Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolution

My plan is to try to put something up every couple of days - two or three times a week. I will use some of my old essays I sent out over email, but try to write new reflections as well. Hope they help.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Christmas Eve Message

Jenni and I went into this Christmas season with such noble intent. We were going to be reasonable, to hold the line on spending. We were going to maintain our financial sanity while all around us were losing theirs. Alas, it was a noble goal. But, like all my New Year’s Resolutions in the last 25 years, this Christmas resolution did not survive the last several days.

But, you know what? I am glad. I love to give gifts to my family and there is not much way of doing that except to lay down some cash or flash the plastic. I ruled out shoplifting, and that left me with few alternatives. So, I spent a little more than I intended. Christmas will be expensive this year.

But maybe Christmas should be expensive, after all. It is a holiday designed to honor the greatest gift ever given. When the time was just right, when He had perfectly prepared the world for the coming of the Promised One, God sent His Son into this world to save us from our sins. Oh, it was a costly gift. And Jesus gave Himself. He offered Himself as an obedient Servant in the Father’s plan and came to earth to redeem a people by giving His life in exchange for those. He came to live a perfect life and die on the cross for our sins. And that was the most costly gift of all. God gave His son. Christ gave Himself. It seems that Christmas should be expensive.

But it is not enough to just spend exorbitantly on electronics, jewels, clothing or other gifts. It is important that we remember the coming of Christ and respond rightly to the gift that He gave.

I want to share a secret with you today, one that might shock you a little. Christmas joy comes in direct proportion to how expensive Christmas is for you. The more you give the more joy you will have. No, I am not talking about what you spent at the mall this year. I am talking about what you give to God, how much of your heart and life you give to Him.

Those Who Give Nothing Have No Joy

There are many who go through Christmas barely thinking about God or the great gifts he gave. There are many who give nothing at Christmas, and they receive no Christmas joy.

The Bible is full of examples of this kind of person. Herod was on the throne of Israel; a throne he had won through intrigue, manipulation and violence. He knew it was a throne he had no right to sit on, but he liked being there. Then, one day, strange men came from the east announcing that one had been BORN king of the Jews. That phrase pushed all his buttons. He did not receive the news with joy, but as a threat to his throne. He knew what many never realize – the baby in Bethlehem came to rule. If it is your goal to run your own life and live as you please, the baby whose birth we celebrate is a threat to you. He came to live and die, but after his death, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name. He is the rightful ruler of this world and of your heart. The baby in the manger was destined to be King of kings and Lord of lords. You cannot serve him without submitting to him. Herod refused to submit, so he had no joy at Christmas.

There were others who had no joy. There were the scribes and the religious leaders of Jerusalem. They heard that the baby had been born, but they did not seek him. They were more interested in maintaining their own power and prestige, so they refused to seek the baby. But you cannot expect Christmas joy unless you give yourself to the One who was born that day. He demands to become Lord of all your hopes and dreams, your ambitions and desires. If you are unwilling to give that all to Him, you, too, will have no real joy at Christmas.

One other group I would mention. These were the people in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Christ. They were not evil, as such. They did not hate the baby or try to kill him. They had no ill will toward him, they just ignored him. Think about it. Many people stayed in that inn that night. There was no more room. Messiah, the one promised for millennia, the hope of all the people, was born within a few feet of them, and they never knew it. There are many people who are so busy with the routine of life that they never stop to think about eternity, about spiritual things. It is not a matter of disbelief or skepticism for them, they just don’t have time. But if you are so busy, so wrapped up in your own life that you ignore the baby, you will have no joy at Christmas.

If you want Christmas joy, it will cost you your life. Many have turned aside to the secular celebration of Christmas, because Santa and the Reindeer don’t ask so much. But Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, offers real joy – if you give yourself to him.
Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing. He rules the world with truth and grace.
Some, unfortunately, failed to understand who that baby was. They received no joy at Christmas.

Those Who Give a Little Have Little Joy

What a night that was for an unusual group. Shepherds. No one cared about the shepherds in the Bethlehem hills. They were about as far down the social ladder as you could go. But God cared about them, enough to make them the first people who ever heard the announcement of the Savior’s birth. The night was dark when suddenly, the brightness of God’s glory lit up the hillside. An angel appeared to them to tell them Messiah had been born and encouraged them to go and see. Without warning, the sky was filled with angels shouting, “Glory to God in the highest.”

