Thursday, December 19, 2013

Small groups, Sharing and Christmas

I have belonged to an amazing and dynamic small group for the past six years. The participants change from time to time, but group remains alive and well and centered on the written Word of God and prayer.

Last night we moved into what I hope will be a new phase of our group as we try to model 1 Cor. 14:26-27 where Paul writes:

 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:26-27 NKJV)
We shared a meal where everybody brought something. This portion won't happen on a regular basis because of work schedules but the second and third phases of our gathering may. Instead of us just studying the planned questions of Ephesians where all of us are guided by a leader but still freely share perceptions and understandings,  last night each of us brought something unique that God wanted us to hear. We then concluded with communion.
One woman shared how her non-Christian father is now willing to attend a Christmas Eve service. He's never been to one. It decision came not as the result of  reading the actual Bible, but having scripture cards available that he decided he would read and place on his forehead every night before bed. He hasn't cracked his large print Bible, but uses the scripture cards. His heart has softened and the idea came from another woman in our small group. God's leading brings results.
Another lady shared how she changed up her scripture reading routine and instead celebrated the eight days of Hanukkah. The celebration and customs of the Jewish festival gave her additional meaning as we move closer to what Christians celebrate at Christians. She also tied in the light and oil used in the Menorah to the Ephesian study on spiritual gifts we have been working through. It was a fantastic tie-in.
My wife shared a simple word God gave her in Psalm 46:10. It is: 

 Be still, and know that I am God
God  told her that people are rushing around attending parties here and there, taking kids to see Santa Claus (the Jesus substitute), buying gifts for friends and families and focused on anything and everything but Him and the real reason for the Christmas season-- Jesus. God said we need to tune out the noise of our surroundings and become more focused on Him for this season.
So simple and relevant. No seminary degree needed. She was just open to what God said and could back it up with the scripture. God can and does anoint every one of us by His grace.
All the previous sharing tied into what God had showed me earlier. My background is former Roman Catholic. It is a liturgical church and big on ceremonies and seasons. Non-denominational Protestant churches hardly do anything with liturgical seasons except Christmas and Easter. Advent and Lent are ignored as are feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost.  I find that terribly sad. I make up for that lack by having my own Advent celebration and preparation time before Christmas.
It is my personal tradition and custom to read the prophet Isaiah during the four weeks of Advent.  Isaiah presents the entirety of the Gospel for it gives us the two portraits of the Messiah-- the Suffering Servant and the Soon Coming King. The portions I shared were from the end of chapter 52 and the entirety of chapter 53.
Those sections are not pretty, feel-good sections of scripture. They don't really fit the "be positive/ don't be offensive/ focus on peace love and grace/ and don't mention the word sin" direction of most of the Christian churches that are in the seeker sensitive genre. The plan is to attenuate the "good" news and downplay the "bad" news. The problem is without knowing the bad news, the good news means very little.
I can say this. If you don't know the bad news of sin,  death and eternal damnation by living a life without God, then the good news of Jesus who came to save you from all of that will mean nothing. Without Jesus, you positively will go to hell. Not real touchy-feely warm and fuzzy is it?
The portions of Isaiah are exactly why we celebrate Christmas. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, became an actual man. He is called Emmanuel or "God with us".  The sections of Isaiah show us his purpose, which was to be beaten beyond recognition, whipped for our sins so that we are healed of all spiritual, physical and emotional diseases,  and offered upon a cross to die in our place that we might have relationship and fellowship with the Father.
At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of God becoming man so that he might do what Isaiah 52 and 53 speaks of for us. Jesus is the gift God gives to us. John writes in his gospel:

 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
(John 3:16-19 NKJV)
Jesus is the Christmas gift we can each open every single day.  He is the Reason For the Season. Be still and know who He is and what He has for you this Christmas season.
When the sharing and short teaching was done, we concluded by sharing communion, the visible sign of God with us in a sacrament Jesus instituted at that last Passover meal before He died.
Is God with you and living within you? If not, this is the perfect time to become a Christian. Repent of doing things your way, confess with our mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus died for all of your sins and the penalties of death associated with them and begin to realize that you are now God's very own temple as Paul writes in Corinthians.  That is the Good News.
Merry Christmas.
God bless.