (where most of us are) keeps us thinking good thoughts, but honor and thanks is never given where it is due.  But, when direction and intention are married, we begin to mean what we say, because we’re actually chewing on what we’re saying before we say it. We become less callous and self centered and more thoughtful and openly others-centered.
 
Can you practice this with me today? If you are with family, without going into as much detail, you can help them be intentional and directed in their thanksgiving by giving each one this simple fill-in-the-blank statement cue.
I AM THANKFUL TO________ FOR _________.
 
Let’s be thankful people! Happy Thanksgiving!

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Day 2 – Thanksgiving: Pathways in Worship

In the previous segment we looked at the distinction between generic thanksgiving and deliberate thanksgiving. Hopefully, we’ve found it helpful to be more deliberate about the things we say. Today, let’s look at why thanksgiving to God is so important in the life of every believer. We will unpack why thanksgiving is the foundation of christian worship.
 
 
 
 
 
Scripture Reading
Psalm 100:3-4 (ESV)

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Psalm 50: 23 (ESV)
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
Psalm 50:23 Paraphrased (TPT)
The life that pleases me is a life lived in the gratitude of my grace, always choosing to walk with me in what is right. This is the sacrifice I desire from you. If you do this, more of my salvation will unfold for you.”
 
Thanksgiving is important because its the foundation of what we call ‘worship’. It can seem synonymous, but there is a depth that might be useful to unpack a little right here. In the Bible, God talks about ‘thanks’ as the doorway into His presence. Without getting too involved it is worth mentioning that when Israel built the tabernacle in the wilderness during their exodus, God was very specific about the approach and pathway to meeting with Him. While we are not under the obligations and practices of the law handed to them, we must see that the new covenant God made in Jesus, through His work on the cross, fulfilled the total requirements of the law and ushered in the complete reality of God’s manifest presence which the Old Testament pointed toward. Many people get caught up trying to copy what the Old Testament practices were, forgetting that these things pale in comparison to the reality that is found in Jesus. It was pointing to the reality of a guaranteed meeting with God face-to-face; the promise for everyone who comes through Jesus. So, with that context, here’s the bullet-point version of what God taught Israel about worship.
 

Scripture tells us quite plainly on more than one occasion to ‘enter His gates with thanksgiving’. In simple terms… If you are planning to meet God at his home… ‘thanks’ is the front door! The way into God’s presence is thanksgiving. It sets the context for an encounter with God. Anything done well involves preparation and life teaches us that there is no substitute for good preparation. Thanksgiving gets you into a place of God consciousness.  This is ‘good preparation’ for face to face encounters with the One who made everything and rules over everything.
 
As we ‘count His blessings’ or ‘call to mind’ or ‘forget none of His benefits’, starting with the work of The Cross, we are rehearsing what our God has done. As we do this, we are quickly filled with how amazing our God really is and praise becomes a real thing and  is no longer a dry-mouth-with-fake-words activity. “God is almighty” is not just hearsay, we have actually seen Him do mighty things for us and now we’re better placed to see how He could be mightier than just our experience. Scripture now informs my praise. Soon, a song or tune becomes irrelevant and we discover that praise and worship had little to do with music and everything to do with being wrapped up with God while responding with our whole being; using words, shouts, tears, dance…and maybe even song. I find myself meeting God in worship where it is no longer about me, but Him alone. He gets to show me who He really is. I respond to what He reveals and I am overwhelmed. This, my friends, is how worship works. Do you see how each of the three stages fold into each other? A progression of seeing God in light of where we’re at to seeing Him for who He is alone. I hope you don’t take this and turn it into a formula, but see that God is after something much bigger and grander than we imagined for our encounters with Him.
 
Never ever ever let a song or a thanksgiving table “moment” get in the way of lavish thanks and praise (don’t be intimidated by musical worship or more tuneful/eloquent people near you). Notice, I emphasized the need for us to use our voice. The book of James talks extensively about the power of the tongue. Oh! that we would be people whose mouths are continually filled with thanks and praise (Psalm 34). I hope that we as worshipers are looking at ‘Thanksgiving’ as something more than just a family meal that ends with <burp>! I long for us in the church to move past the trappings of music and songs and come into the place where all we do is return to God and just say “Thank You”; completely unreserved and unashamed. May we be so wrapped up in God and His goodness that looking like a crazy dancing King David (I will be more undignified than this) would be something we want to emulate.
 
