Christmas Traditions: O Come Let Us Adore Him!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Tom Chase, Elder Board Chairman

I want to share just a few of the things we do and have done as a family around Christmas. These traditions have helped restore and maintain meaning to this incredible time of year when we celebrate Jesus!

Several years ago, we began celebrating Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. What is Saint Nicholas Day? It is a day set aside to remember the man Nicholas of Myra. He was a Christian saint who was born March 15, 270AD, and died December 6, 343. He was a follower of Jesus and a leader in the church (a bishop). He wore red robes and a pointed bishop’s hat. Names like O’ Saint Nick, Sinterklaas, and Santa are all personas derived directly from Nicholas.

Nicholas had compassion, a soft spot, for orphans. He would make little wooden toys and spiced cookies for them. Today we give gifts, and many make gingerbread men cookies.  When I was little, we had a cookie cutter of a gingerbread man. I always thought it was strange, though, because it had a pointed head — ah, the bishop’s hat from Nicholas.

Another story of Nicholas tells about a merchant sailor who lost all his ships and wealth at sea. He had several daughters, and this loss would mean his daughters would be unable to marry, as a dowry was required. Nicholas learned of this loss and what it would mean. One of the girls intended to sell herself into slavery so the other sisters could marry.  Nicholas put his plan into action — he came at night and dropped bags of gold coins through an open window. Some of the coins landed in stockings hung by the window. Because of his generosity, the girls were then able to get married.

Hanging stockings by the fireplace filled on Christmas morning, gingerbread men, and giving gifts to one another all have beginnings here.

Saint Nicholas Day becomes a time when we celebrate and remember a passionate follower of Jesus who would be happy to celebrate with us the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, because that is what Nicholas did with his life!

Years ago, when I was still a child, we began celebrating Christmas like it was Jesus’s birthday. I know we don’t know the exact date He was born, but Christmas has been set aside to remember that God came and was born — He became a man. As a small child, I wondered, “If it’s His birthday, where are the presents for Him, and where is His birthday cake?” That year we baked a cake and decorated it for Jesus’s birthday. If I remember correctly, we put candles on it and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus!

We have celebrated in various ways over the years, including by playing birthday-party games, such as Pin the Star over Bethlehem. But the one consistent part that began that first year is a present for Jesus — a wrapped package under the tree with His name on it. The package has a removable top; on Christmas day, we as a family sit down and write on a piece of paper what we want to give to Jesus in the coming year. These notes are individual and private, shared with others only if the writer desires. These notes are then placed in the box, prayed over individually, and placed again under the tree — Happy birthday, Jesus!

Over the years, before writing the new gift, I will often go back and read previous years’ gifts. What an amazing reminder of how God has met me in the gift given previously. When my kids were small, writing a note was too involved for them, so we would just encourage them to draw a picture and/or color it for Jesus. This time is incredibly precious to me — Happy birthday, Jesus!

Another thing we did, especially when my children were small, was to enact the Christmas story. We got a small, nonbreakable nativity set in which baby Jesus could be removed from the manger. A couple of weeks before Christmas, we would set up the stable and place the empty manger in the stable with some animals. At the other end of the house, Mary and Joseph would start their journey to Bethlehem. Each day at night, we would advance Mary and Joseph along and ask the kids where Mary and Joseph were on the trip, then talk with them about the story — like where and why they were going, and Mary’s condition (expecting a baby!).

As the days went by, the kids enjoyed looking for Mary and Joseph. They would travel along the tops of picture frames, bookshelves, and any flat surface along the way to Bethlehem and the stable. Mary and Joseph would arrive at the stable Christmas Eve day, and we would explain why they ended up in the stable. We would talk about how Mary was going to have the baby on Christmas morning. Each of our kids, when young, ran to the stable on Christmas morning, saying, “The Baby’s here!” They didn’t run to the tree — that came later — but they got the message, and so did I. The shepherds can show up later on Christmas to see this thing God has done. If you want, in the days that follow Christmas, the wise men can follow a path similar to Mary and Joseph’s and arrive to celebrate the coming King — worthy to be worshipped and adored!

