For many of us the Christmas season is anything but a spiritual time. It is a time packed with activities, cultural pressure, financial anxiety, and family dysfunction.

But at its core, Christmas is a deeply spiritual story.

Christmas is not just a story about people reaching up and connecting with God.

Christmas is the story of the God who came down to connect with people.

The author John put it rather poetically,

The Word was God.

The Word came to dwell among us.

It is an astonishing claim, God took making connection with us upon Himself. God Came to Us!

The author Matthew gave the Christmas baby two names.

The first, Jesus, was fairly common in his day. It means, “God Saves.

People believed that God was the hope to rescue them.

The second name was unheard of, Emanuel. That name means “God with Us.”

It is one thing to have the belief that God can, and will, save us.

It is another thing to believe that God is with us

Here in our midst.

Real world

Real life.

Christmas is a story of the God who came to dwell with people.

While many people forgot about God,

Others turned against God,

Still others strive to connect with God,

Christmas is the story of the God who came down with us.

God gave us Himself at Christmas.

God gave us more than a religious gift or a theological gift.

God gave us a relational gift.

Matthew who began the story identifying Emmanuel, also ended the story with the promise of presence.

“Surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

For Matthew, the story is all about the God who is with people.

Today the story of Jesus is still the story Emmanuel, God with us.

Even in the midst of the Christmas season.

How will you more fully realize the presence of God this Christmas?

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Good_Samaritan_(Watts)

The spirit of much of our current public discourse reminds me of one of Jesus’ best known and most often misunderstood stories.

One day a religious leader, who wanted to prove that he was righteous, cornered Jesus.

The two of them agreed that the most important things in life were: Love God with every ounce of your being. Love your neighbor as yourself.

The religious guy wanted more affirmation (Insert smug grin.). He asked about the qualifications of a neighbor.

Jesus answered with a story.

A man was walking though a tough neighborhood. As expected, a group of thugs mugged him. He was left for dead on the side of the road. In the next few hours two religious leaders walked past him without offering help.

That last line surprised the religious guy. He was normally the hero of stories.

Jesus continued.

Then a Samaritan, the religious, political and cultural enemy of the Hebrews, approached the man. He stopped his trip to help the injured Hebrew. He brought him back to heath, even at great cost to himself.  

This plot twist shocked the religious leader, and anyone else who was listening. They did not tell stories in which their enemies were heroes!

Jesus solidified his point by asking the painfully obvious question, “Who was the neighbor to this injured man?”

The religious leader (Remove smug grin.) stumbled to answer Jesus and still save face, “The one who helped him.”

His answer made Jesus’ point even more clear.

The religious guy could not bring himself to say that the “Samaritan” was the hero, because he hated the Samaritans.

Jesus’ point was not “help out an injured person.” That was a given.

Jesus’ point was “Everyone, even your enemy, is your neighbor. Love them.”

Our current public discourse, including religious, reflects the hate that Jesus confronted.

When we are unwilling to acknowledge any good in a person or a group, we are guilty of hating them.

When we hate any person or group, even our enemies, we do not love our neighbors.

When we do not love our neighbor, it does not matter how right we think we are or how smug we feel, we miss what Jesus says is important in life.

millivanilliI loved Milli Vanilli when I was a kid. In fact, I did not care when I found out that the frontmen were not the people who really made the music. I never even mailed in that $1 lawsuit claim for all of us who had their album.

I recently saw a clip of Milli Vanilli on TV that got me thinking about a couple things. 

What was the public uproar around the Milli Vanilli scandal all about? What was it that left so many people feeling angry and betrayed? The problem was that the people claiming to be the artists who birthed and performed the music were not the actual artist who birthed and performed the music. There was a lack of integrity.

They claimed to be something that they were not.

That go me thinking about about those of us who claim to be Christians.  We talk a lot. We make a lot of big claims. We put on a good show. But how often do we do those things with integrity? How often do we just take statements born out of other people’s experiences and claim them as our own. How often do we make statements that do not line up with our actual life experiences?

I know that there is a danger of going too far in basing all of your belief on your personal experience. There is reality outside of our experience.

 However, if we claiming truths as our own without having any experiential knowledge, then we risk being religious Milli Vanilli.

When Jesus taught about knowing truth he placed it firmly in the context of relationship and experience.  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

NCAA/

I started going to counseling last month. It has been great. It has also been one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. I never really thought that I was a mess until I started counseling. Now I am convinced that I am a mess, and that is a good realization. It is tough to get healing when you deny being sick. So I am on my way in a journey toward better days. It is nice to know that there is better.

A couple of years ago I heard one of my favorite speakers give an amazing ten minute talk on one of his heros of the faith.

His talk was about the woman healed by Jesus in Luke 8:42-48. This woman had suffered from a serious bleeding illness for a number of years. She had been ripped off by medical experts. She had been shunned by her community. But she did not give up.

This woman heard that Jesus was passing by the area. She beleived that Jesus had the power to make her well. This frail person responded by pushing through the crowd, by throwing elbows if you will, to get to Jesus – the promise of her healing.

She did whatever it took to get the healing that she needed, and she was healed.

We should follow her example. We need to do what we need to do to get well.

Counseling is tough tough work. It is my version of throwing some elbows in hope of getting well.

What do you need to do to get healthy?

Go after it.

Jesus-teaching

The other day a group of us were looking at the story of Jesus as recorded by Mark. As usual, Jesus surprised me and caused me to think about my life.

Jesus showed me that sometimes my priorities are off.

Mark 2:27 – Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was a HUGE deal in Jesus’ culture. One of the unique points of the Hebrew Creation Poem was that the Creator God took a break to enjoy the creation. The Creator modeled that life was not just about mass production! Therefore the Hebrews incorporated that rythem of rest, and party, into their lives. Sabbath was one of their defining traditions.

They were passionate about the Sabbath … to the point of Sabbath becoming a top priority.

For some people, the Sabbath became a priority over people.

When faced with this paradigm, Jesus set things straight.

Jesus clarified that the Sabbath was for the good of people, not people for the good of Sabbath.

So what does that have to do with me?

I think that I can get passionate about things, good things, and I might lose sight of the big picture.

When I do that, when I put traditions or programs or ideology above humanity, then I just miss the point.

Thanks Jesus for giving us wake up calls that you give us with your words and your life!