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Christmas Thoughts: Dear Lord Baby Jesus

I have had so many thoughts and lessons from God this Christmas season, but so little time and/or energy to share them here.  Because I am now out for winter break (I am a teacher, if you didn’t know), I have some time.  I have decided to do a series of posts that I will put up when ever time allows for some writing.  So there may be a string of them in one day, or days between them.  We’ll see how it goes.  Anyway, without further ado, here is the first of what I hope will be many before the 25th of December.

I am going to start with a soap box issue for me.  Possibly not the best jumping off point to inspire you to read future posts in this series, but I have to start where my thoughts started this year.  It is probably an overplayed issure, but it is my turn to pipe in on it.  Over commercialization of Christmas, however this is not just about Walmart (and other stores) starting the Christmas rush earlier and earlier every year…it is more about Christians buying into the over commercializing of the birth of Jesus and trivializing what his birth truly means.

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born into the human existence as a real human baby, which let him live a normal human life sinlessly (as prescribed to the Israelites by God through Moses), which allowed him to die a death he did not deserve and take the wrath of God that we deserve. and then he was raised from the dead to show that his payment for our sin was accepted as paid in full and the grave no longer had any rights to him.  Jesus being born is a big deal.  However, I think that the over commericialization of Christmas has led most Christians into missing the point of Jesus’ birth.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the Christ-child.  There are what I like to call the three “ions” that are key to the Christian faith.  The Incarnation (Jesus stepping out of heaven to live the human experience…just without sinning), the Crucifiction (Jesus dying a greusome death on the cross and being separated completely from God, and doing so to pay the price for our sin), and the Resurrection (Jesus being raised from the dead because the price was paid and death could not hold him).  Jesus’ birthday is the Incarnation side of things, and it is very important.  I just think as celebration of Christmas becomes bigger and bigger (and earlier and earlier), we lose sight of why it is important, and Christians start becoming more and more like the main character in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

The movie stars Will Farrell as a Nascar driver.  I do not know a whole lot about the movie, because I have never actually watched it.  But there are scenes that I remember from the ads for it and that I have heard quoted and eventually watched online.  The parts of the movie that I am referring to are parodies of how some Christians can act, and they are extremely over-the-top and sacreligious.  For that reason, I won’t share a link to YouTube or quote the movie.  I will just summarize what my reference is about.

The main character, Ricky Bobby, is a “christian.”  He prays often in the movie, but he prays to “Lord Baby Jesus.”  There are a few scenes with prayers in which he makes several allusions to Jesus as a baby.  He even gets into arguments with his family about it and how Jesus was not just a baby.  He response was always that he likes Baby Jesus the best and that is who he prays to and worships.  Like I said, it is over-the-top and a satire of how some people seem to be.  My fear is that we all take on shades of this sometimes at Christmas.

We get caught up with the magic and wonder of Jesus as a baby, which in of itself is not bad.  It was the miracle of God leaving Heaven to come to Earth as our Savior.  It is something to celebrate.  I think we just forget to focus on the why part of why Jesus had to become a baby to save us.  I know I do.  It is so easy to get caught up in Christmas and the Christmas traditions.

This year, I have really been convicted about this.  After reading through the Bible, the Holy Spirit has been able to show me over and over why Jesus had to come.  It is because he had to be human and live that life so that he could sacrafice it for my sin.

The “reason for the season” is that I am a sinner who is separated from God.  Only God himself can save me.  Jesus is God in flesh.  He came to Earth and lived the live I couldn’t.  Because he lived a sinless life, he could give that life up.  He did not have to die.  He never sinned, so he did not deserve death.  Not only did he not have to die, he did not deserve to be tortured and then separated from God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  He was separated from them on the cross and then again as he was in the grave for three days (and what ever the sinners after life is).  The one who had lived in eternity past with the Father and Spirit was separated from them for days.  That may not seem like long to us, but I am sure it was like forever to him.  He then came back from the dead because the price was paid.  Prisoners do not have to stay in prison once the sentence is up.  Jesus walked away from the jail (while it blew up behind him…see Action Hero Jesus for more).  He came, lived, died, and rose again.  It it was all because I was a sinner who needed to be saved.

