|Move Me Closer
|Thursday, December 22, 2022|
What’s on your Christmas playlist?
We enjoy an eclectic mix of childhood favorites like the Carpenters, Living Strings, and the Rudolph TV soundtrack. We also have most of the Mannheim Steamroller albums, with a nod to country artists Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, and many others, in a digitized set of Shell Oil country Christmas cassettes (circa 1989). Natalie Cole's Hallmark album is a must, as are Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, John Tesh, Mariah Carey, and Michael Bublé. Then there’s Andy Griffith’s delightful collection of Christmas carols and stories.
But one album and one alone is reserved for the moment we decorate our Christmas tree—Evie’s “Christmas Memories.” The CD, which came out in 2006, features her trademark performance of “Come on Ring Those Bells.”
There’s a lesser-known song on the album written by Evie herself that we particularly love. It's called "Move Me Closer." Intended to portray the shepherds' reaction to seeing the infant Jesus, the chorus goes,
Move me closer, move me closer.
Having seen Jesus for a brief moment from a distance, those shepherds wanted to see more. And they wanted to see Him closer. Is that our reaction?
Honestly, I suspect many of us are more preoccupied with surviving Christmas than seeing the Christ of Christmas. Rather than draw closer, we move faster—and in the end, feel further. Further from the Christ who came to us.
Our cookies are baked, our cards are sent, our gifts are wrapped, our sermons are preached, but our hearts are cold. If that be so, the fault is none but ours.
Do you want to see Him?
Do you want to see Him closer?
Close enough that you can hold His hand?
It’s your move!
Move me closer, move me closer.
(C) Evelyn Tornquist Karlsson
|Lessons from a Christmas Concert
|Thursday, December 15, 2022|
Imagine sitting in the middle of a 41-piece orchestra clutching your french horn while just a few feet away, a large choir brings favorite Christmas carols to life. After a zillion rehearsals and two performances, I walk away with four lessons from our Community Christmas concerts.
True satisfaction doesn’t come from hearing your own instrument but from hearing the sound of others. While I like my French horn, being immersed in the string section is a magic I would almost pay for. Reminds me of Philippians 2:4: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
Knowing WHEN to play your part is as important as knowing WHAT to play. Almost every rehearsal, I came in a bar too early or half a bar too late. Proverbs 15:23 underscores, “How good is a timely word. “
We never outgrow our need to follow the Conductor.
For the most part, our carefully rehearsed repertoire went off without a hitch. Still, there were moments when the rhythm got just a bit out of sync. But following our fearless conductor, Dennis Criser, immediately solved the problem. Pretty sure you can guess the spiritual lesson here.
Listen to the lyrics!
Christmas carols are classics for a reason. I was arrested by this invitation from Verse four of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”:
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
We’re all on the road.
We’re all a bit weary.
But only some will hear the angels sing.
Take a moment and listen!
|Charlie Brown Christmas
|Thursday, December 08, 2022|
On December 9, 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired for the first time on television. Most everybody knows that Charles Schulz was the creator of the iconic cartoon strip called Peanuts.
But what fewer know is that when the animated Christmas special was under discussion, Charles Schulz stood toe to toe with television network executives insisting the program include a reading of Luke’s gospel account of the Christmas story. The biblical passage was necessary, said Schulz, to counterbalance what “had been lost in the eternal good-time frivolity.”
After serving in World War 2, Schulz became a Christian and taught Sunday School in churches in the Midwest and California. As life went on, though, Schultz’s faith began to fade. To the point that he referred to himself as a secular humanist. In one of his comic strips, Sally asked Charlie Brown if people went to heaven after they died. “I like to think so,” was Charlie’s underwhelming answer. In an ironic tragedy, the creator of Charlie Brown fell away from the Great Creator.
But don’t we see that very thing happening around us today? A third of America’s evangelicals don’t believe Jesus is God. Shockingly, almost 70% of today’s born-again Christians don’t agree that Jesus is the only way to God. Many evangelicals now accept and even defend clearly unbiblical behaviors. The younger Charles Schulz might look at our warped theology and call us blockheads!
But Schulz’s sad ending reminds us that when it comes to Christmas, there are at least two dangers. The first is that we may never really come to know the Christ of Christmas. The second is that having known Him, we could walk away.
Drawing near—or pulling away. Where are you with Jesus?
|It Has to Come to Words!
|Thursday, December 01, 2022|
I am irritated.
My wife’s friend mentioned a Sunday sermon where she heard it's unnecessary to be so concerned about verbally sharing our faith. And the preacher quoted these familiar words attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always—and when necessary, use words.”
It’s a pleasant thought. But it isn’t biblical. The Great Commission is not “Go into the all the world and do kind deeds.” It’s preach the gospel!
Doing good things is good. Unquestionably, rendering kind acts of service for others opens doors to sharing the gospel. But good deeds are NOT the gospel.
The gospel is the good news that because of His death on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty so people who are sinners and condemned to eternity in hell can be wholly forgiven.
When it comes to sharing Jesus, too many see ourselves as merely offering a lifestyle enhancement (“Jesus can make your life complete”) rather than a rescue from a burning building.
Do you see lost people as lost—teetering on the very brink of the chasm of hell? Or do you see them as good-hearted folk who just “need a little light for their path?" There's a massive difference in the way you'll approach them.
Rescuers don’t say, “You might want to consider this option.” No, they say things like:
Rescue words are bold words because the situation demands them.
Good deeds are biblical.
Good deeds are vital—God uses them!
But let’s stop kidding ourselves. If you're serious about spiritual rescue, it HAS to come to words.
|Grace looks like chocolate cake. Sometimes.
|Thursday, November 24, 2022|
If you have never sampled a Portillo’s chocolate cake, never twiddled your fork in its fudgy excess, your culinary character is in question. The offer of a free slice of this deadly desert was enough to lure my son, Tim, and me into surrendering our email addresses to join Portillo's birthday club. Both November babies, it was time for us to claim the prize.
Having secured a couple of tables at Portillo’s, my wife, Diana, engaged Tim’s wife and girls with a pilgrim craft. Patrons and staff alike fawned over Tim’s little blonde girls (wearing matching red plaid tops and headdresses). Then the girls joined Tim and me in line to place our food orders.
While we waited at the counter for our order, little Ava and Emma chatted up one of the servers. Abruptly, the server grinned and said, “Hey, would you girls like a piece of cake?” They giggled, and she slipped them a (free) piece of cake. With the two birthday freebies Tim and I had previously ordered, our cake count was now up to three.
We returned to our table with the girls—and their chocolate prize—only to discover that moments earlier, another worker had bought out two other pieces of cake for them. We now had five free pieces—a virtual pyramid of unearned, undeserved, seemingly unending cake.
The joyous excess struck me as a metaphor for the kindness of Jesus. John 1:16 says, “For of His fullness, we have all received, and grace upon grace.”
Ponder that phrase for just a moment—“grace upon grace.”
That’s grace upon grace.
Way better than a stack of chocolate cakes, right?
It’s Thanksgiving. And life isn’t perfect. And our country isn’t perfect. And maybe you’ve got problems at church, problems in your family, problems with your health. I don't minimize any of that. But I invite you to set all that aside for just a moment. Join me in pondering—even celebrating—the grace upon grace we have in Jesus.
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