When God has our attention in the midst of a life situation, we magnify Him more than we do the situations we are in. Now the truth about what I am facing is dealt with in the context of seeing God. My responses to the great successes or great trials of life are handled much differently than they would be without God being “The Way, The Truth, and Life” for me.
My greatest influencer must always be “God with me”. Just hearing that phrase is no good to me. It does not change who He is, but I have no context for relating to Him in the context of what I am facing. However, when I go right up to Him and say, “Lord, in this circumstance, reveal yourself to me”, He responds with His presence and I find myself  magnifying Him with truth, not just Christianese. This sort of worship is not fake or contrived; it is completely truthful and responds with spiritual realities winning the day.
 
 
Ephesians 1:17-19
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
 
Psalm 27:8
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.
 
Action Point:
So, let us ask God to awaken us to what He has done. May we move past the Christianese responses to life and begin seeing how awesome our God really is, so we can respond with worship that pleases Him. Can we practice setting aside a little time today to enter God’s presence with thanks, continue to praise Him with a psalm  (there are 150 in the Bible) or a attribute of God seen in the Bible, and finally come to a place where God can speak to our heart with something new about Himself that we’ve never seen before. Take a journey in worship today!
 
 

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Against All Odds

At this time of the year, it is quite common to reflect on the advent of Jesus Christ on the stage of human history. We all have cozy nativity scenes and a cute little glowing baby that are commonplace in most sunday schools, churches and homes (this is not even considering all the countless other extra-biblical traditions we all love). I think it is a wonderful thing to be afforded the freedom to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in our world and acknowledge that in our personal ways.

This Christmas, however, as I pondered the state of the world we live in, I began to see how the gospel of Christmas isn’t  readily recognized. I know broad statements will be made about hope, love and peace and how our world can receive it regardless of religious affiliation or personal belief. Others will be more militant about denouncing the fact that this season had anything to do with Christianity in the first place. While I might accept that fact, the reality of Christ’s birth is to be recognized and celebrated. There are several obvious reasons why we celebrate Jesus, but here are few we might not have fully considered.

As the pretext for what follows, think about the fact that the safety of the whole world depended on what you were about to do next. How would you set up this rescue mission? Now that your imagination is thinking through scenarios let’s see what God did.

1) Being God, He left the Superhero suit behind

Way to go, God!! He goes and starts the mission off with no fuel in the tank!!

Philippians 2:4-7...Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Way before a virgin called Mary was brought into this story, God-the Father had this chat with His Son. The plan to be set in motion involved God laying down His power deliberately. This is not to be confused as Jesus losing His status as God. It means He deliberately chose to live as man without taking up the power He had at His disposal. The salvation of man, now rides on this God-man who will have to walk through life like you and I and bear the brunt of all humanity’s sin in the days to come. Phew! Intense!

Let’s say the odds of success are still good. Jesus was a stand-up son to God-The Father, He’ll get the job done.

“Ok, I’ll go with your plan, God. What’s next??”

 

2) God picked total rookies to carry this mission out 

A) Born to newly-weds (what do they know about life….really!!!)

What??? A middle-eastern virgin teenager who will be pregnant, and her fiance will find out after the fact? Now, that’s asking for failure!

Matthew 1:18-19 –Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unw illing to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

We just took the odds of success way down. In a middle-eastern setting, a virgin who is no longer a virgin….let’s just say, she won’t be marrying anyone anytime soon, that is, if she is allowed to live. God picked total rookies to carry the entire mission. Neither of them were influential, rich or scholarly. All this was given to simple folk who would now find themselves in a whole heap of trouble in society. Odds of success are bleak. However, Mary, though totally freaked out initially, chooses to carry the weight her obedience will imply. Joseph too hears from God and chooses to obey God. He covers for Mary through society’s watchful eye by marrying her. A whole lot of obedience and willingness was needed here to push this plan into countdown mode.

B) The Trailblazer was born to a Grandma!

Luke 1: 13-17 ...the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John….. And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

John, the Baptist (who was also Jesus’ cousin) was born to a grandma in another town. Elizabeth (just like Abraham and Sara) was way too old to have kids. God wanted people to be ready for His Son’s arrival and chose one of the least impregnable women to do it. God’s logic seems to work against every sane idea we could come up with for success. He just picked two sets of untrained mothers and fathers to carry the most important message and person.