Baby Jesus is important, but it is not everything.  It is not even why Christmas is important.  God heard our cries, and he came and saved us.  Jesus being born is about him accepting our death.  This is what Christmas is about.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please do not let me miss the point and the reason for Christmas this year.  Thank you for saving me.  Thank you for your sacrafice.  Thank you for your love.  Your son and dependent, Joe.

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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Christmas, Gospel and Faith

 

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A Christmas Prayer

Father, Jesus, and Spirit,

I feel it starting inside of me.  The temptation to look to myself and the world as the universe around me looks more and more “christmasy.”  You know my heart.  You know my struggles with Christmas.  You know I spent my childhood looking to the feelings of Christmas.  I wanted it to be perfect.  I wanted it to be like TV and movies.  I remember the year that I was in 7th grade and I really wanted it to snow.  I was in a sour mood for days because it didn’t.  It wasn’t Christmas to me.  I wanted the feelings I was told I was supposed to have.

You know the years I spent struggling with this.  You remember the year after college that I gave up on all of the traditions of Christmas because they were not You.  I decided to forsake all that was “christmas” to me in the past because of the commericalism and selfishness that was tied up in it all.  You brought me out of this.  You showed me  how you can redeem anything.  You can bring your meaning to all things.  Just because the Christmas Tree, lights, and even gift giving were all adapted from pagan and worldly sources, that doesn’t mean you can’t have your part and meaning in them.  The Tree is a sign of the everlasting life offered in you.  The lights are the symbol of you and your coming.  The gifts are a picture of the gift of your life that you gave us.

You gave me a plan for Christmas with my own family.  How to take control of the traditions and make them yours.  How I can use the usual customs of the holiday to teach my children about You and the true meaning of Christmas.  You helped my family be okay with this.  You helped me have a son that so far is not caught up in the selfish side of Christmas.  You know all of these things.

And you know that right now my heart wants to go back.  It wants the “warm and fuzzy christmas” that basks in gifts and feelings that are about me.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want that kind of Christmas spirit.  I know it is not a bad thing to be caught up in Christmas, but I know there is something better.   I want to be caught up in You.  I want to be caught up in the reason that you came, Jesus.  I want to be caught up in the story of redemption.  I want to be caught up in the mercy and love that drove you to leave heave, come and live a real life here on Earth, to die a greusomely real death, and then to rise again to prove that your sacrafice was accepted and I am truely free.

Spirit, I want your presence to be what gives me the peace and joy of Christmas.  I don’t want the manufactured feelings that come from lights, happy songs, and hot cocoa.  I want the real thing.  I want You.  Even if it means dealing with myself and my selfish nature and sin.  I want the real Spirit.  The real Comfort and Joy.

Father, I want you to be the reality of Christmas that Santa can not hold a candle to.  I want to look to you.  The real Father Christmas.  The giver of gifts that did not hold back his own perfect Son.  You did not passover your own Son.  You allowed him to come and die.  To come and die for me.  You accept me because you were willing to reject Him.  I want this gift to be the only one that consumes me this year.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please be my Christmas.  Please be my focus.  Please make this year real.  Please help me not to hold back your message.  Please let it be the song on my lips.  Help me to teach my son.  Help me to share this constantly with my wife.  Please help me to share it with the world.

Thank you, Father.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Spirit.

Yours, by your grace alone,  Joe.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Faith and Life, Prayer

 

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Number Two

Wait, what?  No, this post is not about THAT.  No, it is a different number two.  This is about my kid(s) and being a father.  No, still not about THAT.

