Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

By a Different Road

In the little city of Frostproof, Florida they noticed a plastic baby Jesus, accompanied by a plywood donkey, hadPOSTER3 vanished from the manger sometime after the annual Christmas parade on December 1 of this year. But they’re not alone. In fact, did you realize we have a crime epidemic every year during the Christmas season in America? It’s true. The Los Angeles Times reported that the baby Jesus is being stolen from nativity scenes across America. And it’s been going on for years now. In fact, the Times article reported that a New York City company, BrickHouse Security, developed a GPS tracking system to be able to find the baby Jesus. BrickHouse Security Chief Executive Todd Morris heard about figurines being stolen from mangers across the country and decided to offer GPS trackers free as a holiday goodwill gesture, mostly to churches and other nonprofits. With the GPS tracker, it’s easy to find the baby Jesus. When baby Jesus was kidnapped in one community in 2008, he was found in someone’s living room within hours. In 2009 the baby Jesus was followed on the GPS map strolling around the community center, pool, and tennis courts. With the GPS in place, the baby Jesus can easily be found.

Consider the original Christmas story. The “Wise Men” had a GPS tracking system. They were probably from Persia, present day Iran. As they studied the prophecies of Daniel 9:20-27, they were able to know the approximate time the Messiah would appear. However, they didn’t know the exact time and location. But God made it easy for them when he sent them a band of angels shining as a star in the sky to lead them right to Jesus. Of course, the most amazing part of their story is that they were wise enough to follow that star! This first GPS system took the Wise Men on a different road than they would have taken on their own. It was a road worth taking. It was the road to Jesus.

Where is the baby Jesus in your Christmas holiday this year? For many of us, including Christians, we lose the baby Jesus at the very time of year we celebrate His birth. We don’t need BrickHouse Security to find the real Jesus. That’s because Jesus promises us our own personalized GPS tracker system that is as good or even better than the one given to the Wise Men. We read in John 16:7… “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” In other words, I’m giving you a GPS tracker system so you can ALWAYS find Me! This “Helper” is the Holy Spirit. And we can have Him in our lives if we will only accept Him.

The Holy Spirit is our GPS tracker system that will lead us to Jesus as certainly as the angels led the Wise Men to Jesus over 2000 years ago. Wise men and women still find Jesus today. The promise of Christmas is that we can find the baby Jesus. He can be your baby Jesus and He can be mine. But you have to use His personalized GPS tracker system. Are you ready to use the most sophisticated and technical, and yet the most user friendly and personal GPS tracker system in the universe? Jesus has told us the truth. He can be found. He wants to be found. He desires to have a home in you heart and mine. May you find Jesus on Christmas day and throughout the coming year!

 

 

Jesus’ Wish List

Recently Pam and I were taking a walk in the neighborhood when we saw two boys playing football against each POSTER3other. This triggered memories of my childhood. Timmy (my best friend at age 10) and I would play one-on-one football. You have to see it to really understand it. But trust me, it’s possible! We played football against each for hours that year. That’s the only year I still remember my Christmas wish list as a child. I wanted a football, a helmet, and a real football uniform. You can imagine how excited I was to receive everything on that wish list. That’s right, I was all decked out for the next epic game of one-on-one football with Timmy.

It wasn’t until Pam and I had children of our own that my Christmas wish list had a different look. I wasn’t so concerned with what gifts I would get but with the gifts I would give. My wish list became synonymous with the lists of my kids. I wanted to give them everything they wanted. I loved to hear the “happy sounds” my kids would make on Christmas morning. I lived to see the sparkle in their eyes, the sense of wonder on their faces, and the gratitude in their hugs.

As our kids older, the Christmas wish list took on yet a different dimension. It was their idea, really. They wanted us to have our annual Christmas Eve party for those families we knew who were less fortunate. This was the party we had previously always had at our house for close friends. This party had always been about our own wish lists. But now that they were older, they thought it was time to make it about those families with younger children who couldn’t have the kind of Christmas we had come to expect.

