Tuesday, December 6, 2016

SEASONS - QUESTIONS FROM A FRIEND AT CHRISTMAS

(Written by Sheila Gail Landgraf)


I was asked by my friend to explain what Jesus means to me at Christmas time.  She had no idea what a loaded question she was asking.   I don't think my answer would be very typical.  Sometimes people find my beliefs a bit too complicated, but to me it is all really quite simple.  I just like to get in all the facts.  I mean if Jesus went to all the trouble to be born of a virgin, to live in the flesh and to leave the throne of heaven for you and me, then why shouldn’t I want to get the facts right?  After all, Jesus stands for truth and I’ve come to appreciate that very much.  My truth may sound a little different at first, because the world has twisted the truth a great deal.  I’m not telling the exact same word for word canned story as a lot of others that you hear, but I AM telling the story, I’m just telling it the way I feel Jesus has shown it to me; so here is my answer to the loaded question:

My first thought on all of this is that knowing and having a relationship with Jesus actually makes the whole year feel like Christmas.  Every day; all the time!

Of course, to be honest with you, I must tell you that I think Jesus was born in a Sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles sometime around late Fall, most likely in September.  All evidence from scripture points that way.  But don’t let that make you think I do not celebrate Christmas!  I do indeed!   I see no reason not to celebrate His birth all year long, and to be more specific, I have my reasons for believing that Jesus was CONCEIVED sometime in December.  Just do the math.  It confirms a lot for me.  If Christ was conceived in Mary's womb around the end of December, about nine months later would have put his birth during the time of The Feast of Tabernacles in late September.  So I celebrate the conception of Christ (the Annunciation and Incarnation) in December and the birth of Christ in early fall.

When most people are celebrating the birth of Christ at Christmas in the month of December, I am actually celebrating  The Conception of Christ, which I perceive to be even more of a miracle than His birth into our world.  

It is truly a major miracle that a virgin gave birth to a child/God who came to save the world and become our greatest King of Kings!  What a reason to be celebrating!  

I can surely join in on that.  

I love the time and enjoy contemplating what must have been going on in Mary's heart during those days.  It teaches me so much about how to love Jesus.

When a child is conceived you begin to prepare for the child to come, just as we do when we contemplate and celebrate Advent, therefore; I join in with pure joy in celebrating the season of Advent and I rejoice in the fact that Jesus became our greatest Gift From God.  

So I guess you could say lighting the Advent candles is my first contemplation of Jesus during the Christmas season.   It makes me think of the child Jesus who was coming to earth; and the man Jesus who will one day return to earth.





Then there is Hanukkah, which I have come to know as a shadow of the coming of The Messiah.   It usually falls right in December too.   Everything in the telling of the story of the miracle of the oil and the seven more days of light that we see in Hanukkah is a type of Christ coming as the miracle that becomes the light of the world.   How appropriate to celebrate the fact of the miracle of His coming close to the time of celebrating the Conception of His life on earth.   

This time is yet another glorious reason to discover  more of Jesus inside the times of my year.

You might just make this summary pretty simple by saying:  I love Christmas so much that I celebrate it four times a year;   1) Advent  (anticipating the prophetic birth of Jesus, and anticipating His future return as Messiah and King),  2) Hanukkah (thinking of the prophetic miracle of His coming to be The Light of The World),  3) Christmas Day (celebrating His Conception by The Holy Spirit and recalling the Annunciation of Mary and  The Incarnation and all of the things that happened when Mary first learned the Christ Child was living within her) and  4) The Feast of Tabernacles (celebrating the actual birth of Christ.)   Now that’s a lot of Jesus and a whole year of celebrating Christmas!  That is a lot of celebrating!  Why not?  We have SO MUCH to celebrate!  

I love each part of the season and the way we celebrate His coming to earth in the flesh, and the recognition of  Jesus actually stooping down to be like us in order to save us.   All of these four celebrations during the year just build on top of each other and reinforce my further celebration of his physical birth at The Feast of Tabernacles, also called Sukkot; the fourth and last time of the year when I celebrate his  actual birth.   On top of that - I like to celebrate the Epiphany later!  We can't leave out the coming of the wise men; but that was probably two years after the birth of Christ and not necessarily in December and they may not have met Jesus in a three sided shelter; but possibly a house in Bethlehem, (and that may be yet another blog post.)  

