Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Resolution

As we gaze out at a new year dawning, many are drawn to make ‘resolutions’ or to reflect back on the past year and contemplate what needs to change in the future. Often we are prone to concentrate on those goals that are measurable and well within our grasp. While those resolutions aren’t bad, maybe we should focus more on what God’s goals for us may be.
“We don’t know what those are”? “We can’t figure them out”? “They are too hard and aren’t achievable.” “They may inconvenience me or make me look silly.”
Before we get too far away from the Christmas images and the birth story, I think there is a great message in it for us regarding how we should let God have His way in our lives – for the new year and every year.
There are three different ‘birth pronouncement’ stories in the Bible that may seem somewhat similar, but actually show a marked difference in how we are to react to God’s plans for our lives.
First was the story of Abraham and Sarah:
God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, . . . I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Genesis 17:15-17)
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
(Genesis 18:10-14, emphasis added)
And then the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah:
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. . . . Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. (Luke 1:11-19, emphasis added)
And finally, the story of Mary:
But [Gabriel] said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God
. (Luke 1:30-35)
Do you see the difference in the responses to the pronouncement of God’s plans? Abraham and Sarah sarcastically said, “Yeah, right!” Zechariah said, “Prove it.” And Mary said, “Wow – how is that going to happen?”
God told Mary that He had plans for her that were physically impossible. In amazement, wonder, faith, and obedience, Mary responded: “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true." (Luke 1:38, NLT)
When God has plans for us, it doesn’t matter if they seem difficult or outright impossible to us. It doesn’t matter if we can’t figure out how they will come about. It doesn’t matter if we know we aren’t capable of pulling it off.
God’s answer to fulfilling His plans in our lives is the same as His answer to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. That wasn’t just a pronouncement about the ‘immaculate conception’ – it was God’s statement of His ‘modus operandi’ to accomplish His plans: His Spirit and His power.
While it is certainly true that most of us will not experience having an angel appear to us and tell us what God has planned for our lives, there are still many ways God speaks to us and gives us direction (His Word, prayer, godly friends, etc.). But we must be open to His plans, accepting of them, and obedient to them.
When we respond as Mary did (“I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true."), God will fulfill His plans in and through us as He did with Mary (The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.).
As you survey the new year approaching, what is it that you think God can’t do? What are you apprehensive about letting Him take care of? What are you afraid to yield to Him?
It may seem difficult. It may seem outrageous. It may seem impossible.
But as we are reminded in the birth pronouncement to Mary, “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37, MSG)
Are you willing to make your New Year’s resolution to listen, accept, and obey God’s plans – whatever they may be?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Has Jesus Been Lost in Christmas?

It seems like at least one person every year (at Christmas) tells me that they are removing all decorations and ‘Christmas stuff’ from their home that does not relate directly to Jesus and His birth. Throwing out all ‘Santa Claus’ decorations, elves, tinsel, mistletoe, etc. Removing those ‘snowy scenes’ and holly branches and snowmen.
I also noticed the other day while sitting in the barber’s chair that the barber shop’s Christmas decorations consisted solely of holly leaves, Christmas lights, and candy canes. And the malls are piping in ‘Christmas’ music like White Christmas, and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
There can be no dispute that Christmas has become over-commercialized or that the ‘accoutrements’ of the ‘holiday’ have overtaken the meaning of the holiday to many (if not most) folks. So much emphasis is placed on gift buying, going to parties, eating, and just general ‘holiday merriment’.
It would certainly appear that Jesus often gets lost.
But did you know that there is some biblical precedent for Jesus getting lost in the fun and festivities surrounding holiday celebrations? That’s right – in Luke 2:41-50 is the story of Mary and Joseph ‘losing’ Jesus during the Passover celebration and not discovering that He was missing for a whole day. Mary and Joseph weren’t terrible parents for losing Jesus. They just got so caught up in the celebrations, catching up with old friends and relatives, and holiday coming-and-going that they lost sight of Jesus. And they left him behind.
So maybe it’s not just Santa Claus that makes us lose sight of Jesus. Maybe snowmen aren’t the main culprit, either. Perhaps mounds of garland and mistletoe aren’t what is covering up and hiding Jesus.
Perhaps – just maybe – Jesus gets lost because we lose sight of Him. He doesn’t wander away from us, we leave Him behind.
I don’t think it’s a matter of focusing on other things. I think it’s a matter of losing focus on Him. We don’t have to focus on Santa Claus to lose our focus on Jesus. And we don’t have to remove any and all ‘non-Jesus’ Christmas decorations to keep focused on Jesus.
We know that Christmas isn’t about exchanging gifts, Christmas trees, figgy pudding, sleigh bells, and the North Pole. It’s not about egg nog, chestnuts roasting, my two front teeth, or toys drives for orphans.
Christmas is about a miracle. No - it’s about THE Miracle.
When we truly understand the miracle of Christmas, we can use and enjoy all of those cultural ‘holiday’ decorations, songs, and foods to point us back to Jesus. They can be used to remind us of ‘Christmas’ and ‘Christmas’ should always remind us to focus on the Miracle of Christmas.
The miracle of Christmas is not that a baby was born to a virgin. It’s not about the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. It’s not about ‘peace’ and ‘goodwill’ and happiness and joy.
The miracle of Christmas is that the Almighty, perfect, holy, pre-existent God and Creator of all things was willing – no, not just willing, but desirous of reaching out to His creation. And not just reaching out but actually taking on the form of a human being. And to take on that lowly human form He temporarily stepped away from His rightful throne of majesty, honor, and preeminence.
God became a baby.
That is so totally beyond the realm of possibility that it could be nothing other than a miracle.
The Miracle.
It doesn’t really bother me if you get reminded of that miracle by Santa Claus figurines, inflatable reindeer in your front yard, stockings on your fireplace mantle, erroneous and/or unbiblical Nativity scenes, or Elvis singing I’ll Have a Blue Christmas. (I have a hard time seeing how a song like Santa Baby can get you re-focused on the miracle of the Incarnation, but maybe that works for you.)
While acknowledging that it is not the accurate etymology of the word ‘Christmas’, I find it helpful to think of ‘Christmas’ as the ‘Christ Miracle’. So, whatever prompts me to think ‘Christmas’, I try to remind myself to think of the ‘Christ Miracle’.
And that helps me keep from losing Jesus.
But even when I do lose sight of Him, I know He is still with me. He will never leave me.
That’s a continuation of the Christmas Miracle.
And they will call His name Immanuel – which means God with us. (Matthew 1:23)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Patience At Christmas

