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Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Part 1

For many, Christmas is a real bad time of year. And this is so for various reasons from living on after a loved one dies to going through war at Christmas time. I know of people who go away for Christmas each year because the holiday reminds them that their husband died at that time of year. And I’ve read several autobiographies of men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge who find no joy at Christmas because they spent the Christmas of 1944 in the woods of Belgium, freezing and fighting and getting shelled and shot at.

For me, Christmas is usually just like the songs say it’s supposed to be – White Christmas, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Silent Night. But I also know it isn’t that way for many people.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown identifies a very important truth. That Christmas-time is supposed to be a time of year of joy and family and good feelings, but for many people it is not.

Charlie Brown knows he should be happy at this time of year, but isn’t. He hasn’t figured out why and I think that we can relate to him and learn something from him. Many people have not been looking forward to this time of year, if not actually dreading it. And this is nothing new.

We tend to think that a cynical view of the Christmas season is something relatively new. But A Charlie Brown Christmas is now 43 years old!

Actually, we can see that a cynical view of the Christmas season goes back even further.

The December 23rd, 1900 “edition of the Chicago Tribune carried an editorial which … decried the cynicism surrounding Christmas. It pointed out that gift giving had become a matter of calculation and vulgar display. The happy occasion had left people with empty pocketbooks, blasted expectations, and the pains associated with overeating and indigestion.” [Chicago Christmas, Jim Benes, page 11]

Even 108 years ago, the cry of Charlie Brown was loud and clear.

I think that we can identify with Charlie Brown – that we know in our hearts that we should be happy at this time of year, but we’re not. There’s something inside of us, deep down, that tells us that Christmas is a happy time of year. And that something, that voice, is correct. The coming of Jesus Christ, being born, is good news. But there’s a lot of history, a lot of the world, a lot of our own fears and insecurities that are piled on top of that voice, which is trying to drown out that voice. And I wonder who has a vested interest in that? Hmmmm.

Let’s see if we cannot recapture the good feeling of this time of year. Let’s see how Charlie Brown did it.
First he goes to Lucy to talk about it. Lucy’s initial advice is to pinpoint fears. That’s an interesting first move. Could it be that Charlie Brown is feeling depressed because he’s afraid of something? Could he be afraid of being happy? Could he be afraid of being disappointed by Christmas? Could he be afraid of stairs?

Fear is one of the reasons, I think, that there are bad feelings at this time of year.
People are afraid of Christmas because this will be the first Christmas without a husband or a daughter.
People are afraid of Christmas because they know they will be disappointed with the gifts they get.
People are afraid of Christmas because there won’t be any gifts because there isn’t any job.

I think Lucy is on to something here with Charlie Brown. Fear is at the core of not being happy. But it isn’t the surface fears that Lucy mentions. It is a more basic fear.

Who’s truly afraid of Christmas? Who is afraid of the birth of the Son of God? Who is afraid of God-becoming-man so that He can die to save the sins of all the people?

That’s right. Satan. The Devil. The Evil One. That’s where all this bad feeling comes from! Once we recognize that, we’re on the road to recovering what God has given us at Christmas!

An integral part of recovering what God has given us at Christmas is to understand what Christmas is all about. Charlie Brown admits that he doesn’t really know. Lucy’s answer is involvement. If Charlie Brown gets involved with other people, then he’ll discover what Christmas is all about and that will lead him to recover the good feeling that he’s searching for.

That’s pretty good advice, actually. Get involved. God intended that for us from the very beginning. God intends for us to be involved with other people.

The involvement here is being involved with God and His Kingdom. There’s something powerful about being involved in the Kingdom of Light. The reason we can be part of this powerful kingdom is because God is involved in our lives. He created us. He guides us with His Law, and He became one of us at Christmas! Follow God’s lead by being involved in His Church, with other Christians, and ultimately you’ll find the peace and the happiness that God intends for you.