I LOVE stretching out the significance of God's grace, and remembering some phase of this miracle of Christ all four times each year.  When you think of all the little details; there are actually two times to look back AND forward and realize much of the symbolism in some days was given as a shadow of what was to come, and a telling of what IS to come.  We see these things with Advent and Hanukkah; then on Christmas Day we enjoy celebrating His conception at Christmas time; and then in the next Fall (nine months later) we will be celebrating His actual physical birth at The Feast of Tabernacles.   What fun it was to me when I first learned that the manger was actually a sukkah, and the Christ Child was God's festival gift to us!  When Mary and Joseph could not find a place in the inn, they found a sukkah that had been used to shelter the animals.  It was next to a cave.  If you want to read how I've told that story to my grandchildren, look at this link: http://dancinginseason.blogspot.com/2016_10_12_archive.html.


So the time after Christmas for me is comparable to waiting on a baby in real life!  It is nine months of anticipiating Jesus and the Festival of The Feast of Tabernacles.  All year long I'm anticipating the coming of Christ into the world and celebrating it with my family inside our little sukkah.   All four celebrations are spread out time-wise, but all are very timely and significant.

Another amazing fact I find in these seasons of time is that the longer I walk with Christ through these different aspects of Christmas, the more He teaches me about how to live a more glorious life every other day of the year.   

I have come to cherish so many traditions that remind me of Who Jesus Is, and what He has done for this world.  I feel grateful for each reason that comes in each season.  This keeps a healthy balance in our home of  more Jesus and less of the world.  

So this year, and every year:  the first reminder of Jesus for me is seen in lighting of the Advent candles around the Advent Wreath, then the Menorah at Hanukkah.  

One thing I remember during Hanukkah is that even though I was not born of a Jewish nationality, I have been adopted and made a blood relative through the blood of Christ.  So, you might say I’m basically an adopted member of a Jewish family; but loved just as much as if I were born Jewish.  So I feel no guilt at all about celebrating the Hanukkah story along with my adopted brothers and sisters.  The same Father loves us all.   The beautiful story of Hannukah tells us about how God always sends miracles right on time, just the way they need to be delivered, in just the right packaging, and they always come just when they are most needed.  You know, that was what happened when He sent the package of Jesus into the world in the simple form of little child.  The miracle of Hannukah expresses the prophecy of Jesus.

I’ve read the Gospel of John, and I know Jesus celebrated Hanukkah; so why wouldn’t I?

It happened long before His birth, but He kept the Family Traditions going.  So why shouldn't I?  

I read in John of Jesus walking on Solomon's porch at the Temple during the Festival of Lights.  This was a Hanukkah being celebrated long after that first one when the oil lasted for eight days.  At the time that John wrote, Jesus was about to bring an even more significant oil into the world, and an even more significant miracle of light.   

That first Hanukkah when the Jews were able to finally return to the restored temple to worship God; God made one day's worth of oil last for eight days.  Now I look at the candles of the Menorah as we light them during Hanukah, and I think about the oil.  I note how the oil of the Holy Spirit fills me up and makes me shine as a reflection of the love of Christ.  

I only have enough love in me to last possibly for one day, but with the oil of the Holy Spirit and the Light of Christ, I can keep my light shinning long enough to last for many more days!  By some great miracle, it is actually enough to last until Christ returns again in the Second Advent.  And I can always go back and get more of this miraculous oil!  It is never used up! Jesus made it all possible. That same Jesus, who was the little child that grew into the Savior of The World. 

As I keep looking at the candles, and I keep thinking of how Christ is the light of the world, I can see Him shinning in all of our faces as we gather together to celebrate whether it is to light the candles at a special dinner table, or the candles of the Menorah, or the Advent Wreath, or even to light the Christmas Tree.  He is the true light that shines out, no matter where we chose to seek Him or look for Him, we can always find Him if we just keep on searching with all our hearts.



So; as I have already mentioned, the second tradition I usually see Jesus in on the way to Christmas is the lighting of the Advent Candles.  There is one candle for faith, hope, and joy, and the white one in the center that we light on Christmas Eve that means LOVE and stands for Christ.  These candles remind me that Jesus once came to live among us, to be like us, and that He will one day return again to save us from ourselves, and to help us learn to be more like Him.  

