Monday, December 22, 2014

Gasp! My grandmother never said this!


My grandmother, rest her soul, would shudder in her grave if she knew I was about to address this Christmas greeting. There are so many misconceptions when it comes to Christmas traditions. I find it interesting in our man-made celebrations of something holy we don't know really why we do what we do except what traditions have taught us to do.  

Somewhere jingling all the way, we assume that those who have gone before us knew what they were doing.  Do we fear crossing the traditional line of annual holidays to discover their original meanings?  

Gasp.....Merry Xmas!  Now before you stop reading please...read on for a thorough explanation of what this salutation really means.  I know...I know...I'm really pushing the "Keep Christ in Christmas" protest line now aren't I?

Xmas is often veiwed as offensive and an exclusionary term to remove Christ from Christmas. You see this term used in secular circles and marketing campaigns that imply the creator of the slogan or sign maker was probably in a hurry, didn't know how to spell Christmas correctly or just wanting to abbreviate our beloved sacred holiday.

The truth is, saying Merry "X-mas" doesn't defame the name of Christ. It actually includes Christ in Christmas. You won't find Xmas in the traditional worship songs and carols for sure. I've hardly even seen it advertised this year.  Why, even the greeting card companies have changed their language to print "Season's Greetings." Now isn't that just an all inclusive and confusing way to acknowledge a sacred act of our Divine Being coming to earth to save all of mankind?

"Xmas" is most associated with a focused slant towards materialism, with verbiage that slaps our cultural and religious rituals in the face with disgust. But what does it really mean?

I think you will find this as a fascinating and yet, quite interesting explanation:

First of all, the abbreviation predates by centuries. "It was first used in the mid 1500s with the "X". In the Greek alphabet the letter stands for “chi,” as the first letter in Χριστός. But the real clincher to this Christmas juxtaposition is that Xριστός means “Christ.” X has been an acceptable representation of the word “Christ” for hundreds of years. This device is known as a Christogram. The "mas" in Xmas is the Old English word for “mass.”   In the same vein, the dignified terms Xpian and Xtian have been used in place of the word “Christian.” ~ excerpt from Dictionary.com

Looks like the Greek writers might have just been a little enamored with the flexibility of the letter “X.” 

Dear X, you might own Christmas after all.

Unfortunately, the very same letter can represent many negative things such as a movie rating, a medical diagnostic machine showing a break or tumor, and a tool used by the all- powerful Transportation Security Administration experts to examine all things luggage, including the inside and outside of you. X even stands for a infamous entertainment system that attracts all men under and over 12, the Xbox game system.

So you see used in the context of Christmas it was the Greek who really wanted to include Christ in Christmas in a most ingenious way.  Maybe they were trying to send us some secret code to Christmas, bringing the signs and wonders of a child-like faith using letters and symbols.  

Like it or not, I still think it's a greeting my grandmother wouldn't say. On this point of keeping Christ in Christmas, I say why put confusion in a word where confusion already exists. At least that is one way to look at it, otherwise to use the X or no X, I'll leave it to the Greeks.  So Xmas can also mean Christmas; but to clarify it's meaning we could say 'Christmas' rather than 'ex-mas'!

Say what you mean and mean what you say!  Merry Christmas!

Are there some greetings you avoid to keep from using as to not offend?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Savor the favor


