From Daniel’s Den…

FAITHFUL PRAYING

 
      In the midst of our Convention-wide “Covering Mississippi in Prayer” focus several years ago, I was asked to facilitate a break-out session entitled “Faithful Praying” for a statewide Senior Adult retreat sponsored by the MBCB Discipleship and Family Ministry Department. My assignment led me to ask “What is faithful praying?” “Can faithful praying be identified, defined, or measured and, if so, how should faithful praying be understood?”

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ENCOURAGEMENT 101

     Arriving at her car with a cart full of groceries several months ago, my wife noticed a sticky note on the windshield. The words written on the note were, “If you ever feel like no one is proud of you…I’M PROUD of you gorgeous.” Upon arriving home, she thanked me for writing such a sweet and encouraging note.

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HINDSIGHT 2020: A YEAR IN REVIEW

     What a year 2020 has been! To borrow from President Roosevelt, 2020 is a year that “will live in infamy!” A common theme over the past several months has been “Enough already” as many people want to erase the past twelve months and embrace a new year. Speaking in golfing terms, a friend of mine declared “I want a mulligan for 2020.” In anticipation of the Daylight Saving Time coming to an end several weeks ago and “falling back” into Standard Time, a humorous comment posted on social media offered, “I’m not setting my clock back because who wants to spend another hour in 2020?”

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THE MAJESTY OF CHRISTMAS

     While our society often admires strands of twinkling lights adorning a house or tree, the majesty of Christmas is about a life-giving light that shines in the darkness (John 1:4-5) for a world filled with people walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2a).

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GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN: THE MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS

     For many people, the celebration of Christmas would seem somewhat incomplete and empty without music. In a normal year, churches would have begun preparing a Christmas cantata or other musical offering in late summer or early fall. Then, during the first two or three weeks in December, choirs and orchestras would present the message of Christmas through the music of Christmas. Because 2020 has been far from normal, most choir lofts probably will not be filled by angelic voices heralding the message of Christmas in song. Nonetheless, Christmas is coming and the music of Christmas stirs the hearts of believers around the globe!

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MESSAGE OF CHRISTMAS

     Penned as a poem by James Montgomery, the Christmas hymn “Angels, From the Realms of Glory” first appeared in a London newspaper the Sheffield Register on December 24, 1816. Later this poem was published as “Good Tidings of Great Joy to All People” in a hymnal entitled Montgomery’s Original Hymns. Considered one of the finest Christmas hymns, each verse issues a challenge to worship the Christ of Christmas with the four verses focusing on the angels, the shepherds, the magi, and all believers respectively. The familiar words of the first verse address the divine messengers.

 Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth;

Ye who sang creation’s story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King!

     Luke’s account of the encounter between angels and some shepherds when Jesus was born (Luke 2:8-20) points to several aspects of the message of Christmas. First, the message of Christmas is Relational as God comes to us where we are just like He came to the shepherds who tended sheep. The message of Christmas also is relational inasmuch as God cares for us because of who we are, namely, the crowning work of His creation (Genesis 1:26, 31). Further, the message of Christmas is relational because God calls us as we are regardless of any worldly position, prestige, power, or popularity that may have been attained and in spite of our faults, flaws, fallacies, and foibles. The shepherds had little standing in society but God came to them, cared about them, and called them to come to the manger.
     The message of Christmas is Confrontational as the angel confronted the shepherds with a message from heaven. This angel of the Lord delivered a message from the Lord and the glory of the Lord shone all around the shepherds. This divine confrontation commanded the attention of the shepherds and they responded with reverential fear and awe. For the shepherds, the encounter with the angel was a “heaven came down and glory filled my soul” experience.
     The heavenly encounter between the angel and the shepherds resounded with a message of hope that included the good news of great joy concerning the birth of a Savior who is Christ the Lord! Not only did the angel confront the shepherds with this heavenly message of hope, but the good news of great joy also was a message for all humanity as “all people” are confronted with the announcement of the birth of Jesus…God incarnate…the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
     From previous study of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, I recognized the message with which the angel confronted the shepherds and all of humanity led the shepherds (and humankind throughout history) to a crisis of belief requiring faith and action. Against the backdrop of faith and action, the glorious message of Christmas is Invitational as the hearers of the message are invited to rejoice in worship (vv. 13 & 20), to reflect with wonder (v. 19), and to respond in witness (v. 17).