I share these traditions not to add more things to an already-busy time of year. I know I have longed for meaning in all the busyness, not just more things to do. My hope and goal would be for us (you and I) to find freedom in celebrating the real meaning of Christmas found in the person of Jesus. Feel free to add and subtract any of these. And don’t feel like you have to do all or any of these things.

I would love to hear some of your traditions and the meaning behind them, with the hope and goal of worshipping our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord.

 

We’ll give Him all the glory,

We’ll give Him all the glory,

We’ll give Him all the glory,

Christ the Lord.

 

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

Christ the Lord.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

The Gospel Message

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Tom Chase, Elder Board Chairman

As I sit to write this week’s Last Word, I am struggling to put into words what I believe He would have me write. In part, because I believe the message is still being formed in me. God is stirring in me a newer and greater concern for the lost. He is doing it in the following ways:

First, the Men’s Bible study group has just completed its study of the Book of John. He’s a guy that was with Jesus. He witnessed His life, His person, His death, and His resurrection, and he was and is totally convinced that Jesus is the Savior of the World, the Son of God! John writes:

We have seen his glory,
the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14b)

Reading through John, it is hard to miss his intent to communicate the truth about Jesus and to give evidence about the One whom he has heard and seen and touch and examined. All these things he didn’t keep to himself, but shared so others (me and you) might be convinced too. He proclaims his purpose in writing:

But these are written that you may believe
that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that by believing
you may have life in his name.

(John 20:31)

Wow! I want to be that kind of guy, too, because I have heard and seen and touch (maybe in different ways) and examined (historically and evidentially) and am convinced that Jesus is the Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world!

Second, Brian Shape shared with the elders a video clip from Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, a group that professionally perform illusions and sleight-of-hand magic. Penn is also an atheist and an advocate for atheism. In the video a “Gift of a Bible,” Penn shares a story of a man who gives him a Bible. Penn appears to be genuinely moved by a person, a rational someone, willing to go out of his way to communicate what he really believes for the benefit of another. His point—and I believe he is right—is that if we really believe Jesus is the Savior of the world and that if it is missed and not accepted, one dies and goes to Hell, it becomes paramount to tell others about that reality. Penn’s says, “how much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell someone.”


Penn’s message is incredibly sobering. It makes me stop and think, What is it that has stopped me in the past? Is it because of social awkwardness or how it would make me look or feel? Is it that I don’t want to be pushy? I will not keep sharing if someone does not want to hear, but that presupposes that I have started the conversation!

I should be talking about the most important thing in my life. I should be consistent to proclaim what is real and true, in a respectful and genuine way. Penn says that one nice guy won’t change his belief that there is no God, which makes me wonder, How many would it take? Then I wonder why the church, as a whole, has been so defensive and less communicative. I cannot tell everyone, but I should be telling (talking about my God) to those in my sphere of influence. The guy Penn describes in the video takes this a step farther and includes a performer from a show he (the believer guy) was incidentally involved in. Lord, make me bolder. Lord, make this true in me, that I would start conversations about You! That all that I have heard and seen and touched and examined and am convinced about You in my life would naturally flow out of me! Lord please make it so!

Third, a close-up view inside the foster care system in our state and our community has revealed a system filled with great hurt and dysfunction. Our system is overloaded and overwhelmed. The truth is that our system is overloaded and overwhelmed because our society is broken, reeling in hurt and dysfunction, and in desperate need of a Savior. We know Someone who can change the heart of man—His name is Jesus. We do have the answer! But to give that answer will require boldness, conviction, and willingness to get involved in the messiness of life with others. Have we been called to do that?

Then Jesus came to them [passionate followers of Him] and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples [passionate followers of Him] of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20)

So, the answer for me is yes! He has called me to do that.

What about you? If while reading this, you, too, have been challenged with a renewed desire to reach those around you, then allow the Lord to develop within you habits to reach those around you!

I know the words of the following song, “Forgiveness” by Michael West reference forgiveness, that is, forgiveness we extend to others.