So, the angels left their sheep and went in to town to check out what the angels say. They were rewarded with the privilege of being the first humans other than Mary and Joseph to see God Incarnate, the second member of the trinity in human form. It was a night like no other. They went back to their hillside with hearts of joy and a story to tell.

And then life returned to normal. Perhaps, from time to time, in the months that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt, they came for a visit. But life really didn’t change much. They went back to being shepherds and probably talked a lot about the wonderful night when Angels appeared and Messiah was born. They had a night of real joy.

But it was only a night. We have no way of knowing what happened to these shepherds in years to come. I hope that those who survived to the time of Jesus ministry recognized him as the baby the Angels announced and worshipped him. Perhaps some of the 120 in the Upper Room on the night of Pentecost were shepherds from Bethlehem. We will only know in heaven.

But this we know here on earth. If you only give God an hour here or there, or a day now and again, you will only ever experience moments of joy. Those who give a little time to Jesus gain only a little joy.

There are many who are only willing to give the Lord a little time now and then. If they are not busy, they will give him Sundays. They will give him a little money, if they have some left over at the end of the month. They like Jesus, like the church, like the message of salvation. They just don’t want to interrupt their lives to serve Jesus or give him all their hearts or lives.

If all you ever do is give Jesus a little time now and again, you will never have anything more than a little joy. Those for whom Christmas costs nothing, receive no joy. Those for whom Christmas costs a little, receive a little joy.

Those Who Give Much Have Great Joy

They are the most mysterious of all the characters of Christmas. We don’t know their names, and we know precious little about them. They were Magi - Parthian king-makers, pagan wise men from modern day Iran. They had likely heard of the Messiah of the Jews through the Babylonian captivity, perhaps through Daniel himself, or Shadrach, or Meshach or Abednego.

Then they saw the star the night Jesus was born and they set out on a long journey. They walked, or rode on camels for hundreds of miles, week after week, month after month. (I know they had camels, because they are in our manger scene.) Finally, they appeared in Jerusalem, and asked about the Messiah, being directed to Bethlehem.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, they saw a star in the night sky over the house where Jesus lived. Was that an angelic light over the house, some manifestation of the glory of God, or some amazing natural phenomenon? We will only know in eternity.

But they entered the house and found a little boy, probably just learning to walk. They knew in their hearts that he was the one prophesied by the ancients, the one born King of the Jews. They bowed low. What a comical scene that must have been – the Persian noblemen in ornate finery bowing before a Jewish peasant baby. They gave him gifts: gold, a recognition of the royalty of the child; frankincense, representing his divine nature; and myrrh, a very human gift. It was a burial spice and symbolized that fact that Jesus was destined to die for the sins of the world.

But most important, they worshiped him. No one in Israel knew who the boy was, or cared. The religious leaders could not be bothered. But these pagan astrologers bowed low and worshiped him. They left their homes, their families, their lives. They traveled far to see him. They gave him expensive gifts. And the scripture says that they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy.” For the Magi, Christmas was very expensive, and they had very great joy.

There are some for whom Christmas costs nothing, and they have no joy. There are some for whom Christmas costs a little, and they have a little joy. There are some for whom Christmas costs a lot, and they have a lot of joy.

Those Who Give All Have Eternal Joy

But, my friends, there is another level of joy. It is the most costly. It will cost you more than a night, or a year. May God prepare your heart to receive your King!

Only two people in the Nativity stories ever experienced this maximum joy. They were the two main characters, Mary and Joseph. You see, Jesus’ birth did not cost them a night, like it did the shepherds. It did not cost them a couple of years and some expensive gifts, like it did the Magi. It cost them everything.

When the angel appeared to her, Mary said, “Whatever you say, Lord.” And her life would never be the same again. She was laughed at when her story was told around that little town. Most likely many shunned her, believing she was covering over her weakness and immorality with this preposterous story. Do you think even her parents believed her?

There was no chance that her life would ever be normal again. Folks, when you are raising a child who is the Son of God, God in a human body – that never works out to be normal. It was a wonderful blessing and privilege, but it had to present some very unique challenges.