     As we come to the conclusion of a year that has been incredibly unique and far short of anything normal or expected, my prayer is that the message of Christmas will be proclaimed boldly and projected broadly in our worship and through our witness. “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”

                                                                                                Daniel


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MARCH TO THE MANGER

     Perhaps you saw the pre-recorded version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. I understand that this particular parade is recognized as the world’s largest parade. Unfortunately many parades normally scheduled by organizations and municipalities in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day already have announced cancellation due to COVID-19. In a “normal” year, these parades may feature high school and college bands, dance students, cheerleaders, and state and local dignitaries riding in antique or classic automobiles many of which are convertibles.

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THE ‘IZES’ DON’T HAVE IT (PART 2)

     Last week, “From Daniel’s Den” introduced the Nominalizers as those “Christians” who (1) seek a simple or easy path to focusing on Christ, (2) savor the cultural practice of favoring Christ, and (3) shine amid a legal pattern of following Christ. In other words, nominalizers are those “Christians” who believe that joining a church or participating in church ministries, accepting the local customs and culture of the church, and checking all of the expected boxes properly in somewhat pharisaical fashion, qualifies them as Christian.


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THE ‘IZES’ DON’T HAVE IT

     Not too long after COVID-19 resulted in the closure of bank lobbies for walk-in customers, I found myself in the third or fourth drive-through lane at the bank seeking to deposit a check while receiving a small amount of cash back. I placed the check and deposit slip in the plastic cylinder and carefully loaded the cylinder onto the launching pad and hit “send.” With a whoosh, the cylinder quickly ascended through tubing that reminds me of a hamster cage I had as a kid and came to rest right next to the drive-through teller.

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ONE NATION UNDER GOD

     In 2002, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the pledge to the American flag is unconstitutional. In their ruling, the Court, which has jurisdiction over nine western states, held that the phrase “one nation under God” violated the establishment clause of the first amendment presented in the U.S. Constitution. According to the Court, the United States Congress did not have the right or responsibility to incorporate the phrase “under God” into the pledge back in 1954 because such an action was tantamount to promoting a specific religion by the government.
     In 2010, the same Court overturned the earlier decision determining that inclusion of “under God” does not promote a national religion in violation of the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Judge Carlos T. Bea declared, “The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one Nation under God–the Founding Fathers’ belief that the people of this nation are endowed by their Creator.”
     I’m not a political scientist so I may not understand fully the rhyme or reason underlying the Court’s initial decision. While acknowledging that the Court’s action in 2010 may offer encouragement to many, I also recognize that the “proud recitation” of a pledge with the phrase “one nation under God” does not automatically “unite our vast nation” or mesh the citizenry of this country into a Christian country. Although we may be a “religious” or “godly” country in one sense, I’m afraid that we worship the wrong thing(s) and person(s). Someone accurately submitted that we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.
     Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to be a nation “under” God rather than trying to live as peers “beside” God or superiors “above” God. I suppose that the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court or any court is of little consequence unless Christians in America reevaluate, reposition, and refocus our hearts and lives on the Lord above. In fact, the Court may have done Christians in America a favor by offering a wake-up call to live and serve in accordance with the example of Christ who we say that we love and follow.
     Isaiah saw God “seated on His throne, high and exalted” with the seraphim calling “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah also recognized himself for who he really was and he recognized a world in need. When our perspective of God and self is parallel to Isaiah’s perspective of God and self, then we can refer to ourselves truthfully as “one nation under God.”

     As you pray this week, ask God to help you to be the kind of citizen that exemplifies Christ in attitude, action, word, and deed. Pray that you would submit completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as you help others to remain “under God.”

                                                                                                                                Daniel


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