C) All the main witnesses were not Jewish authorities, and the Jews who did witness it were not people society would recognize for veracity

You would think that if we wanted this good news to get out to the population, we would pick people with a sufficient platform to convince the masses. Nope! God just picked shepherds and travelling astronomers who had no vested interest in Jewish politics or culture. Shepherds did not have a very high standing in the culture of the time. They were rough characters who usually had a case of potty-mouth. Not people you would entrust with PR. Wise people from other lands doesn’t really do much to change the scene where Jesus would grow up, except maybe make things worse- by going to Herod with word of a another ‘King’.

 

3) Born is a king in a narcissistic-genocidal maniac’s stomping ground 

Herod the Great, was king of Judea at the time of the census which brought Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem. Of all the rulers to be born under, this one would be low-down on your list. He was a paranoid ruler who killed half his family, put to death teachers who sneezed the wrong way, and proceeded to kill all male children under the age of two in his kingdom when he heard news of a ‘king’ born somewhere in his vicinity.  We have just sped past the most wonderful event surrounding Christmas, the nativity. I have a good reason.  Jesus was born roughly two years ago, but now is threatened with death. What!!! We just about got the mission underway only for this to blow up after takeoff.

Matthew 2: 16– Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

This toddler would have finally gone to bed for his mom, and she just about crawls into bed after much rocking.  Moments later Joseph wakes up with a start when an angel says to him in a dream “get out quick, the death squads are coming”. So, immediately he obeys. In the middle of the night, they pack a carry-on and bail out. The little boy, Jesus much crying he makes, as mom puts a palm over his mouth to muffle the sound as they take the back way out of Bethlehem towards Nazareth.

That was close!! Mission proceeds!

 

4) Growing up with no grooming for public office

The family makes it to Nazareth — a good blue-collar town, where you go to get day laborers and craftsmen, not national leaders. Jesus grows up like an average blue-collar neighborhood kid, learning dad’s trade with furniture and tires (for carts). Again, it seems like the choice of family to be born into was a bad one. He is not going to get the necessary grooming in national politics and policy that would be needed to get traction on a national campaign. Still, Jesus chooses to obey His father on earth and in heaven and not touch the superhero suit even once.

Can we just quit with this plan of salvation? This story keeps bouncing from one absurd event to another. No! It gets better

 

5) Choosing a band of illiterates and social odd-balls  

After growing to manhood, Jesus proceeds to pick an unlikely team for the purpose of message delivery and action. Jesus quite specifically was led by God to pick each one. Let’s just say most of them had to really pay attention when Jesus spoke, because writing things down would have done most of them little good. Apart from a few who were educated, most of them were fishermen or laborers. Again, not the kind you would entrust a global mission to.

 

 

I think five reasons should do for now.  You know the story (if not, read the gospels of Matthew and Luke).

So, Why do I think these are reasons to celebrate Jesus?

Against all odds, God wove the entire story of salvation so close to frailty and fickle nature of man that there is no way you could say Jesus and his message are some kind of propaganda of the religious class. The salvation he came to bring did not come about because of  a secret space pod which God sent with super powers. He wasn’t born with a giant hammer to pound out enemies along the way. He did not even have superhuman strength to match some biblical heroes. Lastly, and this is one of the main reasons I write, it wasn’t because of a nativity scene solely either. Well before it and way after it, the story of Christ’s birth is filled with confounding improbabilities that we must take time to celebrate Jesus and His successful mission. It’s about God confounding our best scenarios of salvation, to leave us saying “salvation belongs to the Lord”. The work of salvation so heavily relied on obedience and God’s grace, that none of us can attribute any part of it to magical moments, but rather to the commitment of a heavenly Father to be God with us. Immanuel- continues to be with us.

Enjoy this Christmas knowing that salvation belongs to God and He is with us. The mission is still in play and it’s a – go! When Jesus said he was the light of the world,  He was forseeing the time when He would say “You now are the light of the world, a city set on hill”. Having done all that in necessary to secure the mission, He has handed the baton to the Holy Spirit who fills His church. The mission to dispel darkness in every place was placed in the hands of obedience, not superhero-ism. So, as we celebrate Jesus the baby, remember the mission that baby was born for, is still in play today. Carry the light of Jesus in dark places, till He returns again or takes us home. Have a Jesus filled Christmas!


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Why Church Matters – Part 1

 

Over the years, I have heard many reasons for why people think “church” is no longer relevant, and that going to one is a pointless exercise. Some may even argue that what we see today is unbiblical. I will take the next few posts to slowly unpack some of the common themes and places of confusion we might have as those who’ve grown up in a church or as someone now on the outside dreading the thought of “church”.

