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  • sonnyholmes

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Needing some nice Christmas artwork I Googled "Christmas", touchd the "image" button and in a matter of seconds received row after row of colorful, high-resolution Christmas pictures, 403 of them to be exact. There were trees, lights, children, presents, candles, city-scapes, ribbon, reindeer, snow, parades, businesses, stockings, wreathes, ornaments, and food. There were only three nativity scenes. One of them is pictured here. Maybe I shouldn't be shocked that even the holiday that bears his name is light on images that portray him.

So, OK, we challenge a secular culture with it's images and ideals of the Christmas season. We've done the "Keep Christ in Christmas thing", bought the t-shirts and bumber stickers, and lobbied educational, government, and civic entities to permit creches and manger scenes displayed in public places. The PC police play little words games to keep December generic and insure that little children aren't swayed toward a particular creed or value system. Many of us miss the joys of the season in our moaning and groaning about the forces of darkness and how they've stolen Christmas from us. Want some whine with the holiday cheese ball?

God sent one solitary manger to change the world, just as the song suggests. Yes, over two milennia we've gathered some precious symbols and images, hymns, statements, creeds, covenants, writings, and all manner of historical data to preserve and perpetuate the faith that grew out of that stable. Such a profound truth undergirds the simple representation of the nativity scene. God became human. He occupied human flesh and was born in a crude, humble place. So, we treasure the manger because it communicates His great love and care for us.

One solitary manger changed everything. But, it's not the prime representation of Christ to this dark world, a manger scene at Christmas. You see, there's another profound miracle. It is Christ in me. The Lord of all creation, for whom all things were made, the one who holds all things together, the one who is preeminent over all things decided to live in something more crude than a stable. He decided to live in you and me. We are to light and season this world. One solitary manger was enough to declare his birth and life in me. He decided to change the world using us.

One solitary manger was enough for those children in the Middle East to profess Christ and then face beheading because they would not renounce him. One solitary manger was sufficient for the addicted individual to have his life turned around through faith in him. One solitary manger sent the Magi back to their world changed. Every day the fruit of that manger 2,000 years ago touches some special need out there in this dismal world. If that solitary manger actually means anything it's prime pronouncement will be the way the truth of it changed me.

So, this Christmas I'm going to put him on display every way I can---my "Jesus is the Reason" button, my manger tie, the Christmas lapel pin, star sox, five symbols hat (he came, he died, he was buried, he rose, and he's coming again), and my ugly Christmas sweater. I'll live with the fact that there are few nativity scenes out in public these days. And, do everything to insure that there aren't fewer Christians on display out there in it. One solitary manger brought him into this world. His mind and life in us day by day is the reminder than most effectively keeps him fresh in it.

The world is watching. Let's live it this Christmas. And, let the Christ who lives in each of us be what they see.

Merry Christmas.


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  • sonnyholmes

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Spur of the moment buying may empty the bank account, enlarge the waist, occupy the garage, or dress-up our appearance. Unless it becomes compulsive, however, it's relatively harmless. Impulsive thinking, however, is a danger to our lives, relationships, and commitments. It's one of the reasons Scripture counsels us to guard our hearts and minds. An unguarded heart produces impulsive words and actions. It's manifest most when we speak before we have all the facts, or when we believe everything we hear or read. Impulsiveness hurts others. Mostly ourselves. Paul wrote, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

Here's an example. Years ago we were at a local restaurant. We bumped into some people we knew, though they were more acquaintances than friends. I introduced Harriet to the other people in their party as "My first wife". One of the unguarded hearts in that group spread the rumor that I had been married before. Several weeks later a group of deacons approached me about it. Impulsive thinking had ignited a brush-fire of gossip that caused discomfort for a lot of people, especially the person who started it. Harriet and I just laughed. The joke was on them.

Mythbusters, Snopes.com, and other truth detectors maintain a steady client list because some people will believe anything. Why? It's an onion, of course, peeled lay by layer. At the heart of this cultural anamoly, however, is the personal need for recognition, the drive to publish something first, or be the life saving whistle-blower about a situation. The impulsiveness is, therefore, a self- esteem issue, the need for recognition. As a result, social media has become the infectious carrier of so much dis-information. It's not a value judgment of social media, but of the people who like to light fires. They are truth arsonists.

