Monday, December 23, 2013

An Empty Chair at Christmas

emptychairSometimes the hope of Christmas is, “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.” That’s what the song says anyway, but many will not have a merry Christmas just because of that. They know it is not true. Many start with and cannot get past the empty chair—where their husband used to sit, where their daughter used to climb, where grandma used to stand to reach up high. Sure, the stores have been visited, and the goodies consumed, but joy will not be unmixed this season because someone isn’t there. Death has come and cast its shadow upon Christmas.

Lurking in this shadow is the great beast, depression—slithering through the house as the family arrives, waiting for an opportunity to steal your joy. Satan loves to use good memories to bring pain. The fond remembrance of how it used to be can become a sea of sadness because it will never be just like that again.

I can still remember Christmas as a boy and teenager when my grandpa was still alive. He would read from the Bible and pray and some years would surprise the family with interesting gifts that he wanted to keep at his house after you opened them. Unforgettable. He is easy to miss and it is not uncommon for the tears to flow while remembering how it was before he died. But he did die, and so did your sister, cousin or father. And people only die once so they are not coming back. Let the weight of death affect you.

I’m sure you have tried to lift it, and maybe you feel like this time of year is another opportunity to hopelessly carry the burden. The heaviness of death that Christmas has the tendency to bring is the reason Jesus came. After his birth, the murderous Herod called for all children around Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed when he could not find out exactly where Jesus was staying. Jeremiah prophesied, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more,” (Matt 2:18). This is the world that God entered, a world of horrifying fatality. A world that was broken and lost, estranged from God and spiraling downward into the depths of hell.

Into this blackness, the true light broke when God became a man. “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” Jesus came to bring new birth, bind up the broken hearted and release the captives. He came because sin reigned in death. Both spiritually and physically, death had reign, and then Jesus came to beat down the old king. He was born so that “as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom 5:21). When Jesus came that man no more would die, he brought tidings of great joy. Grace has arrived.

Because death no longer rules, true joy cannot be swallowed by storm clouds of despair. This does not mean that there will be no tears this Christmas, that is still to come. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” (Rev 21:4). The former things in this glorious future are still our earthly reality. So we long for the end, the second advent of our Lord.

Jesus has come and provided rescue from sin and life eternal. Because death no longer rules, songs of a trouble free next year are not our hope. A humble man from Nazareth has lifted the burden of death from your shoulders, and is coming quickly to wipe all tears away. Our hope at Christmas is the One who experienced death to conquer it – forever.

- See more at:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The "X" in Christmas

What Does the X in Xmas Mean" by R.C. Sproul

The X in Christmas is used like the R in R.C. My given name at birth was Robert Charles, although before I was even taken home from the hospital my parents called me by my initials, R.C., and nobody seems to be too scandalized by that.

X can mean so many things. For example, when we want to denote an unknown quantity, we use the symbol X. It can refer to an obscene level of films, something that is X-rated. People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ's name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, "Put Christ back into Christmas" as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ.

There's no X in Christmas
First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X. That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ.
There's a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect
We don't see people protesting the use of the Greek letter theta, which is an O with a line across the middle. We use that as a shorthand abbreviation for God because it is the first letter of the word Theos, the Greek word for God.
X has a long and sacred history
The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That's how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There's a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.
Adapted from Now, That’s a Good Question! ©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Christmas Birth

The account of Christ's birth in Luke 2 is an invitation to all of us to the Bethlehem Birthday.

1)  It is THE BIRTH OF A MAN-God in flesh with mucous in his nose & tied umbilically to a young Jewish virgin girl (Luke 2:7).

2)  It is THE BIRTH OF A MESSIAH- "unto you is born a Savior..Christ The Lord" The ONE & ONLY (Luke 2:1).

3)  It is THE BIRTH OF A MESSAGE-it is "good news of great joy for all people" (Luke 2 :10).

4)  It is THE BIRTH OF A MISSION-"on earth peace" (Luke 2:14) we are on mission to share there is no peace w/out the Prince of Peace

5)  It is THE BIRTH OF A MOVEMENT-He said "I will build my church"& 2,000yrs later this movement abides "til He comes".

6) It is THE BIRTH OF A MIRACLE-this virgin birth was a miracle but greatest of miracles is when He is born again in you.
(copied and shared)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Touch of God at Christmas

This is from a 60 Minutes broadcast from
several years ago. It’s an excerpt of what Harry Reasoner said around Christmas time that I want you to hear. Listen carefully – he said:

Eleven years ago I did a little Christmas piece and it seemed like a good idea to repeat it. The basis for this tremendous burst of buying things and gift buying and parties and near hysteria is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan. But you come back to the central fact of the day and the quietness of Christmas morning, the birth of God on earth.