I don’t believe I have shared this on here, but my wife is expecting another child due the beginning of next year. I shall refer to him as ID on here.  We have known about the coming of ID since late spring/early summer.  Now that it is late fall/early winter, I am ready to admit some of my mixed feelings about it all.

Now, please don’t get me wrong.  I am very excited about our second child. I really am.  We wanted to have another one for a while now.  It was awesome news to get to know that there was new life on the way.  This is what we have been hoping for.  Now that NB is a little older now, we are ready for another little one.

What has surprised me, however, is how different this pregnancy would be and how I would go through rollercoaster thoughts and emotions.  The pregnancy itself is fine, LA and ID are doing great.  What is different is how I am interacting with ID.

When LA was pregnant for our first son, I was excited. It consumed my thoughts a good bit.  I talked to him constantly.  I read to him (and LA) at night.  I dreamed about what he would be like.  I was connected.  I was zoned in.  There was great anticipation of being a daddy.  I couldn’t wait.  It was almost like he was already here in my mind even months before he was born.  I was so ready to start my trip into fatherhood.

With ID, it is so different.  I haven’t felt that way at all.  The excitement has been limited.  I haven’t talked to him much.  I haven’t read to at all except during the reading times with NB when both my wife and I are sitting with him.  I haven’t felt connected to him.  I haven’t dreamed much about what he would be like.  A lot of times I have just been scared that I would not connect with him at all because I am so connect to NB.  I just have no clue what it will be like to be the father of two, and there has not been great anticipation to start the journey of it this time.

I know a lot of the reasons behind why it has been this way, but that does not make it any easier.  I know a lot of the “thrill” is gone because we have been through it once before.  I know my attention is not on ID because I have a son to care for that is already here.  I know that the fear of connecting more with one child over the other is natural.  I know that I am not trying to think about what he will be like because I know that he will be who he will be and I will love him anyway.  I know all of this. But it is still hard on me not to have the same excitement.

It all changed a week ago.  LA and I went to the hospital for the preregistration class.  As we were watching a video of the process, rooms, and whatnot at the hospital, all of the feelings came back from when we went through this with NB.  The ended by showing pictures done by the in-hospital photographer, and the moment hit me with ID.  He is really coming.  He is really going to be in my arms in just a couple of months!  I am going to have another son.  It became real.  It became exciting.  It became all that it was the first pregnancy.  I am ID’s father, and I can’t wait to meet him!

This was further cemented in this past Wednesday.  One of my best friend’s wife had a baby.  We visited them in the hospital.  As I got to hold the new little one, the feelings of excitement grew about ID.  I am going to have another son to hold and love really soon!

I know I should have had these moments of clarity earlier.  At the very least, I should have had them at the ultrasound.  I didn’t.  I was still so unsure of what it will be like to have to children (I still am not sure what this will be like).  I was uncertain if I was going to be able to figure out how to split my attention.  I did not not how loving two kids equally yet different was going to work out.  I just did know what to think or feel.

I do now.  The resevior of love was tapped into.  I love NB.  I love ID.  They are my sons.  They are my responsibility.  They are my legacy.  They are my boys.  I don’t know what this all means completely.  But it is real.  I can’t wait for this adventure to start!

“Okay, Mr. OneCup, what is the God lesson?  I know you have one.”

I do.  It is simple.  Through this, God has given me one thought.  He loves me.  I am his son.  I do not have to worry about how he seems to be working in the lives of others…and by this I mean I do not have to be jealous or concerned that he is not working in my life exactly as he is for others.  I can trust that he loves me.  He cares for me.  His love for me is complete, even if it looks different than how he is working out his love in the lives of other Christians.  It is okay, I can trust him.  I can trust his love for me.  Just like I can love both NB and ID completely, wholly, equally, and different, he can do the same with his children.  And his love is pure, holy, and full of grace unlike my love can be here on Earth.