When I think about Jesus’ Christmas wish list, I remember His words in Matthew 7:11… If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Jesus wants to give you the desires of your heart. He wants you to have a full and abundant life. This is His Christmas wish list. But Jesus knows we can’t really be happy, enjoy life, and experience the joy of Christmas until we embrace a different kind of Christmas, one that is focused outside ourselves. Until we care about serving others, ministering to their needs, and sharing our gifts with them, we will never experience the true joy and peace of Christmas.

Herein lies the real miracle of Christmas. Once you receive the gift of Jesus’ birth in your life with the spiritual gifts that come with it, you know there is no other gift worth giving. And so the best gift becomes the sharing of the gifts we have received from Jesus. When He left this planet to prepare a heavenly home for each one of us, He gifted us with special talents and love to give to others. I imagine Jesus’ wish list is that His followers fulfill His mission for this earth as He stated it in Luke 4:18-19… “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

 

May this be the Christmas Jesus receives everything on His wish list!

Giving Up on Perfect

I grew up wanting the perfect life. My mother drove me to a small two-room church school every day for grades 1-7. POSTER3For 7 years we drove by our dentist’s home which I perceived to be perfect. I then went to public school for grades 8-12. During this time I had friends who lived in houses similar to my dentist’s perfect home. So I developed a concept of the perfect life I wanted to have one day. I began to believe I could have this perfect life when I did well in my college-prep courses in high school. I was well on my way to the perfect life attained through a career in medicine when I graduated from high school in 1973.

Fast forward to 2004 when I accepted a call into pastoral ministry after nearly 20 years in medicine. I had the perfect life. I had the perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect wardrobe, and the perfect family. I’m simply saying that my life was everything I had expected it to be on those car rides to elementary school. But there was one thing missing. It wasn’t the life God called me to live. He had called me to be a pastor. I had started on that path in college, but ended up chasing the perfect life to be a doctor. 

This is an issue many of us face. We want our concept of perfect. We want what the world has to offer. And every Christmas we are faced with a decision between the magic of Christmas or the miracle of Christmas. We are bombarded with advertisements promising magical gifts for the perfect life all the while God’s Spirit quietly offers us the miracle of Christmas if we give up on perfect.

If you want to know how this works, check out the first Christmas story. Joseph and Mary were asked to be the parents of Jesus. They already had their life planned together. I can only imagine they saw themselves as having children together, a home, and all that comes with family life. Joseph would work as a carpenter in his home town. Life would be perfect. But then an angel came to each one of them. They were faced with a choice. They could give up on their concept of the perfect married life with Jesus, or they could go for their concept of the perfect married life without Jesus. Imagine the miracle Mary and Joseph experienced when they gave up on perfect. They not only  experienced the miracle, they became a miracle. Mary gave birth to the Son of God and Joseph gave Him a home. Together, they changed the course of human history.

We too often allow our desire for the perfect house, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect friends, the perfect job, the perfect life get in our way of experiencing and being God’s miracle. The choice is ours: Magic or Miracle?  The same old Christmas or a different kind of Christmas? This Christmas I’m ready to give up on perfect and be the miracle. What about you?

Expect a Miracle

Every Christmas Eve I would get in the car with my dad who would drive around the neighborhood to see if we could spot Santa Claus. We would look on housetops, and of course in the sky. Most years we didn’t see anything resembling Santa. So we would return home to the news that Santa had visited our home while we were out. By the time I was 6 or 7 years old my parents told me the truth about Santa. It wasn’t a big deal to me since I had never seen him anyway. And what’s more, my parents had always taught me the real Christmas story. I knew the miracle of Jesus’ birth. In fact, the Christmas story is filled with miracles. There’s the miracle of the virgin birth. The miracle of Joseph accepting Mary’s story. The miracle of the Son of God becoming the Son of man. The miracle of wise men from the east finding the Son of man. The miracle of the ancient prophets foretelling the exact time and place of the Son of man’s birth. And the miracle of escaping Herod’s plan to destroy the Son of man.

The Christmas story is indeed filled with the miraculous. So why don’t we expect miracles as part of our Christmas story? For some of us, including many Christians, we don’t actually see the miracle of the Christmas story. Or if we do, we see it as something that happened over 2,000 years ago in a time when miracles were commonplace. But today we live in the scientific era where miracles are simply those things yet to be dissected, explained,and repudiated as nothing more than a law of nature. So we don’t expect a miracle. We talk about the “magic” of Christmas, but not the miracle of it. We give exhortations to “believe” in the inner good of humanity, but not in the inner miracle of God.