Like Charlie Brown, we make our excuses. But being involved means you’ll get help, just as Lucy is ready to help Charlie Brown.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that Lucy knows exactly how to help Charlie Brown. She doesn’t. She doesn’t actually know the real reason for Christmas anymore than Charlie Brown does. She reveals this when she tells him what she really wants for Christmas (what she really wants each year is real estate).

This is important. Sometimes we head into the Christmas season with expectations that God never intended us to have. And most of the time, we were extremely disappointed because those expectations were not met. Thus, we don’t look forward to Christmas the way we feel we should. That, I think, is the number one reason we find ourselves in Charlie Brown’s boat at this time of year. We have unrealistic expectations and we’re afraid those expectations will not be met. We bring our expectations of what we think Christmas should be and miss what Christmas actually is.

We know we should be happy, but we’re not. We need to explore what we are afraid of, realize where those fears come from, and then we can begin to understand what Christmas actually is by being involved with other people in learning and worshiping God for the gift of Jesus Christ, gift that first came at Christmas and continues to come to us today.

©2008 True Men Ministries.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giving Thanks In All Things

Whenever you undertake a journey, it is always a welcomed time when you can stop and rest.

Hiking in the mountains and after a couple of hours, stopping by a cold stream, taking off your boots and soaking your tired feet in the water. Do you know that feeling?

After a long day of traveling, either by car or by plane, and you get to sit down in a comfortable chair and take your shoes off and stretch your toes. Do you know that feeling?

After a whole day sitting at your desk, with only walks to the coffee pot and restroom, and you fight your way through the traffic and sig alerts, and you get to sit down to a clean house and prop your feet up and take a sip of a very cold beverage. Do you know that feeling?

That feeling is the feeling of thanksgiving that I think God wants us to enjoy. It is created in us, it is part of the men and women God made us to be.

That’s why very early on in the Ten Commandments, God says, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” God tells us that we should work six days and then take one full day for Sabbath Rest.

Sabbath Rest includes worship, meditating on God’s Word, talking to God – alone and with others – and thanksgiving!

Giving thanks is sometimes not what we want to do. I know many people who do not feel much like giving thanks because they don’t have a whole lot to be thankful for because of the economic problems our country faces, or because they can’t find a job, or that they have to move because they can’t afford their mortgage payments, or because they are dealing with a loved one’s illness or death.

These are all real problems, real situations, that real people are facing today. How in the world can anyone be expected to give thanks?

It can be done. Paul writes that we are “rejoice always” and, in everything give thanks.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” - 1 Thess. 5:18

Why? Because no matter what we have or don’t have, no matter what happens to us or doesn’t happen to us, no matter where we are or where we are not – this one thing remains true: we are sons and daughters of God the Father Almighty. We are made that way through the forgiveness of our sins, purchased and won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Have a great Thanksgiving week!

©2008 True Men Ministries

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I find myself paranoid a lot as a pastor. This person is not happy and is leaving the church – what did I do? That person is mad and won’t come to worship – what did I say?

It isn’t about me. I’ve got to get over this paranoia because all it is, really, is self-centeredness.

Soldiers who go to war tend to band together in a brotherhood that will last their lifetimes. Those who are only interested in saving their own skins, thinking of only themselves, tend to not even survive the war. But those who think of others first, sacrificing even their own lives, they have figured out what God has been trying to tell us all along. This isn’t about you. At least, it’s not about you alone.

A tontine is a financial agreement that quite often led to greed and – in story, at least – murder. I first came across the term in a TV episode of M*A*S*H, however. The story was about five men who served together in World War I and came across a cache of brandy. They saved one bottle and agreed that the last of the five to be left alive would drink a toast to the other four.

It was a story about friendship, brotherhood, thinking of others and the relationship that was forged in war and lasted a lifetime.

This story’s lesson – for me – is to think of others first. It tells me that there is more to this life than just my part in it. That life’s story is actually larger than me.

