Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Story, A Picture

Don’t you just love all of the Christmas decorations and lights all over the place during the holidays? I love driving around at night when so many homes are all lit up with festive, bright lights.
And then if you venture out to one of the shopping malls, you can just about be overwhelmed with the decorations and glitz and noise and clamor of the season.
For a few weeks, all of our surroundings just seem to scream, “IT’S CHRISTMAS! IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!”
And there’s the music being played in stores, all over the radio, and even in churches – from White Christmas, Jingle Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, Feliz Navidad, to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and Go Tell It On The Mountain.
There are just so many ‘in your face’ sights and sounds that can serve to help instill or reinforce that ‘holiday spirit’.
Now don’t get me wrong about all that stuff, I enjoy it like the next guy. Those ‘over the top’ displays, jingling bells, bright ribbons, etc. help put a little extra smile on my face and pep in my walk. They get me whistling carols and wishing strangers a ‘Merry Christmas’.
But they don’t help me get to the real focus of what we are celebrating.
To do that, I need to turn down the ‘holiday’ volume. I need to strip away the bright and shiny.
I’m not even talking about nativity scenes, Mary and Joseph, swaddling clothes, or a chorus of angels singing to shepherds.
In many families, like ours, Christmas morning is officially started by the reading of ‘The Christmas Story’ from Luke’s gospel. You can close your eyes and just about hear Linus start to recite it: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. . . “
But I’ve come to realize that Luke’s account is not really the ‘The Christmas Story’. It is, of course, an account of the birth of Jesus. But that – the physical birth of Jesus – is only a fraction of ‘The Christmas Story’.
Where I found a more complete and compelling version of ‘The Christmas Story’ is way back in the New Testament, in Philippians.
We know that Jesus existed eternally before He was ever born in Bethlehem. We know that His glory and majesty were (and are) beyond anything we can imagine. And yet He chose to – well, God’s Word can say it far better than I can:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:6-11, NLT)
At our home this year, we have put up a Christmas tree, hung garland on the mantle and on the banister, placed a wreath on the front door and lights around the house. Bright red bows adorn the barbed wire fence along our country road, a gingerbread house is taunting me from the kitchen counter, nativity scenes are displayed in several rooms, and Christmas music is piped throughout the house.
But at their best, those things remind me of only a part of ‘The Christmas Story’.
However, out in front of our house, sitting all alone where very little grass ever grows, we have erected a rag-tag, run down looking feed trough (or manger) with a little hay in it. At one end, a large, shiny, ‘jewel encrusted’ gold crown appears to have been removed from its rightful place and temporarily set aside.
For me, that particular ‘decoration’ embodies ‘The Christmas Story’ more than any other we have – more than all of the others put together in fact.
The majestic, all-powerful Creator of all things, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stepped away from His throne and all the glory to which He is rightfully entitled, and He became a man. And not just a man - He came as a baby.
In the most humble of settings, and in a subtlety we scarcely associate with Christmas celebrations – God came to us.
In those moments when I can get just a glimpse of the magnitude of what that means, I experience first-hand what is proclaimed in the passage from Philippians - because that glimpse makes my knees bow down and my tongue confess: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Going Through The Motions