He is coming for us, the true Church to be His Bride; and we will live with Him forever!

The Advent candles always remind me of this, and every year they help me to renew my strong belief in Jesus as Messiah of the world.  So it is that sometimes when I light the candles, I'm actually thinking of weddings, remembering The Marriage Supper of The Lamb when my Beloved will come for me.  I pray that it will not be a long wait.

I know He is coming again, and I think of it every time I look up into a black velvet sky and see a star.  It makes me remember that star that shone over Bethlehem so long ago and pointed men in the right direction.

I think of Jesus as I put the lights on my tree, and many of the ornaments help to tell the shinning story.  I like to share a Jesse tree that tells not only His story, but also the stories of all those before and after Him that have passed all the stories on to us. 



I love remembering the way there was no place for Mary and Joseph, and the miracle of how God provided a place for them to stay, a type of "temporary dwelling" so very  similar to our earthly bodies as we think of our souls.  Also so very similar to the three-sided temporary dewellings (sukkahs) which we build at The Feast of Tabernacles.


I enjoy thinking of the humbleness of that little place and how it was changed in an instant when the child was born.  It became all lit up with the voices of the angels and the stars of heaven and suddenly became glorious with the precious gift of life that came down among so much humbleness and turned all the humble into the holy.   


I love thinking of how the shepherds heard the good news, and came to see the baby that would save the world.

I love remembering how the wise men followed the bright shinny star to Bethlehem. 

  
I love all of these stories because they have one common thread.  Every single story is about people searching for Jesus.  They kept seeking Him until they found Him, those shepherds and wise men and many, many others.  That is what I like to do most of all at Christmas time; seek Jesus with all of my heart until I find Him.  No amount of wrapping paper and tinsel can keep Him out of this day for me.  He is always there, just quietly waiting to teach us more of His story, always bringing light into the darkness, always making all things new.


I love that God made all of these things so perfect, so delightful, so right and so wonderful; with no contradictions and no complications, just a flood of pure genuine joy and love that arrives in perfect timing.

I cherish every Christmas thought about Jesus, and these thoughts bring me comfort as we move on through the year.  The stories stay in my heart way beyond Christmas Day.  Their light carries over into the ordinary days and makes them shine too.





I love Jesus! 

I love that we celebrate so much about Him at Christmas!

I love the story so beautiful that only God could have written it.  

His coming to earth is truly the greatest miracle of all, and the greatest gift ever given to mankind.   

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SEASONS - THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

(Written by Sheila Gail Landgraf)


The second Sunday of Advent is about preparing our hearts!  Are you prepared?

Joseph and Mary had to prepare as they were waiting for the birth of Jesus.  There are things to do if you are expecting a baby!  A crib must be made, some clothes must be ready and a special place for the baby must be carved out in your home.
 
Yet, there are nine months to prepare, so in the midst of all your preparations you may also find rest.  Rest and calm also prepare a home to receive a happy child.  Let us not forget them during Advent this year.  Then there is that constant waiting and watching, looking for every sign that things are going well with the little baby growing inside his Mother’s belly.   Waiting involves constant watching with anticipation for the baby to arrive.

Are you resting in the promises of God that Jesus will return?  Are you waiting and anticipating that day?  Have you prepared your heart to receive him?  

He is coming!  

The One who came as a Child will return as a King, are you ready?

Are you listening and watching every day?

Have you contemplated the hand of God in your life since last year when you lit the Advent Candles?  Have you suffered hardships, maybe an illness or disease?  Are you living in different circumstances, maybe another home?  Are you having to get used to a new place in life?  Have you had a relationship to go sour and haven’t been able to solve this?  Did God not carry you through to get you to where you are right now in spite of your circumstances?  God works all things together for good, maybe we can see these things as we look back at Advent.  Rest in the confidence that He is with you and has seen you through all of your trials and troubles.

And have you reflected on what will happen as you continue to move forward?  God has a plan just for you.  At Advent your eyes may be opened to see more of that plan.  Are you watching with open eyes?  Are you preparing for the future of God’s will for your life?  Advent reminds us that God is in control of our future and He has a perfect plan for us if we just wait until He reveals it.
 
