Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Birthday

It's Christmas day, and the kids got up early to see what Santa brought them.  My wife and I exchanged some additional presents, and we have cinnamon rolls baking in the oven (a tradition in our house).  We're enjoying some relaxing family time, as well as the gifts we were given.  It's a pretty typical traditional Christmas.

I don't regret the secular aspects of the season, but sometimes we have to be reminded of the rest of it.  Did you know that today is a birthday?  How many of you have forgotten this?  Okay, yes, I know that Jesus was likely born in the Spring and that many "traditional" Christmas beliefs and decorations are related to pagan celebrations.  Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and that is the focus of the holiday.  People many centuries ago chose this time to recognize His birth, and we continue that tradition today.

The birth of Jesus Christ was one of the most defining moments in human history (and arguably THE most defining moment).  For Christians this is one of our most special celebrations, where we recognize the humble earthly beginnings of God's son.  And even if you're not a Christian, the coming of Jesus defined human civilization from that point forward.  A baby's birth is a joyous time...this is even more true when it is the birth of the Savior.

Part of my family's Christmas tradition is to recognize that this is a birthday.  We will read the Christmas story from the Bible, and make a birthday cake for Jesus.  It is important to us as parents to make sure that our children don't get so lost in the presents and decorations, and that they keep in mind the REAL reason for the holiday.

So happy birthday to Jesus!  He is the greatest gift we could ever receive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Keeping the "Merry" in Christmas

adjective, mer⋅ri⋅er, mer⋅ri⋅est.
1. full of cheerfulness or gaiety; joyous in disposition or spirit: a merry little man.
2. laughingly happy; mirthful; festively joyous; hilarious: a merry time at the party.
3. Archaic. causing happiness; pleasant; delightful.

Among many people, mainly Christians, the popular phrasing this time of year is "keep the Christ in Christmas".  And while I completely agree with this idea, I think we forget about the other part of "Merry Christmas".

How many of us have been frustrated by long lines and crowds?  A few days ago my family and I drove down to the local mall to shop and see Santa (my kids are 7 and 8).  The traffic was utterly horrible and set me on edge pretty quickly.  The mall itself wasn't too bad, but we waited in the Santa line for almost an hour and only making it half-way before we got tired of it and talked our kids into leaving.  The longer the day went on the worse the moods of my wife and myself became.  And honestly, we were probably among the nicer of people out and about for the holiday.  All of us have seen people behave in a very unfriendly and even hostile way during the Christmas season.  We've also all seen reports on TV of people being trampled and fighting each other in the search for the hottest toy or gadget of the season.  We talk a lot about the "Christmas spirit" and then lament when so many people loose this spirit, as seems all too common.

This is the season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  For Christians, this should be one of the greatest times of year.  While Easter may be the culmination of Jesus's Earthly mission, Christmas is the time of His birth.  All of the songs and stories around the birth of Christ are centered around celebration.  This is a season to be happy and joyful because of what it means to us.  If we're really going to keep Christ in Christmas, then we need to not just say it, but also embrace what Christ really means.  Never forget that the birth of a baby is always a joyous and miraculous event with people crying in joy and celebrating.  Shouldn't the birth of the savior of all mankind be even more joyous?  And isn't that the real meaning behind "merry".

So as you spend time with family and finish any last-minute shopping, don't forget to be Merry.  Doing so will celebrate the season more than anything else you can do.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Several years ago I joined a new web site and was looking for an avatar name.  At the time I had recently gotten very heavily into the 7th Sea role-playing game; at the same time I have always thought of swashbuckling as very exciting, loving the genre in movies and literature.  So, just because it sounded cool, I took the name "Swordsman".  I became very well known on that site, and when I started getting involved in other sites I kept the name.  Now it's become a pretty well-known handle of mine online.  At the time I just thought it was a cool name.  But in the five years I have been using it, I realize that it has a completely different meaning, and one even more appropriate to me.

The Bible mentions "sword" 406 times.  This isn't really surprising, as it was the main weapon of a soldier throughout the times of the Old and New Testaments.  And usually the word is used purely as a description of weapon of war.  But God uses the word in a more figurative sense as well.

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
 Matthew 10:34

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 
Hebrews 4:12

In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Revelation 1:16

Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Revelation 2:16

The context of these passages (in a way even the one in Matthew) is that God's Word is a weapon.  A sword can kill or defend.  It cuts things and divides them.  Similarly, the words and edicts of God can kill His enemies, defend His children, separate those opposed to Him, and cut out sins.  As Christians, we are specifically called on to wield this weapon.  Make no mistake, we are in a spiritual battle.  Satan and his influence is all around us.  Yes, God's armor (see the rest of Ephesians 6) can protect us, but we can't effectively take the fight back to the devil with a breastplate, leggings, and shield.  We need that sword!  By taking the Bible in our hand, and truly understanding and applying its lessons, we can stand against anything Satan can throw at us.