The other day on the radio, I heard a story from a Christian signer-songwriter about the impact one of his songs had on someone (or rather, how God used one of his songs to impact someone’s life). The song itself is very compelling and convicting (as you can see from the lyrics below). However the story he told is what really struck me, so I thought I’d pass it along.
The singer told how a man came up to him at an event and told him:
“I don’t want to take up much of your time, but I wanted to tell you how your song, The Motions, really impacted me and changed my life.
“I was a very successful businessman, working my up the corporate ladder, getting all of the promotions and bonuses, etc. But my job required that I travel a great deal of the time. It was on those trips, usually late at night in the hotel room by myself, that I really felt the emptiness of running from what God wanted for my life and pursuing the things of this life.
“Although I attended church regularly and did a lot of ‘church-people’ things, I knew I was just a ‘surface Christian’, not giving God all He wanted from me. When those feelings overwhelmed me, I would usually try to find a local Christian radio station and listen for a while to comfort myself.
“One particular sleepless night, at 4:00 a.m., I came across a station that was playing your song, The Motions. That song just hit me like a ton of bricks, putting into words all that was going on inside me. And then the strangest thing happened, the DJ came on after the song and said, “We don’t normally do this, but I just have a feeling that someone out there listening needs to hear this song again. So here goes . . .”
“Well, during the second playing of the song, I was literally crying on my bed. And then I made one of those ‘deals’ with God. I told God that I would quit my job and do whatever He wanted me to IF - and this was such an improbable ‘if’ that I felt safe saying it - your song played again.
“As soon as the song finished, the DJ came on again and said, “I may lose my job for doing this – even at four in the morning - but something is telling me that someone needs to hear this song one more time. So, I’ll play it for a third time.”
“When that song finished playing the third time, I got out the hotel stationary and wrote my resignation letter. I am now the associate pastor at the church where you will be playing tonight.”
The artist is Matthew West and the lyrics are below. You can also view a video and listen to the song by following this link:
This might hurt, it's not safe -
But I know that I've gotta make a change.
I don't care if I break,
At least I'll be feeling something.
'Cause ‘just okay’ is not enough,
Help me fight through the nothingness of life
I don't wanna go through the motions.
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me.
I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,
"What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?"
No regrets, not this time
I'm gonna let my heart defeat my mind.
Let Your love make me whole
I think I'm finally feeling something.
'Cause ‘just okay’ is not enough,
Help me fight through the nothingness of this life.
'Cause I don't wanna go through the motions.
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me.
I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,
"What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?"

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt the ‘emptiness’ and ‘nothingness’ of running in circles chasing after the things of this world?
What about God’s calling on your life? No - everyone is not called to full-time ministry on staff at a church, but God has called you to be His. Are you fulfilling that calling by ‘giving Him everything’? Or are you merely ‘going through the motions’?
Are you dutifully checking off a list of what you think you have to do to keep God ‘happy’, or are you filled with God’s all-consuming passion?
Maybe you intend to wait until you’ve built up your ‘nest egg’ before you get serious about surrendering to God. Maybe you want to get your kids raised and out of the house before you focus on serving Him. Perhaps you believe you need to become something better or ‘more spiritual’ before God has a use for you.
Jesus made it clear that the time to respond to His calling is NOW. “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
As Matthew West said, “this might hurt, it’s not safe”. But Jesus called us to an abundant life (John 10:10), not a life that is ‘okay’, and not a life that is ‘going through the motions’.

So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 7:46-49, NLT)

Are you ready to fully surrender to what God has called you? Are you ready to be consumed by His passion?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Idou O Anthropos - Behold the Man