My Father in Heaven loves me, and I can trust that.  He proved it by letting his Son die for me.  He proved it by bringing him back from the dead as evidence of his acceptance of the sacrafice and his now acceptance of this sinner (me).  He proved it by sending the Spirit.  And the Spirit proves it to me every day.  I can trust in my Father’s love.

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Oh Treasure, Where Art Thou

All right, time to end the radio silence.

It has been about two weeks since my last real post.  I mentioned feeling under the weather in that post, and this is the reason it has been so long since I have posted.  I have had bronchitis for about a month now.  It took a turn for the worse, and I had almost no energy.  I have been barely getting through the school day and then coming home to crash.  Two weeks of that and a second doctor’s visit later, and I am finally feeling closer to normal.  I finally have the energy to write a bit at the end of the day.

Becuase this all has lasted for weeks, I eventually realized God was trying to use it to get my attention.  No, I am not saying that he smote me with illness (though I do think it is possible that he can use this to get our attention about certain things in our live).  He used it to teach me a lesson about myself.  Where my focus is.  Where my heart is.

The flipside of being a pretty energetic guy is that when I am limited in physical, mental, or spiritual energy, it is hard for me to cope.  I just can’t seem to find the joy in things, patience for things not working, or enthusiasm for things that I am used to having.  This makes me do everything half-hearted.  I just can’t figure out what to do.  My brain feels broken.  This makes it more difficult to follow through on things I set out to do, or makes me just want to stop doing some of the things I would like to do.

This month of feeling this way really took a toll on me.  At school, it seemed like I wasn’t teaching well and the smallest disruptions in schedule or my plans have frazzled me to the point I had trouble adjusting…and I am not used to this happening to me.  My lesson plans were less than I like them to be because I just have not been able to get my brain to make connections and figure out cool ideas.  While teaching or dealing with students in the hallway, my patience was dramactically less, and I had just couldn’t get that to change for me, and this frustrated me to no end.

At home, I pretty much just crashed after spending so much of my energy trying to be “normal” at school.  I couldn’t help out around the house as much.  I was less patient with NB.  Less helpful to LA, and I did have much left in me to spend time with her and persue her.  I just got irratated by the things to be done around the house because I just didn’t have much strength left at the end of the day to tackle them.  On the weekends I have been so worn out that I just pretty much laid around so that I could try to recover from the week and feel well enough to tackle the next one.

My writing became harder because of a lack of time and energy.  Eventually I just stopped trying to write the blog.  Thus the not normal couple of posts and then the silence.  I didn’t even read any other blogs or spend much time online at all.

“Hey, OneCup Guy, you are sounding pretty ‘woe is me’ right now.”  Sorry.  That is not my intention, I just want to let you in on how it has been for me so you can understand the lesson that came from it.

Something pretty awesome came from all of this.  A lesson that I really needed to learn.  And it all has to do with my heart.  It is about trying to fight the “old man” and let the “new man” be who I am.  It was a pretty major realization that God gave to me.

Energy/strength to get through the day and complete tasks and fulfill responsiblilities is a lot like money.  You do not have an unlimited amount.  You have to budget it.  The more you have, the less you have to pay attention to your budget, but in a time of lower income you really have to watch where all of it goes.  I am used to being more “rich” in energy.  I can usually do a lot and put a lot of enthusiasm into what I am doing.  I often have so much that I do not even know when I am wasting energy.  Times that I am using it for things that are not important or not high priorities are not always obvious to me becuase of my excess of energy.

My budget got cut.  I did not have extra energy.  I did not even have enough for the day to day.  I lived and acted like I had my usual budget, but I didn’t.  This wore me out, and it is probably why I have stayed sick so long.

Last week, God really showed me that my energy usage, like my money, showed where my heart was.  In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus was talking about where we store our treasures in life.  He ends by saying, “Where your treasure is, that is where your heart is.”  God showed my how my energy is like treasure, and where I spend it shows my heart.  Am I spending myself on me and my kingdom or am I spending it on others, God, and his Kingdom?

