NORTHGATE Blog

Have Yourself a Sacramental Christmas

A sacrament is a visible image of God’s grace, a physical representation of a spiritual reality. In the Lutheran tradition we recognize two Sacraments, baptism and communion. Baptism is a tangible, visual, ritual that represents a believer’s participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Communion is a visible, and edible, reminder of Jesus’ body and blood given to us for the forgiveness of sin. These sacraments have been ritualized with much pomp and circumstance, and our tradition can sometimes take away from the profound truth that these sacraments were originally very common things!

Washing and ritual cleansing were a daily Jewish practice. Baptism, therefore, wasn’t a new idea in the day of Jesus, but rather a common practice that was given a new meaning. The same is true with Communion. Jesus used bread and wine, both of which were consumed every day, to represent the New Covenant. When Jesus said, “Whenever you eat of this, and drink of this, remember me”, he wasn’t thinking of church services where we have a sip of grape juice and a nibble of bread. It was in the context that they would be eating bread and drinking wine every day! Whenever you eat and drink, remember me.

God is still in the sacramental business, He uses all sorts of physical, tangible, everyday things, to remind us of His love, purpose, and grace. I want to point out two Christmas sacraments for us to think about this holiday season; two normal, everyday things that can point us to Jesus, to remind us of what Christmas is all about.

GIFTS

First, presents! Everybody loves giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time, yet too often the Christian message looks down on presents, claiming they are a distraction or even an idol! In other words, presents are given a ‘bad wrap’, ha! What if, instead of seeing them as a distraction, presents could be seen as sacrament, a physical reminder of a spiritual truth?

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11)!”

God loves to give gifts! He doesn’t give bad gifts, but good gifts! Gifts of joy, peace, love, and eternal life!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).”

Our gift giving at Christmas time can be a symbol of our generous heavenly Father who gives good gifts us. We can use this Christmas tradition in our families to point to the greatest gift of all time, Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son....(John 3:16).”

Instead of rejecting presents as a distraction from Christmas, let’s use them as a way to point to its true meaning! Talk to your kids about it, meditate on it, and reflect on your own excitement and enthusiasm as a reflection of God’s own excitement in giving us Jesus!

FAMILY

Our second Christmas sacrament revolves around another tradition, being with those we love. You might look forward to being with your family because you love each other and get along. Maybe that’s not your situation; you might have a broken family, and even though you do get together for Christmas, you wish those relationships could be different, healthier, and more loving. Or, maybe you don’t have family to gather with, and Christmas is a time of sorrow and longing. No matter what position you are in, whether being with family in a healthy way is possible or not, there is one thing we have in common. There is a desire, a longing, to be with our loved ones.

"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel" (which means "God with us") (Matthew 1:23).”

Christmas is about God’s deep desire, his longing, to be with us. Our family celebrations, our desire for healthy relationships, and even our sorrow over lost loved ones, can remind us of God’s heart for us! God loves us and wants to be with us! Thanks to Jesus we can be with Him!

This next week, whenever you give or receive a gift, remember Him. Remember your Heavenly Father who loves to give you good gifts, and who has given the greatest gift of all, Jesus. When you feel that excitement, longing, or sorrow about being with family, remember Him. Remember that Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us.

Blessings to you all as you celebrate the coming of God into this world. Praying you have a very merry, sacramental Christmas!

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21

The book of 1 John is known as the book of love. Over and over, John describes the love of God: what it is and what it is not. And then we get to the end of this love letter and we see this last thought. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

What? Wait. Where did that come from?

Maybe it’s just me, but as I read through this book over and over myself, this last sentence seemed out of place. It’s good. It’s right. It’s something we need to do. But it seemed like an afterthought. Like an, “Oh, by the way…” kind of thing.

But as we think about this statement and look back at all John has just communicated about God’s love, we see that this is how we do everything else he’s talked about. We will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, walking in His ways, or we will fix our eyes on idols, things of lesser value, power and truth.

The principles discussed in the study Living in the Light of God’s Love: Walk this Way are how we keep fixed on Jesus. We can all get off course occasionally, but by doing these things, we will course correct quickly. What does it entail?

FELLOWSHIP

It’s such a churchy word, but all it means is active relationship. We live and engage in an active relationship (in fellowship) with God and with others who know God. We are authentic, not hiding who we really are. We grow and become more invested in Him and each other, able to speak deeper and more gracious truth and encouragement into each other’s lives. We more clearly hear and receive God’s truth and encouragement.

OBEDIENCE

This word entices rebellion right off the bat. “No one’s going to tell me what to do!” But our relationship with God is not just any relationship. His heart for us is one of a parent for a child. And just as our parents told us what to do for our own good, so does God. And God’s direction (commands) are not based on His personal experience in our world; it’s based on His character and the character He’s growing in each of us. It’s completely pure in thought, word and deed. God’s commands set us apart for good in this world, not evil. And if we’re honest, isn’t that what we want, to do good in this world?