Years later she watched, I’m sure proudly, as her son became a celebrity in Israel. Everyone was talking about the miracle worker from Galilee. But then, problems appeared. People did not like what he was teaching. He asked for too much – level of commitment that most were not willing to give. She may have heard the rumors that the religious leaders were out to get him.

Then, during Passover, he was arrested. Mary had to watch as her son was tried, abused, brutalized and finally hung on a cross. It must have torn her heart out not only to watch Jesus hang in agony on the cross, but also to hear passers-by hurl insults at him. The prophecy said that a sword would pierce her heart. That day it did.

But, when the angel came to her, Mary said to him, “May it be to me as you have said.” She called herself the servant of the Lord. Jesus was her life and she would serve him to the end.

We know much less about Joseph. In fact, after the trip to Jerusalem in Jesus’ childhood, we hear nothing about him. The general assumption is that he died in the years before Jesus’ earthly ministry began. But the one thing we know about Joseph is that when God told him what to do, he did it. He was a good man, scripture says that. But he became a great man in the kingdom of God when he laid down his life to serve the Savior.

Mary and Joseph were unique. They did not give a night to Jesus. They did not give him presents. They gave him themselves. And because of that, in spite of the pain and hurt they might have sometimes felt, they knew a joy greater than any we can imagine. They were parents to the Son of God. They had joy not for a day or a year, but for eternity.

The baby they raised did something no one else had ever done. He lived a perfect life, fulfilling all the righteousness of God’s law. He offered himself to die for the sins of the entire world. He paid the price for the sins that we have committed by his precious blood. Then, God raised him from the dead, glorified him and seated him at the right hand of glory. And now, he asks us to turn away from our sins and trust our lives completely to him.

He offers the joy of forgiveness and new life to all who will come to him in faith. Mary had a joy that lasted forever because she gave herself to God’s plan. Joseph surrendered himself to the sovereign plan of God and his joy will never end.

Now, at the beginning, I warned you I was going to tell you what God requires for us to experience that unending joy. It is no easy thing. Real joy, eternal joy, comes to those who give themselves, body soul and spirit to Jesus. Paul said, “Present your body a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” That is what you must do. Present your body to Christ. Lord, here I am. I belong to you. Use my life as you see fit. I will serve you in any way that brings glory to your name. If the road is hard, I will walk it. “May it be to me as you have said.”

People who give themselves to God as living sacrifices experience eternal joy, a peace that passes understanding and a love that transforms lives.

Yes, my friends, Christmas is expensive. It is only when you realize that the Baby in the manger in Bethlehem is King of kings and Lord of Lords, when you give him yourself – body, soul and spirit – only then will you know the true joys of Christmas.

Will you, right now, give him the one gift he really wants? Will you give God your body as a living sacrifice – a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God? That is the only way to truly worship Him today.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Forgiveness

I have become convinced that the biggest problem in American Christianity is that people who believe the Bible do not believe the Bible. We tout our conservative credentials and the fact that we believe every word of God’s Word, but when it comes down to the way we live our lives, we are practical atheists. When the Bible says to love our enemies, we hold on to our grudges and continue to hate those who hurt us. When the Bible says to rejoice always, we continue to rejoice only when things go right and complain the rest of the time. When the Bible commands us to be holy as God is holy, we continue in carnal and worldly ways without conscience. We don’t believe what we believe.

And I am afraid that many who talk about the “Real Meaning of Christmas” live their lives in such a way as to give the lie to their words. As I said in the last post, the ultimate reality of Christmas is forgiveness of Jesus Christ given to us. That forgiveness given to us requires us to extend it to others.

We looked at the key verse. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. In the same way God forgave us in Christ, we are to forgive others.

As we look at the Christmas story, we come to see some of the ways that God forgave us in Christ. This forgiveness serves as the model of our forgiveness. Today, let’s reflect on the Real “Real Meaning of Christmas.” Let’s think about how Christ forgave us and how we are to forgive others.

There are a lot of silly ideas about forgiveness. Some people talk about “forgiving and forgetting.” This is a ridiculous standard. True forgiveness comes when you cannot forget what a person has done to you, when what they have done to you is at the front of your brain every moment.