So calling myself "Swordsman" now has a meaning beyond what I originally intended.  It's also appropriate as a ninjate, since the one weapon that pirates and ninjas have in common is a sword.  So fellow Christian ninjates, it's time to take up your Sword, fight the devil, and defend fellow believers!  It's time for all of us to start considering outselves Swordsmen and Swordswomen!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 20/80 Rule

It's a general rule in church (and I've heard it in other areas as well) that 20% of the people are responsible for 80% of the work and offerings.  I've seen it to be pretty much true, and this really bothers me. So forgive me if I rant a little.

Everyone has different gifts.  Not everyone can preach, sing, teach, or cook.  But some have a gift of organizing.  Some can help clean.  Some can help build for special events.  Some make great greeters or have the gift of hospitality.  Everyone is blessed with different abilities.  And a key is that EVERYONE has something they can offer. So everybody in a congregation has a way that they can join in and help out. However, you will generally see the same people always doing things, and the rest of the church sitting back and letting them.

Tithes are another issue, and really needs a whole 'nother blog.  But once again you'll see about 20% of the people truly giving and the other 80% giving less than they really can or not giving at all.

These numbers bother me, and I don't understand them.  I've never been one to simply sit and warm a pew, and though I can't do everything, I certainly try to use my gifts and do my part. To me it's simply giving back to God, using His blessings to find a way to serve other people.  When I see people not participating I wonder if they realize that they're being selfish and hoarding God's gifts to them.  I wonder if they realize that all of the events at the church and the classes don't magically happen on their own.  I wonder if they realize that they're denying themselves further blessings by not allowing God to truly work through them.

If you're one of these people, please stop and look at what God has done in your life.  If another person gives you a Christmas present, don't you want to give something back to them?  Serving in the church is a big way that you can give back to God.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Tiny Fingers Of God

The greatest miracle of this season is the birth of Jesus Christ.  We celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior, and talk about him being the Lord of lords, King of kings, Prince of peace, and so on.  Christ is majestic and holy, glorious and mighty, and we need to never forget that.  But I think that the extent of the miracle is sometimes forgotten.

Jesus was born human.  It's so hard for us to understand this because He is God incarnate, a holy being brought into a mortal form.  We honor and acknowledge His divinity, but forget His mortality.  Jesus was perfect, but He was also as human as the rest of us, with all that being human entails.

When Mary gave birth to Jesus, there were labor pains and contractions.  She had to change Jesus and clean him up after he went to the bathroom.  Jesus had to learn how to walk, as being ethically and spiritually perfect doesn't give automatic balance; this means he also would have fallen down and bruised himself.  Jesus had to learn how to talk as any child does.  He had to learn his father's tade, how to read, write, and count.  Jesus Christ had to grow, learn, and develop just like any of the rest of us. 

To me, this makes the miracle of Jesus even more special.  He truly experienced everything that we do.  He had challenges and hardships just like the rest of us.  He had siblings to deal with, adults to learn from, and pains to deal with.  Having gone through all of this makes Him even better at understanding us and being able to intercede for us before God.

Let's celebrate the miracle of the birth of Jesus as a human. And recognize that the true miracle is that Christ is just as human as He is divine.  The true miracle is not His birth, but Jesus himself!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Are You Really Listening?

We're officially in the Christmas season, and that means lots of Christmas music playing.  You can hear it in the malls, on TV, and all over the radio with some stations playing nothing but seasonal music.  Just about everyone in America can sing at least a little of songs like "Joy To The World", "Silent Night", and "O Little Town of Bethlehem". These songs are ubiquitous and a part of our societal culture.  But how many people are really listening to the words?

Traditional Christmas songs are all about the birth of Jesus, how wonderful that is, and how much that has changed our world.

Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild.

Joy, to the world, the Lord is come.
Let Earth receive her king.

When people sing these songs, are they really paying attention to what they are saying?  Is there meaning behind these words anymore, or do people just sing along without understanding the meaning behind the lyrics?  These songs have powerful messages of wonder and joy.  And they're all about Jesus!

So as you listen to the music this season, take time to stop and actually hear the words. Take them to heart, and make an effort to understand them.  I think you may be surprised at how it can warm you better than any heater.