Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beginning Again

I wish there were some wonderful place
called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
and all our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again

Louise Fletcher Tarkington wrote those word years ago and yet those words still speak powerfully to hearts about this time every year. It's New Year's Eve. Out with the old and in the new. And that goes for more than calendars. Out with the old junk, the bad habits, the time-worn grudges. In with better things, healthier things. As Tarkington pined, "I wish there were some wonderful place called the Land of Beginning Again."

Well, there's no Land of Beginning Again, but there is the God of Beginning Again—the God of second chances, new births, and fresh starts, the God of grace and forgiveness and mercy that's new with every morning. He is the God of Beginning Again.

In his book The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan tells about a place in Gelph, Ontario. There's a riverside park there landmarked with large and intricate sculptures: a dinosaur, a man riding a bicycle, a child and his mother. But these are no ordinary sculptures. Each is made from the debris collected from the riverbed. Every year, the city drains the river by a system of channel locks, then invites people from the community to scour the river’s muddy floor and clean up the garbage scattered long it. A welter of refuse is dredged up: shopping carts, tires and rims, car hoods, baby strollers, bikes and trikes, engine blocks, rakes and shovels, urinals, copper plumbing, wine bottles, shoes, thousands of pop cans. Mountains and mountains of rust-scabbed rubbish, slick with algae, are hauled out. Rather than truck all this garbage off to a landfill, the city calls its sculptors together (though the pop cans are turned in for refund and the money donated to park conservation). Each artist is given a mound of junk and commissioned to make from it beauty. The created works are then showcased along the very river from which the raw materials have come.

God does that. He works all things together for good for those who love him and are called to his purposes. He takes junk and sculpts art. He is the God of Beginning Again.

There is no Land of Beginning Again, but there is a God of Beginning Again. So as you think about the changes you need in your life as we enter a brand new year, don't look for real estate; look for God—the God of Beginning Again.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Blessing

Everyone longs for the blessing—
those that say the do,
and those that say they don't.
Everyone longs for the blessing.

Is this not the message of Christmas?
God—hearing our cries for the blessing.
God—doing something about it.

God—wearing our skin.
God—feeling our passions.
God—sharing our temptations
yet resisting every one.

God—experiencing our suffering and our sorrows.
God—knowing us, really knowing us.
Not from the outside in,
but from the inside out;
and loving us just the same.
Not just in word either,
but in deed.
Do you see the nailprints
in His hands?

And the mystery is this:
When we were unacceptable
and could do nothing to clean up our act
or save our souls …
When we were unworthy of the blessing …
God came to us.
And through the life and death
of His Son Jesus Christ,
God made us acceptable.
I'm not okay and you're not okay,
But Jesus makes us okay.
We call that grace.

In Christmas
God came to us.
He came to give us
eternal life,
undeserved favor,
amazing grace,
and unfailing love.
God came to give us the blessing:
"To as many as received him,"
writes St. John,
"to them, he gave the power to become
children of God."

To them
He gives the blessing.

Open your eyes, weary souls,
you who long for the blessing,
The God who knows you best loves you most.
And He has something to say to you this Christmas:
"You are my beloved child in whom I am well-pleased."

Everyone longs for the blessing—
those that say they do
and those that say they don't.
Everyone longs for the blessing.

We'd like to get it from our parents,
but from parents it does not always come.
Will you listen to your heavenly Father?

It's an angel song.
Good tidings of great joy to all people,
and that means you.
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a Son is given,
Yonder there in David's town.

It is the Savior, Christ the Lord.
And with the Savior …
The Blessing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Word Made Flesh

The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

During World War I, Lawrence of Arabia influenced the tribes of Arabia to cast their lot with the Allies. These rough tribesmen said to him: "If you would lead us, you must eat the same food that we eat, find shelter in the same tents in which we dwell, accept the same risks that we accept, meet the same difficulties that we meet, live the same life we live, and live it better than we do."

Jesus did that! "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." No, Jesus didn't get His start in Bethlehem, but Bethlehem became His beachhead, His entry point into human time and human history. And talk about incongruence. The infinite Word became finite flesh. God became man. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul uses the term kenosis to describe what Jesus did in becoming flesh. He "emptied" Himself. He humbled Himself. He never ceased to be God, but He subjected His God-ness to the limitations of human flesh.

In the flesh, this Word who could be everywhere all the time could only be in one place at any time.

In the flesh, this Word who had never been tempted would have to wrestle with temptation and even sweat drops of blood to stave it off.

In the flesh, this Word who never slumbers or sleeps would have to get His rest.

In the flesh, this Word who had never known pain could stub His toe in the night or hit his thumb with a hammer.