He really sent me into a time of reflection.  I had a limited resource of myself.  The limits showed that I was spreading my energy too thin, and I was not doing anything well.  I was “juggling”” to much at once and looking to my “juggling skills” to keep it going.  I was wasting energy on things that were about me.  About my little kingdom and buidling myself up.  I was not using the little energy I had on other people and on God.  I had to prioritize and drop things of lesser importance.  God, family, and serving others IN LOVE is where I needed to spend my treasure.  Not trying to control my world.  I had to give those things over to God.

The last two days of last week and this weekend were pretty awesome.  I felt closer to normal.  I put my energy towards the things that mattered, dropped what didn’t, and trusted God to take care of whatever was left.  I started storing my treasures in the right places.

What about you?  Does your time and energy budget show where your heart is?

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I am Lucy Pevensie

We had baptisms at church last night (our church has multiple services). I was baptized myself this past Easter (awesome day to identify myself with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus!). It is all still very fresh for me, so I tend to still be a bit emotional about seeing baptisms, in a good way.

Last night there was only one. It was a boy who was baptized by his father. This hit home to me because my dad baptized me. It got me thinking about the fact that I hope that my sons will come to know the reality of God, their sin, and their need for Jesus. I hope one day to baptize them. Not because I want to go through the motions of it all, but because I want them to have a real relationship with Jesus. I want them to be believers in the Gospel. I want them to have a true and real faith.

This got me to thinking about the fact that I want all of my friends and family to be awoken to the true reality of the world. That there is more than the physical side of the universe that we understand. God is real. Heaven is real. Jesus really lived. Jesus really died. Jesus really did this to take God’s wrath and punishment on himself. Jesus really rose from the dead as proof that our sins are forgiven. Jesus really did send the Holy Spirit to us. The Holy Spirit really can live in our hearts and lives. We really can truly love and serve others. There really is a Kingdom of God. There really will be a day of judgement. There really is an eternity. We can really have a relationship with God, both now and forever.

This led me to thinking about how hard this is to explain to people. I have friends who do not believe in God. I have friends who not only do not believe, but they are atagonistic towards God. I love these friends. I just can’t get them to understand what I know about the reality of the world. I tried to think about a way to explain to them why I could not explain this to them. I was thought about the “magic” that I know that they do not understand or believe in.

I was suddenly reminded about the book/movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. In the story, the youngest of a group of brothers and sisters found a land called Narnia in a waredrobe/closet. When she came back, no one believed her. This is exactly what I am feeling right now.

I want so bad for my friends and family to be able to go and see Narnia. To know what I know. I am Lucy trying to explain the snow covered forests and Mr. Tumnus the faun. They have no concept of what I am talking about. Narnia, to them, is an imaginary land. Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are characters of my fantasy to them.

I wish they could know Aslan’s world. I wish they could open their eyes and see it. I wish they could know the “real world” that I know.

I guess only the Spirit can bring them there. I will pray. I will share. I will live like I have been to Narnia. I will do all I can do to convince them, but in the end, it is the Spirit that has to open their eyes.

Father, Jesus, Spirit, I pray that you would show my friends and family the reality of the world that you created.  I thank you so much for how you gave C.S. Lewis the understanding to write such a beautiful analogy for your realities.  I pray right now that you would help my friends and family be able to see Narnia.  Help them to know you, Aslan.  Help them to be able to walk through the waredrobe to your world, to your country.  Spirit, I pray that you would help them to see and know the realness of you, our sins, and your forgiveness and life through Jesus’s death.  I do not have words to go on further, so Spirit, I pray that you will intercede for me.  Thank you, Father.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Spirit.  I love you.  I need you.  Amen.

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The Teacher and the Trash Can

 

Life has been busy.  I have not been able to blog for a couple days.  Such is the life of a teacher.  The first couple of weeks (teacher days and then the students coming back) can be jam-packed and tiring.  I am exhausted today.  It was the first day back for the students.

