Tag Archive: Church



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One of the beloved Christmas songs that gets a lot of airtime every year is the song known as the 12 Days of Christmas. It is often rumored that this song was originally a coded reference to the Catholic catechism in order to veil their persecution by the Church of England. Another version of this story is that the song was again, used as a hidden message, but this time between believers in societies where the Gospel was frowned upon or outlawed. According to Snopes.com, however, these are popular rumors that have little to no substance.

There are however, surface truths that we can gather from this song: It DOES concern the 12 days between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi (or wise men.) Additionally, it probably grew into a song as a game where competitors would add various verses while repeating all previous stanzas until one player “messed up” a previous line. We DO have record of it as a song as far back as 1780 although it surely is much older than that. It is also believed that the song is of French origin, not English.

What else can we derive from this song?

01dayThere is a certain “un-ending-ness” that occurs in love.

There is a material way to show and observe love.

There is a “value” in and from love.

Surely, each of these truths are voiced throughout the song. Of course, and I know that I am very prone to spiritualize things … even to over-spiritualize them … but I think there is perhaps even more that we can derive from this song.

On the initial glance, I want to observe the rumored meanings because I do think the song can help us to understand various aspects of our relationships with God and with fellow believers.

Perhaps each of the gifts could mentally correlate with teachings of the faith. Immediately, the One known as the "True Love" could refer to God Himself and the one receiving the various gifts would represent the believer.

Other imagery could be represented as follows: 
One (a) partridge in a pear tree could represent the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.22257s

Two turtle doves could perhaps represent the two divisions of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Three French hens could represent the three extremely important virtues of 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love.

Four calling birds could represent the message of Jesus Christ as revealed in the four Gospels.

Five golden rings could perhaps, represent the Pentateuch or Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Six geese a-laying could be thought of as a reference to the six days of creation.

I had a difficult time imagining this next one but as I began to look through the lens of Catholic theology, I understood the Seven swans a-swimming as the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church:  Water Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, and Marriage.

imagesEight maids a-milking has been thought by some to note the eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5 as a part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Nine ladies dancing could represent the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV.)

Ten lords a-leaping may be used to represent the Ten Commandments, the Foundation that points us toward our need for God and His perfection.

Eleven pipers piping can be thought to represent the 11 apostles who remained faithful to Christ.

And the 12 Drummers Drumming could simply point to the 12 statements of the Apostle’s Creed: (http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp accessed 12/04/2014.)

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I know that various other methods have been devised for the aide of the remembrance of certain doctrines and other elements of the Christian faith. Many have used songs, poems, even decks of cards … so why not use the song, the 12 Days of Christmas as a device to remind ourselves of various aspects of our faith. And this Christmas, while we focus our attention on Christ as the infant, let’s also remember that He is the Risen Lord and the Conquering King and that He has surrounded us with a whole multitude of examples, witnesses, and relationships..

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT)

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The Bible tells us an important story concerning the place of the delivery of Jesus by His mother, Mary.

3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. (Luke 2:3-6 NLT)

no room 4The Bible tells us that during the birth of Jesus, there was found no room for Him in the normal lodging places.

Certainly there are many facets to this story than can be exhaustively discerned in this blog; the question that I want to confront each of us with is this: Is there room in your heart for Him?

Many images are found throughout Scripture of times when God’s chosen people had no room in their lives for God … and times have not changed so much as many may think.

There is a popular video that is found on the internet and in popular leadership books concerning the placement of many objects in some type of container. The objective is that as we fill the container with instantly gratifying things, we do not leave room for the important things; conversely, as we cleanse our lives of the instantly gratifying things and begin to place those things of greatest importance to our lives in the container, more room is left for the other things.

Here is one of those brief videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmV0gXpXwDU

no room 2downloadWhile this video is particularly focused on time management, the principle shown carries over to relationships, particularly our relationship with Jesus Christ.

And rarely is this more evident than at this particular season of the year.

As we approach the season known for the birth of our Savior, we also face the season known for the hustle and bustle of shopping, eating, going, and everything else.

The pertinent question I want to ask in this hour is this: Is there room in your heart for our Savior this season … and all other seasons?