Are you overcoming life’s bumps and bruises as you wait on The Christ Child to come?  Mary and Joseph had a long and bumpy journey to Bethlehem.  They overcame many obstacles along the way.  We must do the same in our daily lives.  Ask God to help you see the blessings in the bumps as you make your journey toward Christmas.   Be prepared to see God at work.  Make your heart ready! 

Are you truly prepared to receive a King?  Are you living with repentance and hope?  Have you put away your idols and devoted yourself to worshiping God and God alone?  Are you ready?  

We must be prepared.  

A King is coming !

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3: 1-4)

The poem below tells us He will not wait and we must be ready to receive him.  It was like this the first time, and it will be the same the second time:

First Coming
Madeleine L’Engle
He did not wait till the world was ready,
'til men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait
'til hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
(L'Engle, Madeleine. "First Coming." The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L'Engle. Colorado Springs, CO: Shaw, 2005. 242.)
So let us be prepared to rejoice as we journey on, and let us be doing the things that Jesus did and not wait until conditions are “just right.”  As John The Baptist so boldly proclaimed; we must be prepared!  We must keep moving toward the Mystery of the day that the Word is made flesh and the Maker of the Stars is born.  In our remembering of The Child we will know the way to the future. 



Friday, December 2, 2016

SEASONS - MARY'S CHOICE


(Written by Sheila Gail Landgraf)

I have often wondered how much Mary knew and understood about her ancestry.  She was a daughter of Abraham, a descendant of King David.  For the descendant of a king she appeared to be quite poor and lacking in many of the physical and material things of life.  She came from Nazareth.  It was a town not known for being the home of the wealthy or well to do.   No one famous ever came from Nazareth, no prophets, no kings, no one worthy of note.  It was just a little place in the Galilee region where the common every day people lived out their lives, that is; until the birth of Jesus. 

I have to wonder if we really know what we think we know when we ponder the life of Mary so many years ago.   Was she really poor?  She did apparently eventually share the income from Joseph's carpentry work.  Joseph was a descendant of King David but by this time in history the Jewish people were under the Roman occupation.  The glory days of being a descendant of David were over.  This helps to put the physical poverty of these two into perspective.  Joseph was just an ordinary man, a carpenter, who did ordinary work that might have been hard to come by in those times.  He was not living among the wealthy who could pay him high prices for his labor.  It seems though that the lack of material blessings did not matter one bit, they were very rich in spiritual blessings.

When we first hear of Mary in the scriptures she is pledged to Joseph but not yet living with him.  She is visited by an angel named Gabriel who greets her with the words:  "Hail Mary."   It was a greeting that greatly troubled her.

Why did this greeting trouble her?  The scriptures say she was "troubled" by the greeting and considered in her mind what type of greeting this might be.  Maybe it was the next line that caused her to be troubled:  "The Lord is with you."  My first thought is that would be wonderful! That wasn't Mary's immediate reaction though.  How odd it seems upon first reading this scripture that Mary would have been "troubled."   

Keeping her reaction in mind, you may begin to grasp the fact that most likely Mary  had somehow studied the Torah extensively.  Women were not taught to read in those days, nor did they have the opportunity to go to school like men.  It was a most unusual thing for a woman to grasp the deep significance of the Holy Word.  Can't you just visualize Mary sitting quietly and unnoticed at the feet of the great teachers when no one was paying attention?  Can't you just sense that she was listening and deliberately soaking in every word from the holy scriptures, even asking questions as a young child when she had the opportunity?   

Perhaps she had learned much from Elizabeth who possibly had learned much from her husband Zacharias who was a priest.  Perhaps Mary knew so many people full of the Spirit of God that she had soaked in The Word from all of them at random times and places as she grew up.   Who knows how it happened, but it is obvious that Mary knew the holy scriptures.    

This must have been the case because anyone who had studied the Torah in those days would have recalled the stories from the first five books of the bible and astutely recognized the fact that any time someone was being called out by God to do a daunting task the very same words spoken of by Gabriel to Mary (The Lord is with you) were always used. 