HUMILITY

At the same time, we all want what we want. And it seems good to us in the moment, even over the years. And yet to follow anyone’s direction requires us to set aside what we think for what they say. Humility lays ourselves down, acknowledges the value and worth of another as more significant than just what we want. It isn’t that we are not also important, it just says that our wants are not more important than another person’s being and needs. We submit to Jesus, what He says and what He does, so that we can actually do things the way He did them.

MEDITATION

This word, unfortunately conjures up thoughts of religious practices that have nothing to do with the true and living God. But I refuse to let lesser gods hijack words that have good meaning and purpose. Meditation is simply the things we think about throughout our days and nights. What thoughts roll through your mind on a regular basis? Worry, anxiety, revenge, achievement, proving yourself, loss and sorrow? God has given us His Word in both the person of Jesus and through the Holy Scripture. We can think all sorts of things, but all we really need to know is found within the pages of our Bibles. We can read and know that God’s grace and truth will see us through, and as we think on His Word, our perspective, understanding and response to our situations will change. We can know God and through the power of His Spirit, find joy in His Word.

PRAYER

As I was growing up, I thought of prayer as me thinking, maybe speaking my requests to God hoping that He’d hear them and answer them. When I was in my late 20’s, I heard a woman at church talking about how she was talking to God and He was talking back! Really? Was this older woman for real or just “thinking” she heard from God? Can we really hear God? Does He really speak to us personally, individually? Prayer is all about our conversations with God, coming to Him with everything. We seek to know Him and hear from Him. What God says to us when we pray has the power to change our lives if we let it. And therein lies the challenge of prayer…

WORSHIP

“Dear children (you who are loved), keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Deuteronomy 5:7) (Jesus replied:) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

How do we love each other well? We worship God and God alone. As we seek to follow Jesus in relationship with Him, doing what He says, submitting our will to His, knowing His truth and grace, seeking to hear from Him regularly, we follow the example He set of what it means to love God and love others. We focus all our attention, all our purpose on Him. This is our worship: to be a living sacrifice offering our whole life up to Him for His purpose. His love is good in us and it’s good through us. Walk as Jesus did. Love God and one another well.

Want to dig deeper into the book of 1 John?

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Living in the Light of God’s Love: Walk this Way is available at the Welcome Desk or at MariKeisling.com.

HOW TO RAISE YOUR "BATTING AVERAGE" THIS CHRISTMAS

I don’t know about you, but I was excited to see the Minnesota Twins make a big improvement this year.  In case you are not a fan, the Twins finished in last place in 2016 with only 59 wins.  This year, they won an incredible 26 more games and finished in second place.  Many things were improved this year for the team compared to 2016, including their quality of “at-bats”.  In 2017, the team sent a player up to home plate to hit 61 fewer times than in 2016, but they got 93 more hits.  The team saw significant improvements in their goal (wins) by making the most of every chance they had at the plate.  

By now you are probably asking yourself, “where is he going with this?”. Well, I’m glad you asked!

Christmas is upon us here at Northgate once again.  Preparations are well on their way for an amazing service and experience this year.  There will be 5 identical services to choose from this year on Saturday, December 23 at 3 and 5pm and Sunday, December 24 at 11am, 2pm, and 4pm.  As usual, this will be an event that you will want to invite all your friends and family to come and see how we worship the new born King of Kings!  Maybe you have invited friends and family in the past, but have not had too much success.  Well, like the 2017 Minnesota Twins, we are going make sure that we all do better with our “at-bats” (invitations) and enjoy even greater success this year!

Like most things in life, planning and practice are the key to success.  This year, before you start swinging away (OK –I’ll stop with the baseball analogies) you should take a few minutes and really think about how you will make the invitation.  One method that can be effective is to use what is called an Elevator Pitch. This is a technique that, like the name implies, forces you to be succinct and to the point with your words so that your entire “pitch” can be completed in the time it takes to complete a short elevator ride.

Here are some keys to creating your own unique elevator pitch.

  1. It should be brief – 30 seconds max.  People have a short attention span so keep it brief!

  2. Your pitch should explain what’s in it for them – people aren’t going to be as fired up as they can be if the reason you want them to come to church is “I love it here”.  That’s nice, but like you, most people look at invitations through the lens of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).  You know who you are inviting; explain to them why you think they would enjoy Christmas at Northgate.

  3. Do not go for the “home run” – Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  But this one should bring relief to us.  You do not have to sell salvation in your invitation.  God is way better at saving people than we are, so we should not try and do his job.  A simple “come and see” should suffice.

I just heard an astounding statistic that said that a whopping 86% of people who are invited to come to church will come.  By preparing your Elevator Pitch in advance, practicing it, and using it during game time, I’m sure that you will come to enjoy inviting friends and family this year.

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