Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Reminder from a Christmas Commercial

I still remember that commercial from 40 years ago.  I don't remember what it was supposed to have advertised, but I remember the message.  It began with Santa Claus laughing his "Ho! Ho! Ho!" around a living room that was filled with Christmas decorations.  He began to empty his big of brightly wrapped gifts, then paused by the end table to enjoy the cookies and milk that were left out for him.  After some more jolly laughing he stopped at looked at the Christmas tree.  At once, his laughter stopped.  The jolly smile slowly left his face as it was being replaced by a look of deep contemplation.  The camera angle changed and showed that he was staring at a small Christmas ornament.  Inside the clear Christmas ornament was a nativity scene.  The camera zoomed in and focused on the nativity scene as the image of Santa Clauses look of quiet reflection went out of focus. 

I understand what the creators of that commercial were trying to do.  Even forty years ago, there were those who were complaining about the crass commercialism of Christmas.  The fast pace lights, glitter, music, and bustling sounds of holiday activity along with its price tags replaced the simply and silent wonder of divinity becoming flesh.  I have heard people speak of putting "Christ" back into "Christmas."  I have also heard people defiantly wishing people a "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays."  There is understandably a desire to hang on to the baby Jesus and not let him get swallowed up.

But is this actually what's happening?  What does it mean to put "Christ" back into Christmas?  Are we talking about being able to say "Merry Christmas" without any repercussions?  Are we talking about more religious decorations and nativity scenes?  Are we talking about children singing Joy to the World rather than Jingle Bells for the school winter program?  How important would all of this be to Jesus?  It seems to me that a lot of this from the past was cultural window dressing.  It was a veneer of religiosity for the holiday season.  I think we all recognize very clearly what Jesus thought of this sort of thing from his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7.

This worry about Jesus being swallowed up reminds me of a passage in the book of Revelation.  Here is what the birth of Christ looked like from a cosmic perspective.

"And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne" (Rev 12:4-5).

The dragon, the serpent of old who is called Satan and The Devil, tried to swallow up the child.  However, the child was caught up to God and his throne.  We know that Jesus died for our sin, was buried, rose from the grave, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and we know that he ascended to the heavens, according to Acts 1:9.  1 Corinthians 15:25 tells us that he now reigns in his Kingdom, which is in us, his people, according to Luke 17:21, and will do so until the last enemy, which is death, is destroyed.

Neither Satan nor the culture can swallow up the Christ.  What is important is not putting Christ into Christmas, but putting Christ into our hearts.  Jesus' goal was not putting his name on a day for the calendar, but his name in our hearts so that every day is for him.

Who Is the Minister?

I have been reading Acts 6:1-7, which has reminded me of something I learned about many years ago.  I remember hearing about a particular religious group that does not believe in having a located full-time preacher.   They either have itinerant preachers, or a congregation will have their men take turns preaching. I was intrigued when I heard that Reuel Lemmons, who was a longtime editor of the Firm Foundation journal in Texas, was anti located preacher. His reasoning was not doctrinal or theological, but practical.  He had observed a typical pattern when a congregation that had no full-time preacher managed to hire one.  When a congregation had no full-time preacher, everyone was invested and active in the ministry of the church.  However, when a congregation hires a minister, less and less of the members are as invested and active.  He also said that he was anti-elders for the same reason.  When a congregation goes from no elders to appointing elders, he observed the congregation doing less and leaving it to the "professionals."  I am not sure if he was saying this tongue-in-cheek, but he did make a good point.

This also reminds me of something I once heard Flavil Yeakley point out.  Several decades ago, a congregation of 500 would typically have only one full-time staff member, the preacher.  Now days, larger churches hire numerous staff to take care of the various types of ministries in the church.  The reason churches in the earlier days did not feel a need to hire additional staff members is that more of the congregation was invested and active in the overall ministries of the church.  There were typically many more volunteers in the early days than there are now.

I see another situation in Acts chapter 6 which needed ministers to tend to a ministry in which Grecian widows were being overlooked.  What strikes me about this situation is how the leaders handled it, and how the congregation responded.  In the first church, there was a "daily distribution," or a "ministry/service of tables."  The church had grown to a point that there were those who were being overlooked and brethren begin to complain. 

