Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hidden in Christ

Of all the dates we circle on our calendars - from holidays to birthdays and anniversaries -- the one that affects me the most is January 1 - New Year's Day.

This coming week, the world will look back at 2014 and lament all the fallen heroes, from Robin Williams to Joe Cocker.

The false prophets will ignore last New Year's failed prognostications, and give us a big list for 2015 that will be equally empty and meaningless.

But I will reflect on 2014 privately, take stock of what was accomplished and what I failed to accomplish. Recall the good memories with family and friends, alongside the sad memories as well. 

Then I'll turn my attention to the coming year. I won't be making any new year's resolutions, but I look forward to completing what I started this year but haven't finished. I anticipate a move to the other side of the country and trust the LORD for His timing on that.

For many people, a new year represents a fresh start in life -- a time to recommit one's steps for the LORD to direct. His grace is always there for those who return with a repentant heart.

The times we live in seem even more perilous than they did this same time last year -- on the global perspective. The birth pangs are getting stronger as the signs of the times that Jesus foretold are part of the daily headlines. We don't know which ones coming in 2015 will touch us personally. 

As we are "hidden in Christ" we know that nothing happens to us without His consent and He will work all things together for our good since we love Him and are called for His purpose. Knowing that, we can face the new year without fear because His love is perfect.

So Happy New Year's everyone. Maybe this will be the year He gathers us together to meet Him in the air!


"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.'
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you."
- Psalms 91:1-7

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Not So Jolly

For many, Christmas holds many wonderful memories of a childhood of toys and joy and the pleasures of the season. For others, like myself, memories of Christmas can be painful and full of disillusionment and times of abandonment. 

I was the fifth of nine children; a big Catholic family - the middle child. I was the least favored child - I could scream louder than my siblings; I was always the target of my mischievous older brother (remember Sid in Toy Story?) because I would come between him and my younger siblings to protect them even knowing I would lose the fight. But he was Mom's favorite boy and she would always believe him over me. When he hit me and I screamed, my mother would turn around and slap me for screaming. Remember, I could scream loud and it annoyed her.

The presents under the Christmas tree always held out hope for a big payoff on the big day. All of us would wake up real early to see what Santa left us. I remember a new bike would be there for "Sid" and other terrific gifts for certain special boys and girls. Lots of joy all around. Even though my gifts were never as wonderful as those my siblings received, I didn't notice but I was happy with my inferior gifts of cheap dolls, and on one occasion, a Ouija Board. My dolls wouldn't last much past the new year once 'Sid' got ahold of them and either tore their heads off or drew mustaches on them with a pen. 

One year all of us had a sad Christmas. Our dad had a heart attack a week earlier and was still in the hospital. That year my parents were having some financial hardships and somehow that affected Santa's generosity. Church members from St. Emydius chipped in and dropped off a big box of old toys they needed to get rid of to make room for the new ones Santa was bringing their little ones. It was a very sad offering - rather than bringing joy, it caused a lot of tears all around.

On that sad Christmas morning, not knowing if our daddy would make it out alive, the brat down the street came over excitedly to show us all the toys Santa had brought her. She had new skates, a new Barbie with all the accessories, and beautiful new clothes. I had always doubted the existence of Santa, despite my parents' constant reassurance of his existence, but seeing that the little girl who earned a big coal and ashes in her stocking made out like a bandit, that was the final straw -- Jackie, there is no Santa Claus. 

That spelled the end to my looking forward to Christmas - I was 10-years-old. My siblings went on believing in Santa and I would argue with them that there is no Santa Claus and that would irritate my mom even more.

A few years ago, one of my sister's (the favored one) and I attended the funeral of an old family friend. We gathered at their family's home afterwards. I began asking Mary Ann, the family mom and my mother's former best friend (my mom had already died), if the deceased knew Jesus. She seemed offended by the question, saying that he was not religious. I dropped the subject. As we were preparing to leave, Mary Ann said she had a real funny story to share.