These very words had been repeated to great servants of God over and over, like a pattern neatly laid out by God.  When Mary's ears and heart heard the angel proclaim "The Lord is with you." she probably knew instantly she was about to receive an invitation from God to play a crucial role in His plan for mankind.  

She must have recognized the fact that these same words were used from God to Moses in Exodus 3:12.  Moses was told at a burning bush that God had a mission for him.  He considered himself unworthy and unequipped.  He was afraid.  God assured Moses by stating that He would be with him.  God was doing the same for Mary.  


Moses could not have led the people of God out of Egyptian slavery without the supernatural help of God; nor could Mary have given birth to The Savior of The World by herself; but she had faith, and she knew enough to realize that with God all things are possible.  

Mary knew this in her heart.  These were not just words to her.  Her love and devotion to God had prepared her for this day. She had been listening, praying, learning, leaning into God's will from her childhood.  She loved, cherished and knew the story of Moses.  She would have sensed the weight of this moment in history.  Perhaps that is what helped her to give the answer that she gave, the answer that greatly pleased God so much that He proclaimed her blessed above all women.

Though she sensed and knew what the greeting meant; she also knew that these divine callings throughout history usually entailed great sacrifices and challenges to the one being greeted by such sacred words.  She must have known she was about to be drawn out of her comfort zone, from a cozy simple life to a challenging and complicated life.  She must have felt from that moment that her whole world would change from a life that required simple day-to-day faith for small things to a life that required great exceeding faith of eternal consequences.  Things went from very simple to very complicated in one tiny moment.  Life is often like that for all of us.  When these things happen our answers are important.  In Mary's answer to God the most significant moment of all time was confirmed.

We can be assured in these life changing moments that God will be with us.  The angel continued to reassure Mary.  "Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God."


Again we are led to believe that Mary must have studied the Torah.  She knew that the first person to find favor with God had been Noah.  Noah had found so much favor with God that God saved him as well as his family and allowed him to be the father of a whole new world.  Through Noah God had made all things new.  Mary grasped this.  God covenanted with Noah.  Mary knew this was a covenant moment in her life too.  Would God also be using her to make all things new?  She might have pondered this.

Mary must have also thought of Abraham.  God found so much favour with Abraham that He made a covenant with him that would bring blessings to all nations of the earth.  God used the life of Abraham to make all things new.  Mary recognized this.   Mary must have sensed the responsibility that went along with having "favour" with God.   She must have known if you did not follow through and keep what God has asked of you, even when favoured - the whole world might never be right again and all hope of newness could possibly be lost forever.  She must have considered the responsibility that she would be stepping into when she gave her answer; but her faith was bigger than her fears and her God was larger than the earthly troubles she would need to endure.  

She gathered all the courage within her soul and said those beautiful  most perfect words:  "I am a servant of The Lord, let it be done unto me as you say."

And once again, God used one of His faithful servants to make all things new!






Thursday, December 1, 2016

COME AS A CHILD - LESSON 146 - KEEPING THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT



THOU SHALT NOT MURDER
(Written by Sheila Gail Landgraf)

The sixth commandment, like all the other commandments, has everything to do with the sacredness of human life.  

God gave this commandment in Exodus 20:13 and when translated properly it reads “Thou shall not murder.”  The translations that say “Thou shalt not “kill” are mistranslations of the Hebrew into English.  There is a HUGE difference in the meaning of the word “kill” and the meaning of the word “murder.”  Killing is not premeditated or planned.  Usually it is more about self-defense and not about anger and hate.  It has been used as a form of judgments demanding justice in extreme cases.  Some are killed in wars.   Some are killed as punishment when justice is rendered by the courts under law.  Some are accidently killed.  This type of killing is not what the commandment is speaking of, though we can all agree that any ceasing of life is sad. 

 Life is sacred and it is to be honored in all circumstances.  It is never to be taken for granted.



This sixth commandment is talking about cold-blooded, premeditated murder, the kind that comes from anger, hatred, jealousy, pride, lust and arrogance.  It is when someone deliberately decides to take another’s life simply out of hate or anger or greed or selfishness.

As I have so often mentioned before this physical life is simply the training ground for our eternal life.  God breathed life into each of us and gave us the gift of living.  It is a most precious and sacred gift and God hopes to continue this gift for us throughout eternity.  