Others seem to think that forgiveness is an emotion. If you forgive someone, you are supposed to find a way to work up warm, fuzzy feelings about that person in spite of what he has done. That is also absurd. Forgiveness takes place in spite of your emotions. It is the action you take regardless of your emotions.

There is no single word in the Greek language that corresponds with our word forgiveness. There are several words that we translate that way. Two are primarily used in the New Testament. The first word, charidzomai, is based on the Greek word for grace. When God forgives us, He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but instead treats us with grace. When we forgive others, we do the same. The second word, aphiemi, refers to setting the guilty free. We are guilty of sin and deserving of death, but God in His grace sets us free from the penalty of our sin. When we forgive, we release others from the debt their sin has created, we set them free.

We will now examine the Christmas story and draw some principles about forgiveness from it. There are four specific truths I would like you to see from the story of the birth of Christ that illustrates principles of forgiveness.

1) God Took the First Step

God did not sit on His heavenly throne and wait for human beings to come to Him. He took the first step. He sent Christ into a dark world and shone the light of grace. There were no great prayer meetings calling forth the Messiah, no “Committee to Hasten the Messiah’s Coming” at work in Israel. God took the first step.

To forgive others “as God forgave us” we must be people who take the initiative, who take the first step. Who is responsible to take the first step in reconciling a broken relationship? Whoever wants to be obedient and live under the blessing of God. If I want that free flow of God’s grace, I must take the first step, as Christ did in Bethlehem.

2) God Gave Extravagantly

This one hurts a little after spending the day Christmas shopping with my family. But forgiveness is grace and grace is giving. It is expensive. God gave His grace extravagantly to a world in need, in spiritual darkness. He sent Jesus to people who did not deserve him, who would not appreciate him, who would abuse, even crucify him. But God gave His only son, the most extravagant gift in the history, without regard to how the world would receive that gift. To people that deserved death and hell, He gave.

Christmas cannot be celebrated cheaply. Forgiveness is never cheap. It cost the Father everything. When you forgive another person, it is a supreme act of sacrifice and love. It is extravagant and costly. It will never be easy to give the gift of grace to someone who has sinned against you, but as God forgave you in Christ, so you are to forgive others.

3) God Took the Pain

The only way God could forgive us is if His Son bore our sins. God experienced pain. Jesus experienced pain. The Manger, which led to the Cross, was a thing of great pain and hurt. But Jesus endured the pain of the cross for us.

If God’s forgiveness to us is painful, our forgiveness to others will also be painful. Jesus suffered for the forgiveness of my sins. Sometimes, I have to suffer for the sins of others. It is called redemptive suffering. For the spiritual good of another, I willingly endure pain and hurt. I accept the weight of the wrongs done to me so that this person who has sinned can experience the blessing of God.

Does it sound crazy? It is. But it is the way God forgave us in Christ, and so it is the way we must forgive others.

4) God Set Us Free

When we are forgiven, we are relieved of the debt created by our sin. When we forgive, we release the other of the debt they owe us. We give up attempts at revenge and do not demand repayment.

But there is a positive side to this. When we are forgiven, we are set free. We are made alive in Christ and given freedom. It is power of Christ’s forgiveness that changes our lives. There is nothing more powerful than the love of Christ for undeserving sinners.

When you forgive someone else, you release not only the person from the sin, you release the power of God in your life and in the life of the person you forgive. There is nothing more powerful on earth that forgiveness.

We moan that we do not see the power of God, that we do not experience more victory and power in our lives. Maybe if we would release His forgiveness through us into the lives of those around us, we would see more of the mighty power of God at work.

May the Spirit of Christmas move in your spirit to release every grudge that hinders your walk, to heal every broken relationship that dams the flow of His grace and blessing, and to release the power of God’s love and forgiveness in a world that is still darkened by sin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Root of Christmas

Preachers talk about it; cards proclaim it; we all want to know it – the “Real Meaning of Christmas.” For 25 years, I have tried to introduce people to the truths behind our often silly celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

In my last entry, I explained to you what I believe are three levels of the celebration of Christmas. In this blog and those that follow, I want to explore the Root Level of Christmas, the real reasons God sent His Son into the world.