In the flesh, this Word who only knew sin from a distance could and would bear our sin in His body on the cross. In the flesh, this Word who is eternal could even die … which He did for you and me.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." No rags to riches for Christ. How about riches to rags?

"The Word became flesh”divinity and humanity linked together, growing together in intimate connection, otherwise, as Calvin put it, “the nearness would not have been near enough.” “The Word became flesh.”

He came down. He came all the way down. He didn’t beam down and enter the world as a man. Though Mary was a virgin when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she conceived this child, Jesus was birthed out of a uterus, through a birth canal, and into the world just like we were. He didn’t make reservations at the Waldorf either; He came without reservations, found no vacancies in any motel, and ended up in a dingy, dung-filled stable in Bethlehem. In Voices of the Faithful (Book 1), a missionary writes about a language blooper she made as she was trying to explain the birth of Jesus to her Chinese guest. She tried to say that the newborn Jesus was placed in a feeding trough. But instead of saying the Chinese word for “manger,” she accidentally used the word for “toilet.” The just-born Jesus was placed in a toilet. Maybe she wasn’t as far off as she first thought. When Jesus left the glories of heaven to come down to earth, He didn’t come part way down; He came all the way down. “The Word became flesh”—and in the most humble circumstances of that day.

I have heard of the incarnation of Jesus since my childhood. I have studied it in the Scripture and in theological books. I have preached it for almost 30 years. Yet you know what? I am still utterly amazed by it all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Dark Side of Christmas

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:16-18).

Yes, this story finds its way into the birth narratives of Jesus. It’s a gruesome story, barbaric, an atrocity against life and all civilized behavior. There’s murder here, there’s intrigue, jealousy, rage, and the abuse of power. There are lots of tears—inconsolable grief, mothers weeping for their children.

And then that last line: “because they are no more.” One minute those little boys were playing in their homes or sleeping in their beds; then suddenly the sound of thundering hoof-beats, soldiers barging into homes, the flashing of the sword, an arm here, a leg there, and the blood of children pooled and splattered everywhere. One minute the boys are fine; the next minute “they are no more.” Based on what we know of the population of Bethlehem and its vicinity at that time, biblical historians estimate that the death toll could have been anywhere from 30-60—a real blood bath. And to make matters worse, it was the blood of innocent children who could do nothing to protect themselves. If you put your ear to the page you can still hear those mothers weeping. And this is a Christmas story?

These young boys were murdered and these mothers are weeping because of Jesus. Jesus didn’t kill them—He was a toddler himself. But they were killed because of Him. The Magi told Herod they had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Using a text in Micah, the priests said they should find Him in Bethlehem. The wicked King Herod wanted no rival, so he did what kings sometimes did in that day: he ordered the murder of every boy two-years-old and younger: “Just kill them all and surely we will kill this baby-king in the process.” So much for a merry Christmas. You’ll never see this story imaged on a Christmas card.

And I have no answer to this story. I can’t soften it up. I can’t spiritualize it away. I can’t explain why God would stand by and allow such an atrocity—and with children no less. God warned Joseph to get his kid out of Bethlehem. Why didn’t God warn the other dads in the city? I have no answer for it. All I can say is that this is the kind of world into which God sent His only Son, the kind of world into which Jesus was born. It is a world where kings abuse power, people get victimized, and little kids get murdered. It is a world where children suffer and parents weep for them. It is a world where Satan has a foothold and where evil appears to win as many battles as it loses and sometimes even more. It’s what we cynically call "the real world." Christmas happened in the real world—not the make believe world of jolly elves and flying reindeer or the little drummer boy, talking animals, and cute little angel babies flitting around the manger, not the world of the “perfect” Christmas or a world where all is peace and sweetness and light.

And maybe that’s why Christmas is “good news of great joy.” God entered this world—this corrupt, evil, unjust, devil-serving, sin-loving, war-mongering, baby-killing world. God entered this world. He didn’t wait till it was safe. He didn’t send Jesus to some rich family that lived in the lap of luxury. He didn’t place Jesus under the protection of some friendly government, have him be born in a state-of-art hospital, or make reservations for his family at the Peabody. God entered this world—the real world—just as it is with all its attending dangers. And before His Son could say one controversial word or do one eye-brow raising deed, the powers-that-be tried to snuff Him out. God entered this world. And He came to redeem it.

Don’t think that Jesus got a pass on that wicked, bloody night in Bethlehem. Sure, God warned Joseph in a dream to grab Mary and the Baby and high-tail it for Egypt. Jesus escaped that slaughter in Bethlehem because it wasn’t His hour, His time. But His time would come soon enough: on a hill outside Jerusalem where another ruler beat the living daylights out of Him and then killed Him on a cross. They thought they got the best of Jesus. They were wrong. Jesus came to redeem the world, and He did it through a cross. That was God’s plan. And the cross and the resurrection and the promise of His return remind us that evil doesn’t get the last word; God does—and that word is victory and life and justice.

