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Archive for December, 2015

Life Notes

Beginning Again

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”  Revelation 21:1, 5a

As an employer, I make certain my employees receive at least one performance evaluation each year. The process rewards a person for things done well, provides coaching in areas that need improvement, and encourages goal setting for the coming year. It is a time for reflection, as well as an opportunity to begin again.

It is common to mark New Year’s Day with resolutions for change. Some people want to lose weight; others decide to exercise more frequently, save more money, spend more time in prayer, mend broken relationships – you name the issue and someone wants to resolve it. For numerous reasons, few New Year’s resolutions actually succeed. First, resolutions are often made with little thought or research into what is required for success. Second, our sights are often set too high too quickly. Finally, having too many resolutions is a sure recipe for failure. Here are a few suggestions:

Research the desired change. Goal setting is a worthwhile endeavor, but goals need to be broken down into pieces that can be accomplished and measured in weekly, even daily or hourly units. For example, if I desire to lose 25 pounds in 2015, I need to research the types and quantities of foods I will and will not eat, the types and frequency of exercise that will be needed, and a reasonable expectation for how much weight I can successfully lose each week. Losing 25 pounds is a lofty goal. Losing 1 pound per week over 6-months sounds much more attainable. Prayerful research and planning is required for serious goals.

Set realistic goals and timelines. Everyone wants positive change, and everyone wants it now. Unfortunately, strategic changes that last seldom occur quickly. Rather, new habits must be consciously practiced over lengthy periods to become ingrained. There is no magic that happens on New Year’s Day that allows change to occur more quickly. 

Focus. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. There are only so many hours in a day and success in creating positive change requires focused attention over time. The more we dilute our attention among numerous change projects, the less likely we will be to accomplish any of them. One project at a time is a good rule of thumb.

The writer of Revelation, referring to a new heaven and a new earth, writes, “See, I am making all things new.” I believe God will remake us anew; we can be born again and grow into better versions of ourselves. That sort of change, however, requires strategic planning and thoughtful participation on our part. It is easy to forget that God is our all-powerful partner in the change we desire. If we align our desired changes with God’s will and draw on that unfailing source of power, we will succeed.

Come home to church this Sunday. Make it a Happy New Year, not just a day.

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Life Notes

Original Love

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:5b

The essence of Emmanuel is love, and love manifests in relationships. Through the birth of Jesus, God chose to be in relationship, physically, with the people of the time. Today, God chooses to be in relationship with us, spiritually. God reaches to us, but until we reach back and accept God’s invitation, there can be no relationship. At the point of our reciprocating, we come to know, recognize, and respond to God’s favor. Otherwise, God’s love is like a radio wave being transmitted, but not received. God speaks, but the message is not heard.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish to share a song of Love-come-to-earth. You can listen to it on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Go to the “Music” page, select “Songs of Christmas,” and click on “The Love That You Are.” Here are the lyrics:

The Love That You Are 

On this night, in the holy silence

Bright star light, pierce the deepest, darkest heart

With the Love that you are… 

Baby’s cry, from a lowly manger

Brand new life, come this night to save us all,

With the Love that you are… 

Holy Savior, Prince of Peace

Love incarnate, sin redeemed. 

Emmanuel, our Messiah

Here on earth to dwell, with a new life to impart,

From the Love that you are… 

Holy Savior, Prince of Peace

Love incarnate, sin redeemed. 

On this night, in the holy silence

Bright star light, pierce the deepest, darkest heart

With the Love that you are,

With the Love that you are.

This Christmas, may you fall into a relationship with Love: Emmanuel – God with us; God with you! That relationship is where true love originates.

Merry Christmas!

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Life Notes logo2

An Allegorical Christmas, Part 3 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

“Big things come in small packages,” we sometimes say. Regarding the Christmas season, we are often referring to jewelry, gift cards, and other items that may have great value belying their small size. The Christmas story tells of another small package – the birth of the Christ child. In Luke 2:10-11, the shepherds hear from an angel: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The story of the worship of a newborn — deemed as our Messiah before the child can even speak – is difficult for some to accept. Where does this part of the Christmas story leave those who doubt its historical validity? Fortunately, as with most of the Bible’s seminal teachings, there is a profound message in the story regardless of whether we accept it as fact. In the case of the boy King, there are at least two common misunderstandings: the deeper relevance of “a child” and the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

The deeper aspect of smallness has to do with being childlike. This does not mean being in a child’s body, but perceiving with the openness of a child’s mind. Young children have few preconceived notions about life and about others. A childlike brain is like a sponge that soaks up everything around it, free of judgment or prejudice. As we age, and certainly by the time we are teenagers, many of us have our minds made up about most things in very divisive ways – I like this, I do not like that; that person is my friend; that person is my enemy. As adults, some of us simply solidify our adolescent biases. We close our minds to other options and influences and call it wisdom or steadfastness. Truly, it is neither. There is nothing wise about a closed mind. One lesson of the boy King is that we need to redevelop the openness and curiosity of a childlike mind.

