The Night Before Christmas Category:Poetry Views:
T’was the Christmas Eve Service and the church was so packed,
That the doors between sanctuaries had been pulled back.
The greens were all hung and the Advent wreath lit,
as one looked around for a warm place to sit.
No, not there, that’s my special seat,
said one to the visitor with no shoes on his feet.
His hair was so long and he needed a shave,
what nerve to impose on our special day.
We’ve come here to worship and celebrate the birth
of the one who will save us from things of this earth.
No, it’s not always this crowded, just Christmas and Easter
You know, the important days to be here.
The stranger walked on with a tear in his eye,
As his tired legs carried him, he let out a sigh.
Down the aisle he went, craning his neck,
“No seat for you here”, said the eyes looking back.
As he reached the front pew, still no seat had he found.
I was certain at this point that he‘d just turn around.
But instead he looked up in the dim evening lighting
And saw in the glass two arms open, inviting.
The figure looked down, with a most loving face.
And I swear that he whispered “I have saved you a place”.
The visitor, he must have heard the voice, too.
I couldn’t believe what I then saw him do.
After failing to find an empty pew or a chair
He climbed up on the altar and took a seat there!
The people looked on, perplexed and confused.
An odd silence took over before worship resumed.
We sang songs about angels and shepherds and stars
About travelers bringing great gifts from afar.
The Pastor said prayers with the whole congregation,
Then read of a birth that would save all the nation.
A birth in a manger, no room at the inn,
His name would be Jesus; He'd die for our sins.
About him was written in a book long ago,
How He paid for a debt that He did not owe.
Up on the cross He said we're forgiven,
If we just believe and ask to be with him.
Go forth, make disciples, baptize in the name,
of the Spirit, the Father and Son all the same.
Keep my commandments and love one another,
Treat all that you meet as a Sister or Brother.
Forsake not the stranger that passes your way,
It might just be Jesus that you turn away.
For how we treat others, we do also to him,
The one who has saved us and died for our sin.
And our visitor, he was a sight to behold
For he wept on the altar as the story was told
A story familiar to many an ear
Yet I heard it new, and I heard it clear.
As this man we ignored, pushed aside, and rejected
Found in our Savior’s arms even he was accepted.
He could offer no myrrh, nor incense, nor gold,
Just worn, calloused feet, a heart broken and old
I saw then and there, what it means to be saved
And to give back to our Lord, the one gift he most craves.
For us He was born, and for us He did die,
And we are the treasure He is seeking tonight.
Revelation 2:8-11 8"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Christ's letter to Smyrna is unique in that it offers neither commendation nor reproach to the church. Instead, Christ's words to the church of Smyrna are words of comfort.
Smyrna (current day Izmir) is another major port city in Asia. In Biblical times, Smyrna was very loyal to Rome, and was home to a temple to the Roman emperor Tiberius. As a result of such a strong Roman influence, devotion to Rome, even worship of the emperor, was compulsory for the citizens of Smyrna. As such, early Christians in the city of Smyrna were in mortal danger for parcticing their faith, and martyrdom was not uncommon.
In this letter, Christ acknowledges both this danger, and the difficulty faced by the church in thriving in an environment where they were considered outlaws, and thus at an economic, social, and political disadvantage. He reminds the church of His eternal promise- of life after death and riches far greater than material wealth.
While we certainly don't see this kind of persecution of the church in the western world today, this letter should still challenge all of us to live according to a hope that always looks ahead to Heaven. When our passion for Heaven is awakened, we are empowered and emboldened to thrive even in the most hostile environments.
Revelation 2: 1-7 1"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Ephesus was the chief port city of Asia, and well connected to the inland cities as well. Because of the activity Ephesus saw as a hub of commerce and travel, it was exposed to more cultural and religious influences than any other city in that area of the world.
In Acts 19, we see a riot break out in Ephesus, as a silversmith who made a good portion of his living by crafting shrines of Artemis takes exception to the growth of the church there, as it was leading people away from idol worship.
This is the type of thing that the Ephesians endured, and Christ commends their perseverance in His letter to the church. But then He says that they have forsaken their first love. By 'First Love' He can only mean God- "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" is the first of the two great commandments (Mark 12: 28-31).
So how did the Ephesians forsake their first love while continuing to do good works? the passage doesn't spell it out for us- but we can infer from the statements in verses 2 and 5 that they took God's holiness very seriously, but not His love. To outsiders, the church in Ephesus must have looked like a judgmental and self-righteous group. Verse 5 especially speaks to this- remember the height from which you have fallen! It sounds like somewhere along the way, Ephesus lost sight of God's grace.
This is something that Christ is not prepared to tolerate- He threatens to remove their lampstand- something He says to no other church in His letters! We are called to live according to God's holiness, but if we've forgotten the love, can we still call ourselves a church?
You've Just Experienced Jesus Category:Life Views:
This morning at worship, my friend George, the person that is coordinating our men's ministry, told me an awesome story.
Yesterday (Saturday) we had a men's breakfast at our church, followed by a lesson program and, for those interested, a bike ride. George was not on the bike ride himself, but he had received a call during the morning from a friend, who happened to be calling from her bike.
She said that the weirdest thing just happened to her- she had passed a group of about 8 or so men on bikes, and EVERY ONE of them smiled and said hello to her! She found such a display of wholesale kindness to be so remarkable, that she had to tell somebody. After asking a couple of questions, it didn't take George long to determine that she had passed the men's group from our congregation. So he exaplained who they were, and got to tell his friend a little bit about our church, and invite her to worship with us.
But the greatest witness to this person was not George's words, it was the kindness of strangers on the bike path. Emissaries of Christ, out in the world, making Jesus and His love a little more real to the people around us. Planting seeds, and inviting the Holy Spirit to intercede.
Such a small action, but such a profound effect.
Our lives may be the only Bible the people around us are reading. Are we telling the right story?
The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23):
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.
Ever contemplate this list? Ever pray to be able to exhibit just a few of these? Ever find yourself thinking "well, I'm not so patient- I must be more of the 'love and joy' type of Christian"? Ever decide that some of these qualities are just plain out of reach?
I've been down that road. Trying to pick and choose the fruits that best suit my personality. Kindness? Gentleness??? Umm- I'll just have an extra helping of faithfulness instead. Of course, where my understanding fell short was in thinking that these qualities had anything at all to do with my personality! These fruits are a result of the Spirit at work within us, and not about what we bring to the table.
We're in the middle of a nine part sermon series on the fruit of the Spirit at my home church. And one thing that is becoming very evident as we work through this series is that these nine qualities are interrelated and interdependent. They nurture and inform each other. This is not an a-la-carte menu, from which we are free to pick and choose according to our taste.