The Gospel message (sharing Jesus), though, is all about forgiveness, too—restoring one’s relationship with God the Creator. Our call is to love someone enough to share this life-changing reality and forgiveness that could be theirs if heard and accepted. My prayer is something like this:

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]
I finally want to set it free
Show me how to see what your mercy sees
Help me now to give what you gave to me
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

The Story of the Dress

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Tom Chase, Elder Board Chairman

My daughter was getting married! It was then, about a year ago, that God gave us a window to what He has done for us. I want to share that story with you—the story of the dress.

I had never given a daughter away. I didn’t have a sister who was given away. I was inexperienced, but she was getting married. We needed to figure this out. I am sure there are lots of ways to do this, right or wrong, but here is what we did. We, as her parents, decided to give the couple an amount of money to use for the wedding, but as we talked about it, my wife suggested that we should buy the dress apart from that amount.

As we began to process this, we loved the idea and loved the symbolism. Scripture talks about how we are clothed in God’s righteousness. The Father provides the dress (His righteousness) to prepare the bride for Jesus.

. . . he [God] has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness …

Isaiah 61:10 (NIV)

As we moved ahead, we found this article by Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic who has been bothered by the reality that she cannot dress herself. She shared, in part, that being clothed in His righteousness is always what He, the Father, does for us, doing what we cannot do for ourselves.

I love that about the gospel message. I am pure and clean and righteous because God has made me so—not because of anything I have done, but all because of Him.

We planned to go dress shopping. I know there are other traditions, but we (mom and dad and daughter) alone went to find the dress. I later found out that the gal helping her with the gowns commented that it was very unusual to have a dad there. She tried on very few dresses until the one was found. If I remember right, there were only one or two more dresses tried on after the one. She put it on again. There she was, standing in this beautiful dress, looking amazing and radiant. She stood there admiring the dress as we too looked on. Wow!

I asked, “Will this one work for you?” Her response was something to the effect of, “It’s too much . . . more than necessary, way too costly, outrageous.” I said, “That’s not what I asked. I asked, ‘Will this one work for you?’” She reluctantly said, “Yes.” That was it. She would be clothed in a dress provided by her father for the wedding.

Over the next couple of days, I continued to think about this intimate time, about how wonderful it had been and my daughter’s response. It made me think about the incredible reality, that we have been clothed in the Father’s righteousness. He has clothed us to look amazing and radiant in what He alone can provide at a cost beyond belief—outrageous! When the Father asks us, “Will this work for you?” all we have to say is, “Yes.”

If you are reading this and in response to the Father’s question, “Will this work for you?” you find yourself having said, “No, it’s too good for me,” “No, it’s not for me,” or “No, it’s unbelievable!” my hope is you will understand afresh and anew that the Father loves you! He really does, or He would not have offered. He wants what is best for you and to give you what you cannot provide for yourself! His provision of righteousness comes at a great cost! All of this demonstrates just how He feels about you! He has provided everything and exactly what you need. Please accept His gift and say, “Yes!” to Him.

If, on the other hand, you are reading this and you have already told the Father, “Yes,” my hope is that this, too, will be a reminder of the incredible and precious gift the Father has given to you—His righteousness! It’s amazing, beyond belief, and yes, even outrageous! Revel in your new garments! He loves you very much!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

A Father’s Heart

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Tom Chase

There have been many things this past year in life that have helped me get a better idea of God’s relationship to us as fallen beings. God reveals himself to us as a Father, all to give us a better idea of who He is. (I know that this metaphor gives many individuals problems due to failed relationship and connectedness with their own fathers.) Yet Scripture is clear about His “Fathership.” He loves us very much.

He loves me!

He loves you!

We take this by faith, but we also have His actions toward us as seen in history, as recorded in the Bible, and over time within our own lives.

I have seen the belligerent attitude that comes from children who are headstrong, defiant, unwilling to do what has been asked . . . oh, how it make a father’s heart sad. If the child wins in this, then the child loses. So discipline is needed, required, and necessary for a change in heart. I really don’t want to write about discipline today, but I am compelled. The Bible tells us,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes everyone he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:6b (CEV)

and

“For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12 (NLT)

Can you hear His heart for us in the following phrases?