She recalled how my mom would do all her Christmas wrapping over at her house so that none of us would peek into the bags. One time when mom was all finished with the wrapping of what Mary Ann said were fabulous toys, my mom noticed there was nothing there for her middle child. She recalled that it was Christmas Eve and all the stores were closed. She said mom ran out to the local pharmacy and grabbed something from the toys aisle that was already totally depleted. She came back with something junky, wrapped it nice and pretty and put on the tag "to Jackie, from Santa." Mary Ann chuckled and laughed as she told the story, thinking it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen. It cut me like a knife. 

My mom, no doubt, had confided in her friend all the frustration she had gone through with my becoming a Bible-believing Christian. My mom had told me, "I'm going to die a Catholic" and "I'll never become whatever the hell you are." She was right - she died in the good graces of Rome.

So if you are one like me that isn't filled with the Christmas spirit -- don't worry about it. It is just an invention of the Roman Catholic Church anyway and they don't like us.

Have a merry!! 

"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s." - Rom 14:5-8

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." - Matt 10:34-38

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Common Struggles

Whatever you're going through, you're not alone. Each of us is in a different place in our walk with Christ. Some of us are walking on high ground: pumped up, full of faith, excited about Jesus, Spirit-filled, and optimistic. While others are weak, stumbling, spiritually dry, lonely, doubting, and losing their way. At any moment we can be on the mountain or in the valley.

What we must keep in mind when we're looking down, is we must not look down on those in the valley. Those on a spiritual high mustn't discount those who are currently in the depths. This happens too often. Keep in mind, Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith and theirs as well. Our faith is tested from time to time and not one of us is immune. If we puff ourselves up, we could be setting ourselves up for a fall. Reminds me of the lyrics of an 80s hit:

"But don't forget, it's me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too"

Or to put it another way, "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt 23:12)
When someone close to us is backsliding, that is when we need to come alongside, not to razz them for their sinning, but to spoon-feed them God's Word since they are unable to feed themselves. Encourage them with a word spoken in due season, as the Psalmist says. Bless, do not condemn. It might just be you next time that needs the encouragement and that friend may have to do likewise for you.

Hard times, good times, end times -- all times, we need to be there for one another.


"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." - 1 Cor 10:13

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load." - Gal 6:1-5

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Essentials

The essentials -- Jesus' birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and return as Judge of the living and the dead-- beliefs virtually all professing Christians hold onto in one way or another. They're in all the creeds of Christendom. 

But look at that list. Only one thing on the list is yet to be fulfilled -- all the others are a fact of history. We look back in wondrous awe at all He has done in fulfillment of the prophecies as He relayed to His prophets. But even more glorious are the prophecies yet to be fulfilled recorded for us by those very same prophets.

Then why is it that our friends, family and foe alike trouble us for our anticipation and the excitement we display in our -- some say fanatical - watching of the birth pangs heralding His soon arrival? We're even falsely accused of forsaking all He has done because of our emphasis on what He is about to do. That is ludicrous of course, because we are even more exuberant about His Gospel of repentance unto salvation knowing that those we love, and the world upon which we have compassion, have such a short window of opportunity to escape the things soon to come upon this planet.

I wonder if the Jews in the first century gave the old Rabbi Simeon a hard time as he lived for the promise of the Consolation of Israel and expected it in his lifetime. I wonder if they called the old guy a kook or a whacko for not shutting up and just focusing on his duties in the Temple?

Like him, we must close our ears to all the harassment, knowing the truth of what we have staked our lives upon -- the veracity of the Word of God. Whether we leave this planet by death or by rapture, we must hold onto our faith that He will fulfill all -- every jot and tittle -- and let no one steal our hope - our blessed hope - from our hearts.

"Hold onto your crown!"

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s." - 2 Cor 10:4-7

"And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us." - 1John 4:16-19