At Christmas time, I often listen to a local radio station that features 24/7 Christmas music well before Thanksgiving day. They are a commercial station which means that commercials are interspersed throughout their daily playlists. That’s not a problem; that is how they are sponsored and I get that. However, there are a few commercials that play throughout the day that feature one of these “hey-let’s-rattle-off-the-legal-details-as-quickly-as-we-can-because-it-has-to-take-place-but-we-don’t-want-to-take-up-precious-airspace-for-those-important-but-minute-details.” When I hear these, I am quickly made aware that these folks are rendering their own version of what is really important for Christmas. One of these ads tells me that they KNOW what my wife wants for Christmas; diamond jewelry. Another soon beckons that I NEED a new car for Christmas. And yet another tells me that I need the latest new toy.

no room 3And immediately after we have experienced a time of giving thanks to God (aka Thanksgiving), we enter into the season of the self: Black Friday, Cyber Monday … and who knows what we will come up with next. These are all days when retailers supposedly offer their best pricing for the entire year. What actually takes place though, is that we see signs of the self-indulgent greediness of our modern society. Have you seen videos clips of the fight scenes in some of the stores over TV bargains or other electronics deals. http://socialnewsdaily.com/45985/5-of-the-best-in-store-fights-from-black-friday-2014/

Even though I am appalled by these signs, more so I am faced with the understanding that all of this is a characterization of another distraction from our relationship with God.

While I could drone on concerning these various situations, I want to focus on my premise for writing this paper: to ask if there is room in our hearts for God this Christmas season (or any other time, for that matter.)

Have you found yourself without time for prayer?

Have you found that church is often difficult to attend because it is so early in the morning (or late on a Saturday afternoon … or conflicting with a child’s rehearsal/practice)?

Mary and Joseph found a place of shelter where the Christ-Child could be birthed.

If we will diligently seek, we, too, will find a place for relationship with Christ in our hearts and in our life-situations.

no roomSo again I ask, is there room in your inn?

Is there room in your heart for Christ this Christmas season?

Is there room in life-situations for Christ to be honored, adored, and proclaimed?


pyrotechinics

What we do in order to draw people to us is what we end up doing in order to keep people coming to us.

I once had a friend tell me this. It made sense when he told me that and it makes sense now. There are many parallels to this statement but the recurring truth is simple, profound, and applicable: the means, shows, glamour, glitz, flash, money … whatever … that we use to draw people to us, to our churches, to our homes, to our stores, etc. are the recurring ‘cards’ that will have to be played in order to keep those people coming again and again.

I’m pretty sure that each of us can relate to this statement.

Maybe we drew friends close to us by the way that we spent money on them. Maybe we attracted hundreds and thousands to our shows by the features we continually blitzed past them. Maybe we attracted masses to our restaurants by the service and consistent quality of food we presented to them. (And by the way, that’s NOT a bad thing at all.) Maybe as musicians, we continually presented the listeners with punch and ‘tight’ music in a way that habitually explored new horizons. Or maybe we built our churches by being on the edge, trying new things, and bringing in big name speakers,

What I’m saying to these and other approaches, is that this things you used in order to draw people to you ARE THE SAME THINGS you are going to have to use in order to keep them coming.

Please note, this IS NOT necessarily a judgment call (but by the same token, if you feel judged or convicted … then maybe it IS such a call … to you.) One of my favorite music bands is a group known simply as ‘The Rippingtons.’ They began 28 years ago as a guitarist assembled around him a group of hot, experienced, and talented musicians who were very tight in their sound and who were explorers of new traditions of music. After all these years, they continue in this same vein. They are often criticized, mind you, because they never stay the same but continue to explore and branch out in their various arts. The truth, however, is that the way they started is the way they have maintained and sustained.

And churches who begin as centers of the loud, the glowing, and the famous have sometimes failed because they could not effectively continue to keep up the hype that surrounded their initial, gathering stages.

Certainly, you and I can both find exceptions to this concept but, overall, this is the rule: the way you bring them in is the way you’ll have to maintain them.

What we do in the sowing is rewarded in the reaping.

 

A Biblical mandate is found in Galatians 6:7-10 sowing-and-reaping[6]

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (NLT)

It is a known and proven fact that we cannot plant a seed of corn and expect from that kernel a plant of green beans to grow. This is called the law or principle of sowing and reaping.

We must respect and acknowledge that, in the natural realm,  whatever we put into something is indicative of what we will attain from that effort/deed. Granted, there have been moments when we may have mistakenly put great efforts into something that we deemed as worthy … only to see that particular something founder and fail. But generally, the things we pay attention to, the things we put efforts into, the things that we spend time and perhaps, money, on … these are the things that will grow and prosper.

If we as parents will spend more time with our children (and make THAT time both quantity and quality time), the better those children’s future will be.

If we as husbands/wives will pay the needed attention to our mates … through listening, adoring, and just BEING with them, the greater and more beautiful benefits we will receive from that attention spent. Our marriages will be better. And our appreciation for one another will soar.

If we as Christians will take the time to pray, to read God’s Word, to spend time in community with His saints, the more seemingly efforts our attempts at service/ministry will seem This will happen because our service then becomes an outgrowth or over-flowing of the relationship we have with Him and He with us.

