The Perfect Gift for Christmas (or Anytime)

"Simeon's Moment" by Ron DiCianni

“Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianni

Christmas is definitely in the air, whether you live in a cold and snow-filled place or a warm, sunny, tropical location like I do in Florida. And, it’s only ten days away now. The hustle and bustle of buying gifts is everywhere, but at least the agony won’t hit until sometime in January with that first credit card bill that keeps on giving for several months into the new year.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year whether I spend it alone or with others. I love walking into stores and heading for the area filled with Christmas decorations, or driving around and looking at all the houses festively decorated. Here in America Christmas is highly commercialized and, unfortunately, the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the shuffle of Santa Claus and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and gift-giving, and parties, and that frantic search for the “perfect gift” for everyone on our list. Yet the real gift of Christmas won’t bring a headache in the mail in January or any other time of the year, and this most perfect gift has no bill attached yet it cost God everything when He sent His only Son as a baby to this earth. And it is this very Gift that Simeon waited a lifetime to see at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth (Luke 2:25-35):

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2 contains that first Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the account of Simeon who was in the temple at the time of the purification rites required for all firstborn males by the Law of Moses, and he saw with his own eyes God’s plan of salvation when Jesus was presented. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:22-24). And at that point Simeon told his mother, Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (vv. 34-35). Simeon spoke of the cross that was in Jesus’ future.

The cross of Jesus Christ–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:23-25). Let’s read the surrounding verses in I Corinthians 1:18-31:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The greatest giftGod’s plan of salvation, born in a manger, dying on a cross, and resurrected to give us (those who believe) eternal life–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Stripping away all the commercialism and festivities of this time of the year–the story of Jesus Christ is the real message of Christmas.

The most perfect gift available in this world is available at anytime, in any place, and not just at Christmas. A Pharisee named Nicodemus found it in John 3 in his conversation with Jesus, succinct in three verses (John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

In the hustle and bustle and frenetic activities that accompany Christmas every year, let’s not forget the real reason for Christmas–the reason the Prophet Isaiah foretold thousands of years ago when he said in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” Jesus stated in Revelation 22:12-13, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” And the invitation is given in verse 17, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

“The free gift of the water of life” . . .

Available now, this Christmas, and at anytime . . .

Don’t miss it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

No Compromise

Margaret ThatcherI watched a wonderful movie last night titled, The Iron Lady,” (2011) about one of the most powerful and controversial women of our times. She passed away this past April at the age of 87. Her name is Margaret Thatcher, and she was “a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and the Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990” (quote source here). The nickname “Iron Lady” became associated with her due to her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

Born in 1925, Margaret Thatcher entered the political arena when she was elected Minister of Parliament for Finchley in 1959; appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science in 1970; elected as Leader of the Opposition and the first woman to lead a major political party (Conservative Party) in the United Kingdom in 1975; and winning the election for Prime Minister in 1979. She became Prime Minister at a time of high unemployment and ongoing recession (source: Wikipedia).

At the age of 26, Margaret “married wealthy British businessman Denis Thatcher, who lovingly referred to her as ‘The Boss.’ Throughout their marriage, she often relied on Denis for his strong support and unconditional love. Denis once told the press, ‘I have been married to one of the greatest women the world has ever produced. All I could produce, small as it may be, was love and loyalty.’ In 2003, Denis passed away at the age of 88 after almost 52 years of marriage” (quote source here). Their children–twins, Carol and Mark–were born in 1953. Margaret paid tribute to Denis in her memoir, “The Downing Street Years,” stating “Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be: you cannot lead from the crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend” (quote source: Wikipedia). At the time of her own death on April 8, 2013, The Telegraph published an article titled, Awed, never. Denis Thatcher was a man deeply proud of his wife (click here for article).

I have to admit that I did not know much about Margaret Thatcher until her death this past April which brought about many and varied reactions. She was, without a doubt, a powerful force, and as quoted in an article in The Week shortly after her death, during her “three terms as Prime Minister she brought enormous change to the UK. An objective assessment of her greatest achievements (and failures) isn’t easy – opinions are still divided. But there is some consensus on her legacy” (see the article and quote source here).

It goes without saying that “no compromise” was second nature to her and she was fearless in her leadership capabilities. As I watched the movie, The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep is excellent in her role as Margaret Thatcher), I was most struck by two things: (1) her presence, power, composure, and personal and political convictions as the only woman (and also the leader) in a sea of men; and (2) the powerful and loving relationship between her and her husband and confidant, Denis (which is remarkably touching). In her time she was, indeed, a lightning rod.

While compromise is not necessarily a bad thing and is often mutually beneficial (as in marriage relationships and in a myriad of other social, business or political settings), it depends on what is being compromised. defined compromise as follows:

1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modifications of demands.

2. the result of such a settlement.

3. something intermediate between different things: The split-level is a compromise between a ranch house and a multi-storied house.

4. an endangering especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one’s integrity.

5. to settle by a compromise.

6. to expose or make vulnerable to danger, suspicion, scandal, etc.; jeopardize: a military oversight that compromised the nation’s defenses.