Before I address the most common points surrounding this issue, I think it is worth noting that the fundamental roots of this problem is found in the enterprise of church (more so, in my experience, in the Untied States). It has left many wondering if God is even part of the picture in this “experience”, let alone remaining the center of it. One extreme thrives on making an event become “church”. From the welcome to the coffee, the parking lot to the kids ministry, the men’s breakfasts to the women’s luncheons, the conferences to the streamed content, much of church related activity has been hijacked by a pick-and-mix bar of  programming to meet each consumer’s needs. When all that gets extreme, there is not much attention given to inviting those who don’t know Jesus to true encounters with God and diligently training them as followers of Jesus. On the other end of the spectrum, some churches are so intent on preserving “traditional church” (whatever that means to each kind) that it deviates little from a set format and practice regardless of a changing culture and world around them. It often means long meetings with little engagement of the attender, a few chosen ministers who do everything, and everything revolving in the orbit around THE “man of God”. Committees and boards abound and a lot of talking is done. Likewise, in extreme cases, encounters with God are missing and little training and developing of disciples happens.

<Sigh>……..This is where much of society finds themselves at odds with the “church”. Their wariness is founded on an opposition to both these extremes or a fear that every church between those extremes is headed towards one of those extreme ends. This leads many to make a summary statement “I would much rather meet Jesus by myself, and not have to deal with all this”.

With that backdrop, and all the preconceptions that fueled those blanket statements above, you can see how starting a discussion about the relevance of church from scriptural standpoint is quickly drowning as the listener gears up to tell you why your brand of church is tending towards one of those extremes if it is not already there (as they see it). This is why I’m hoping that calling these things out at the outset, gives us an opening to really dial all the preconceptions back so we can see why church matters. My hope is that you will see that much of the reasoning we have for leaving the church is based on snap preconceptions and the misconceptions that result from them. By the end of this series I hope that your particular concern is addressed and you are encouraged to reconsider joining or getting more involved in a Bible believing and practicing church with a passion.

The church is a people, not a person, definitely not a place

The sooner we get to grips with this, the better off our thinking on the subject is. The preconception that “Jesus loves me” equals “I am the church” is one of the biggest falsehoods of our time. While it makes for a good soundbite while sharing the gospel and mobilizing people, it is patently false. Jesus definitely loves the individual and died  and rose for each individual’s personal salvation, but by no means was that the gospel in its fullness. The intent of the gospel message was a reconciling of “people” to God

(Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9). Many people. From every tribe, language and nation (Revelation 5:9

). The work of salvation and the returning of Christ is focused around a people made ready and not a person and their private online PhD and hotline with Jesus.
The church matters because Jesus started the church, we didn’t. He did this when He commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and make more disciples with Holy Spirit leading the work

(Acts 1:4-8, Matthew 28:18-20). When church becomes about me and ‘my’ Jesus, I’ve already veered far from the purpose of salvation in this time period. It is about MANY being saved from sin and all that plagues our world, and you and I (together) have been given the charge to see them reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Seeing disciples made happens in the context of daily life and in community, the alternative is asceticism.  Before you say it, we all know how making isolated religious communities turn out.  So, rather than go there, can we agree that getting together with people from your immediate town or community regularly is a good idea? God could have asked us to run, hide away and be the best online Bible PhD that ever lived, but instead, He wants this gospel of Jesus to be on display right here in the darkness of our cities and communities (Philippians 2:15).

The Church: Disciples that make more disciples

Now, before we move further, let’s just clarify– the church as Jesus described it in very simple prototype terms, is a group of committed disciples of  Jesus making more new disciples by the indwelling and powerful work of the Holy Spirit. If our churches cannot use that simple statement to describe our condition, we are already messing with what “church” is. The word disciple (learner, follower, student, trainee) and the idea of making new ones is central to the mission.

Going to church, being the church, and getting over semantics

So, with the mission in mind, meeting regularly in a common place or building is helpful but by no means a necessary item. It so happens that one of the best coffee places in my town is called “The Commonplace” and whole lot of discipling and following of Jesus happens there with the smell of fresh roasted coffee around. Now, before you say “yeahhh…that’s my kinda church”, remember that we just established that you and your coffee-loving self are not the point of church. So, if the group of disciples that you roll with on a regular basis (read “home church”) happen to meet at a coffee shop during the week, great! The church is meeting! However, God made sure that you and your coffee buddies didn’t get to hold all of God’s manifold grace (

1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:3-6, Ephesians 4:4-

7). He has dispersed this immeasurable grace among believers (with no one being an exception). So, guess what ?! If you believe in Jesus and have committed your life to His service, you have a grace gift that no-one else can supply to God’s church. We might be similar in gifting, but not the same. This is one of the good reasons why local churches meet. This, for most churches happens in one place regularly. I call it a church building. A building where the church meets. Don’t be afraid of buildings, they can be useful and necessary if alternative spaces cannot be found regularly. This is often a practical decision. When you don’t show up, something is actually missing in church whether they have a building or not.