Everything godly is about maintaining life.  



Everything ungodly is about promoting death.



Murder promotes death and it is an ungodly act of the human will.  God wanted to make it plain to all humans while He was up there on the mountain with Moses that murder should NEVER happen among His people.  

Only God has the power to take life and to give life.  He is the only One wise enough to make that important decision.  We must respect this and honor it by keeping the commandment worded “Thou shalt not murder.”  To decide to take another’s life is to put yourself in the place of God.  That is yet another form of idolatry. 

Most of us look at this commandment, cheerfully sigh a sigh of relief, and move on.  We don’t consider it too long, and we are always telling ourselves that we at least don’t have to worry about violating this one commandment.  Most of us, though we know we are guilty of breaking the other commandments, think we are innocent of murder. 

 Most of us are NOT cold-blooded murders in the physical sense.   But in reality, it just isn’t that easy when you look at the whole picture carefully. Jesus explained this to us a little further than God did with Moses on the mountain; and when you consider what Jesus had to say; practically ALL of us have been guilty at one time or another.  I hate to bear the bad news to you, it is shocking but true!  Let’s just consider the spiritual intentions of the statements of Jesus in more detail and see if we all might need to take a closer examination of this sin in our day-to-day lives.

Jesus encouraged us not to become angry without a cause and not to become violent or abusive to others.  We hear the words of Christ in Matthew 5:21-22.  They bear repeating here as we consider the real meaning of the word “murder.”  The scripture reads:  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.”  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.  And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ (the meaning of this word is “empty head”) shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says; ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. “

Of course we must note those little seemingly skipped-over and insignificant-at-first words after “whoever is angry with his brother’ that reads “WITHOUT A CAUSE” because there IS such a thing as righteous anger, and righteous anger is not sinful unless it is followed up by unrighteous acts.   

We see many incidents in the old and new testament scriptures where either God or Christ show righteous anger.  But, then again, they are God!  Their anger is different from ours.  Their perspective is different from ours. Their hearts are pure, ours are not.   Their anger is always controlled and tempered with patience and mercy.   

Even righteous anger must carefully exercise self-control and not always result in wrongful violence.   We humans do not have the right to judge; therefore where God can bring violence in certain situations to render judgment, justification and punishment; that isn’t our role. God is the ONLY judge of the universe.  We are to control our anger, even if it comes to us from righteousness and a clean and pure heart.

This self-control that must be exercised with anger (anger is not the sin; but the RESULTING ACTIONS of anger are actually the sin) requires more than just restraining from physical violence; it also requires that we be very careful with what we say and how we use our words.  

So many are surprised and shocked to learn that you can commit murder simply by the wrong use of your tongue!



Are you surprised to hear that the tongue can be deadly?  This is how my own sins of murder have been committed.  I have often prayed to God for forgiveness for things I have said that were wrong to others, and I’ve often asked God for help in overcoming this hurtful trait.  For many of us, murder with the tongue is like a generational curse that must be broken by a change of heart in the people of the present generation.   

Can you recall times from your past where you have used your tongue to commit murder of someone’s spirit?

The tongue is a very dangerous weapon and mature Christians have to learn to use it wisely.  The murders we commit by the use of the tongue usually stem from hate.   Whoever hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15) and we know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.   We must get rid of the hate inside our hearts and replace it with love. This is the cure for spiritual murders.

When the tongue is spoken of in the book of Proverbs it is compared to a little fire that begins to grow and grow until it burns a whole forest.  So, be very careful how you use your tongue!  


 Never start fires that cannot be put out without damaging results!  

Stop for just a moment and think of the wounds you have received in this life from wrong words of the tongue, many of these words that have held you back from becoming the person that God intended you to be.  How many of these injuries came from an insensitive person using their tongue to speak something wrong into your life?  Thus, through the wrong words of someone’s tongue, you were robbed of the abundant life that God created you to live.  Someone’s tongue brought you death instead of life!  God has given us the power and authority to reverse this.  Try to forgive them and move on to a better and healthier life.  God does not wish for us to be living in negativity and condemnation; that is spiritual murder, and God has commanded that we do not murder.

The tongue is probably the most used weapon for committing murder; and this type of murder could be called murder of the spirit.  