“those He loves”

“in whom He delights”

“accepts as His child”

As I sat with my back to a little one in time out who was raging belligerently, full of anger and defiance, a few thoughts came to me. We had been here before; the little one knows how to resolve this, knows what the right response is, but, at this moment, just does not want to do it. I am present but cannot give validation to the misbehavior and heart attitude. So I sit and ignore and wait and long for repentance. At the end of this prolonged time, there is an attitude change. The sound of the cries change. The anger is gone. What this dad has been waiting for has happened: there is a change in heart. Through a small, crying voice, I hear, “Daddy?” “Yes little one,” is my reply. An explanation of why we ended up here occurs, the call to do what is right remains, and the joy of this dad is realized in a full embrace, hugs, and restoration. *Sigh* 🙂 I think, oh, I wish we wouldn’t have to go through the discipline thing in the first place.

It was in the middle of the raging defiance and prolonged waiting when I began thinking about God and us!

When we are raging or frustrated with all that is going on, and we wonder where God is, He is there and He is present! While not all hardship is discipline from the Lord, if you’re feeling alone, this could simply be a chance to check your heart. He may be waiting patiently for us to respond with a small cry, “Daddy, help?”

But if we confess our sins to him,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” I John 1:9 (NLT)

We confess. He forgives . . . *sigh* 🙂 Wow!

God disciplines us, just like our earthly fathers are supposed to. Even though I am fallen and I don’t always get this fathering thing right, I think a dim reflection of God’s heart for us can be seen in this. He does love us. He wants what is best for us.

My prayer for me and you as we begin this new year is that we might find our hearts changed and be found in the embrace of the Father who loves us!

Let’s walk together with Him!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

America and Me

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Tom Chase

shutterstock_112860445As I sit to write, I hear the sound of fireworks, the beginnings of celebration in my neighborhood. When this is published, most celebrations will be a memory. I want to write about our nation and the great God who gave us all we have. From our beginning, how dependent we were on Him. God blessed America! I love that about our nation. But I find my heart crying this July 4 as I think about how far we have strayed from our beginnings and from the One and Only who established us. I think that is our problem. We have left our God.

We, the Men’s Bible Study Group, have just begun a study in the book of Jeremiah, the last prophet to Judah prior to the pouring out of God’s judgment, the exile, and the destruction of the temple. God said to Jeremiah,

“I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah 1:9-10

What a call … what a negative message, it seems! So, up and to this point, I’ve been asking, “Why?” Why send Jeremiah? The judgment is a done deal. It’s already on its way. Even if they turn and repent, it will still come. I am discovering at least part of the reason. God used Jeremiah to lay out His charges against Judah again. Not to convince Himself that they deserved it, but to convince them that they deserved it and needed it. There comes a time for God’s judgment. It is right and in line with what He has previously communicated—yet, even though the punishment is coming, He longs to communicate and help those who need His judgment, to see the reasons why it is needed and necessary.

God showed Judah with images, such as an unfaithful wife, just how poorly they had treated God. They had chosen chunks of wood and rocks in exchange for their glorious God. It’s ludicrous and almost laughable (almost). Yet God sent Jeremiah because Judah and Israel needed to see ultimately how superior He (God) is to anything else they could choose. We need that too.

After all Israel’s and Judah’s faithlessness, listen to the heart of God. God says to unfaithful Israel, who had already been exiled years earlier:

“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord,
“I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,” declares the Lord,
“I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt—
you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
under every spreading tree,
and have not obeyed me,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 3:12-13

Punishment was needed and sent, yet restoration was still on the heart of God.

I understand that the nation of Israel and America are profoundly different. Israel has a covenant relationship with God and America does not. So I am not taking God’s promise to Israel and trying to make it apply to America, but I see the heart of God and a little more of who He is from how God has dealt with Israel.

So, what about America? Are we at the point of needing punishment in America? It would seem so, and certainly time will tell. There are many similarities as to how America has treated their God and how the nation of Israel treated theirs. God has already been gracious to us, much and the same way He was and has been to them. But what about the restoration piece? I don’t know the plans God has for America. When I read the last chapters of the Bible, it appears America is nowhere to be found. My heart is for America to return to her God. We need Him!