In my opinion, two of the most profound phrases in the Bible - phrases which express the human condition and determine our destiny throughout the ages - were uttered by none other than one of the ultimate ‘bad guys’ in the Bible, Pontius Pilate.
In his discussion with/interrogation of Jesus, Pilate uttered (rhetorically), the first of those two phrases, “What is ‘truth’?”, in John 18:38. Has that not been a question and issue that has vexed the ‘enlightened’ throughout history?
The other statement from Pilate, on which I want to focus this week, is found in John 19:5. After Jesus had been scourged (a form of flogging that often led to the recipient’s death), Pilate had a purple robe and a crown of thorns placed on Jesus. He then paraded Jesus out to the people and pronounced, “Idou o anthropos!”, or “Behold the man!”
Based upon the trumped-up charges that had been brought against Jesus, and on Jesus’ own admission that He was ‘King of the Jews’ (Luke 23:3), I believe Pilate probably intended to convey to those people, “Look at this spectacle – is this who you call your ‘king’?”
However, what Pilate actually did was deliver a statement that implies a question which has everything to do with each and every person’s eternal destiny. When he made the statement, “Idou o anthropos”, Pilate was saying, “Look at this man”, or “See this man”, or “Observe and consider this man”. And that then implies the ultimate question facing every person that has or will walk this planet: “What do you think about this Man?”
How each person answers that question determines his or her eternal destiny.
There are all kinds of ways people can (and do) answer that question: ‘He was a good man’, ‘He was a prophet’, ‘He was a great teacher’, ‘He was a role model’, ‘He showed us how to live and how to treat others’, etc. While those answers aren’t wrong, they are woefully incomplete and inadequate.
There were also all kinds of responses in the minds of those standing there that day when Pilate pronounced, “Behold the man!” Some would have thought Him to be the defeated leader of an insurrection; others considered Him a common criminal; others couldn’t even recognize Him as someone they had known (due to His injuries); some would have considered Him a ‘scapegoat’ of sorts to get the government off their backs; some considered Him a personal liability and sought to sever any ties to Him; some looked at Him as a dreamer who failed; some considered Him to be a ‘hope’ that didn’t ‘pan out’.
Pilate didn’t have clue as to Who Jesus really was. But there are other instances in the Bible where a phrase very similar to ‘Behold the man’ was pronounced along with an answer to the question it prompts. For example:
In Isaiah 7:14, we are told (basically), ‘Behold the man – God with us’ (Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (NKJV))
In Isaiah 40:9, we are told, ‘Behold the man – your God!’ (O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! (KJV))
And John tells us, ‘Behold the man – Who takes away your sins’ ("Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NASB))
But those are not the kinds of responses those people had when Pilate said, ‘Behold the man’. They saw a man who was beaten to within an inch of his life and who was on his way to the cross – the end of whatever story he represented.
But we know that wasn’t the end of the story. In fact, because we know the whole story, we are able to look back at Jesus’ life and see things His contemporaries could not have understood. We are able to see things in a different light. So, our perspective is different when we:
Behold the Man – on Whom the Spirit descended like a dove.
Behold the Man – Who calmed the sea.
Behold the Man – Who raised the dead.
Behold the Man – Who gave sight to the blind.
Behold the Man – Whose glory shown on the mountain.
Behold the Man – Whose touch could heal.
Behold the Man – Who walked on water.
Behold the Man – Who willingly accepted death on a cross.
Behold the Man – Who conquered death.
Behold the Man – Who ascended to glory.
Behold the Man – Who first ‘beheld’ us.
Behold the Man – Without Whom nothing was created that was created.
Behold the Man – Who was and is and is yet to come.
Behold the Man – Who takes away all sins.
Behold the Man – The One and Only way to heaven.
So try to put yourself in their sandals: There you are - standing among the Passover crowd in Pilate’s courtyard in A.D. 33. Pilate drapes a fancy purple robe on the body of a beaten, bruised, and bloody man who is then brought out in front of you. Upon the man’s disheveled, scab-encrusted head of hair sits a mock crown, made of thorns. The man is in shock and is teetering precipitously. Pilate hushes the crowd by raising his hand, and then lowers his hand and sweeps it in the direction of Jesus, pronouncing, “Behold the man!”
So - Behold Him.
Carefully consider Him.
What do you think of Jesus?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Do you know how to make one million dollars raising horses? Well, you have start with three million dollars . . .