There seems to be three types of murder, physical, mental and spiritual.  All three are wrong in the eyes of God.  

These three types of murder are typically carried out in one of twelve ways;  by the tongue (spiritual), by hand (physical), by the mind through malice and hate (mental), by maligning another or wishing evil against them (spiritual), by use of the pen (through the rule of unjust courts, rulers and laws) (mental and physical), through plotting and scheming against someone (indirectly physical and mental); by giving poison in a cup (physical), by witchcraft and sorcery (spiritual), by intending to kill whether or not you actually do (spiritual and mental), by being unmerciful (physical, mental and spiritual), and by not swiftly executing the law in a timely manner (physical, spiritual and mental). 

There are countless examples of such types of murders all throughout history and scriptural examples that can be studied and analyzed for each different type of murder.  Each story from the past has something to teach us about maintaining a godly character as we travel through time with the gifts of our sacred lives.  We can learn countless lessons about how to counteract murder from the lives of Joab and Abner and Amass, Pilate and Jesus, David and Uriah, Jezabel and Naboth, Herod and Christ, Saul and David, Saul and Stephen, and many, many more.  Stories of people committing different types of murder are sprinkled all throughout the scriptures.  They are there to teach us the sacredness of life, so that we may not murder but live in peace and harmony with one another.



Of all the forms of murder we could consider; perhaps the saddest form of murder is that of one who murders his own soul.  This can happen in many ways; people can disregard that there is a God or a future in the life to come and commit physical suicide; or they can remain living yet let the things that murder their minds and spirits rule over them to the point that they do not really live anymore.  For some it is lust, hate, jealousy, bitterness; whatever the cause some people will allow things of the enemy of God control them in such a way that they are completely robbed of the things that God gives them for abundant and joyful lives.  This is yet another type of spiritual murder.   We all have choices to make; God does not make them for us. God allows us to chose the path that we will take.

Let us chose life in the fullest and that would be a life to give God glory! 

Remember the sixth commandment and keep it in your heart and mind as well as with your hands.  Choose life!


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

SEASONS - THE LIGHT OF ADVENT

(Written by Sheila Gail Landgraf)

What could be more wonderful than lighting advent candles?  This simple little act helps us to rise above our circumstances and experience the hope of Christmas.    

The last Sunday of November will be the time for lighting the first candle of Advent and the flame will burn bright and beautiful on our living room coffee table this year.  Where do you place your Advent Candles?  It is truly a time we anticipate and enjoy at our house.  

If you never had an advent wreath, you just might be missing out on one of the true joys of Christmas.  This is a very easy tradition to learn and it adds so much to your weekly celebrations in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  The tradition of the Advent wreath started way, way back in history.  Some of the wreath's history started with the Germans who say they burned candles in greenery because their winters were so very cold and the warm candle light reminded them that the warmth of spring was coming and gave them hope of a better day.  Hope is what keeps people going.  Hope is how the wreath of candles started, and eventually it evolved from a small message of the hope of warmth and spring into the great message of the hope of Messiah.      
The tradition today is still about hope for a better day, but it has been refined to a much higher and more spiritual level as we hope and wait for the second coming of the Messiah.  The second coming of Messiah as well as the first coming of Messiah are celebrated by the lighting of the advent candles.  We are hoping and we are waiting for a better day.  We are waiting on something more wonderful and new and fresh as spring.  We are waiting on a miracle that will change our lives completely, and so we light the first candle in our waiting. 
Of course for every good and Christian thing there is a counterpart  from the enemy.  Satan would love to desecrate all those things that we use to measure out sacred times and spaces.  He doesn't want us to have those reminders of things that are sacred and cherished that draw us toward a Great God.  He will twist and twist the truth into any shape or fashion that he can to turn you against anything at all that will draw you closer to Christ.  He always likes for people to be reminded that the pagans had their traditions too.  If you stop at that portion of the story, he will steal your advent joy away.  Don't let him.  For instance, in Scandinavia during the winter months the people lighted candles that were placed around a wheel and prayers were offered up to pagan gods of light to turn the wheel of the earth back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.  This was the practice, that is, until these people began to become Christians and worship the true God of Heaven and Earth.  They realized their custom was wrong, and they began to change it to incorporate ways that would honor the true God.  Many people stumble and get stuck on step one of this history, and the devil loves when that happens.  He tries to keep them from getting to step two.  It is their loss.  When people turn and change, God is pleased.  Now the advent wreaths in Scandinavia symbolize a totally different thing.  They worship God, and I would say that is a very positive change indeed!  The true light is shinning now and the advent wreath is lit for Christian reasons instead of pagan reasons.  This is one way to win victory over the enemy.  Change your focus and direct everything you do toward God.  Light begins to appear.  