Functioning locally, trans-locally, and globally

We need each person functioning and supplying the part of God’s grace which He has uniquely committed to them. This means the group of Jesus followers I call my “home church” needs what God has placed in me. I don’t get to “go to church”. My local church is missing something if I only show up to receive something. I come ready to be a life-giving expression of Jesus to my brothers and sisters. Something I have in my personal following of Jesus is meant for their growth as disciples of Christ.  When we grasp this, church means something totally different from what we’ve been used to. This is not even limited to my own “home church”. I often love to get together and have coffee buddies from other local churches, just so I get to receive from them and in turn bless another part of God’s big church that I might not get to see on a regular basis. So across my locality (trans-locally) other churches have gifts and expressions of the life of God that I can be thrilled about and cheer on. This must become a vital part of our understanding of church. If all we see as “church” is our brand, denomination, or pastor, we’re missing the big picture.  I also hope you see that being on the same team “The Church of Jesus” does not mean I become Mr Baskin-Robbins and decide to try all 31 flavors each week. I stay committed and accountable to one group/church, so I grow with intent and purpose (More in another post about reasons for this). But, with an attitude that sees  and values the church of Jesus as an ever-growing group of unique people all over the world, every encounter with His church in my town, on vacation, on mission trips, university life, etc… are all opportunities to  receive and bless.

We’ll cover more reasons for why the church matters  in the next post.


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Celebrate Jesus

Most of us have grown up with some understanding of Christian holidays, most notably Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. The fact that these events have merged with other worldly ideals and rituals is for another post. I’m not too concerned with how you celebrate, my aim is to encourage each reader to consider what and why we celebrate. Spring and winter are big times we celebrate together. Family, relatives, friends, churches, communities, nations and the world- we all get together at varying levels for various reasons and all do it differently. Let me preface everything I say with one categorical statement- celebrating anything Biblical together is a good thing at any time.

Now, to most, Christian or not, these days signify a gathering of family, fun times with friends/relatives, going on holiday, lots of great cooking, binging on desserts, and chocolatey treats (Isn’t it great that we get to do that ?? I love it!) If you’re Christian too, we add church services, special events, and dressing up (or not depending on your background) along with all or some of the above. In the whole mix, Jesus, often just happens to be a good excuse to have a good time on days the whole working world ( for the most part) allows people to stay home.

Somewhere in there, are those who devoutly follow the Christian calendar and take time to consider the relevance each holiday has for their personal lives while doing all or some of the above. I would hope that most Christians could say they fall into this category. The truth though, is that some Christians just never know to do that. Some of us just grew up around the cultural celebration, went to a church service and then carried on with our lives. It is not a criticism of individuals but an observation on the general state of ‘Christian’ culture . Each holiday season has lots to offer, but can never offer anything close to the worth of knowing Jesus more.

Paul puts it like this: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 ESV)

At this time of the year, I would like to gently urge each of us to consider not just the ‘reason for the season’, because we can get by that one quite easily by saying “it’s Jesus”. I would ask that we all take time to consider- “What did Jesus really do? how does it make a difference in my life today?” Having done that, and continually doing that on days that are not a holiday, we will become people who are firstly grateful for salvation each day. Secondly, we see the relevance of Christ to our daily living. Thirdly, we always learn to depend on the work of Jesus and not ourselves each day. The list goes on as you see your daily life changed.

We can enjoy all the things a public holiday affords us, but let us be people who celebrate Jesus every day. Nothing beats getting to know God more on a holiday dedicated to Him or on any other day for that matter. We need to teach and show our children why we celebrate Jesus  and what He has done( and make it exciting, not religious). Otherwise, we will raise a generation of holiday junkies who think the words ‘friends’, ‘family’ and ‘fun’ trump ‘fellowship with God’ or worse still, we raise a generation that think knowing God is just boring religion.

Celebrate this season according to your culture and tradition and have good fun (passing all fun and tradition through the lens of scripture). I hope that you take away a passion to celebrate Jesus by knowing Him more and not a legalistic mindset to look more Christian. Jesus is worth shouting about seven days a week, all 52 weeks of the year, and on leap years. So, let’s celebrate Jesus today….and every other day too.