I was struck by what the leaders did not do in this case.  They didn't ignore the problem and hope it would go away but dealt with it directly in a positive way.  They didn't have a series of secret meetings, but wisely called the congregation together, since it was a congregational problem.  They didn't take care of the problem for the congregation, but gave them instruction and guidance in how they were to participate in fixing this problem.  They didn't scold the congregation or lecture them for possibly being prejudice.  It was likely an oversight.  Instead, they offered a workable solution that was much more edifying than a lecture.  This pleased the congregation, and they continued to grow in faith and in number. 

What a blessing to be able to have a ministry of tables, or a daily distribution!  This ministry was important enough to charge the congregation to participate in selecting seven reputable, spiritual, and wise men to oversee their contributions as they brought their resources to help brethren in need.  Both the ministry of the word and the ministry of the table flourished in this environment. 

This is a reminder that all ministry is important, whether it is ministry of the word, table, or something else.  This is also a reminder that all ministry is participatory.  I remember seeing the list of personnel on the front page of a church bulletin.  There were the expected names of the elders, preacher, deacons, and other ministry leaders.  The name under "Minister" was "Every Member."  This was a reminder that every Christian is a minister who ministers in the name of God.

My Cup Runneth Over ... Argh! What a Mess!

Someone said that we now live in a culture of complaining.  But as I read over the Bible, I recognize that this has always been a challenge wherever there are people.  Whether it was Israel in the wilderness who complained that the provisions and leadership God gave were not up to their standards, or those who complained about the faithful prophets for discouraging the troops by speaking a message of repentance or consequences.

What does it say about me if my "cup runneth over" and I, instead of thanking God, complain about the mess?  It occurs to me that I will never have to go very far to search for complaining material.  It is always readily available. Real-estate in "whine-country" is always in abundance. 

Complaining is one of the most destructive methods of the enemy to destroy peace, steadfastness, and faith.  This is especially true when my complaints are directed at the church or church leadership.  I have never seen any edification come from a culture of complaining, but I have seen destruction.  When I was a teen, my Dad told me that he observed that, "Those who regularly complain that loudest are usually those who do the least."  I have noticed this to be true.  If I am complaining, then I am usually not doing.  It enables me to think (usually wrongly) that the problem is something other than me!  Looking through the window of complaining helps me to avoid looking into the mirror of self-reflection.

I have found that regular and prayerful meditation alongside scripture with pointed questions helps to avoid the trap of complaining.  This is especially true when meditation is in fellowship with a spiritual mature and wise Christian brother who will be honest with me.


1.      1) Concerning the Church, I am

a.     Happy with the church

b.     Ambivalent about the church

c.      Unhappy with the church

2.      2) When I notice a shortcoming in the church, I usually respond with

a.     Asking what I, as part of the church, can do to help, including prayer

b.     Doing little to nothing

c.      Criticism and/or complaint of the church and leaders

3.      3) Which describes my attendance best?

a.     I am usually at every meeting of the church, including classes and events

b.     I am usually at church most Sundays

c.      I am rarely at church and church activities

4.      4) As far as my awareness of what is happening related to the church

a.     I am generally well-informed about the church and activities, listening to announcements, reading emails, taking note of the bulletin, etc.

b.     I am not very well informed about the church and activities. 

c.      I am clueless about the church and activities

5.      5) When it comes to participation in church activities

a.     I jump in and volunteer, seeking out church activities and opportunities with enthusiasm

b.     I might participate if I am asked to participate and have time to think about it

c.      I rarely participate in church activities

6.      6) When it comes to leaders, servants, and other members in the church

a.     I pray for them regularly and encourage them

b.     I rarely pray for them and encourage them

c.      I usually complain about them or to them

Optional and Required

I have been thinking about the difference between what is optional and essential as it pertains to my faith.
  How do I decide what is optional (I can do without and there is no negative result) and what is essential or required?  My mind then compares this to how I answer this question in other areas of my life, such as my job.  When I was working on Airplanes, how did I determine what was optional and what was essential?  At an absolute minimum, showing up for work was absolutely required.  If I did not show up, it would have reflected poorly on my commitment, and I would have gotten a reprimand in my file.  If I made a habit of not showing up, the Air Force would have punished me and booted me out.  But I had to do much more than just show up.  I had a job to do as part of a larger picture in fulfilling our mission.  I had to do it well and with the proper attitude.  I had to get along with and work well with others.  Attending ongoing training for updates on our equipment and software was also a must.