Compromise can be innocuous or scandalous. Again, it all depends on what is being compromised. As I look back over the years from a time when it appeared, at least on the cultural and even spiritual level, that some very clear standards were still in place (whether or not they were lived out individually or privately) and the delineations between “right” and “wrong” seemed rather clear; there has been an erosion in our society over the past several decades by a series of compromises that have changed the very fabric of our cultural mores, starting back in the hippie era of the 1960’s (mainly because it was the start of the unraveling of morality on a massive scale in America as well as the introduction of massive drug use across the board). Of course, materialism and greed took center stage around the time of the bubble which produced millionaires and billionaires practically overnight. And let’s not forget the greed on Wall Street which has significantly harmed Main Street and entered full force into the business world (now everybody wants to be rich, right?). And, that greed combined with religion bred an aberrant gospel known as the Prosperity Gospelgreed using God. And Jesus had something vital to say about that in Matthew 6:24 (e.g., it can’t be done–not if we are truly following God).

Gone are the days where folks took a stand for doing right and stuck with it, regardless of the cost to them personally. Now we compromise on just about anything, good or bad, and in or out of the spiritual arena.  Situation ethics,” a Christian ethical theory that was principally developed in the 1960s by an Episcopal priest, Joseph Fletcher, came along and told us that the ends can justify the means or rules can be used to justify the means if a situation is not intrinsically bad (source here), but who is defining what is “bad” nowadays? It appears “bad” only means bad if it’s bad for us individually, and we don’t much care how it affects someone else as long as it’s not negatively affecting us.

no compromiseLooking back, it seems the 1960’s did more harm than good to our nation. That decade certainly started us down a different path, and an incredibly selfish one at that. The Me Generation (Baby Boomers–born between 1946-1964) gave birth to many of the Gen X′ers (born in early 1960’s to early 1980’s) and to Generation Me (Generation Y–born in the early 1980’s through early 2000’s) and “self” was propelled into the mainstream of everyday life–self-actualization, self-fulfillment, self-love, self-image, self-preservation, even a magazine (still in publication) titled, “Self Magazine. Self, self, self, self . . . ad-nauseam . . . .

And it has affected the way we do religion in our culture now, too. The compromises that began in the 1960’s have exalted self at the expense of sin and nothing matters anymore and if it feels good, go ahead and do it, right? Like gossip, for example. Even in our churches. And we even rationalize away our sin nowadays. After all, isn’t that what the Cross is all about? Well, isn’t it? The answer is no, it’s not.

When was the last time anyone read the book of Hebrews (in the New Testament)? Self-actualization is not the theme of Hebrews. In Hebrews 10 in a section titled in the NIV, “A Call to Persevere in Faith,” let’s read verses 26-39:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”


“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Those words are some serious words, folks. Christianity is not a thing to be lived according to our own rules and our own lifestyles. And it’s not about us and what we can get in this life, either. Our ancestors in the faith didn’t live selfish lives and a whole lot of them paid dearly for taking a clear and strong stand for the faith. Read Hebrews 11 to get a very clear picture of those folks and what they endured. And then read on in Hebrews 12 where it starts out in verses 1-12 with the following:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

So much of the time in America our Christianity is so watered down that we hardly even recognize it when compared to what the Bible has to say about how we should live our lives. And it all starts with compromise and a low opinion of sin and a very high opinion of self. Many folks who started out their walk with Christ with a very clear love for Jesus Christ and wanting to serve him have ended up on the ash heap of complacency because they failed to recognize that over time they have allowed themselves to become hardened to sin. They have become steeped in the things of our culture and this world with a cursory showing up at church on Sunday morning and/or hanging out with a Christian crowd that compromises with the culture in the same way.

In Revelation 2-3, Jesus Christ gave a clear message to the seven churches located in Asia and that message still rings out clearly to the Church today to those of us who will listen to and heed that message. Here is a brief description of those seven churches with more information at the links (source here):

(1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love (2:4).

(2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution (2:10).

(3) Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent (2:16).

(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) – the church that had a false prophetess (2:20).

(5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep (3:2).

(6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently (through persecution since they had little strength left, and God gave them an open door) (3:10).

(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith (also known as the wealthy church that needed nothing which made it lukewarm towards God) (3:16).

Only two of the seven churches were not rebuked–Smyrna and Philadelphia. The rest were rebuked for their unfaithfulness and sin–the same types of sin that are still very much rampant in today’s churches. Jesus Christ stated in Rev. 3:19-20, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Compromise has eaten away at our convictions in a culture where nowadays anything goes and where money and materialism, gossip and greed, and everything that follows it is worshiped in place of God. And now is the time to repent and get back to God . . .

Before it’s too late . . .

No compromise . . . .

YouTube Video: “Make My Life a Prayer to You” (1978) sung by Keith Green:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

And the Beat Goes On (for Christmas)

DSC00108As of today, it’s 25 days until Christmas and 31 days until the brand new year of 2014. I’m hoping for a great new year and hope you are, too! I’m taking a break from blog post writing for the month of December and want to send all of my readers a wish from a song by Rascal Flatts that best sums up what I want to say during this Christmas season. So without further ado, here is “my wish” for you (YouTube Video below):

My Wish

by Rascal Flatts

I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow,
And each road leads you where you want to go,
And if you’re faced with a choice, and you have to choose,
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you.
And if one door opens to another door closed,
I hope you keep on walkin’ till you find the window,
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile.
But more than anything, more than anything . . .

My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this is my wish.

I hope you never look back, but you never forget,
All the ones who love you, in the place you left,
I hope you always forgive, and you never regret,
And you help somebody every chance you get,
Oh, you find God’s grace, in every mistake,
And always give more than you take.
But more than anything, yeah, more than anything . . .

My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this is my wish (my wish, for you).

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year 2014

YouTube Video: “My Wish” (2006) by Rascal Flatts:

Photo taken by author