As I try to make sense of the miracle of Christmas, I find proof of it at the very beginning of the story. I’m talking about the very beginning of our story that is found in Genesis. Here we see a description of a miracle happening in which God creates two things man has never been able to create: life and time. Many in the scientific community feel we are close to creating life. After all, we are able to clone mammals. Some might argue that we can create a single cell. The headline “Scientists Create First Artificial Life” was published by WorldPress.com on May 20, 2010. The New York Times published an article titled “Scientists Create Artificial Life In Laboratory” on May 21, 2010. But there are no similar claims of man creating time, not even a single second.

The creation story in Genesis describes God as first creating life culminating in the creation of man. Then God created time, the Sabbath, for man and God to commune on a weekly basis. God established a weekly cycle to remind us of the miracle of time and the life that lives within that time. Yes, He created time on the seventh day that is called the Sabbath so we could experience the miracle of time with Him. The miracle of the Christmas story is that the Son of God interjects Himself into man’s time and space. Perhaps if we really want to experience the miracle of Christmas we should look at how Jesus spent His Sabbaths on this earth. He created the Sabbath as a time to be with us. Christmas is a celebration of the time He came to live with us. What better way to experience the miracle of Christmas than to do the things Jesus did on the Sabbath when He lived on earth?

We can experience a different kind of Christmas this year if we follow the example of Jesus and expect a miracle. In Luke 4 Jesus quoted from Isaiah to describe His mission on this earth, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” We can live the miracle. We can be the miracle. Jesus tells us we only need the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains. It’s time to expect a miracle by being a miracle this Christmas!

The Season’s Greeting – Assurance

I wasn’t 10 years old when I learned a lesson of assurance and hope. My father had a house painting business in addition to working as a firefighter. I spent many days at the homes my father painted. And because I loved my dad, I wanted to paint houses like he painted. It looked fun and easy. I mean you put the brush into the paint can, get some paint on it, and then apply it to the wall. Nothing to it! Or so I told myself. On this particular day, it was late in the afternoon when my father finally finished painting the living room and kitchen. He decided to start painting a bedroom upstairs, much to my chagrin. It was close enough to quitting time that I HOPED he would decide to call it a day an hour early. But my dad never did that. So there I was in the living room waiting for my dad.

At this point I could have continued to play with the toys I had brought for the day, but then I noticed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My dad left his paintbrush on the paint can to clean when he was completely done for the day. He was already done in the living room. What harm could come from applying a little more paint? After all, I needed to learn sometime. Besides, I was bored. I was tired of playing with the same toys all day. I had so HOPED to go home early. But now that we would be here a bit longer, I decided to open the paint can, dip the brush into the can & apply some more fresh paint on the walls. The color didn’t seem quite right, but I figured it was because the paint was wet. So I applied more and more until it became painfully obvious that the color was NOT the same! As I put the brush back I noticed there was paint on the floor as well. It was the same color I had just painted on the wall. I was terrified. What would my dad say? What would he think? What about the homeowner? How could he ever fix this mess? Would the homeowner get mad at my father? Now I HOPED my father would not be too angry with me. Now I HOPED he could fix the mess because I didn’t know how.

It was a long 30 minutes as I waited for my dad to come back down to the living room where I was “hiding.” I didn’t say a thing as he looked at the interesting color palette on the wall. Then he noticed the paint on the floor. I was ashamed & afraid. This is when my dad said, “Thanks for helping down here. It looks like we need to clean up so we can get home. Could you go to the car & get some clean rags for me?” I gladly ran to the car, found some clean rags and helped my dad clean up my mess.

I’ll never forget that day. That I learned the connection between ASSURANCE and HOPE. If I didn’t already know how much my dad loved me, I knew that day. I had the ASSURANCE of his steadfast love for me. This ASSURANCE gave me HOPE. Just a few hours earlier, my HOPE was based on what I could and would be doing. But now my HOPE was based on the ASSURANCE of what my dad could and would do for me. One of my favorite greetings from God is the greeting of Assurance that gives me Hope for the future. How has God assured you of His love? How does God give you hope?

