Monthly Archives: December 2015

End of Year Review

As I write this, the calendar still reads “2015.” My usual end of the year pattern is to review what I have (or haven’t) been able to do during the year, so I can look ahead at the new year and make plans. As a Christian, that also means some serious time praying as I do my end of year tasks.

I’ve also been looking at my mistakes and mess-ups in 2015. I know it’s a shocker to most, but I’m not perfect. (It shocked me too!) As I’ve looked back at some of my choices, I’ve been reminded that I, like everyone, needs to ask forgiveness at times. If it wouldn’t cause more harm, we need to ask forgiveness of individuals we have hurt by our behaviors, choices, and mess-ups. But we also need to be asking God for forgiveness.

The other day I sat down at the piano (I can only play one note at a time… and very slowly at that!) and just started looking for a hymn that would be about repentance… you know, saying “I’m sorry for my sins, Lord, would you please forgive me?”

I stumbled into # 351 “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” and was captured by the second verse:

Let me at Thy throne of mercy

Find a sweet relief,

Kneeling there in deep contrition;

Help my unbelief.

 

And its refrain goes like this:

Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling

Do not pass me by.

 

The Christian idea of forgiveness, requires that we first repent of anything God calls sin. And that idea of repentance requires that we are actually sorry and intend to not repeat that sin. That’s the idea of “contrition.” You are so sorry that you did that sin (whatever it was), that it hurts you to even remember that you did it, AND you desperately want forgiveness from God.

I just sat there at the piano and continued to pluck out tunes as I “walked through” the next couple of dozen hymns and then I realized that even the titles alone help to remind us of the process of repentance and forgiveness:

    “It’s Me, It’s Me O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer” (# 352) Too often we’re busy looking at the others around us who REALLY need to repent… But we are responsible for ourselves and how we stand before God.

     “I Surrender All” (# 354) If we really want complete forgiveness, we need to repent and surrender completely. We can’t hold anything back from God.

     “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” (# 357) I can’t wait until I get my act together before getting right with God, I need to come just the way I am and then (through the surrendering) he will change me into what he wants me to be. We see that in the physical when we don’t expect people to get all cleaned up   before they take a bath or a shower. Jesus is the one who makes us clean spiritually, AFTER we come ‘just as we are.’

     “My Hope Is Built” (# 368) I can do all this because my hope for forgiveness isn’t based on the number of prayers or good deeds I do in order to earn forgiveness. Rather, my hope is built on the idea that Jesus took care of the requirements for me to be forgiven… assuming I really want to be forgiven (there’s that repentance again).

     “Blessed Assurance” (# 369) If I confess my sins and repent, I AM forgiven! I don’t have to wonder IF I’m really a Christian or IF I will go to Heaven, I can have assurance of it!

     “Victory in Jesus” (# 370) As I continue this process of repenting when I sin, and surrendering my ways to His ways, then I can face temptations and possible sins and find that I don’t have to “fall” every time I’m  tempted. I can have victory over sin!

With the spiritual “new start” and clean slate” that comes from repentance, starting a new year can truly be a new start as well!

Happy New Year!

 

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COEXIST?

coexistOver the past couple of years I’ve been seeing a lot of bumper stickers with this message that we should all just ‘COEXIST.’

Of course the letters of the word ‘coexist’ are stylized from the icons and symbols of various religions: The ‘C’ is the star and crescent symbol from Islam, the ‘O’ is a peace sign, the ‘E’ (at least in this version) is simply the letter ‘e’ with both male and female symbols, instead of a letter ‘X’ there is a Jewish Star of David, while the ‘I’ has a Wiccan pentagram as the dot on top of the ‘i’. The letter ‘S’ has been replaced by the ‘ying/yang’ symbol to represent Taoism and Confucianism and the ‘T’ is the basic cross of Christianity. (Another version has the letter ‘e’ with ‘=mc2’ inside the letter to symbolize science as an equal of these religions.)

If I haven’t completely missed the point, the idea is that all of these various religious ideas are equal and all lead to God (or inner peace or something like that). (A similar slogan takes the letters of TOLERANCE and ascribes various religious beliefs to each letter for the same effect).

The problem, of course, is that each of those religions teaches that they are exclusively right (thus making the others wrong). You can’t have everyone equal when each group says ‘All ways to God are valid, except for what those others believe.’ Especially when at least one of those religious groups believes part of their way to God is to kill those who don’t believe correctly! And the way the ‘tolerance’ of ‘coexisting’ seems to have been put into practice is that everyone can say whatever they want and it is acceptable UNLESS you have the gumption to say you don’t agree. The ‘tolerance’ movement is extremely intolerant of those that disagree. Hmm…

As Christians though, our beliefs are grounded in what the Bible says… not what’s found on bumper stickers or newspapers or even slick ad campaigns. And in the Bible, in Acts 4:12, Peter, talking about Jesus, states clearly that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” And just in case someone thinks maybe it was just that hick old fisherman from Galilee who came up with that, Paul, the very educated, intellectual, elite Jewish leader turned Christian wrote about the final judgment of the world when believers from all religions and all beliefs are judged by God, and he summed up that event this way in Philippians 2:10-11: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

“So, preacher,” you may ask, “what’s all this got to do with a Christmas newsletter article?”

As we continue to live in secular America, where ‘coexist’ and ‘tolerance’ are almost treated as sacred moral standards, we in Christianity need to be ready to take a stand that Jesus Christ is our Lord and there is no other way to get to Heaven. We don’t do that by arguing and fighting. We don’t get on YouTube and whine that Starbucks has a war against Christmas because they took the reindeer and snowflakes off of their holiday cups. We don’t battle in the courts about manger scenes or even the Ten Commandments. And we don’t try to shame people into saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Instead, we live our lives the way Jesus said to live them. We show that Jesus is OUR Lord and has control of our lives and our language and our relationships.

How? As United Methodists, we have always tried to emphasize that if you want to get to know Jesus better and learn more of God’s ways then there are things you can do to help you: get to worship where the rest of the Christians are gathered, talk to God in prayer just like you would talk to anyone else you have a relationship with, start reading the Bible and SEE what He said, and find a Bible study or a Sunday school class where you can learn from other Christians who have already faced some of the things that you will also face. And ultimately, according to John 13:35, you can double check whether you really are being a follower of Jesus by remembering His criteria: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I like the way the New Living Translation words that verse: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

This Christmas lets prove to the world that we ARE His disciples… by showing His love through our lives! THAT will bring the light of Christ to the dark world in which we live. THAT is a Christmas gift worthy of giving… and of receiving!

 

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