Many of us are getting ready for Christmas, decorating, shopping, baking, mailing out cards and gifts. Christmas has come to have a variety of meanings. To some it’s a special day to get together with family and friends, to some it’s a stressful time bringing up memories of bad relationships, to some it’s one of the loneliest times of the year, for others it’s a great opportunity to throw a party.
Some think of Santa and the magical times of childhood wonder. To others Santa’s a great way to make children behave. I actually heard a store clerk the other day telling a small toddler that had been crying that Santa didn’t like bad boys, didn’t bring gifts to them. And then we have the ever-popular elf on a shelf, always watching to make sure you’re behaving so Santa will know.
Some spend the holidays searching for the ‘perfect’ gift for their loved ones, for their family and for friends. Some enjoy the crowds, the music, the festivities, the holiday cheer that abounds all around. While others bemoan the lines, the crowds, the spending, the avarice and greed.
But to some of us, Christmas is more…
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ~ Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
To some of us Christmas is so much more…
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate certain feast as times of remembrance of the things He had done for them. To a Christian, Christmas is one of those times to remember.
During the Christmas season, during Advent, we remember God’s promises, we remember the prophecies found in the Old Testament telling of the coming Messiah, the coming Savior. We remember Mary and Joseph; we remember Bethlehem and the Baby born there in the manger; we remember the Angels proclaiming to the Shepherds the good news, the birth of our Savior.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” ~ Luke 2:10 & 11
This weekend my niece is getting married. On the same day, my daughters’ Grampy is getting buried.
Like a bride waiting for her groom We’ll be at Church ready for You Every heart longing for our King We sing “even so come” Lord Jesus, come Even so come Lord Jesus, come
Love and hope, the anticipation, the bride waiting for her groom, longing to be one, to be united for and in life, anticipating the future. Surrounded by beauty, joy, and dancing the ceremony begins and ends as they enter life anew.
Love and hope, life and death, transition from the here to the future, from here to eternity – a wedding and a funeral. They seem so different and yet they are alike.
Love and hope, the bride waiting for her groom. The transition from life to life, the invitation The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22: 17
I’ve recently been reading the Ragamuffin Gospel with my life group. The Chapter for this week was The Second Call. In it Brennan Manning talks about our invitation to the wedding banquet, such appropriate timing with the upcoming wedding and funeral.
Manning talks about seeing a group of people heading from a wedding to the reception, lining up to go into the door, looking “like they were going into a festive celebration.”
“But,” he says, “most of us stand outside the banquet door listening to the merriment and festivity inside, half hoping that there really is a banquet in there and that it’s the nature of the world to be in celebration. We’d like to go in and celebrate, but wow! What if it’s wrong?”
“Why don’t a lot of us go in now? Because we know that inside it’s not a perfect banquet for the simple fact that we are still living between the cross and the resurrection. Christianity doesn’t deny the reality of suffering and evil. Remember after Jesus came down the mount of Transfiguration, he told his disciples that he was going up to Jerusalem – that he would be executed and that he would triumph over death. Jesus was not the least bit confident that he would be spared suffering. He knew that suffering was necessary. What he was confident of was vindication. Our hope, our acceptance of the invitation to the banquet, is not based on the idea that we are going to be free of pain and suffering. Rather it is based on the conviction that we will triumph over suffering.”
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. Romans 8:28
I saw this Second Call that Brennan Manning spoke of in the life of my girls’ Grampy. I watched him become more caring, compassionate and loving. When he was diagnosed with cancer his concern was for his wife, he was at peace with staying (living) or going (dying). He had accepted the invitation. This Saturday those that knew him will be comforted to know he has joined the wedding feast of those who are no longer living in the in-between.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had vanished, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice proclaiming from the throne: ‘Now at last God has his dwelling among men! He will dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain; for the old order has passed away!’ Revelation 21:1-4
This year as Easter approaches one of my brothers is in the hospital fighting for his life (prayers appreciated). His battle reminds me of another Easter, many years ago, when my Grandad was on his journey home.
That Easter, so many years ago, I was a new Christian. About the same time I became a Christian, my Granddad got a sore throat that just wouldn’t go away. Eventually they diagnosed him – it was throat cancer. He’d been a smoker in his younger days, and even though he’d quit many years prior, the damage was done.