As I reflected on this, I came up with similar lists whether it was related to my time as a student, or to my voluntary participation on a team or some organization.  After considering all of this, I came back to this question in regard to my faith.  I know what my words have said about my commitment to God and his will, but what do my actions say?  I am reminded of what Jesus said toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven."  What do my actions reflect when it comes to my faith?  Am I more committed to my job, team, recreational activities, and other such things, which will pass away when Christ returns?  When I have a choice, do I choose these over Christ and his church which he purchased with his own blood?  Do I, at a minimum, show up, or am I absent more than I am present?  Do I follow Jesus' instructions and engage in mutual encouragement with my brethren without forsaking attendance (Heb 10:24-25)?  Am I doing my best to present myself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)?  Do I participate in Bible Classes, study, and training to become better in my job in serving Christ?

As I reflect on this, I realize how the employee analogy falls far short of describing the nature of my relationship with our Lord.  After all, the Bible does not say that we are employees of Christ, but it does say that we are the bride of Christ.  Being a spouse is worlds apart from being an employee.  If I approached my marriage by doing the minimum requirement for marriage, then my marriage may be in trouble.  Key actions in marriage include love, honor, and selflessness.  Love does not look for minimum requirements but overflows as much as possible.  The root idea behind honor is value.  Jesus showed his value for his bride by literally giving his blood for us.  We, collectively as his bride, show honor for him by pleasing him as one in selfless service.  Someone once said marriage is not 50/50 relationship, but a 0/100 relationship.  Both partners focus selflessly on loving the other 100% of the time. 

This puts commitment to Christ and his church in a very different light.  It causes me to move beyond the Sunday morning attendance requirement to being together with church and participating whenever I can.  Whether it is a Bible Class, Picnic, ministry effort, or simply staying after church and visiting, I don't view any of this through the lens of "required vs. optional."  I view it through the lens of being the bride of Christ.

Perhaps the question I need to ask myself is, "Am I faithful to Christ as a bride should be to her spouse?"  and as a follow up, "How should my words and actions reflect this?"

How Do I Smell?

I can't help but notice how much of man's relationship with God is depicted as various kinds of aromas under the former covenant.  Whether it is the pleasing aroma of an offering on the altar, or the scent of the anointing oil for the priests, or the incense that fills the holy place, there are all kinds of aromas that go from human activity to God's nostrils. 
As I reflect on all of this, it occurs to me that these are connected to emotions.  They are not just smells, but "pleasing" aromas.  I am reminded of a Star Trek character named Data.  He is an android that has no emotions.  Therefore, when he smells something, he can describe the chemical make up of what is creating the smell and nothing more.  Nothing smells sweet, nor does anything stink to him.  On the other hand, when he receives an emotion chip, suddenly things like smells, tastes, and art are completely different.  He has emotional reactions to them.  They are either pleasing or revolting. 
I am reminded of certain aromas that evoke vivid memories and associated emotions that go along with the memories.  The smell of fresh fatigues takes me back to basic training.  My heart races just a little as I remember the instructor yelling at my face with the brim of his smokey bear hat pressing on my forehead as I stood still at attention.  The aroma of fresh baked pies brings me back to my aunt's house during the holidays and the feeling of peace and contentment.  Someone once said that the most powerful sense that evokes memory and emotion is the sense of smell.  You can immediately see the reaction on a person's face as to whether it is pleasing or repulsive.
I had to ask myself what I am to learn about all the aromas God instructed for the worship Israel was to offer him.  What does this teach me about worship and service?  I am reminded that the prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8 are portrayed as incense to God.  Paul in Philippians 4:18 refers to the contributions from churches for missions as a "fragrant offering...pleasing to God."  In Ephesians 5:2, Paul points out that Jesus provided the ultimate example of a fragrant offering to God when he wrote, "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  This teaches us that sincere service and worship to God is a pleasing aroma to him.  God has an emotional response to our aroma.  He either finds it pleasing or revolting.
It occurs to me that what makes an aroma pleasing to God is not the chemical makeup of the offering, but the spiritual makeup of the heart.  In Isaiah 1:13, God says that their incense was an abomination to him.  It was the same incense they had offered before.  However, their hearts were not devoted to God as was evidenced by their oppression and wickedness.  Therefore, rather than being a pleasing aroma, it was a putrid stench to God.  My heart must be faithful, obedient, humble, and sincere if my offering is to be pleasing to God.
The next time I pick up my toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, or deodorant, I will think of these things.  I practice physical hygiene so that I will not repulse the people around me.  What kind of spiritual hygiene do I need to practice before God?  Is my heart pure?  Do I offer service in his name motivated by commitment to him?  Am I obedient and faithful to him?  Do I worship and pray to him sincerely without putting on an empty performance?  How do I smell to God?