I think God has been trying to teach me this lesson for a long time. The first Bible verse I ever memorized was John 3:16. Have you noticed that it isn’t about an individual? It’s about the world! It doesn’t say that God loved me so much that He gave His only-begotten Son. It says that God so loved the world.

Of course, God loves me and you as individuals. After all, we’re part of the world. But the emphasis isn’t on the individual. I think this is because God doesn’t want us to focus on ourselves. He wants us to also look to the needs of others. Have you ever noticed in the Ten Commandments that after the first three that deal with our relationship with God the next seven deal with our relationship with others? This is something that God doesn’t want us to miss.

This life isn’t about us. It’s about God and His love for us in Jesus Christ. He saved us from our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We then respond by sharing this love with other people. The best way is to band together, to work together in bringing the Gospel to the whole world.

©2008 True Men Ministries.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

VETERANS DAY, 2008



Ephesians 6:13; 16-18b
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. . . . [b]e alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (NIV)

This is the devotion for today – November 11, 2008 – from Sportsman’s Devotional.

I used to teach science to middle school kids. Every Veterans Day, there would be a couple of student who would ask if I was a veteran. These kids' idea of a veteran is colored by what they see today on television. I told them I was in the air force. Then the obvious question was, did I fly an airplane? I would explain to them that only a small percentage of the active military people in the air force are pilots, that most of the airmen are supporting our pilots/aircraft. I was in communications. (TB)

There are two ways to remember the men and women of our country who have given their time, their families, and some, their lives. First, ask someone today whether he or she is a veteran and what it was like when they fought for America. Visiting with a family member or a friend of a veteran and asking about their experiences helps to preserve our proud heritage and pass it along to others so these soldiers won't be forgotten. Too many times in today's world, with the media always looking for the sensational story, the stories of our young military men and women are flavored with what was done wrong; and not with the multitude of good actions that our people are doing to protect us at home and the people of the country for which we are fighting.


Second, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints,--the men and women now serving our country. We at home can't put on our body armor, pick up our weapons, or physically fight alongside our soldiers; but we can put on the body armor of God, our salvation, pick up the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and support our troops with our prayers.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Living Life

A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions, and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit; these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul. – A. W. Tozer

If you have a headache, what do you do?

Stop what you are doing, sit or lie down, maybe put on some soothing music from the Classical Stream. Right?

No? You take an aspirin or some kind of pain reliever and hope it works in the next 10-15 minutes so you can get on with your life.

Tozer is on to something with his above quote. We want instantaneous communication, results, and processes. The faster the better.

Or is it?

Is it really better? Don’t get me wrong, I love speed. I love my fast computer, fast internet connection, fast rollercoasters, and fast flying.

But I’ve come to realize that we really are missing something if all we focus on is the goal and forget – or worse, don’t want to – enjoy the journey getting there.

And what we miss is life.

Yes, we have goals. There’s nothing wrong with that. We are not just aimlessly moving around in life. We are moving toward something, and as Christian we are moving toward God and heaven.

That’s the goal and through faith in Christ it is an assured goal – we will make it.

But there’s life to be lived between here and there. That’s the reason Jesus came.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The question, or more accurately the quest, is how to live the life that Jesus came to give us.

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus makes the life possible. But it is up to us to actually live it.

Here are some ideas on that living.

1. We don’t live it alone. We were created to live life with others. Adam had Eve. David had Jonathon. Jesus had Peter, James, and John (and the other disciples). Who are you living life with?

2. We live in the ups and downs. Life isn’t meant to be go-go-go all the time. There are “down” times, like when we sleep. But also when we need to take a break, sitting in front of a fire on a cold November evening.

3. Life is an “active” word. We don’t usually live life just sitting around. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in relation to the Church. Church and life, for many people, are opposites. Church is where you go to sit. Life is where you are when you are not sitting in church. But even Church can be alive! In fact, it should be!

Living life, truly living, is not easy, but it is possible. You can do this.

Here’s how:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

©2008 True Men Ministries.
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