I remember thinking that I really didn’t know my Grandad very well at all and prayed for the opportunity to get to spend time with him before he died. As it turned out, my parents took my Grandad in to care for him and they asked if I could come by after work and help with his care. My prayer had been answered.
Coincidentally…. (if you believe anything is actually a coincidence), around this time the church I was attending co-hosted a healing service that was taking place at another church. My friends and I decided to go. As I was a new Christian, I didn’t have any idea what to expect or think.
We went in and took our seats and I ended up next to the aisle. The Pastor came out and started talking about what was going to happen during the service. He said, “I will call out illnesses that I believe God is telling me to pray over; if it relates to you come forward so we can pray for you.” He then said, “or if you know someone that fits the description, you may also come forward and we will pray for that person.”
As I sat there, I was holding a conversation with God in my head. I was thinking about my Grandad and his need. I said, “You know Lord I’m not going forward unless it’s really obvious that they are talking about Grandad.”
The Pastor started calling out illnesses and said, “There’s someone with an issue with his neck, like it’s swollen…” He said some more about it and I, again speaking in my head, only to God, said “No Lord, that’s not specific enough, he’s going to have to say Carl.” The Pastor hadn’t mentioned any names, but I wasn’t about to go forward unless I knew I was really supposed to.
There was a lady walking forward down the aisle near me and the Pastor told her to stop. He said to her, “Do you know a Carl?” She looked confused and said, “no.” He said, “Someone around you knows a Carl and he needs prayer. It’s Carl with a C not a K – I know a Carl with a K but it’s not him, it’s with a C. If you know someone named Carl and are sitting near her, come forward because he needs prayer.” I spoke to God, again in my head, and said “Okay God, now I believe he’s talking about Grandad.” And I went forward to get prayer for him.
The next day I was feeling very confused and kept thinking, “How am I going to tell my family about this.”
After work, I went over to my parent’s house. When I went inside I asked my stepmom ‘How’s Grandad?” She replied, “You won’t believe it, he wanted to go get his hair cut today. He hasn’t been out of bed in weeks and he wanted to go out and get a haircut, so I took him.”
I told her I believed it and said, “I have to tell you what happened last night” and proceeded to tell her. She told me that I needed to go tell him, and when I did so, he cried.
On my way home, a voice in my head very clearly said, “Tell Tami I’m okay now.” And I knew he was going to die, but I also knew he was okay, okay in a far deeper way than the physical sense.
As Easter approached that year, my Grandad’s body started giving out – it wasn’t from the cancer, that had been cured. It was because his body was exhausted from the cancer treatments. It was time for him to go home.
Again, God’s timing was perfect. I was on vacation from my job the week leading up to Easter when my Grandad was admitted to the hospital. We set up an around the clock watch to sit with him, my shift was late at night.
One night as I was sitting with him, I heard him stop breathing and panicked and called out “Grandad.” He took a deep sighing breath. When I heard that, I knew I should have let him go, but I was scared. I called the nurse in and she said he wouldn’t make it through the night. I called my stepmom who came right over. After talking with the nurse, she told me to go tell my Dad.
I drove to their home, praying – “God if I should be there when Grandad dies, let that happen, but if you know I can’t handle it, then let him die before I get back.” I was afraid, I had never watched anyone die before and wasn’t sure if I was ready or able to do so.
When I got back to the hospital in the middle of the night, there were no parking places, so I had to park farther away. Then the thought came to me that I should get my stepmom and myself some coffee since it was probably going to be a long night. As I was walking down the hall to the room coffees in hand, my stepmom was walking out of the door – Grandad had just died.
Easter… Easter and the death of a loved one…
Because of Easter…
Because of Easter…
Because of Jesus, His death, His crucifixion, His taking on the penalty for our sins…
Because death could not hold Him since He was without sin…
Because Jesus overcame death and rose on the third day…
Because of the Resurrection…
We can say,
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1Corinthians 15:55
My Grandad went home that night, no more pain and no more suffering all because of Easter. Not because of the bunnies and the eggs, but because of the truth behind the Holiday – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Recently I’ve been fascinated watching the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam live stream of little, well not so little anymore, E9. It was amazing watching the eagle parents care for the egg. Think about how fragile an egg is… The mom and dad would come and chomp down with their huge beak on the nest material next to the egg to keep the nest aerated, they would gently move the egg around, and would sit on it with their huge talons on either side of the tiny egg.
