Recovering Christmas Morning

Every local church had a big decision to make in 2016: Will we gather for worship on Sunday, December 25, or not? There are valid points to argue on both sides of that decision and ultimately Resurrection Church made the call to worship on Thursday and Friday before Christmas Day instead of gathering on Sunday. This decision, however, was not made with the thought in mind that we would simply “get church out of the way” early in the week so we could move on and keep December 25 free for all the “other stuff.”

The local church where we gather for worship should not be the only place/space in our lives where gathering for the purpose of worshiping Christ happens. Our homes, family times, and fellowship with believing friends should also be times of worship and collective focus on God. So my challenge to you is this. Don’t let Sunday, December 25, 2016 be a worship-less, God-less, Christ-less day for you and yours. Be intentional and do your best to make it a Christ-filled, worship-filled day!

How can we do that? Reading Scripture, praying, and singing together are some great ways to saturate your celebration of Christmas with worship of Jesus. I encourage you to make an intentional effort to weave those elements into every facet of your celebration. Here are some examples of what that might look like:

  • When everyone wakes up Christmas morning, emphasize the lighting of the Christmas tree. Evergreen trees are a symbol of eternal life. Martin Luther introduced them to the Reformation Church as a picture of our endless life in Christ, by bringing in a tree to his family on Christmas Eve lit with candles. As you light the tree, pause to read one or more of the following Scriptures: John 3:16; John 10:27-30; 1 John 2:17; Psalm 139:23-24; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Then, pray and give thanks to God for eternal life!
  • If you light candles, have someone read John 8:12 as they’re being lit. Let the lighting of candles prompt you to give thanks to Jesus who is the light of the world.
  • If you have holly around the house, and/or a lot of the color red in your decorations, remember that holly speaks of the thorns in Jesus’ crown and that the color red can  remind us of Jesus’ blood and death for our sins. If you light a fire in the fireplace, the yule log has been a symbol of the cross. Carrying the log to the fireplace can remind us of Christ who carried His cross to Golgotha. Read Matthew 27:27-30 and John 19:17 together. Pray and give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice that brought you life! Consider taking Communion together.
  • As you give and receive gifts, remember the gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus. Each of them speak to a component of His incarnation: Majesty in life (frankincense), Bitterness and Agony in Death (myrrh) , and Him as God’s perfect gift to us (gold). During the gift exchange read Matthew 2:1-12.
  • Mistletoe was an ancient symbol from the Roman times. It was under Mistletoe that old enmities and broken friendships were restored. If you have mistletoe hanging, point it out and remember that it was Christ who took away the enmity and gave us Peace with God. Bells are associated with ringing out news. Christ is the good news, the best news of all! Read Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 5:1; and Romans 8:1 and celebrate the Good News of reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus.
  • When you sit down to feast this Christmas, pause to remember that we are headed toward The Great Feast! Before you say the blessing over your food, read Revelation 19:6-9 together.

Start 2016 unplugged with our media fast

Other than Jesus, the Apostle Paul is probably the most significant figure in the NT. He was a highly educated Pharisee, a Jew with Roman citizenship, and he launched on the scene of Church history as a hired thug who tortured and killed Christians. But then, he encountered Jesus, and everything changed for him. He became, arguably, the most prolific missionary ever and was inspired by God to write two-thirds of what we know as the New Testament.

During his ministry, Paul experienced all sorts of highs and lows. He performed great miracles, saw countless numbers of people hear and receive the Good News of Jesus Christ, and planted dozens of churches. He also knew persecution, abuse, rejection and pain. From a prison cell, chained to a guard 24 hours a day, Paul wrote these words in Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV): I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul found contentment through learning that a relationship with Jesus is the source of true contentment. We live in a world today where we are constantly inundated with people telling us what we need and how to have true peace. We are constantly faced with advertisements and media outlets selling us on the next thing the next device, the next place to vacation, the next show to watch or movie to go to, the next app, the next hashtag. We have more information and more stuffat our fingertips than any generation before us. And yet, I would argue we are more discontent, more relationally starved and less authentic and compassionate than any generation before us.

Here at Rez, as each new year begins, we promote a fast to begin the year. We do this because fasting is a great way to remove the clutter from our lives (the stuff we tend to depend on at the expense of depending on Christ) and draw closer to Jesus. This year, I want to challenge you to consider a media fast. Many of us are too tethered to our devices and social media. We watch too much TV and spend way too much time staring at screens and devices. Not that social media, devices and TV are bad in and of themselves. The problem is that many people become addicted to them.

Recent scientific studies are revealing the negative effects media and technology are having on our ability to relate, be compassionate, and be content. In our embrace and needof social media, Im afraid we have lost more than weve gained. Some losses I think we are experiencing include the following:

  1. Our ability to concentrate and contemplate. In his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our BrainsNicholas Carr says, Media outlets arent just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether Im online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.In other words, the tools we use shape us. God doesnt have a Twitter account, nor does He speak in sound bites. What did He give us so we could understand and know Him? He gave us a Book a very big Book! We cant skim the Word and expect to understand the Gospel and experience increasing relationship with Him.