Christmas season brings a lot of waiting for many children.  And it builds excitement in their little hearts as to what is laying under the tree, wrapped so neatly.  Excitement comes in big and small packages.  Such mystery and surprise in each gift.
When the long awaited day arrives, it's a flurry of fun and chaos.  Worth the wait.
How many times have we waited for something and then when we actually received what we waited for it was less than what we expected?  Or, how much we appreciated a gift more because we had to wait for it!  There are many rewards in the place of waiting itself!
Waiting can really prepare us for the best that’s yet to come, with a hope-filled attitude or alienate us to a long season of loneliness, sadness and deep depression.  In our attitude of the advent, it's a choice to see the hope of Heaven and how His hope helps us wait.
Mary was filled with hope.  She patiently exemplified waiting in the growing months of mothering.  As a woman carries new life inside, there is more attention to the details of the growing baby.  As a new life is nurturing on the inside, God swells our love in a spiritual way too.  
Our trust always grows through the faith of life's throes.
Consider the normal development of human life.  It takes nine months gestation to grow a baby to sustainability outside the womb.  Consider the wonderful development of the human body, the brain, blood cells, nerves, tissues and all the connecting interweaving fluids, sinews and bones.  It leaves this mother of two in wonder of how God intricately designed each and every one of us with His special design.  God designs our inmost parts as He weaves in us togetherness with His holy image.
Ever wonder why Mary was chosen to be the mother of such a divine newborn?  Look at Mary's attitude from a heavenly perspective: she was so young, innocent, and highly favored.  How did she gain such high favor?
Her heart's attitude of gratitude.
Baby news changes the climate of a family, and that of newlyweds.  There are so many changes and adjustments to living with a new person, not to mention two new people, with one being totally dependent for every need.  As a new mom, it's hard to feel significant in those days that bring the same routine of eating, sleeping, cleaning, caring for, and nurturing a baby.
Yet when the Lord knits our inmost parts, He sees us as His vessels to do what He has patterned our inmost parts to do.  It's in our spirits that greatness is born, God's grand potential for us grows in us as we grow in our trust in Him.
A common sign of growth in a mother's abdomen while pregnant are the stretch marks that mark her skin's expansion to accommodate the increase in baby's size and weight.  In waiting upon the Lord in our spiritual growth, there are often spiritual stretch marks that He imprints upon our lives.  They mark us with grace and favor as we grow in our fear and knowledge of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
We have growing pains as teenagers, and we can have spiritual growing pains too when we wait for God's grand plans to unfold.  The moments seem endless, but the wait is worth it when He births His greater plans.  He births His perfection in us as He develops our faith.
Our obedience shapes our hearts in a right attitude to submit or surrender to God's perfectly timed plan.  Honestly, don't we long to get a glimpse of God to know that He is near us and helping us?
Yes, to be known, fully known, as God knows us is the true measure of our soul's longing.
As we wait for the day when the Lord returns again, let's not miss the holy moments in the waiting for God's growing plans.  He speaks to us in the sunrises, the sunsets, the smiles of babies, and so many grips of grace.  He favors us in His forgiveness and mercy.  He thinks of us constantly.  So much so, that His thoughts outnumber the grains of sand on an endless sandy beach.  His attention to our details finds me grateful.  When I think about how the Lord has favor upon our lives as sons and daughters, my heart can't help but respond in gratitude. 
Everything He says and does is out of His deep love and favor for us.
Be grateful for the favor God has bestowed upon us, it makes the wait worth it.  The real meaning of Christmas prepares and shows us the Christ child, the King and Savior of the world.  As the attention to God's details take center stage, His gift of Love is weighed in our hearts.  We want to know Him more, adore Him with purity of heart, and worship with Him with gladness.  May our attention on Christ be given to the One who bleeds through eternity, and brings hope down to us.  So distinctly clear … deeply, intimately, profoundly drawing our hearts toward our eternal home.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Are you asking God a big question?