There were two eggs in the nest and they cared for both of them equally, but one of them never hatched. For a long time, long after any hope of the second egg hatching, the parents protected and sat on that egg. Eventually the egg was buried in the nest as the Eagles seemed to realize hope was gone for a second eaglet.
When E9, they don’t call them human names so as not to personalize them too much – I don’t think it works…, anyways, when E9 hatched he was this tiny little fluff. His parent would come to the nest with a fish, tear off bites and gently feed their baby. It was again, amazing to watch, huge talons, huge beaks, gently caring for their young one. They would sit over E9, large talons on each side of the baby and keep him warm and protected.
The moderators on the site explain a lot of Eagle behavior to the viewers through a chat. As the viewers worried about E9 not getting enough food, they would explain that hunting was hard work and sometimes food isn’t readily available. As E9 started to grow and move around the nest, the viewer worried about E9 falling out of the nest, they worried about what if something happens to the dad, and the moderators were there to teach them about Eagles.
Through watching and learning they grew to care for and love little E9 and his Mom and Dad.
Creation… Amazing Creation…
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. Genesis 1:20-23
Fall and Destruction…
When I watch little E9 and his parents caring for him, my mind sometimes goes to the cynical side. I think about child abuse, parent’s hurting those they should nurture and protect. I think about our disregard for God’s creation, our wanton killing of things that ‘bother us’ like the cyanide bombs placed around by the wildlife services to destroy ‘nuisance’ creatures. And I tend to get bitter and angry, then I think of Romans:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:6-9
Hope, Glorious Hope…
Ours is a future of Hope. God, our Creator came and walked among us. He created a beautiful world full of beauty and love, but it is fallen, death has become a way of life, and our hearts yearn for Christ’s return. We yearn for love and peace to prevail. We wait, but we don’t wait in vain.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.Romans 8:26-27
Continuing with Paul’s Prayers…
As we pray for one another, not just those we know personally, but for Christians spread throughout the world, let us learn from Paul’s examples
Persistence we have not ceased to pray for you…
Thankfulness We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…
and the specifics of his requests which help us understand that it’s through God’s power and strength that lives are changed.
Colossians 1:3-5a, 9-14
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that
you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,
fully pleasing to Him:
bearing fruit in every good work and
increasing in the knowledge of God;
being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might,
for all endurance and patience with joy;
giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Notice the similarities of Paul’s requests and his continued reliance on God to work in the life of believers in this Prayer from Ephesians:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you
to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Continuing with the prayers of Paul for his fellow believers:
In 2 Thessalonians Paul breaks up his letter with several prayers. Notice in the prayers, the reliance on God to work in the believer. Paul is continually remembering those who have faith, praying for them, knowing it’s God’s work in them, and in the world, that has the power to transform and change lives.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!
Sometimes I hear people say, or I think myself, “all I can do is pray” as if prayer isn’t really doing much. But in reality prayer is one of the most important things we can do.
In 1Timothy we are encouraged to pray for all people and for our leaders in order that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (see 1 Timothy 2:1-6)
Ephesians teaches us that our battles are not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (see Ephesians 6:10-20)
Our battles are fought in a realm we don’t really understand. The idea that there really is good and evil, that there really is an ‘evil one’ (John 17:15, 1Peter 5:8, the Lord’s Prayer) that there really is a battle going on in the heavenly places is something we don’t always grasp in our views of reality.
Remembering you in my prayers…
In light of all of that, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing some prayers from the New Testament and asking that we, like Paul did, pray for one another.
In Ephesians 1 Paul shares his prayer. As you read through the prayer pay attention to his prayer requests and to how he incorporates encouragement to those he’s praying for and praise and adoration for God.
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you
the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you,
what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and
what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe,
according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV)
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16b ESV)