Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What is this "MERRY" Christmas Business?

There’s much sword rattling about the physical display and verbalizing of the phrase “Merry Christmas” these days. It’s getting quite a bit of press.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “What MERRY Christmas is all about?” Fact is, it’s bothered me over the years and since everyone else is talking about it, now might be the time to lay it out there.

Is it akin to “Robin Hood and his MERRY men?” What kind of a description for thieves, however noble, is that? Were they really jolly? Was it that they drank so much Nottingham apple beer that they were artificially happy? Did they laugh a lot? That sounds more like the men in tights movie than the brave warrior in the Kevin Costner film. Do you really want to wish others a “TIPSY Christmas?” I don’t think so.

Or is it, like, merry is like, really giddy and like, giggly and like, the stereotype of like, cheerleaders? You know, like, scattered? (My apologies to all those wonderful, intelligent cheerleaders out there.) Is that MERRY? Do you really want to wish others, like a “GIGGLY Christmas?” Like, I don’t think so.

Maybe it means hanging enough lights on your house to light the city of Pittsburgh? Is it to highlight frosty, mount genuine deer hide reindeer on your roof with a Santa that waves and chuckles? Is it the glitz and glitter and entertainment and (I’m not kidding - this is a real song) “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas?” Do you really want to wish others a “SUPERFICIAL Christmas?” I don’t think so.

If not, what is this MERRY Christmas business all about?

I was recently listening to the radio program, Family Life Today. Dennis Rainey had invited writer Ace Collins to help the audience understand some of the background of Christmas songs and traditions. He explained that the phrase “MERRY Christmas” goes back over 500 years to old England. As with so many words, the meaning has changed from its original use. Rather than happy, MERRY meant “MIGHTY,” powerful, grand, strong. Thus, the Christmas phrase was much more than a nice greeting; it was a desire for others to have a MIGHTY experience of Christ’s birth. Robin’s men may have been happy, but being merry meant they were strong, powerful men. Makes a whole lot more sense.

Mr. Collins goes on to explain in his book, “Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas,”* that the song, “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” has a far deeper meaning than our first glance indicates. “Rest” did not mean to sit around in the recliner watching Steeler football. Rather, it meant “to make.” In addition, the comma was not originally between ye and merry, but between merry and gentlemen. Hmmmm, changes everything. With the restoration in hand, what we have is, “God Make You Mighty, Gentlemen.” Whoa! A far cry from, “I hope Santa makes you giddy!”

Think of the implications.

Not singing, “I Wish you a Merry Christmas”, but “I Wish you a MIGHTY Christmas.”

Pretty much destroys, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” MIGHTY and little just don’t seem to stick to each other.

At the end of that best loved Christmas poem, you know the one where your wife is wearing a kerchief and you’re wearing a cap in bed. (What is a kerchief and why in the world would I be wearing a hat in bed?) The part where Santa flies off into the sky, and yells to the sleeping town below now becomes “MIGHTY Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

As Ebenezer Scrooge is, well, scrooging through Christmas Eve, I wonder if he could have avoided the 3 ghosts if Bob Cratchet had wished him a MIGHTY Christmas. You know, he’s the kind of guy who may have gotten into that.

Guys may be more willing to shop and decorate if they had to rise to the challenge of a MIGHTY Christmas! Maybe it’s the subconscious idea of “merry/ giddy/ jolly” that deters us.

And, of all adjectives, the One who came that first Christmas is perhaps described best by MIGHTY. Mild as a child, but MIGHTY as the God-man. Humble, yes. Loving, yes. Kind, yes. Holy, yes. But encompassing all the characteristics of Jesus, HE IS MIGHTY!!!

So as we approach Christmas in the next few days, let’s start a conspiracy. Instead of the standard “Merry Christmas,” let’s wish others “MIGHTY CHRISTMAS.” That’s sure to turn a few heads! Probably even create some opportunities to talk about the good news of God coming to earth. Which the most important activity of Christmas for those who personally know Him.So, my family and friends, I wish you a MIGHTY, POWERFUL, BOLD celebration of the God of the universe coming to earth to rescue us!! GOD WITH US!



"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his MIGHTY POWER." Eph 6:10 (NIV)

"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit OF POWER, OF LOVE and of self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time," 2 Tim 1:6-9 (NIV)

*Ace Collins, “Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas”, pages 53-57, Zondervan Publishing, 2001.

Friday, December 03, 2004

How Big is Jesus This Year?

A girl of ten years went with a group of family and friends to see the Christmas light displays at various locations throughout the city. At one church, they stopped and got out to look more closely at a beautifully done nativity scene.

"Isn't that beautiful?" said the little girl's grandmother. "Look at all the animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus."

"Yes, Grandma," replied the granddaughter. "It is really nice. But there is only one thing that bothers me. Isn't baby Jesus ever going to grow up... he's the same size he was last year."

Is Jesus the same size for you as He was last year? Does He occupy the same space as He did 365 days ago? In your heart? Your mind? Your soul? Or is He smaller, having less reign in your life?

Will the Christmas season cause Him to get bigger or smaller? Will the busy-ness push Him out or will your actions pull Him in?

Sadly, for many, Jesus doesn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t have to be that way, it’s a choice. At the end of the season He can be bigger than ever. And that is incredibly better for us.


It’s not complicated, but takes effort. Mary knew the way,

30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God." 38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her." Luke 1:30-38 (NIV)

Saying, “Yes” by living out 3 priorities will cause Jesus to get bigger in us.