What we sow we will reap

What we do in life echoes in eternity

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And finally, as a culmination of all these previously mentioned things, eternity will be positioned, altered, and perhaps, enhanced because of the life that we have each lived.

It is been suggested that the tiniest of drops of water in the deep, blue sea affect the remainder of that sea in a ripple effect.

The falling of one leaf in the forest affects the entirety of the forest because of  its presence … whether that presence covers something needing shelter, presents itself as food to the various creatures of the forest, or simply becomes fuel to the garden compost of the earth.

So each life affects eternity.

You and I are making a heritage … whether good, bad, or seemingly non-influential. Someone is watching us. Someone will read about us or hear about us through a story.

Our families are greatly influenced by us.

We are important.

The musical group Kansas once sang a song, ‘Dust in the Wind.’ While some have interpreted this song to mean that our lives are short and meaningless, others have (correctly … I think) understood the song to mean that although life may be short, and that each of us will return to the dust from which we have come, our future lies outside of ourselves and more importantly, in the hands of a Savior.

It IS important that we acknowledge that we are a part of something greater than us … and that something greater is a future.

That future is dictated by the responses we make to the ‘cards’ we have been dealt.

That future is positioned by the investments we make (or not).

That future is granted based upon the decisions we make in this brief life.

And that future is sealed by the ultimate decision we make concerning Jesus Christ.

Let’s all consider our present … with an eye for the future … not for the purpose of worrying about that future, but for the purpose of intentionally assuring a good future.


As I pull my keys out of my pocket right now, I find that I have 10 keys on this particular key ring (plus, I keep another key ring in the car that holds about 15-20 other keys.) It is interesting that some of these keys are very different from the others. And other keys seem very similar to yet others in the group. Still, no two of these keys will open the same lock.

KeysIn fact, on my key ring, I have four Schlage keys. Even though these look the same and, in fact, will “fit” into the same locksets, they will not open the same locksets. They are intentionally cut differently, though they may have some similarities.

On a similar note, have you ever gone to fill in those “blanks” on on-line credit card submissions, only to find that the month (or some other piece of information) was not going in as it should? In other words, your submission was being rejected … continuously.

I get this a lot! My birth month is August, meaning that in some circumstances, I enter “08” and others, I enter “Aug” or “August.” What is interesting is the fact that it is not Fill in the blanksan “either/or” situation; it is one or the other and the improper choice will just not fit.

Now “what is this all about?” you may ask. I am always fascinated by individuals that are continually trying to fit things, stuff, people, deeds, etc. into an area of life where only one thing fits and works. The great philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal once said,

What else does this craving and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in a man a true happiness of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him … though none can help since this infinite abyss can only be filled … by God Himself.1

St. Augustine of Hippo made a similar declaration: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”2

GodShapedHoleWe have often attempted to accumulate items in our lives as a means to attain happiness, and just as often, have been met with disappointment, loss, or failure.

Many have attempted to surround themselves with friends and popular individuals in order to satisfy some inner urge to gain happiness that way; instead, they have often been met with dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and regret.

And yet others have attempted the path of the performance of great deeds, distribution of massive amounts of money to worthy causes, and others, even to the enactment of holy and self-sacrificial living, all for the purpose of gaining some amount of favor with God.

Jesus Himself addressed such quests with these words

Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.  And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12: 13-21 NLT)

The truth is this: God wants a relationship with us. And all of the stuff, friends, money, and deeds that we have or do … do not influence Him one bit. We can attempt to insert “August” in the slot that will only accept “08” all that we want but there is still only one thing that will fit in that particular box.

We can attempt to insert any key … or a key that “looks” like a good way (i.e. a different religion or philosophy … or even the performance of good works) and we will continue to find that it is only God and His grace that fit the slot, that fit the lockset, that fill the vacuum in each of our lives.

I want to encourage each one today to know that Jesus Christ is our ONLY answer and that the application of His grace in our lives is the ONLY way to true relationship with God.

While other things MAY have a place, it is ultimately … and ONLY Jesus that makes the real difference in our lives.

So as you wander on this journey of life, appreciate the gifts, appreciate the things, appreciate the friends, and appreciate the opportunities.

BUT don’t waste time on the religions. Don’t waste time on the philosophies. Don’t waste time on the “feel good” side-ventures of self-help and positive thinking.