  2. Our ability to be compassionate and empathetic is being lost or weakened. We become desensitized in our rush to skim mounds of information each day, several times a day. In our rush to get the latest output, do we stop to pray for needs or check, in person, on someone sick or in need? Our society tends to place the highest value on the latest information. We are being trained focus first and foremost on whats new at the expense, in many cases, of whats important.

  3. Were losing intimacy in our marriages, our families, our friendships. While media often helps us stay somewhat connected to those we care about and love, it should never replace or be a substitute for a self-sacrificing, heartfelt, loving relationship, where we meet face-to-face to pray, laugh, help and encourage each other. Theres a difference between posting on social media that you will pray for someone and actually meeting in person to pray with that person or praying even by phone with them. Face-to-face and one-on-one is where we can really minister and be Jesusto those the Lord places in our pathway.

  4. Were losing sight of Godly contentment. One of the hazards of social media is that of comparing our lives to the edited livespresented online. Pastor Steven Furtik states, Through social media, we compare our behind the scenes with other peoples highlight reels.Filtered, edited and cropped. Suddenly we feel inadequate for no obvious reason or depressed by the seemingly perfect lives of others. We head down the dangerous road of seeing ourselves in the image of others, instead of in the image of God.

Look back at the scripture I mentioned above. Paul is essentially saying that the barometer for his contentment is not whether he has a lot or a little. Rather, his barometer is his treasure in Christ that strengthens him. Pastor Craig Groeschel says, Its when you come to the place where Christ is all you have, that you finally realize Hes all you need.

We need to unplug and refocus. I am hoping our church body, and others who may read this, will take some time, as we begin this new year, to rediscover our joy, rest, strength and contentment in Jesus. We need to reevaluate the culture of our lives, homes, marriages, relationships. I know many of us need to be honest with ourselves and with God. We need to draw a line in the sand. We need to recognize how distracted and disconnected we have become in pursuing the false illusions of contentment and rest that media and technology seemingly provides.

This year our new-year fast begins Jan. 3 and ends Jan 24 three weeks to unplug from recreational, non-essential media and technology. If you missed the Dec. 27 message on this topic, its available on Vimeo. If you have any questions, please contact us and let us help you. Most importantly though, begin praying right now and ask God to guide you by His Spirit, during this fast. Lets begin this year with a holy determination to rediscover the secret of true contentment – Christ who gives us strength!

God’s illogical love

We recently celebrated one of the greatest days in all of history. Easter is no ordinary date and is steeped in a great tradition of remembrance. Remembering the Resurrection is paramount to Christian living. If Christianity was stripped of the Resurrection it would be nothing more than an assembly of fools. In remembering the Resurrection our attention must start with a corpse.

The corpse of the Christ, there in a cold, dark, hard, solitary tomb. No matter where you find yourself in this journey of life, this is a striking picture. Believer or nonbeliever, the thought of this causes turmoil in the deepest regions of our being. It strikes us with such intensity because we have no box to put this degree of love in. This is a love that is so relentless that God knew His creation would choose in vain to become like Him. The fundamental flaw is that the creation can never exceed the Creator. Many of us know the story of Adam and Eve.

Let’s take a fresh look. God created a masterpiece unlike any other. In this masterpiece God provided everything that was needed. In this garden of Eden, there was but one solitary tree among and surrounded by countless others. God set aside this tree and told them to not eat from it. We know what happens from here. Let’s pause and look at this garden. Everything you need is provided. It’s perfect, flawless, and without toil. God slants this garden in favor of his creation, giving them free reign with one solitary exception, which would become one of the greatest tragedies of all time.

Continue to rewind the clock, to God knowing that before this perfect garden was crafted that the decision his creation would make. God knew that in spite of providing everything and slanting for the success of his creations that Adam would make the wrong choice. Having this knowledge and continuing to create the garden is incomprehensible. When you couple that knowledge with the plot of his Son being murdered for a creation he know would not choose him, that takes it to another level. This is exactly what God did. He decided that creating us and giving us a choice was worth the life of his Son and this was all done beforehand.

This type of love is illogical and irrational. We can’t explain it and it will never fit in our boxes. Paul puts it best in his letter to the church of Ephesus. Paul explains that to be filled with the fullness of God we must be rooted and grounded in love. This is no ordinary love. It is condition free and inexhaustible. This kind of love knows failure is imminent but still relentlessly pursues its object. This is love that existed before our failure.

Most Christians celebrate that God’s love is not performance based. We know we can’t earn it. I agree, but it’s more than that; just the same, we can do nothing to lose it! This is evident in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! While we were yet still choosing what we thought was best like eating from the one tree instead of the countless others.

Reckon with God’s love for a moment. After all, I think that we all wish to experience the fullness of God. His love is immeasurable. It’s so vast that it exceeds our ability to comprehend it. While it can’t be measured, it can be accepted. You can’t contain his love, but you can receive it. You can’t stop it, but you can spread it. You can’t touch it, but you can stand on it.

God’s son was violently murdered, not because you and I made or will make the right decision; that would place a condition on it. It is this love that I must come to realize because we still wrestle with the same tree in our garden. How does this tie into the Resurrection? Simply put, without death there can’t be resurrection. Jesus was and is the ultimate display of God’s love! The Resurrection and his death are so intertwined and encased by his love that they cannot be separated. An intimacy exists between the two. This is our story, our message! God’s love never ends, is unconditional, illogical, life changing, and we will never not be its object!