About a week ago, I was presented with (ahem, uhmmm, errr . . .) the ‘opportunity’ to own a couple of horses. We have lived out the country on a few acres for several years and we’ve occasionally talked about having horses (our kids especially have talked about it). But we’ve never seriously pursued it and we weren’t exactly ‘in the market’ for horses.
Nonetheless, the opportunity presented itself: Two horses became available for the combined price of – ‘free’. After briefly discussing the opportunity with my wife, we determined that the price was too good to pass up. So we borrowed a friend’s horse trailer and fetched us a couple of horses.
On our way home, we started thinking about all of the things we now needed to buy in order to ‘enjoy’ owning horses: halters, ropes, saddles, bridles, blankets, brushes (for starters). We started talking about the cost to get one of them ‘gelded’, the cost of a farrier, the veterinary expenses, the additional hay, etc. Soon our heads were spinning in anticipation of what these ‘free’ horses were going to cost us.
And then my wife asked me, “Did we ever really pray about whether or not to get these horses”? Of course not – they were free! It must have been God’s will for us to get them, right?
Then it hit me that we really let the situation dictate our course of action rather than consulting with God and making sure we were on the same page as Him. Our main thought process, I think, was that we needed to commit to getting those ‘free’ horses before someone else did. Mind you – we are not typically what you would call ‘spontaneous’ people. Yet we let the apparent urgency of the situation dictate our decision rather than whether or not horses (free or otherwise) really fit in to God’s plan for us.
Pretty silly, huh?
Well, unfortunately, I don’t think that was the first time I’ve made a decision without even thinking about taking it God first.
But is God really that concerned with whether or not we got the horses? I think the answer is probably both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Because of God’s immeasurable love for us and the fact that He is sovereign over every thing that happens, He definitely cares about the smallest of details in our daily lives. Does that mean that we should ask God whether we should order the Quarterpounder or the Big Mac at lunch? Well – I’m not sure we’ll get an audible answer from Him on that, but I think He wants us to care about whether or not our decisions (no matter how small they appear to be) will be made with Him in our consideration (or, rather, with Him as our primary consideration).
So often we look at ‘prayer’ as the means to get God to tell us how to act, what to do, where to go, etc. But prayer is primarily the means of our communing with God – deepening our personal relationship with Him. Yes – He is concerned with the choices we make, but primarily He is concerned with our living the lives He has called us to live. We can best achieve that by constantly consulting with the One who has the best plan for us.
In his book, The Calling, Os Guinness makes clear that the most important calling on our lives is the call to Someone (God) – not to ‘something’ (a particular career, ministry, etc) or ‘somewhere’ (the deep, dark African mission field). Once we have accepted that calling, he tells us that “everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for [H]im” (emphasis added).
How do we ‘think, speak, live, and act entirely for Him’? We are told that “[t]he LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 15:2). And the best way to ‘be’ with Him and to ‘seek’ Him is - prayer.
While it is certainly appropriate to find a quiet corner of a closet, lie prostrate on the floor, raise your hands, close your eyes, etc. for certain prayer times, such ‘restrictions’ on your prayers would dictate that very little time would actually be spent communing with God. Even a true ‘prayer warrior’ would spend only a fraction of their day communing with God.
Instead, the Bible tells us to pray all the time - 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says: pray continually (NIV), never stop praying (NLT), pray without ceasing (NASB). When we live out our lives in the realization that He is constantly with us and that we can constantly commune directly with Him, then we can begin to see ‘prayer’ as the vehicle with allows us to ‘think, speak, live, and act entirely for Him’.

Did God want us to go and get those ‘free’ horses? I’m not sure.
But I am sure that He wanted us to consider Him in making the decision.
He wanted us to pray. Continually.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winning? Won!