What bothers me is that it took me so long to understand what I now believe is the tap root of Christmas. I preached a hundred sermons on the stories of Christmas, some several times. I talked about the “roots” of Christmas, but it took me until a couple of years ago to finally understand what it really means.

It was my first Christmas after moving to Sioux City. I had 14 years worth of Christmas sermons to fall back on, none of which my new congregation had heard. I was thinking about some of the issues and problems that faced this church, when it came to me. The problem that my congregation was going through is exactly the reason that Jesus came. It was the real root, te tap root of Christmas.

The World was darkened with sin and the light of God had been rejected. God sent Jesus, his only son, into this world as the light of the World. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross for your sins and rose as king of kings and Lord of Lords. That Lord will radically change the lives of everyone who will come to him, repenting of sin and trusting their lives to him.

Jesus came to bring one gift, the greatest gift any sinners could ever receive. He came to give us forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the “real meaning of Christmas.”

God did not leave the world in its sin, but sent Jesus to invade the realm of darkness and bring redemption and forgiveness. “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious tho’t, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O, my soul.” That is the ultimate Christmas carol.

Christmas is the first step in a chain of events that led to the forgiveness of mankind. The process began at the manger, moved through the perfect life of Christ, reached its nadir (and apex) at the Cross, then exploded in glory at the Empty Tomb. Christmas is the beginning point of the greatest, most extravagant, most costly gift ever given – the remission of sins.

Humanity had fallen into sin and darkness. We broke the law of God, turned our backs on him and his ways and embraced sin and selfishness. God had every right to leave us to our own ways and let us experience what we deserved – death and hell. His judgment would have been absolutely righteous on each of us. But God took another course. He didn’t send an emissary, an angel, or some spirit to the world, He sent his only son. He gave his Son. Jesus did the one thing none of us could do – he obeyed the law of God perfectly. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – all except Jesus. He never sinned and he fulfilled the glory of God, earning eternal life. So, he said to the Father, “I will pay the price for the sins of the World.”
God punished Jesus for our sins and now we can receive his love and forgiveness.

If that is true, that the central purpose of Christmas is the beginning of the process of salvation, then how do we truly celebrate Christmas? Singing carols is great and it is appropriate to give gifts in honor of the gift given us by Christ. But if Christmas is about forgiveness, then isn’t there a better way, a more appropriate way to celebrate the season?

The best way to celebrate Christmas is to experience, enjoy and extend the forgiveness of sins that was at the heart of the activity of God.

Perhaps there is someone reading this who has never received the gift that God gave. All the eggnog in the world cannot match the glory of receiving the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. That will open up a whole new experience of Christmas joy that you have never before known.

But there are many Christians who have received God’s forgiveness, yet never enjoy their release from the horrors of sin. Either we ignore the grace of God by living in the bondage of legalism, or we insult that same grace by living in self-condemnation and guilt.

Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Too many Christians live under the slavery of guilt because they do not understand the amazing forgiveness given to us in Christ. “When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He separates us from our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (an infinite distance), He buries our sins in the deepest ocean, and He remembers them no more.

What right do I have to live in guilt and self-condemnation when my sins have been put under the blood of Christ and washed as white as snow? We need to not only experience Christmas Forgiveness, we need to enjoy it.

But there is one more thing we need to do. The Bible is very clear about this. Those who experience and enjoy Christmas Love and Forgiveness take to themselves the obligation to extend that forgiveness to others.

Has someone hurt you, angered you, or annoyed you? Are you a victim of abuse or betrayal? These are bitter pills that we live with. But a true Christmas celebration requires that you extend the forgiveness you have received to those who have sinned against you.

It is one of the ultimate in Christian fantasies – the idea that I can receive forgiveness but not extend it to someone else, that I can experience forgiveness while holding a grudge against another.

There is no more appropriate way to celebrate the Christmas season than to pass along the forgiveness that is at the heart of the season to those who are in need of ours.

We cannot experience God’s forgiveness without it. Look at Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” The message of that well-known verse is clear. We need to look at and understand the way that Christ forgave us. Then, we must forgive others “just as in Christ God forgave you.” I am to give to others the forgiveness God gave me.