Instead, fill in the proper blanks with the corresponding proper answers. Instead, use the ONLY right key. Instead, rely on, know, explore, and love the ONE TRUE ANSWER: Jesus.Empty tomb

 

1http://www.silverbirchchurch.com/new-to-church/that-god-shaped-hole/. Accessed November 11, 2014

2https://trustingortripping.wordpress.com/tag/god-shaped-hole/. Accessed November 11, 2014

Coco’s Challenge


 

Can you imagine the feeling of defeat and despair that one who has lost 10 family members to the Ebola virus could sense? We recently sat down with Coco Dahn and her husband, Peter, as she talked about the pain of having ten close family members pass away due to the Ebola virus over in Monrovia, Liberia. And if that pain isn’t enough, she still has three teen-aged children there who are trapped in isolation inside Liberia and whom she hasn’t seen in months (although she has spoken with them on the phone.) Their names are Bernice, Luther, and Nelson. Luther and Nelson are 15-year-old twins.Coco3

As you have probably already heard, the CDC is currently urging everyone to avoid nonessential travel to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone because of the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in those countries. The CDC further recommends that travelers to these countries protect themselves by avoiding contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are sick with Ebola.

There are reports of civil unrest and violence against aid workers all over West Africa as a result of this outbreak. In fact, the public health infrastructure of Liberia is being severely strained as the outbreak grows.

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Of course, the Liberian government has responded by recently implementing enhanced measures to combat the spread of Ebola. These measures will affect travel in, out, and within Liberia. This creates another aspect of Coco’s Challenge. movement of her children within and without the country. Here are the five-point measures that the Liberian government is taking.

  • All Liberian borders are closed except for major entry points.
  • There are new and stringent measures of screening for the virus to be implemented at those major entry points. Again, this affects ALL incoming and outgoing travelers.
  • There are new restrictions concerning public gatherings.
  • Quarantine measures have been established for communities heavily affected by Ebola; travel in and out of those communities will be restricted.
  • Authorized military personnel have been placed to help enforce these and other prevention and control measures.[1]

Coco2All of these situation make Coco’s story even more difficult. She wants to get her teen-aged children out of Liberia to a place where they can be reasonably safe. But they are trapped within their own city. Because of the quarantine measures there in the city of Monrovia, they are essentially confined to their house … even though they are not sick nor show any signs of the sickness.

So ISOH/IMPACT is trying to help Coco by getting her children out of Liberia. Phone calls are being made to immigration attorneys, emails are being sent to embassies, questions are being researched concerning medical and health screenings, and finances are being raised to support this massive project.

We are aware that there are many who are in a similar situation to the one that Coco is in. And we know we can’t help them all BUT … together, we can help one or two.

Would you consider making a gift of love to help us with this project? We are not sure what the final price tag will be because we are only in the initial stages. But we promise to be good stewards of the gifts that God gives us through you.OFDA-CDC_EbolaMap_08.20.2014 copy

If you want to donate, please go to the following website and click on the “Donate” button under “Where Needed Most”: http://isohimpact.org/make-an-impact-with-hope/ Be sure to let us know that this gift is for “Coco’s Challenge.

Thank you in advance and May God richly bless you in your giving.

Dr. James Garrett


[1] http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/warning/ebola-liberia (Accessed September 17, 2014.)

Deadlines


As I write this, I am aware that recently, the last night of late night show host Jay Leno was on the air. My favorite part of his show has always been his Monday night "Head lines."

But in this blog, I want to mention something that sounds similar, but plays out much differently:

Deadlines.

Deadlines are those things that many of us hate and yet, others of us love.

The deadline is that final moment when all must be said and done … And all must be turned in and submitted.

As I said, many hate these things. For those of us, these bring unneeded stress and pressure. These have driven men and women to do things they would later regret or to live in such a manner that one’s life could be shortened or caused to be less than full.

And other people love deadlines. For those of us, deadlines bring something similar to an adrenaline rush … And cause greater and more concentrated focus of attention and on detail.. Somehow, the need to finish by a certain time causes that time to be a motivator.

We all respond differently to deadlines.

But I want to suggest to each of us that deadlines are nothing to be played with. In fact, we each have an appointed time when life as we know it will all be over and all will have been said and done.

For that reason, I urge each of us to respond more intently to that focus of the journey of our life.

Our journey is not about what we have done right or wrong. It’s not about what we have planned and dreamed. And it’s not about what we have succeeded in or failed.

Instead, it’s about how we have lived. It’s about how we love God. It’s about how we treat others.

As Martin Luther King Jr. has said (and others have repeated):

    • It’s not about how long you have lived …
    • It’s about how well you have lived.

And Hillary Cooper once said,

    • Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take
    • But by the moments that take our breath away.

So I ask you today as you live, as you breathe and as you enjoy the journey:

    • How have you loved God?
    • How have you treated others?
    • How have you lived and forgiven yourself?

Answer those questions before the deadline is upon you

… while you still have time to do something about them …

While you have time to truly love and honor God …

While you have time to show and tell those whom you love that you really do love them …

While you have time to stop beating yourself up for all your shortcomings and failures …

While you have time to forgive yourself and to love yourself …

You know the time I’m talking about …

I’m talking about that time …

Before the deadline is up.