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The church on mission

Over the past few years in our church meetings we have been seeing that life together with God is all about eternity touching earth. When the fullness of God dwells in us, ‘abundant life’ is the outcome. Taking away all the mystical and weird notions people might have about eternity; the very heart of it is – ‘knowing God personally’. To simplify it further let’s go back to the very beginning. One of the main purposes of Adam’s existence was to be known by God and know Him in return; to share a walk with Him in the cool of the day and converse (two way) about how things were going and what God had in mind about seeing the earth managed. It wasn’t like a CEO calling a senior manager into their office to bark at them and evaluate their performance. No fear, no pretense- just God and his people in constant fellowship doing things together.

In one of our teaching series ‘Life together with God’, we looked closer at the ‘together’ aspect of life with God. Most people are comfortable with the idea of being with the church or at a meeting, but we don’t necessarily give much thought to why we do it in the first place. As children of God, the Father is interested in bringing us into knowing His heart and plans ‘together’ and seeing them done through the power of His Spirit. He taught us to pray and focus our hearts on “let your kingdom come, let your will be done”. So what exactly is our mission? What does the church look like on mission?

What is our mission?

I believe,Our mission as seen in scripture is three-fold. We were made and joined together to see the following three mission objectives met:

1. Mission unto God: Worship

. (Rom 12:1-2, Ps 95, Eph 1:22, Col. 3:16)
We meet as the church to glorify Christ and worship Him simply for who He is, not for what we get out of it . The reciprocal blessing on worshipers who worship for that sole reason is seen in transformed lives and great experiences. But, the audience of our worship is and always should be only one! Jesus! If that is missing, we have lost the basis for everything else that the church is founded on. When we acknowledge Christ as the head of the church, we are drawn into real, authentic and fresh encounters with God through the power of His Holy Spirit and His word. Worship stops being about songs, but a matter of God’s glory and worth on display in all aspects of our gathering: word, song, exercising gifts of the Spirit, greetings, prayer, fellowship, meals etc….
 

2. Mission to the Church: Building/Nurturing the Body

. ( 1Cor 12, Eph 4, Col 1:16-18)
We meet as the church to build up and nurture His body. We will discuss this in detail later in this post, but we must see that the church is full of individuals who have a walk with God, but an individual walk with God does not make you the church. 1 Corinthians 12 deals with this issue in detail. It is essential to understand that any part of the body that is not used, wastes away. None of us would let any part of our body waste away, similarly we must see other believers we meet with regularly as vital parts of our body that we must nourish.
 

3. Mission to the world: Evangelism, Discipleship and Mercy.

(2 Cor 5:18-19, Rom 10:13-15, Rom 1:16, Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 6:35-36, )

Finally, we meet together to take the good news of salvation in Jesus to the ends of the earth. Jesus gave us this ministry of reconciliation. We make the appeal for people to be reconciled to God, Holy Spirit does the convicting, Jesus does the saving, and God the Father does the adopting. There are multiple examples of God proclaiming salvation in different ways in certain unique circumstances, but that does not absolve us from the commands in scripture to GO! The method and process you use to share the gospel is not as important as your willingness to be sent to the lost and share out of what you have received.

What does the church on mission look like?

The church on mission is every joint being fitted and knit together and functioning properly(Ephesians 4:15,16). This scripture shows us three hallmarks of the church. (Read 1 Cor 12) First, it takes every single individual, no one insignificant, no one  more significant .Secondly, we are not just fitted together but knit together. Just as a muscle and tendon are knit together to the bone; try separating the three and you’ve got a problem. We must see that what I do, or don’t do affects other believers. We need to be actively interested in building each other up because that’s the only way I will really grow (as God designed me to grow). Finally, we all need to function
 properly according to the grace given to us (unique for each one). As a pastor, I need what the littlest/youngest member of our body provides when they function (encouragement, prayer, helps, administration, love, etc…) because God in His wisdom graced this person with something I need and  we need at our local church to grow effectively.
 
O God!!! open the eyes of our hearts to comprehend how amazing and valuable Your saints are. May we grasp more fully the hope of being called, and believe without doubt, the mighty power of God (used at Jesus’ resurrection) which is available to us. It’s You, Jesus!!!  You were given to us; your church, as our head having conquered all sin and death. You have the name above all names in creation. Fill us up with all that You are, that we may reflect You on earth as you planned.  

(Ephesians 1:15-23 paraphrased in the context of this study)


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