There is no option here, folks. Matthew 6:14-15 makes it clear. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” You do not need a preacher to explain that, just read it. You must be willing to extend forgiveness to receive it. If you are unwilling to forgive another person, any other person, you are eliminated from experiencing the grace that God has given you.

Jesus explained this in the story of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. A servant appeared before the king, in debt a huge amount (let’s call it a million dollars). He could not pay and faced debtor’s prison. But the kind king forgave the million dollar debt. On the way home, the forgiven man encountered someone who owed him a small amount (call it $1.67). He refused to forgive the $1.67 debt and sent that man to prison. The king heard about it and reinstated the man’s million dollar debt. The parable was told for a reason, which Jesus explains. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” You want the mercy of God, you must extend it to others.

In our next reflection, we will look at the Christmas story and see several insights into how God in Christ forgave us, and learn how we can forgive others in the same way. If we understand the taproot of Christmas, we can celebrate the season in a way that honors God and brings joy to us.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Celebrating Christmas God's Way

Celebration of Christmas at the Miller house has begun this year. I may only have begun buying presents (there’s 17 shopping days left, after all) but we bought our tree last Saturday. It still lacks any lights or decorations, but it is up. Christmas has begun.

The celebration of Christmas in America has taken such a strange turn. I remember my grandmother speaking wistfully of the Christmas of her youth, when her only gifts were a peppermint stick and perhaps a hand-carved wooden toy her father made. But she remembered the celebration of Christmas as a time of wonder and joy – without credit cards or online bargains.

Now, its a whole new Christmas Day. Our culture has disregarded the birth of Christ and elevated the jolly old guy in the red suit to the status of a god. We have turned Christmas from the worship of the baby in the manger to the worship of Mammon, god of money, spending thousands of dollars in homage to the power of materialism and greed. Christmas is a bacchanalia divorced from the meaning it once had.

Throughout the month of December, as the big day approaches and as my schedule allows, I would like to reflect a little on the celebration of Christmas. My contention is that we have failed to understand the true meaning of Christmas and have not celebrated it in a way that honors God. I want to explore the theological underpinnings of Christmas – not so much what was going on in Bethlehem, but what was going on in the mind and heart of God. When we understand that, we will see more clearly how to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Three Levels of Christmas

I love Christmas trees. It is my favorite part of the secular celebration of Christmas. We get a Douglas or Frasier Fir tree every year (fake trees are for artificial people). I add light strands until it blows a relay station and knocks out power to at least 4 city blocks. Then, we hang some ornaments.

I believe my tree is a great illustration of the three levels of how we celebrate Christmas.

The Ornament Level

The ornaments hang on the outside of the tree. They give it pizzazz. Many Americans never get beyond the Ornament Level in their celebration of Christmas. The ornament level involves trees and presents and eggnog and mistletoe – the fun, light side of Christmas. The Jolly Old Guy is an ornament, as are Rudolph and Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and…

Christians are divided over how much of the Ornament Level of Christmas that we should celebrate. I enjoy the celebration of Christmas, but some Christians are offended by the secular side of things. Follow your own conscience on this one.

The key is that you have to have something on which to hang the ornaments. Ornaments are only beautiful if they are hanging on the tree.

The Tree Level

The Tree Level is the structure on which the celebration hangs; the story of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is the historical foundation of the celebration of Christmas. Whatever kind of ornaments you like and however much of the Ornament Level you celebrate, it is crucial that we hang the ornaments on the tree.

We need to be careful to focus on Joseph and Mary and the Baby (the biblical story, not the multitudinous myths that surround that story), the shepherds and angels and wise men. They remind us that God sent His Son into this sin-kissed world to demonstrate His love. It is a powerful story.

I love the stories of Ebenezer Scrooge, of George Bailey, and of little Ralphie Parker and his Red Ryder air rifle. But there is no story more powerful than the story of Jesus Christ invading this world of darkness to shine the light of God’s love and we need to keep this story front and center during our celebration. It is the tree which supports the entire celebration of Christmas.

But there is a problem with my Christmas tree. We are just decorating it now, but in a month it will be a brown, lifeless stick, rotting in a pile somewhere. That cannot be all there is to Christmas.