Everyone is probably getting pretty tired of hearing all about Charlie Sheen and the destructive spiral he seems to be pursuing. Nonetheless, I have listed a few of his most ‘interesting’ recent quotes below:
• “I'm tired of pretending I'm not a total [awesome] rock star from Mars, and people can't figure me out; they can't process me. I don't expect them to. You can't process me with a normal brain."
• “I am on a drug. It’s called ‘Charlie Sheen’. It’s not available because if you try it once your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”
• “The last time I took drugs I probably took more that anyone [else] could survive. I was banging seven gram rocks because that’s how I roll - I have one speed, ‘go’. I have a different constitution, a different brain, a different heart. I got tiger blood, man. Dying's for fools, dying's for amateurs.”
• What tiger blood means: “It’s a metaphor for having absolute rocket fuel in my veins.”
• “I am grandiose because I live a grandiose life; what’s wrong with that?”
• “What’s not to love? Especially when you see how I party, it was epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards and all of them look like droopy-eyed armless children.”
• On his daily life: "It's perfect. It's awesome. Every day is just filled with wins. All we do is put wins in the record books. We win so radically in our underwear before our first cup of coffee, it's scary. People say it's lonely at the top, but I sure like the view."
• "I have a 10,000-year-old brain and the boogers of a 7-year-old. That's how I describe myself."
• "I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path because it was written for normal people. People who aren't special. People who don't have tiger blood and Adonis DNA."
I think it is very interesting how Mr. Sheen apparently sees himself, how he ‘defines’ himself. But, unfortunately, he is not alone in erroneously ‘defining’ himself.
Our culture is very conducive to encouraging us to define ourselves by what we do (our work), by our possessions, by our affiliations, by our responsibilities, by our activities, and by our accomplishments (or failures). We adopt or even strive for the identity that others may perceive from what they can observe. ‘Who I am’ is defined by ‘who’ I can convince you that I am.
And that false identity problem carries over into the body of believers as well. We can try to define ourselves in relation to others (“I’m more ‘spiritual’ than he is”). We can try to define ourselves with the right accoutrements (leather-bound red letter Bible, fish decal, Sunday-morning-everything-is-just-peachy smile). We can try to define ourselves with ‘church’ activities (bible study, choir, deacon, Sunday School teacher, short-term mission trip).
While there is nothing wrong with most of those things, when we try to define ourselves by them, we are defining ourselves with pretense. We use masks and facades to try to convince others ‘who’ we are.
We even do that with God – we try to convince Him of ‘who’ we are by what we do and how we act. It’s as if we think we can fool God into believing we are something or someone that we aren’t. We are so ‘performance based’ and so ‘appearance oriented’ that we spend our lives trying to convince God of ‘who’ we want Him to believe we are, or to make up for what we used to be.
We try to tell the Almighty God of all creation ‘who’ we are. We try to define ourselves to the One who made us and knows us better than we even know ourselves.
Not only is that a completely ridiculous thing to do, but it takes an enormous amount of time and energy. We try to work harder and harder and harder to convince Him of ‘who’ we are (or ‘who’ we want to be).
But that is not necessary. We don’t need to try to ‘define’ ourselves to God.
Do you know why? Because Jesus Christ died for the right to define who we are. It doesn’t really matter who we ‘think’ we are; it doesn’t matter who we try to be; it doesn’t matter who we feel like; it doesn’t matter who we look like; it doesn’t matter who we act like.
We were bought with a high price – Christ’s life (1 Corinthians 6:20) – and Christ has defined ‘who’ we are. There are dozens of ‘definitions’ in the Bible as to ‘who’ Christ says we are. But the key to living out those definitions is that you have to believe what He says and stop trying to define yourself to God.
He says:
• You are blameless (1 Corinthians 1:8). Not because you have been ‘good’, but because He said so.
• You are righteous and you are holy (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 1:4). Because of what Jesus did for you.
• You are forgiven (Colossians 1:14). No matter what you’ve done.
• You are free from any condemnation (Romans 8:1). No matter how much you think you deserve it.
• You are redeemed (Ephesians 1:7). He paid the price for you because you couldn’t.
• You are justified (Romans 5:1). Not because of what you’ve done, but because of what HE did.
• You are a new creation (2 Corinthians (5:17). Not improved, but new. Different. His.
• You are chosen and loved; you are Christ’s friend (Colossians 3:12, John 15:15-16). Not because you chose to be, but because He chose you.
• You are protected – you are His . . . forever (John 10:28). You can’t change who He says you are and what He has given you.
• You are a child of God, a member of God’s family, and a citizen of heaven (John 1:12, Ephesians 2:19, Philippians 3:20). Not because you earned it or because you acted the part – because He said it was so.
• You possess the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Not from studying and learning, but from accepting.
• You are an example of His rich grace (Ephesians 2:7). His work, not yours.
• You have peace (Romans 5:1). All of your stress and anxiety and effort won’t make you at peace with God. That was settled for you.
• You have been given life, eternal life (Ephesians 2:4-5, John 6:47). Not as a reward, but a gift.
• You have been set free (Romans 8:2, John 8:32-36). Forget about trying to define yourself, you are free to be who Jesus has says you are.
• You are victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57). Your performance doesn’t matter; your accomplishments don’t matter; your willpower doesn’t matter. He won the victory and gave it to you.
That is one area where ‘who’ God says we are actually corresponds with Charlie Sheen’s definition of himself: We win so radically in our underwear before our first cup of coffee, it's scary. Think about that over your morning cup of coffee. You are already victorious (because of what Christ did); you don’t have to be superhuman today; you don’t have to be ‘the most spiritual man in the world’ today; you can’t lose; God’s got your back; He’s on your side; He has defined who you are and that can’t change that by what you do or don’t do today.
So take a breath. Trust God with ‘who’ He says you are.
Be who He says you are.