A Christmas opportunity

1 John 5:1-12

The church misses a grand opportunity to witness to the world when we’re quick to skip Christmas.

Actually, we don’t skip it. We do a good job of building up the hype for it. It’s almost a badge of honor now to provide multiple Christmas Eve worship services. It’s not unusual to plan these services for months. Now, I’m all for adequate preparation, but then everything stops.

Christmas comes and we seem to move on with everyone else.

I’m sure this is something you’ve heard me say before in some fashion. I don’t bring it up because I’m the biggest liturgical czar. We just complain about the wrong things. Think about how upset people get at stores for selling Christmas merchandise early. The stores stock what they’re sure they can sell.

Dumping the holiday on Christmas Day and leaving it for next year is a more worthy gripe. Not because we need something to complain about. Again, because we’re missing a chance to show the world something important.

At the heart of Christmas is Emmanuel–God with us. That’s what we celebrate, right? That God came to us in Jesus to show us abundant life and draw us in communion with the Lord. The central event is the life and ministry of Jesus.

Considering what Jesus did with his life, in a sense, the fruit of Christmas is the church. Much like Jesus was God in the flesh for the world, the church is Jesus in the flesh for the world. Our faith becomes a visible outpouring of God with us.

Skipping through to New Year’s only joins our voices in the culture’s choir. As such, we’re singing to gifts and parties and hopes for snow. Reflecting more, however, on the fruit of Christmas allows for us to bear witness to the unity of God’s church. We give a testimony. We are a testimony.

Our desire for experiencing the presence of God shows the world there is much more to see. Yes, we can talk about that any time of the year. But this season offers a wonderful illustration for us. 

Scripture tells us we have victory over the world. In Christ, we conquer the world not by might or power, but in love and unity. Love and unity God reminds us of at Christmas as we remember the Christ Child.

Stay blessed…john

Family talk

Genesis 37:2-11

Having had the joy of knowing big and small families, I’ve learned they all have problems. If families didn’t have people, maybe they wouldn’t, but they do. That’s what makes them altogether wonderful and frustrating.

The “family of God” designation means a lot to me. It’s no mere pleasantry. When we understand God’s will we see how meaningful it is.

As we reflect more on scripture, we understand something about God’s family. First, God desires for the family to grow. Think of the command to be fruitful and multiply. The next thing we know about the family is we’re in it. So, that means, from time to time, it’s going to be messed up.

Those are things we see in scripture. For every step forward God moves to expand the family, we seem to leap back. Instead of growing with God, we take on each other.

Look at Joseph and his brothers. Why are the brothers angry with Joseph? I understand the culture, perhaps, would not permit it, but shouldn’t they direct their feelings toward their father? Hash it out with him? He’s the one playing obvious favorites. Instead, they turn on their brother and hand him over to be a slave.

Why did they do this?

Sometimes, that’s what we do. We turn on each other. Joseph’s brothers didn’t have the power to speak the truth of their feelings. So, they did what was in their power. They set out to harm their brother.

Joseph’s dreams were God’s way of showing the Lord would preserve the family, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t make sense to everyone else. The others couldn’t see past their jealousy and their hatred swelled.

All families have problems, for sure. God’s wisdom teaches to walk through those issues. But we’ll never have the healing God wills for us as long as we hold on to our selfish and prideful ways.

Now, to be sure, I’m talking about your family, my family and our family of God.

Stay blessed…john

Turning back

Galatians 4:8-20

Repentance is an important aspect of our Christian faith. It’s the changing of our mind that leads us to Jesus. Once we hear the good news, we decide that is what we want for our lives. The grace of God shows us what the love of God wants to make us. So, we change course. Turn around.

You’ll hear preachers talk about that a lot (I hope). We want people to turn to the way of Jesus. It’s a blessing to hear when people do.

But what if they repent again? That is, what if they turn around again to go back? By definition, I suppose that’s repentance. You’re not going a new way, of course. You’re turning back.

Throughout Christian history, people have turned back. They’ve turned back from true worship, fellowship and discipleship. Many turned from the faith altogether.

And people still do so today.

It’s easy to find another online article about church decline. Everyone has opinions and explanations. New studies and books emerge to unravel who and what, for example, the Nones are.

So, what is our response when people turn back?

The apostle Paul faced a similar situation with the Galatians. As fiery as he might get in the Galatian epistle, he responds pastorally, too. Today’s passage reflects the relationship he had with the Galatians. He’s honest with them. He calls to mind some of their shared experiences. He pleads with them. And he wishes he could be with them again.

What does that teach us? At the very least, when we consider those who have turned back from faith or the church, we should respond in love. These aren’t people who used to go to our church. They are people God brought into our lives. People we have worshipped with and prayed with. Experienced loss and joy with.

You’ll never get them back with guilt or coercion. Shame isn’t a faithful tactic. And don’t try to scare them with hell either. All that’s left to share with someone who’s turned back is what we have to share with the rest of the world. Our love.

Stay blessed…john