It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas. One is cynically, as a time to make money and endorse the making of it. One is graciously, that’s the appropriate attitude for non-Christians who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them. And the third, of course, is reverently.

If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, it is a very important day. It is a startling idea, of course. The whole story that a virgin was selected by God to bear his son as a way of showing his love and concern for man. It’s my guess that in spite of all the lip service given to it, it’s not an idea that has been popular with theologians. It is somewhat an illogical idea and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It’s so revolutionary, a thought that it probably could only come from God that is beyond logic and beyond theology. It is a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God and almost nobody has any real idea what he is like, and the truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting or appealing idea.

But everyone has seen babies and almost everyone likes them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly, for a baby growing up learns all about people. And if God wanted to be intimately a part of man, He moved correctly, for the experience of birth and family-hood is the most intimate and precious experience that any of us will ever have.

So it comes beyond logic. It is either a falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It is the story of the great innocence of God the baby. God in the power of man has such a dramatic shock toward the heart that if it is not true to Christians, then nothing is true.

So if a person is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it. And maybe on some given Christmas some final quiet morning, that touch will take. The touch of God coming into this world as a vulnerable baby.

 Merry Christmas,
 Bro. Greg

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Advent Prayer for Our Kids and Grandkids

An Advent Prayer for Our Kids and Grandkids
 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:76-79

Dear Father, I often forget about the other special baby promised and delivered in the Advent story: John the Baptist—the forerunner, way-maker, and friend of the Bridegroom. As this Scripture reveals, his birth and life are a great testimony to the ways of the gospel.

Oh, to become a man like John the Baptist—whose joy was to become smaller in the world’s view that Jesus’ greatness might be seen by everyone. Oh, to be a parent like Zechariah, wanting only what you want for our kids and grandkids.

With palm’s up, Father, we relinquish our parenting agenda for the perfection of your plans. What better story could we write, or what other story would we choose, than for our kids to be a means by which your love and grace would impact the community and culture?

Father, we lift our kids and grandkids to you. For those who don’t yet rest in your grace, we ask you to bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus. For those who do know you, we pray that the gospel would go deeper and deeper into their hearts—assuring them of your tender mercies; granting them sufficient grace and wisdom for each season of life.

Father, as parents and grandparents, help us to live and love in such a way as to make the gospel attractive to our offspring. Free us from ways and words, which hide the beauty of Jesus. We want to be bridges of grace, not obstacles to faith. Grant us quicker repentances when we fail.

So our prayer for our kids and “grand’s” is the same one we offer for ourselves: Father, guide us into the heart and habits of the gospel; lead our feet more surely onto the path of peace; restore our first love for Jesus and daily love for everyone else.

So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ tender and triumphant.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Before Leaving Your Church

Before Leaving Your Church

Pastor, where is? why have they? are questions that are asked about church members who are here one Sunday, faithful until something happens, and then they stop attending. I've been a pastor long enough to know that everyone will leave their church at some point. Whether God calls us home to glory, move to another city, or decide to try a different local church, we are going to leave.

Leaving a local congregation should be one of the most difficult decisions we face. It should be filled with the recollection of our love for the saints, their love for us, our service together in the name of our Lord, and our sorrows and joys in the faith. A church is family and we ought never feel it easy to leave family–even an unhealthy family.

But we do sometimes find ourselves at that crossroads. When we’ve decided to leave, there are at least five things we want to do before we go.

1. Share Your Thinking/Reasons with the Leaders
You’ve no doubt been thinking of leaving for some time. In all likelihood you did not wake up with the sudden new thought, I think I’m going to find another church. The thought has been building for some time. You’ve been piling up observations, minor disappointments, major hurts and persistent longings. You’ve likely done that quietly, without talking to anyone. And you’ve likely kept your silence for good reasons. First, you thought perhaps the situation would change. If you kept quiet things would get better and you wouldn’t have caused a “stir” by saying anything. Then you kept quiet because you didn’t want to spread your concern to others or hurt anyone’s feelings. Finally, you kept quiet because you stopped believing any change was possible or forthcoming. Now, after all those silent months of stockpiling critiques, you’ve decided to leave.

But if you leave this way, you’re going to leave a ghost in the congregation. People will be haunted by your absence and wonder, What happened to them? Why did they leave? Then people feel abandoned and hurt.