God's people have always used candles to honor Him.  It seems God Himself started this tradition with the instructions for how to build the Menorah for the Temple.  Since that day His people have honored him with the lighting of the candles.  Every Jewish family across the land will have two white candles adorning the table for the Sabbath and the woman of the house will light them and say a prayer for God's blessings on her family.  Candle lighting has always held a very special place in the history of the life of true believers.

It was about the time of the middle ages that Christians saw the relation between the second coming of Christ as a King and the first coming of Christ as a child.  They started using advent wreaths as a symbol of hope while waiting on Christmas to come.  They recognized Christ as the true light of the world with their wreaths.  Both Catholics and Lutherans have made this a central practice in their homes all across the land.  Many others have joined them in painting the beautiful story with candles and a wreath.  The longer you look at life in the kingdom, the more beauty you will find in the different arts of worship that people use to honor God.  It is truly amazing to observe.  

How does God feel about beauty?  Have you ever looked at a sunrise?  The advent wreath is yet another one of those lovely art forms.

The symbolism today is so telling of the Christian story.  The green symbolizes everlasting life.  The prickly leaves of holly remind us of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross.  The circle of the wreath has no beginning or end and it symbolizes the infinity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life that Christ has given us.  Pine cones and nuts on the wreath symbolize resurrection and new life, because of the seeds found inside of them. 

There are four candles on the outside of the wreath and one is lit each week.  Each candle represents one thousand years, four thousand years all together from the birth of Adam until the birth of the Messiah.  Three of the outside candles are purple and one is rose.  The purple represents prayer, penance and sacrifice.  These are all things that we must be doing to get prepared.  The rose candle is lit on the third week and it represents joy.  By the time of the rose candle's lighting the people have arrived at the midpoint of advent.  The preparations are half over and their joy should be overflowing.  The progressive lighting of the candles represents the anticipation and hope in the first coming and the anticipation and hope for the Second Coming and the return of Christ again.  Both things speak of His coming to us and saving us from a world of darkness.  We are all waiting together and constantly anticipating the light that only He can bring.





There is much about the art of waiting in the lighting of the candles.  Life seems to be as much about the journey as the arriving sometimes.  Often what matters in the end is what we do in-between destinations.  This is where we must live out the lighting of the candles on the wreath.  This is where we must live in the day to day events of our lives. 

On Christmas Eve we light a larger white candle and place it in the middle.  This is symbolic of Christ.  It speaks of how He is the Light of The World.  It speaks of how He should always be living in the middle of our world.  It speaks of how He is our center and compass for finding the answers to life.  It announces Christmas and a time of blessing.   It says:  The waiting is over!  He is here!  The whole world has been waiting and He has now arrived!  We welcome the light in the center of the wreath and we welcome Christ into our homes to be the center of Christmas and the focus of all our adoration. 

Most people light their advent wreath each week before dinner and a traditional prayer is said.  The prayers from The Catholic Church are beautiful and compelling to use at this time.  If you have never read them, please find a copy and study them.  They will stir your heart.  There are a wide variety of advent messages and devotionals to chose from.   

It is okay to light the candles at any time or place you wish.  It is the idea of honoring God and His gift of Christ that is the important thing to remember.   I’ve known families to gather around the fireplace and light their candles on a coffee table as they share family devotions together.  Many churches throughout the land light the advent wreath in the services leading up to Christmas. 

As we take the time to prepare our hearts by lighting the candles of the advent wreath God gives us the blessing of helping us to prepare our hearts for His Second Coming.   Even this minute – we are waiting and watching the skies with hope.  Come quickly Lord Jesus!



May your time of Advent be full of God’s greatest blessings and may you find the Real Meaning of Christmas hiding in all that you do this season.


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