1. Time with God. What better gift can we give to people than our time? What better Christmas gift can we give to Jesus than to spend time with Him? Time in conversation, listening and speaking. Time with His Word. Time in worship. Time in service to others. But in all times, time getting to know and love Him in personal relationship. That will make Him bigger.
The season is about Him, after all.

2. A God-focus on the season. Going against the consumer driven culture that envelopes us by surrendering and focusing on God. In everything we do… sending cards, giving gifts, visiting with family and friends, shopping (yes, gentlemen, even shopping), worshipping, decorating. Whatever we do, doing it through the filter of a priority of God’s firstness. By so focusing we give Him His proper place and He will get bigger.

3. Salt and light opportunities. Jesus is everywhere during the season. This time of year is an annual unique opportunity to point Him out and what He’s doing in our lives. At every turn, every situation, every chance. Being salt of the earth that flavors and the light of the world that shines the way to real life.

As we spend time with Him and focus on Him, Jesus will be at the forefront of our minds and hearts. Talking about Jesus is the natural response. We must consciously choose to do so, especially with those who need it most. THAT is the heart of God and will do more to make Him bigger than anything else we can do.

So … do you want to hit December 26 weary, exhausted, empty and with a smaller Jesus in your soul? Or physically spent, but spiritually refreshed, mentally renewed, emotionally filled and with a bigger Jesus to propel you into the next year?

Your choice, but you’ll have to make it throughout the season.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Mountain of Impossibility

Have you ever wondered, (c’mon now, be honest), why God often allows life to be so trying?

Doesn’t it seem that He should step in to take care of the difficulties just a bit quicker? I mean, why does He have to take us to the edge before He steps in?

There they were, standing on the beach, waves lapping close to their sandaled feet. Any other time it would have been a calming moment. Not today. The reason they were looking out at the sea is because their enemies were in hot pursuit. Red Sea in front of them, the Egyptian army, complete with horses and chariots, (the ancient equivalent of tanks), quickly closing the distance behind them. God could have parted the waters as they reached them and saved the Israelites the sweat. But He didn’t. He let them sweat and sweat and sweat. They were standing at "The Mountain of Impossibility."

The man had been blind for over 30 years, since birth. Surely his parents had prayed with hurting hearts when it first became obvious he couldn’t see. "Think of all he will not experience," his parents must have thought. "He will be consigned to begging for life. Is that what you want, God?" Surely he prayed as he got older, but the heavens were silent. God could have intervened any time along those several decades. But He didn’t. He let the man suffer in terminal darkness, until He had given up hope of ever seeing. He was feeling his way around the base of the "Mountain of Impossibility."

You’ve been there, too. Circumstances, a relationship, a financial dilemma, a health struggle that goes beyond difficult to impossible. Maybe you’re there now. If not, you will be in the not too far-away future. Not because God is not near, but because He is up to something.

As God moves us (sometimes without us knowing it is Him) through impossible situations, He forces us to stay at the foot of the mountain, staring at its impossibility until it overwhelms us. He makes us linger there, causing realization of the height, breadth, snow, ice, cliffs, wind, dangerous animals, lack of food and equipment, need of a guide, and our inadequacies. It all comes crashing down on our minds, hearts, spirits and bodies until we are compelled to recognize its impossibility, not just its enormity.

The problem is not that the mountain is big, but that it’s impossible. Big we could handle. Impossible is not handle-able. There is just no way we can cope with it on our own. When He has kept us staring at the mountain long enough for that to truly sink in, then He can do His best work. He has forced us to the point where we have only two choices: to turn away or trust Him. If the Israelites turn away from God’s command to walk toward the sea, they get slaughtered. If the blind man turns away from Jesus’ instructions to wash, he remains blind, but worse, he ends up in hell. That decision to turn away or trust determines what we experience next. Forcing us to that choice is the only way God can build deep trust in us. Moving the mountain is the easy part for God. Getting us to deeply, completely trust Him is hard and requires removing our options.

Therefore the moments we feel most abandoned are moments of greatest potential for experiencing the things that are most important.

Read that statement again. Lot of superlatives there. Rightfully so.

The Israelites cried out to Moses. Moses cried out to God. Moses obeyed and BEHOLD, the mountain moved. Well, actually the sea parted left and right, but it’s pretty much the same thing. God delivered them through the water and from the army. The mountain of impossibility was a moment of miracles, but more important, of trust-building.

Jesus told the blind man to wash off the spit and mud in the pool of Siloam (John 9). He did and the mountain moved. After 30 plus years the mountain moved and he could see for the first time in his life. The mountain of impossibility was a moment of miracles, but more important, of trust-building for his life and eternity.

God’s heart is tender toward us. He will not force us to stand at the foot of the mountain of impossibility any longer than necessary. But He will not cut us loose one second early. That would be the harshest cruelty of all.

There is a catch. The mountains only move for those who obey. Moses obeyed and the mountain moved. The blind man obeyed and the mountain moved. Pharaoh refused to obey and experienced worse agony. The blind man’s pastors refused to believe and their darkness increased for this life and the next. God can only take us to the mountain. He will not force us to obey.

And it is not a "one mountain and done" experience. There are a multitude of mountains in the obedient Christian’s lifetime, for God is ever trying to get us to deeper and deeper trust. In that trust we experience Him and His incredible work.

My advice: embrace the mountains of impossibility through quick surrender and trust. Sometimes there’s simply no quick way through those times, but don’t make them last any longer than necessary. Get on to the mountain moving part. It’s a lot more fun looking at them through the rear view mirror!

"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."" Mat 17:20b (NIV)

"For nothing is impossible with God."" Luke 1:37 (NIV)

"Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."" Luke 18:27 (NIV)

"Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."" Mark 10:27 (NIV)