I had the idea for this post a couple of weeks ago, and even set it up to start writing.  Something came up (one of the other posts I actually wrote), and I put this to the side.  On my way home from school, I realized it was a lesson that I need to revisit for myself…and it works out to be quite timely since it is a story about teaching, or at least my role as a teacher and a challenge God gave me.

Get ready, kids, today is going to be about humility.

Last week I talked a lot about my testimony and what God is doing in my life.  What I am about to tell you about happened during the time of God really moving in my life and causing all of the big changes in my heart (My Time Travel Testimony and What’s in a Name: Jesus, Jesus, Bo-Bes…).  I was in a real place of the Spirit speaking to me constantly and challenging me in my everyday life.  He is still moving in me, it just felt more present because it had been a while since I was this close in my relationship to him.

Well anyway, I was really trying to be genuine in my dealings with my students and others.  I was really trying to get to know my students so I can be a better teacher to them, and one of the best times to do this was at lunch.  I had a few guys that would sit with me, and we would talk and joke around most days.

One of the days, near the end of lunch as I was about to take my trash and throw it away, one of the guys (a real character) says, “Mr. B, take my tray.”

I laughed at him, as I usually did, because he tried this once a week or so.  But that day it was different.  I felt a nudge in my heart to go ahead and take his trash.  I looked at him, and then said, “Okay.”  I took his tray and dumped it.

Needless to say, he was a bit surprised.  After I came back from the trash can, the Spirit started working again.  By the time I was back to my seat, I had a challenge: dump more trays.  I almost ignored it.  I really wanted to sit down.  I just about did…but I knew what I had to do.  I knew that if I sat, the Spirit would do a work on my heart becuase of my selfish and proud attitude.  I swallowed that pride and took trays from the students at my table and dumped them.

It was quite humbling.  I do not know what was worse, the laughs and stange looks from the students or the wondering eyes from other teachers.  It was a difficult task, especially because I could only carry a couple of trays at a time.  It took quite a few trips, but I got through it.  I learned my lesson.  I will not be prideful.

The next day…challenged again.  Dump more trays.  I did for my table again.  Thanks, God.  I got it.  I am prideful.  I will work on it.  Please help me work on it.

Day three…the Spirit spoke to my heart again: more trays.  Once more, I dumped the trays at my table.  Lesson learned?  No.

The next week (day three was on a Friday)…Dump more trays…MORE trays.  I dumped the trays at my table.  MORE TRAYS.  I dumped trays for the surrounding tables.  Am I done yet, God?

Everyday the challenge was for more trays.  By the end of the week I was dumping the trays of most of the students that I taught.  In the coming weeks the challenge got to the point that I was dumping which ever trays I could get to.  I started to want to dump trays for more students.  The challenges continued for a month or two.

What I found that happened was I stopped wondering when I would learn my lesson.  I actually started to like the humbling effect.

It helped me truly care about my students.  It is hard not to care when you are throwing away their garbage.

It made me more patient with my students.  It is hard not to be more patient when you are literally serving them in a real way.

More than this, though, it showed me some major heart issues.  The biggest one came up when I had the thought, “Why am I doing this?  These kids don’t deserve this.”

This was another slap-in-the-back-of-the-head moment for me.  What immediately came to mine is, “Why did I die for you?  You did not deserve it.  I did it because I love you.  Now I need you to show the same love for others.”  That shut me up.  A smile went on my face, and it was back to business.  I think this was the turning point when I started to enjoy the “challenges”.

Humbling is hard.  The breaking down of pride is painful.  But it is good.  And this is what really starts the process of conforming us into the image of Christ.

If you want a challenging message, we recently had a sermon from Proverbs about humility at my church.  Check it out, but be ready for a challenge of your own!  Humility and How I Achieved It by Bill White at Grace Church in Greenville/Powdersville.

What do you think about this?  How has God taught you about your pride issues?  What challenges has he given you?  Please share with the group.  🙂

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