As we consider God coming to earth as a baby, we are encouraged to remember that small is not insignificant. Meek does not mean weak. Caring for others does not include being abused by them. The peaceful imagery of Isaiah – of the wolf living with the lamb, and the calf with the lion – must be perceived through the mind of a child to be believed. The story reads more like a Disney movie than an adult narrative. With our fixed vision, there is no hope for peace. We cannot imagine the possibilities because that type of imagination requires a child. “A little child shall lead them.” Yes, a little child shall lead us, but that little child is not insignificant, weak, or an easy target for abuse. That little child is a King, and we must become like little children to gain the wisdom to follow.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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Life Notes

An Allegorical Christmas, Part 2

 What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:3b-5

First, I must confess an error in last week’s Life Note. I referred to the Immaculate Conception as the conception of Jesus, when in fact the term refers to the conception of Mary. I apologize for my all-too-Protestant perpetuation of the fallacy.

With that said, the point remains that the Christmas story can be understood either as a historical, factual narrative or as an allegorical teaching about our personal, spiritual journey. Taken only in the former manner, the impact of the telling is lost on people who do not accept the biblical record as an actual event. This week I consider the Christmas Star, which is recorded in Matthew 2:2: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising…”

From this passage, we assume the “star” must have been very bright and noticeably different from the other heavenly bodies. Modern day astronomers have looked for evidence of a convergence of planets, a comet that streaked across the sky, or perhaps a supernova around the time of Jesus’ birth. There is no astrological evidence, looking back 2000 years, of such an event, however. If we assume, as many do, that these “wise men” were astrologers – people who carefully studied the movements and interactions of the stars and planets – the occurrence now called the Christmas Star may have only been noticeable and unique to one trained in such matters. The rest of us may not have noticed anything different.

Regardless, the question posed by this Life Note is whether the Christmas Star has meaning for those who choose not to believe it was a real star. Allegorically speaking, the answer is “Yes, of course it does!” Stars bring light to an otherwise dark sky – light in the darkness. A light in the darkness has been the story of God’s impact on our lives since the dawn of creation. In Genesis, God’s first spoken act of creation is “Let there be light.” And there was light where there had been only darkness. When there is light in front of us, we find hope. We have reason to believe our times of darkness will end. Creating hope only requires a little light – a candle in a dark room, or a star resting over a humble stable. In difficult times, we need light, and we need hope. And hope is what the Christmas Star provides, both historically and allegorically.

Was there a Christmas star 2000 years ago? Of course there was! Maybe it was not a star as we portray it today, but it was a light for our darkness, and hope for our despair.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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Life Notes

An Allegorical Christmas, Part 1 

He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” Luke 18:27

There are those who shun the biblical telling of the Christmas story because it is too difficult to believe factually. From the impregnating of Mary by the Holy Spirit, to Joseph agreeing to marry his pregnant fiancé (as opposed to having her stoned to death), to the bright star in the sky, the shepherds leaving their flocks, and the wise men journeying from far away to pay homage to this Prince of Peace. Truly, it is an incredible story. While I believe that all things are possible with God, I also believe we can discern God’s will allegorically, and not just physically and factually.

What can one learn from the Christmas story who is not ready to make the leap of accepting the Biblical record as written? Let us begin with the Immaculate Conception. This story is foretold in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (7:14): “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” Fast forward a few hundred years to the first chapter of Luke where an angel tells Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Mary responds, “How can this be, since I am a virgin.” The angel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

The virgin birth is a profound element of the Christmas story. Typically, virginity refers to one who has not had sexual relations. The word virgin, however, has a larger meaning. It also means pure, undefiled, new, and inexperienced. For example, a virgin forest is one whose trees have never been harvested. The Christmas story tells of the birth of a child – a child with an earthly mother and a spirit Father. Heaven and earth came together in this child. The Christmas story is not just the story of Jesus, however, it is the story of us.

We all wish to express our physical and spiritual natures. To do so, the spirit must impregnate us by entering to awaken and develop our spiritual nature. That experience begins to make us whole – fully human and fully spiritual. In order to awaken our spiritual nature, however, we must be sufficiently pure for the Spirit to enter. We must be submissive and willing not only to conceive but also to receive the new creation that will result. When that happens, we too have experienced an Immaculate Conception, not exactly in the way the Bible describes, but in the way the Bible implies can be true for all of us. Seen allegorically, this is our blueprint to achieving wholeness – becoming pure enough, open enough, virgin enough for the Spirit to express through us.

When we are willing to explain what the Christmas story means at its deepest and most personal level, the love of God will reach a mass of humanity who otherwise will continue to celebrate only the secular version of Christmas. Allegorically or factually, we find the same Savior.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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