Saturday, December 20, 2014

Yes, I Will Rejoice Part 4 (Philippians 1:12-18)

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

When Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he was a prisoner for his witness. And yet the focus of the epistle is joy in Christ. Paul was able to have joy in the midst of suffering because he knew that his suffering, much like that of the Savior, was contributing to making the world a better place. It was helping others to find the love of God. It was and still is advancing the story of Christ.

Even as some people in Paul’s day were sharing the Gospel from selfish reasons, they were sharing the story. The Gospel is the most amazing and important story ever told. It is the most joyful story. And, it is a story in which every believer plays a part. We all have our own chapter to share. We all have a unique experience in which Jesus has saved us. Our lives are immeasurably better for having Jesus in them. We can rejoice.

Share His story! Tell others your story!

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Babadook" (2014)

Even this early in the process for me, it is clear that “Babadook” likely will be in my top ten films of 2014. It is exactly what I look for in a horror film: unsettling, smart, horrific without being merely shocking or gory, and centered around ideas and messages not jumps or scares alone.

“Babadook” tells the story of a widow raising a six-year-old son, Samuel. Her husband died in a car crash while taking her to deliver. The intervening six years have been the typical stress of a single parent—intensified because her son is understandably dealing with issues that six-year-olds don’t generally have to deal with. He is obsessed with monsters and dangers, and is constantly getting into trouble and scaring people with his violent ways. As the story progresses, we begin to see that it is more than the absence of a father that is affecting him. The mother clearly has issues.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Furthermore... Rejoice! Part 3 (Philippians 3:1, etc.)

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

To the annoyance of some, I can be known to play Christmas music outside of the season. Or, what is just as annoying to my German friends, I will eat gingerbread before the Advent Season. I do understand that there is a value in saving things for their appropriate time. However, when it comes to Christmas, I try to celebrate the story every day all year round. My father used to read us the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke, bit by bit, every day of the week leading up to the 24th. Even with that tradition, which I uphold, I still read those passages throughout the year as well.

Eating a Christmas cookie before advent is most annoying to those for whom all of the joy of Christmas lies in the anticipation. As believers, our joy lies only partially in the anticipation of what is to come. We also have the assurance of what has occurred. Christ has come and sin is defeated. We do not need to develop systems of behavior, to deprive ourselves of certain joys to create levels of suffering in order to earn the love of God. It has been freely offered to all who will believe.

To some degree though, that is the goal of every religious system. They attempt, through moralistic measures, to please an image of a deity that is angry. They try to develop and force rules designed “for peoples’ benefit” that will make their lives better through their own efforts. This is a moralistic, therapeutic approach to spirituality and faith.

It is enough to know that the grace of God is ours. His love sees us through everything we encounter along this way to the world as God intends it to be. We will encounter enough suffering as a result of the evil and sin in the world. We do not need religious systems to inflict some sort of “suffering as purification.” We do not need a cost-benefit analysis to convince us to do the things that please God. As His people those things should be our pleasure as well.

More than anything else, Christmas is full of joy because it is a part of the most joyful story ever told…

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


There is a woman who has prayed for me by name every day of my life. There may be more people who do that for me, but I know of the one because she reminds me every time I talk to her. She has three sons, three daughter-in-laws, twelve grandchildren-all save three of whom are married and, unless I’ve lost count, twenty-four or five great grandchildren. She could tell you all of their names, because she prays for each of us by name every day.

Mama was just a child when her family traveled to the boomtown mining settlement of Borger, Texas to visit relatives. They never left, and she has lived there to this day. Just a little life in a small town that few will ever know exists. Yet her impact is vast. There are hundreds of people who list her as an important influence on their lives. I have a history book of a church in Borger that repeatedly mentions her name, chapter after chapter. It is a true-life example of the sort of impact a individual can have on the world, much like that “capra-corn” story “It’s a Wonderful Life” depicts. And all of her children and grandchildren have grown up following her example, not just to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but to help others do so as well.

Happy Birthday, Mama! You have made such a wonderful difference in so many lives!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Again, Rejoice! Part 2 (Philippians 4:4-7)

…again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Of course, the main reason Christmas was so special in my house growing up—and remains so to this day—is that despite all the music, decorations, food and events, it was all about one thing: Jesus. Not just a story of a baby born in a stable eons ago, but the real baby who became a man who is God incarnate and who is still alive today. It was a celebration of a person and a relationship that is alive in my life today. I talk to Jesus and He talks to me. I share my life with Him and He leads me through the decisions, celebrations but also the sufferings I encounter.

We didn’t do Santa. We weren’t militant against him or anything. For one thing, who wants to celebrate the starry night when a babe was born in daylight? Everything about Christmas, the lights, the candles, the warm drinks, and the songs about nighttime demand that you do your celebrating at night. But also, we didn’t want to confuse the celebration of a real event with a bunch of fantastic silliness. Much less create elaborate lies and conspiracies to deceive. Christmas is about a real person, even if with a heavily supernatural side.

Study after study has proven the way prayer and even meditation helps us live a more fulfilled life, and therefor is a conduit to joy. However, no placebo—even prayer—measures up to the power that a relationship with a real, loving, powerful God has in a life. We do not pray because it is a therapeutic means to happiness, but because our friendship with God is real joy. At Christmas we celebrate the way that that relationship, and that dialogue, was made possible. And that relationship allows those of us who believe to experience that joy the whole year round.

Even so, with the access we have to our living God and the joy we celebrate this time of year, many believers come across as the biggest curmudgeons. This is silly. Our joy should be contagious and transformative. It is our joy and God’s love that will change the world. Not our anger and our opposition. My parents made Christmas about Jesus, but I don’t recall them being ugly about Santa or phrases like “Happy Holidays.” If we have a real Father who hears us when we pray, why are we so derisive about people focusing on “positive thinking”? The evident power in prayer should be much more convincing to people than our grumblings against their semi-effective efforts.

However, prayer is not Paul’s only advice on joy for the Philippians…
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