There are some of you asking some big questions of God right now.  Maybe you have a lot of unanswered prayers like Zechariah and Elizabeth did.  Read their story in Luke 1.  It's a beautiful telling of God's answer to their life-long prayers.  
We tend to think that God only uses the devoted, the pastors, the international missionaries, the gifted or the talented to carry out His plans.  We forget that God uses all of us who are just submitted to Him.  God wants our availability more than he wants our abilities.  
Zechariah and Elizabeth waited a long time to become parents.  They thought it would never happen, Elizabeth was considered barren.  I would like to assume they never lost hope in the dream of becoming a mom and dad, but I bet there were some discouraging moments that held doubt and worry.  We have a lot of stones that roll into our doubt-filled days when we don't see God acting on our prayers that we have laid before Him.
God, do you care?
God, do you hear?
God are you there?
What do these question have to do with waiting and preparing for the birth of Christ?  In those silent words to God, in the silence we feel, in the silent nights don't we want to lean in and listen for God's whispered answers?  We want understanding, we want purpose to end our pain, we want put an end to the endless wondering and the quiet of our days.  
God's silence is sometimes awkward and void of life.
We want God's gifts but we don't worship the Giver.  We forget to praise Him for what He has already done for us.  We tap our toes at God as we look at our clocks, puff and sigh for His perfect timing to travel at the speed of sound.  We look to Him for answers but we don't pray like we believe He is our answer.  We think God will run out of blessing before He gets to us.
We become impatient and spiral into thinking He doesn't love us.  We move from a worship attitude to an entitlement attitude.  Our guilt and shame fill in the silence, which veils our hearts from seeing God at work, and robs us of simple trust in God who is always on our side.
Many times in the re-direction God brings His protection. 
The birth of John the Baptist was perfectly timed.  John, being the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, had an important role as the one who prepared the way for Jesus to begin his ministry.  John, baptized Jesus in the Jordan river and experienced the awesome presence of the Holy Spirit in a refreshing way.  He had to have heard the audible voice of the Father, who was pleased with what was happening that day.  John's ministry prepared the people to receive Jesus' ministry.  
First John, then Jesus.
We wouldn't have been ready for Jesus if it weren't for John.  Why do we fear the worst from God when we don't hear from Him?  And why are we so eager to pray away the very life circumstances that teach us the most about who God is?
When Zechariah received the news that his wife would bear a son, one who would have a wide-reaching ministry, one that will "ready a people prepared for the Lord", that shows high honors and a wide reaching plan for the gospel ministry that still continues today! 
What do you feel God is preparing you to do?  Are you making more margin to seek God in your preparing?  Do the silent days bring fear of man or fear of God in you?
Give God room to work in your life.  One way is to not assume that he's forgotten about you, or has left you hanging.  God doesn't dangle your dreams in front of you and then say "Oh I was just kidding about yours!"  No, our God loves to see you dream, to see you hope and when we have all our faith in Him to accomplish those dreams, that gives Him great pleasure.
"God knows where to find you to use what He has put inside of you." ~ Steven Furtick. 
God can't forget about you, He can't forget about His loves.  Ask God to reveal His great love for you and you too will be in awe of His revelations of how much and how wide His love is for you.  He is deeply jealous for your love and adoration.  Let your hearts prepare Him room to work in ways that only He can do in you and through you. He has already displayed His heart for you.
God listens.
God is doesn't delay His best for you.
God is with us.
May He find us in awe and wonder of His working power and grace-filled silence.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Sound of Christmas


Somebody left the happy door open.  Now that Thanksgiving is over, we have gone full speed ahead with the sounds of Christmas.  You've heard these tunes flowing for a while, in the elevators, those endless Black Friday lines last week and not to mention the sneak peek we heard six weeks ago with the sale of all things scary lurking on our shelves.

The sounds of Christmas are everywhere.

I made a confession on Facebook before Thanksgiving that I was listening to Christmas music and I found a comfy community of eager beaver early believers in support of listening to Christmas music anytime they wanted.  Why....even some admitted to a all-year addiction!

Why is that Christmas music lands so happy in our hearts?  It certainly brings more jingle to our chatter.

It's like the jolly 'ole switch of holiday cheer has been cranked to eleven.  Christmas caroling events are springing up glad tidings in churches on every corner!  Who's in charge of making the hot chocolate and Christmas cut-out cookies this year?  Bring on the snow please!

Nothing more romantic than the picturesque Thomas Kincaid snow covered cottage with carolers singing brightly in the night.  Why are we in such a hurry to sing Christmas?  Better yet, why are we in such a hurry?  Are we singing joy for the simplicity of the season or to seek joy and return joy?

How does one find joy found in songs?

The joy of Christmas is not related to lyrics necessarily.  The favorites are certainly sung many times over with carol after carol and with hymn after hymn.  Without feeling and emotion the words can certainly leave us flat.  Ever catch yourself just singing Christmas because it's the thing to do?

So who really started this whole singing Christmas business?

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but they weren't the Christmas classics we hear today.  They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles.  The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy!

Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived.

Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In AD 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called "Angel's Hymn" should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn't pronounce.  Singing "cantaloupe" and "watermelon" to the tune of Silent Night had to get old fast, especially in Latin.

This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his plays of the nativity scenes in Italy.  The people in the plays sang songs or 'canticles' that told the story during the plays. The resurgence of these songs brought them back to a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in! The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.

Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called 'Waits'. These were bands of people led by important local leaders, some even charged money to listen to them!  They were called 'Waits' because they only sang on Christmas Eve, coming from the term 'watchnight' or 'waitnight' because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.  

The angelic chorus on that dark hillside was the official language of joy from Heaven to earth. Oh to hear Heaven's release of perfect harmony on mankind with the joy resounding a heavenly crescendo!  

One of the most popular types of Carols services are the candlelight services. The church is only lit by candlelight and it feels very Christmassy! Singing of the joy of Jesus by candlelight brings all kinds of joy and light!

When I sing about the care that our Good Shepherd has for us that brings me joy.  

A newborn requires much attention with lots of planning, preparing and making of room in our lives. Much care is needed once the baby arrives.  So much joy is given when we mothers dream about what our children will become.  Think about the joy we can give back to God.  He already sees our future before we do and He knits our inmost parts by with His image.  His image bears His fruit and joy is a part of that fruit.  

It brings joy to my heart to know that He dreams of me and for me.  What joy we bring to Him when we give the joy He bears in our lives.

I like that He cares about my joy far in advance and leads me to follow Him in His well-designed steps that He has filled with joy.

My Christmas Classic:  "In Your Care" 

"Sleep Mary sleep I will be there soon
Entering earth through your precious womb
My child oh My mother of earth
Give Me the gift of birth

Sleep Joseph sleep may you dream of love
And peace to the earth through your
Newborn Son
Oh raise Me with honor and pride
I will stand by your side

Chorus
And I'll be in your care
Safely harbored there
My heavenly host will follow Me close
But always remember, please be aware
I will be in your care

Now Israel oh My chosen one
The prophets foretold that this day
Would come
I pray you will know I'm your King
Salvation is what I bring

Care for Me and shelter Me in childhood
Knowing that someday Ill have to go
And though it may seem hopeless,
When I'm hanging on the tree
You can know for certain Ill return
But, until then oh, oh

Chorus
You'll be in My care
Safely harbored there
My heavenly host will follow you close
But always remember, please be aware
You will be in My care
You'll be in My care,
You will be, you'll be in, you'll be in My care
Yes, you will, you will be
You will be, you'll be in, you'll be in My care"

Songwriters: HARRIS, MARK R. / SIMON, BILLY ; recorded by 4HIM

Friday, November 28, 2014

Since we are friends, can I ask a small favor?


Can you do me a favor?  We are still friends right?
It shouldn't take up much of your time. Will you join me in noticing more Christ this Christmas?
I was watching the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade yesterday, a family tradition for years. I noticed the commercials for Black Friday sales were constant.
This is how it goes every Thanksgiving day, the shopping comes to rush us from the dinner table to the din of Christmas. Such is the clamor of the season.  And at our invitation distractions are loud, shiny and jingle oh so merry and bright.
If only we could focus a little more on why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. I'm here to help you do just that. That's where the favor comes in.  Last year writing an Advent devotional was only a dream. Yes, I posted a few Advent related thoughts here. But as the month became busier and busier, I stopped my writing because I couldn't handle one more thing.
We tend to do that don't we?  We tend to crowd Christmas with everything but Christ.
We rush into our traditional holiday "yes" details and never consider choosing "no" details because we might miss out on something. We can't handle the load we put on ourselves this time of year. But how often do we stop and slow down? In our rush to do it all, and be it all, and serve at all, and buy it all...we miss Christ and arrive at the Nativity scene depleted, exhausted and emotionally spent.
Advent brings a time to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls for rest. We need to notice Emmanuel more this Christmas than ever before. Would you join me in searching for the Christ child this year? Would you be willing to spend a few minutes rediscovering the awe in the miracle birth of Jesus?  Can we read some worn stories and find them anew? Will you make time to notice Jesus bigger this Christmas?
I have Ebook devotional based on four themes of Advent: Anticipation, Attention, Attitude, and Advance. These weeks help you celebrate the promises of the coming season with the comfort and joy that only Christmas brings.
It would mean a lot to me if you joined me in this. Click on the picture above and you can have your very own copy to read all the way up to Christmas day. Take some time to notice God's preparation in the day by day guide. Christmas is most unconventional, and certainly full of miracles, and definitely leaves me in more awe each year. Cherish Christ this Christmas and see the glow of the manager. Come let us adore Him.