It's one of the ugly things about the dark underbelly of local churches. Someone told me recently they were sick of church drama. I told them there really is no church drama, but, there's plenty of human drama. Of the 1,700 pastors who leave the ministry every month, not to mention hundreds of church staff members, a good many have been demonized by impulsive talk and actions, the telling of half-truths, uninformed opinions, and unsubtantiated facts. There are, of course, concentric circles that move from this destructive center---a man called of God is marginalized, his family is injured, the church is distracted from mission, and the church's mission in the community is hindered. The blast area just grows.

The heart at peace doesn't need the personal strokes and recognition that impulsive words and actions often bring. When we're at peace we can see, hear, analyze, and react in a more secure and peaceful way. When us mere humans are at peace his church is more missional and sensitive to a dark culture than when we're moving impulsively.

Paul wrote, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1, ESV). It is the season when we herald his birth. Let us also herald his peace.

Merry Christmas!


  • sonnyholmes

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After attending Christmas at Northwood we were anxious to put up our new nine foot slim line Christmas tree. It may be somewhat of a metaphorical display, you know, the slim line part. What we didn't expect was the way our new tree spoke to us as we decorated it. You see, most of the ornaments on our tree were given to us by wonderful people who have imprinted our lives over the past forty-two years. Rather than the tedium of getting it done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it was a dialogue wth the past. We both learned that our new Christmas tree speaks.

With a strong future orientation in my top ten personal strengths, listening to the past isn't one of the graces I handle all that well. Yes, there's an occasional glance in the rear-view mirror to help navigate where I'm going. But, in this current transition, I'm learning that there's health in listening to the past. What a blessed afternoon, listen to our Christmas tree speak. How on point were the words it spoke!

Elizabeth't first handmade ornament, Brian's bug, others they made in childhood spoke words of affirmation and joy, memories of our wonderful past. Kole Helvie cross-stitched a Santa Clause in December 1982, a treasured time of ministry and great friendships. Mary, Phil, Candie, and Charlie Charping gave us a new handmade nativity ornament every year when we lived in Greenville. As we carefully situated each wonderful ornament we rehearsed the joys and blessings of our life and ministry. Almost every ornament speaks of a person, event, or time that is momentous in our epoch. It was like each one was a spiritual marker of significant realities in our journey. The hand knitted snow flakes, dozens of them, made by sweet Annie May back at Woodland Baptist Church, circa 1980, told us about our earliest days in ministry. The Girlfriends Christmas ball from Northwood Baptist spoke to us about more recent relationships. For several hours that tree spoke words of blessing and affirmation.

There are a few dark memories in our notches of time too. Every journey has some detours and road damage, pot-holes, missed turns, wrong routes taken, and other traveling hazards. These ornaments spoke of precious people who had died, tragic circumtances, broken relationships, misunderstandings, and all the debris we humans can leave in the wake of our road drama. It's the stuff of living in a real world again. Our tree told us about all of them too.

Even now, as we prepare once again to celebrate the Incarnation, some of us are in dark times. Life is harsh. As the holiday veneer shines and glitters, there's trouble back there behind the facade. Many truly dear people are agonizing over important decisions while others are suffering the darkness of broken dreams, relationships torn apart, expectations not met, finaincial ruin, health issues, or family distress. Many ministry brothers and sisters are dealing with doubts about their calling, questons about their performance, termination of a position, or other significant mission questions. Trouble doesn't go on sabbatical during the holidays.

Take a moment and let your Christmas tree speak, or your wedding pictures, or the notes in the margins of your Bible, or your school yearbook, or the church directory, or that drawer full of pictures. Rehearse the spiritual markers in your life and remember the faithfulness of the one who called you and works in your life. You see, even as our Christmas tree spoke so clearly about the past, it spoke most distinctly about him, the one who was there at every turn. Paul reminded us, "...he who calls you is faithful..." (1 Thess. 5:24, ESV).

Sometimes we have to let even a Christmas tree speak to us about it!