The Root Level

My tree has a simple problem. It has been cut from its roots, and therefore it cannot last long. Why can’t the celebration of Christmas last into January and February? Because we have cut it from its roots. We need to explore the roots of Christmas and reattach the celebration of the season with the deep truths of God’s sovereign purposes.

The Root Level of Christmas is the theological truth and purposes behind what happened in Bethlehem. At this level, we are not so concerned with what Joseph or Mary is doing, but what God is doing.

When we understand the activity of God, the meaning of Christmas comes alive and we come to understand how to celebrate it rightly.

Here is my challenge to you over the next couple of weeks. Let’s explore the Roots of Christmas and as we do, I will tell you something very important. I will show you what God wants for Christmas – what gifts you can give Him that will honor the Father and the Savior He sent.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

An Impossible Situation

Normally, I write my reflections on scriptures on this blog. Today, I want to share something a little more personal. Actually, it has to do with my septic tank. How much more personal can you get than that?

We are caught in the middle of an impossible situation at Casa Del Miller in Sioux City. I have tried just about everything I could try and nothing has come of it yet. There seems to be no solution to the problem at this point.

Let me give you the short story. A few months ago, we began to get water backing up in our basement. They came and pumped the septic tank, hoping that might solve the problem. Then, it backed up again. That's when one thing after another began to go wrong.

1) The leach field is evidently bad on our septic tank and needs to be replaced.

2) The septic tank, which is in fine operating condition, will probably have to be replaced because it doesn't meet new codes. This has nothing to do with function, but codes are codes and we have to follow the codes. If we replace the leach field, we have to replace the tank itself.

3) The company came to do the work, and realized that our well (which we just replaced at tune of several pesos) is in the back yard where the leech field needs to be. Since the leech field has to be 100 feet from the well, there is no place in our back yard where the leech field can legally go.

Once again, the well is 200 feet deep, and we have been told by several experts that there is no danger of our water being contaminated by a surface leech field, but codes and codes and we have to follow the codes.

4) The inspector came and gave us two options. We could put a large tank the back yard which would not have a leech field and we could pump it regularly. This costs about $120 every time we do it, and it has to be done at least monthly, so we don't like this idea.

The second option was for us to put our leech field in the neighbors lawn. To the north, we are neighbors to an Assembly of God church, and there is a wilderness area between our properties. To the east, there is a corn field with a fifty or so foot lawn between my property and theirs. Both seemed like possibilities.

5) The church, we found out, is planning a major building project and will put a road through the wilderness land. They think the leech filed could undermine the road and are not too thrilled about the possibility.

6) The guy who owns the corn field (which seemed like the best possibility) plans to develope the field into a housing development and doesn't want my leech field on his development.

7) Both the church and the corn field guy are exploring the situation with their experts, and could possibly be willing to sell me a small piece of land, but I don't know if that is economically feasible.

8) Some of us have explored the option of just digging it up ourselves and fixing the thing on our own. It's not rocket science, just hard work and minimal expertise. However, it is probably illegal for me to fix it myself, and I am not sure that would be the best way to honor God in the situation.

No one has been mean or unkind. The church and the corn field guy were nice about it, they just don't want my septic drainings to bless their land. The county inspector is a little bit of a by-the-book guy, but other county officials have tried their best to help me. There is not a bad guy in this thing. There is just not an easy solution.

So, I have a faulty septic system and absolutely no way to fix it. It is an impossible situation.

So, why am I writing about this? Because, I am hoping and praying that God will make a way. The God who parted the Red Sea can surely open up a solution to my septic sorrows. I am at the end of my rope and my options. I don't think there is an easy solution.

When God brings a solution and works this out, I will be able to tell you that God has done a marvelous work.

In the meantime, I am going to ask the people who pump the tank if they give volume discounts. Maybe they can do like the Pizza Ranch - Buy six, get the seventh for free. Maybe I can get a punch card or something.

I ask for you to pray for us. But more than that. I am hoping to be able to give you a praise report sometime in the near future, and you can witnesses with me of the goodness and power of God.

Waiting for that day.

**Important note: I did not know whether our problem was a "leech" field or a "leach" field, so I did a little research. No one else seems to know either as the online literature spelled it both ways. So, I spelled it both ways. These things matter, folks!