Are you a ‘patient’ person? And what do we really mean when say someone has ‘patience’?
Don’t we usually just assume ‘patience’ has to do with how someone ‘bears up’ under an unpleasant circumstance? You know - it takes ‘patience’ to pleasantly wait in line at the checkout at Walmart; it takes ‘patience’ not to sit on your horn in a traffic jam that is keeping you from getting to work on time; it takes ‘patience’ not to rudely slam the phone down on the telemarketer calling during dinner.
The following are some definitions of ‘patience’ I found: good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence; the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties; the capacity to endure hardship, difficulty, or inconvenience without complaint; calmness, self-control, and the willingness or ability to tolerate delay.
Do you see how much we place the emphasis of ‘patience’ on enduring ‘negative’ things - things that would cause an ‘impatient’ person to lose control, get angry, become annoyed, etc.? But there are many areas where ‘patience’ is required to obtain something good, or to await the arrival of something good, or to allow something to come fully into fruition.
As the Christmas holidays are upon us, I see so many areas where our ‘patience’ gets tested. There are lines and crowds of people everywhere – not just at malls, but on the roads, in the grocery stores, etc. Everyone is in such a hurry and our lives become so hectic. We have children who are barely able to wait for Christmas to arrive. Our anticipation of seeing loved ones builds and builds. We look toward gatherings with family and friends. And still others may have a difficult time not ‘loosing it’ because loved ones won’t be there this year.
So much ‘patience’ is required to make it through the holidays. But I’ve been thinking about how much the whole concept of Christmas epitomizes ‘patience’. Let me explain.
All the way back to the Garden of Eden, man has been inventing ways to go his own way, turn his back on God, disregard the ‘perfect plan’ that had been envisioned. And all the way back to the Garden of Eden, God has had His mind on the plan to reconcile man to Himself.
Yet, in His perfect patience, God revealed only glimpses of His plan through generations and generations of His people. Through the patriarchs, the judges, the kings, the exiles and captivities, He patiently continued to reveal portions of what He had planned – hints of the glorious plan of salvation He had conceived.
But the time wasn’t yet perfect.
So He waited.
And then the time arrived. And the Plan conceived in eternities past was born.
But still – patience.
The glorious majesty of Almighty God was wrapped inside the flesh of little baby. And He patiently endured the application of time, His environment, and physical needs to the body He occupied. He patiently waited 30 years before even starting to spread His message of redemption to those to whom He came. In perfect patience He served, taught, healed, touched, and loved. Knowing the depth and richness of the grace and mercy that was to come, He patiently tolerated, turned the other cheek, endured, and bled.
So, in my mind’s eye, when I see that Infant in the manger, I’m awestruck with the thought of the patience that was demonstrated. Knowing the plan of redemption that was unfolding, the God Child waited patiently until the time was perfect.
And when I see the God Man hanging on the cross, I’m overwhelmed with the thought of Him patiently enduring thousands of years of rebellion by His creation, culminating in the prolonged torture and brutal murder of the body He occupied.
Patience. Isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?
God patiently endured us. And He patiently allowed the unfolding of His perfect plan to restore us to Himself. He didn’t rush it. He never got behind schedule.
God had a plan. A perfect plan.
He patiently saw it through.
For a child has been born - for us! The gift of a son - for us! He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. (Isaiah 9:6, MSG)
I don’t think that I’ll be as quick to pat myself on the back next time I think I’m being ‘patient’ by pleasantly smiling at the lady in front of me who is fumbling with her keys in the checkout line when she should be taking her change and receipt and moving on.
O LORD, I will honor and praise your name,
for you are my God.
You do such wonderful things!
You planned them long ago,
and now you have accomplished them
Isaiah 25:1, NLT