The Season’s Greetings – Obedience

Duke was our first big dog. He was a 90# Chocolate Labrador who was full of energy, love, and devotion. At least I think he loved us based upon his tail wagging and random movements from side to side that greeted any family member, or any friend of a family member, or even any enemy of a family member! Yes, Duke was a friendly dog who loved people more than anything. Well, almost anything. If there was a squirrel within smelling distance, Duke might get a little preoccupied and forget about his “family.” This preoccupation seemed to trump any other thought or desire to submit to his family. And then there was leather products. Yes, Duke loved to consume, literally, leather products. We learned the expensive way to never leave a pair of leather shoes unattended with Duke!

Duke never changed throughout his life. We took him to “dog obedience” school. We taught him tricks. We worked with him for hours. But Duke had one major weakness, he loved squirrels. He could sense the presence of a squirrel a mile away (or at least it seemed that way). He would chase a squirrel at any cost. The only exception was when he was on a leash with me. I would keep him on a “short leash” and constantly let him know that I was in control. If one of our children was walking with Duke, even on a leash, he would break free every time a squirrel came within smelling distance. Unfortunately, Duke never overcame this habit. I say unfortunately because Duke was hit by a car as he broke “free” one day to chase his last squirrel.

It was a painful death as he was paralyzed for two weeks before we had to put him down. He couldn’t wag his tail when we came into the room. He couldn’t jump and move from side to side anymore. He even lost his smile that had been a permanent fixture on his face. It was sad, heartbreaking. And all because he could never learn obedience.

We are really no different. We all have squirrels in our lives. We all have things we chase because we think freedom is present there. We don’t want anyone or anything to limit our freedom. Could it be, however, that true freedom is found in obedience? One of the beautiful greetings of the Christmas Season is obedience. Without the obedience of Jesus, there would be no life on this earth. In fact, we are told that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) Because of HIS obedience, I can live today. I have found that true freedom comes through obedience. And yet too many days I’m just like Duke. I chase after squirrels! Thank God for the Greeting of Obedience freely given in the life and death of Jesus Christ! 

 

The Season’s Greetings – Healing

I’ll never forget the surgical incision that simply would not heal. I was a junior OB/GYN resident at Bethesda Naval Hospital doing a rotation in gynecologic oncology (cancer of the female organs). I was taking care of a patient I’ll call Karen who had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) because she had cancer of the uterus. Karen weighed over 400 pounds, and in addition to her cancer, she also suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. Her surgery went well with every expectation that Karen would be completely cured of her cancer – she would be healed! However, her surgical incision on her abdomen would not heal. The skin edges of the incision were 10 inches apart and the depth of the resulting “wound” was 18 inches deep. The incision was 18 inches long made necessary by her excess weight. My task was to change her bandages and cut away any dead tissue that accumulated. I placed gauze soaked with antibiotics into her wound 3 times a day. I got to know her well as it would take me 45 minutes every time I removed the old gauze and replaced it with new.

I learned that healing is a difficult process. I learned that healing takes time and outside help. I learned that none of us, not even doctors, can heal. We can be healed, but we cannot heal. The study of medicine is really the study of God’s healing processes. As physicians, we study how the body normally works that results in what we call “health.” We then study those things that cause the body to stop working normally that results in what we call “disease.” We then study how to work with the body to help it fight disease. So we give advice on lifestyle choices, or recommend the surgical removal of the diseased tissue, or prescribe medicine to reverse the disease. This may actually include giving a person poison we call “chemotherapy” in order to kill cancer cells. This tells me how crazy and unjust disease can be! 

There is perhaps no greater need in our world today than the greeting of healing. None of us escape the need to be healed at some point in some way by some power outside of ourselves. And it’s not just physical healing that we seek. We need healing when our relationships sour, when a loved one dies, when disease racks our body, when our best friend betrays us, when we succumb to temptation one more time even though we promised ourselves we would “never do it again.” Yes, the need for healing is universal!


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