Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

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!

Scandalous Love

I recently read a story about Joseph Scriven who wrote the lyrics to the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus” in POSTER31855 for his mother who missed him terribly after he had emigrated to Canada. Scriven was an Irishman who left Ireland for Canada after his fiancé died. In Canada he tutored the children of wealthy families. He then got engaged to a woman in Canada, but she also died before their wedding. Grief stricken, Scriven decided he was to remain a bachelor. But he never gave up on loving people. On Saturday nights he would go downtown and distribute Gospel pamphlets to the men coming out of the bars.

One Saturday night in winter Scriven was handing out his tracts and a group of men coming out of a bar decided to beat him up. After leaving him bleeding and lying on the ground they staggered away. As Scriven watched the thugs move away he noticed one of them did not have a winter coat to protect himself from the cold. He hastily got up and caught up to the man, took off his coat and gave it to him.

Would you have done such a thing? I have to admit that I probably would not have even thought to give this man my own coat. After all, he didn’t deserve it. A situation becomes a scandal when it violates people’s expectations about how a person in a certain position is supposed to behave. We generally think of it in a negative way such as a politician who takes bribes, or a teacher abuses children. But it was a scandalous love displayed by Scriven. And it is scandalous love that Jesus demonstrated by taking on human form to save you and me. We celebrate this love at Christmas. Yes, it seems to me that the Christmas story is the ultimate display of a scandalous love. 

But God’s love for us didn’t begin at Christmas. He has always loved us with a scandalous love. We often fail to understand just how scandalous God’s love for us is, and how radical it is that God would show that love by lowering himself to be born in human form. His scandalous love is on full display in the story of Hosea where we read: 

Hosea 2:2-3 (CEB) When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a prostitute and have children of prostitution, for the people of the land commit great prostitution by deserting the LORD . ” So Hosea went and took Gomer, Diblaim’s daughter, and she became pregnant and bore him a son.”

 

Hosea 3:1 (TNIV) The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

Christmas is the heralding of God who comes to be with us. God is the one who pursues. The Incarnation is the revelation of God’s scandalous love affair with humanity. Do you trust God’s promise to redeem your life? To love you and want your love in return, no matter what kind of mess your life has been? To whom or in what way can you show “scandalous” love this holiday season because of God’s great love shown to you?

 

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!

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