There’s a better way to leave. Share your thinking with your leaders before you make the final decision. Let them shepherd you through your thoughts and reasons even i that means shepherding you to the next church. Two things will happen. You will benefit from their spiritual care (and perhaps even be surprised by their agreement or receptivity). And the church’s leader and congregation will benefit from your insight. There’s a way to leave a church that amounts to win-win rather than abandonment.

2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts
I suspect I experience what a lot of pastors experience: persons coming to the church disgruntled with persons in their previous church without having done anything to resolve the conflict. They’re running from something rather than facing it. The something could be personal conflict, church discipline or theological strife. In either case, don’t leave your church before you’ve addressed the conflict. Obey our Lord’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15. Go and be reconciled to the best of your ability.
If you obey the Lord in this before moving on then everybody wins. Lord willing, you win your brother over and the relationship is mended. You may find you don’t have to leave at all and experience renewed joy in the church family you’ve already invested years of life with. Even if you still need or want to leave, you’ll experience freedom from guilt because you’ve “made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). And your new church family will be able to receive you without the baggage associated with the previous church.

3. Express Your Appreciation for the Church’s Ministry in Your Life
When people leave suddenly and without conversation with the leaders of the church they very often fall prey to ingratitude. Having convinced themselves of all the problems in the church, they usually minimize the strengths and virtues of the church. Sadly, this is the way many of us work ourselves up to making major decisions–emphasize the negative and downplay the positives.

But truthfully, no true church is without significant positive qualities. Even the church at Corinth, with all their problems, could be commended for the “grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1:4), for having been “enriched in every way” (1:5), “not lack[ing] any spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1:7), and being “the seal of [Paul's] apostleship in the Lord” (9:2). They had significant problems, but also much to commend. Though Paul heard things that he as an apostle should put in order, he nevertheless confirmed their testimony in Christ (1:6) and gave praise wherever appropriate.

We should celebrate God’s grace in a church long before we decide and actually leave. We should note the positive ways the church has impacted and blessed us spiritually. We should communicate that to our leaders and, where appropriate, to the body as a whole. I love those resignation letters that actually strengthen and edify the body because the brother/sister resigning “builds an Ebenezer” to God’s grace as they leave.

Please don’t make this a matter of soothing your conscience once you’ve decided to leave in an unhealthy way. Make this a matter of constant discipline in grace. Communicate appreciation before you decide to leave, as you’re thinking about leaving, and once you do leave. Our churches would be far healthier and more joyful if they were communities of gracious affirmation and appreciation.

4. Say “Goodbye” to Friends and Family
Unless we’ve been unusually isolated in our church families, chances are we have some significant family and friends who will remain in the church. They mean a great deal to us and they’re likely to be affected by our leaving. These are people you want to say your “goodbyes” to in person. You don’t want them to hear you’re leaving or have left on the floor of a members’ meeting. You don’t want to inadvertently suggest their friendship doesn’t or hasn’t meant much to you. You don’t want them wondering whether you actually loved them. You don’t want things to be awkward when you see them out and about in the community.

Instead, you want them to be affirmed in and by your love. You want them to know you will carry them in your affections though you’re going to settle into a new communion. You want them to know, circumstances permitting, that the friendship will continue and you’ll always be brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, include some personal time with friends and family before you actually leave the church. Invite them to your home or to coffee. Share with them your appreciation and your hopes as you move forward. Most will understand and be happy for you, even if they’re sad for themselves and their church. Such mourning and rejoicing are part of what it means to be the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27).

5. Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives and Failings
Leaving a church ought to be cause for self-examination. We ought to get the log out of our own eyes before focusing on the speck in the church’s eye (Matt. 7:3-4). This is hard, slow work–and most people skip it. It’s so easy to assume the purity of our own motives, to view ourselves as victims or martyrs, and to trivialize our many failings.

But integrity requires we be honest with the man in the mirror. Why are we thinking of leaving? What really motivates our assessment and desires? How have we contributed to the problems and feelings we’re finding so dissatisfying or hurtful? Have we taken full responsibility in confession, repentance and action?

We’re not honestly ready to leave and our churches are not ready for us to leave until we’ve gotten before the Lord with transparency, humility and ruthlessness with our own sin and flesh. But, if we muster such honesty, it will lead to our increased sanctification and joy.

Leaving a church can be a means of grace rather than a source of pain for everyone involved. But for grace to be multiplied we’ll have to do some things before we decide to leave and actually exit. Receiving this grace will require putting to death the fear of man and believing that God exists and He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6). If you are thinking of leaving, think of how you will leave. It could make a positive difference for you, your friends, your current and your future churches.

(copied from here )