So, if possible, how does a nation return to God? I could begin stating many things that the nation, our nation, has done wrong. It would be easy for me to point out here or there, the things that America needs to begin to do (or to stop doing). I could get caught up talking about all the evil out there and forget all about my own heart. If America is to return to its God, to be revived, it must start with me. It begins in my heart! Where have I been like Judah, choosing wood and stone? Where have I been unfaithful and compromising? God, would you search me and know me? O God, would you start with me? The part of this story that I have been writing about found in Jeremiah 1-6 (take a read if you like) that I think really applies to you and me is the heart of God for His people. I love the heart of God!

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you.”

Jeremiah 3:14

As you let that sink in, I have included the lyrics to the following song, “Ode to a Lost Innocence,” by Silverwind. I think it is both a call to America and to us as individuals to return to Him (listen to the song here and follow along with the words below).

Ode to Innocence Lost

By Silverwind

Think about the days when you were just a child

When your thoughts were pure and your heart was undefiled

You always stood for what was best no matter what the test

And everybody knew you were different from the rest

 

Remember when the truth you knew was still a flame

And your simple honesty gave you a name

But something happened deep inside to swell you up with pride

The day you left your sovereign guide is the day your conscience died

 

So return, return to the innocence of your youth

And recall, recall the purity of truth

Oh revive, revive the freedom you knew then

And put your trust in God again, America

 

You used to fight to bring all evil to an end

But then you let that enemy become your closest friend

If you would open up your eyes

You would realize the pleasure that you idolize

Is a trader in disguise

 

So return, return to the innocence of your youth

And recall, recall the purity of truth

Oh revive, revive the freedom you knew then

And put your trust in God again, America

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

A Prayer to You

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Tom Chase

prayer

Have you ever wondered why some people are so open to hearing the message of the Gospel and others are not? I wish I knew the message that each person needed. I wish I could say all the right things that would make a difference!

The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 states,

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

I am reminded then, it’s God who really makes the difference . . . and what a difference He makes!

But in Matthew 28:19–20, we are told:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

So why then has God called me (us) to go and make disciples? Isn’t that His job?

Yes, it is, but He has asked me (us) to be a part . . . to be a disciple! He clearly involves us (me and you) in the process of helping others to be connected with Him!

So then we recognize that God does what God does and we do (or get to do) what we are to do!

He has His part and we have ours!

I was recently listening to Michael Ramsden of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). He was talking about ways of communicating the gospel to people and, as an aside, he said he had a novel approach. It’s called “talking to people.” J Why didn’t I think of that?!

But then he went on to share a story (see this link for the fuller message).

Basically, he relates an interaction between himself and the owner of a hairdresser’s shop. She starts out not even really talking to him but saying, “I wish there was more to life ….” But, as the conversation progresses, Michael begins sharing various points of the Gospel and she stops and writes them all down. She was so open to all that Michael shared. This woman then goes home and shares all that Michael had shared with her. Her husband tells her, “You’re preaching at me.”

What was the difference between the woman and her husband? She was asking questions, but her husband was not.

The phase, “You’re preaching at me!” and the associated attitude resonates with me as I think about people in my sphere of influence with whom I am hoping to share Christ. I really don’t want to just be “preaching” at people.

So, as a result, here are the kinds of things I’ve been beginning to pray:

  • “Lord, help me talk with the people who are asking questions.”
  • Even, “Lord bring people into my path that are asking questions.”
  • And, “Lord, bring questions I can answer with Your help.”
  • “Lord, I don’t want to be just preaching at people.”
  • “But Lord, I do want to share the words of life . . . Your words that You can use to draw people to You.”
  • “Make me sensitive to what you are doing and the questions people are asking. Use me today!”

So now I am waiting to see what God wants to do. I have relationships with people in which I am hoping to share and others that are just in my sphere of influence.

“Help me see what You are doing, God.”

“God, will You do what You do? And please help me do what I should do!”

As I am putting together the closing thoughts of this Last Word, the song by Keith Green, Make My Life a Prayer to You,” is just welling up within me. I stopped and listened. (Maybe you will want to, too.)

I think it expresses what my heart needs and wants to be about. As you listen, maybe you, too, will be both challenged and encouraged.

And may God receive all the honor and the glory!!! Amen.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.