Evil was judged at the cross, defeated in the resurrection, and will one day be destroyed forever when Christ comes back. There are a lot of tears in this world; God will wipe every one of them from our eyes in the world to come. There’s a lot of violence in this world; but there will be no more violence in the world to come. There’s a lot of corruption and sin in this world; it will be conspicuously absent in the world to come—that Holy City that will come down “out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). In the end, in God’s world to come, evil will not just be wounded; it will be destroyed—more than destroyed, it will be vanquished—gone, gone forever, gone once and for all. No more evil ever. And no more darkness either for in that Holy City “there will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun for the Lord God will give them light” (Rev. 22:5). And that light will burn all the darkness away … forever.

When you think about it, it is that promise and that hope that makes Christmas "good news of great joy" even in a world like ours.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

John's Christmas Greeting: "Repent!"

And so John came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I will baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:4-8).

Historically, the church locates these John the Baptist texts in the Advent season. And why not? John’s job was to get people ready for Jesus. And John got people ready for Jesus by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John called the people to repentance—to turn from their sin and toward their God.

Repent—literally “change of mind.” It’s a turnaround word. I was going the self-way, the world-way, the devil-way, but I slam on the brakes, turn around, and go the Christ-way instead. Repent!

This is not such a welcome message at Christmas. Isn’t this the time for merry-making, for holiday cheer, and office parties? Let’s talk about repentance after Christmas. But John won’t let us off the hook. Amid Precious Moments nativity scenes, Rudolph, and Santa, stands this stark character named John, dressed only in camel’s hair and a leather belt. Is that a locust leg between his teeth? And he’s not decking the halls with boughs of holly, he’s shouting, “Repent!”

Let’s take that message to heart this season. Let’s examine ourselves and use this season to turn from our sins and toward our God. Repentance involves three confessions:

First, “I did it.” I’m responsible. I’m the guilty party. I can’t blame my parents, my spouse, or my environment. It’s my fault. It’s my problem. I plead no excuses, no qualifiers, no justification. I did it.

Second, “I’m sorry.” None of this "I'm sorry because I got caught" stuff. None of this phony bologna "I'm sorry you don't approve." Rather, as honestly as I can, I say, "I sinned against God. I was wrong. I am sorry." Period.

And third, “I’ll change.” This is the proof of true repentance. None of this lip-service jazz. None of this, "I'm too old to change." None of this, "I can't change; you'll just have to accept me as I am." But a real and honest willingness to do whatever it takes to change. Real repentance says, "I'll change. If I have to get some counseling to change, I'll do it. If I have to give something up, I'll do it. If I have to start something up, I'll do it. Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, in the power of Christ, I'll do it." Real change. Honest change. Change that shows up in the way we live our lives.

"I did it. I'm sorry. I'll change." That’s true repentance. And in this holy season, it is one of the most Christmas-y things we can do.

Guide to Prayer
- In addition to your Christmas list, how about making a list of your sins from which you need to repent? Seek and receive God's mercy and grace in the process.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas, Jesus, and GPS

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost
(Luke 19:10).

I read it last Christmas in our local paper: an Associated Press article by Eric Gorski entitled “GPS keeps track on Baby Jesus.” It seems that in December 2007, Baby Jesus disappeared from a nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Florida, community center. But local police didn’t have to follow a star to find him. A GPS device was mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine, and that GPS led deputies to a nearby apartment where the figure was found face down in the carpet. And 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft.

Maybe you’re like me and didn’t realize how often people pilfer Jesus from home or city nativity displays. It’s a regular crime wave every December. And when Jesus gets kidnapped, where do you even begin to look. Well, GPS has apparently solved that problem, and it certainly discourages would-be criminals or mischief-makers from their dirty deed. A thief may be able to hide a stolen Jesus-figure from our eyes, but he can’t hide him from the GPS eye in the sky.

This got me thinking about how we often make Christmas about looking for Jesus—“Wise men still seek Him,” and all that. While there’s certainly some truth to this, while it is important to seek Jesus in this holy season, Christmas is really more about Jesus seeking us. Take taxman Zacchaeus, for example. “Yes, please!” the citizens of Jericho would say. Zacchaeus and those who worked for him abused these people through the tax system. And this abuse had made Zacchaeus a rich man. No wonder he was perhaps Jericho’s most despised citizen. Yet this same Zacchaeus sort of got grace in his face when Jesus came looking for him. Jesus found him in Jericho. Jesus invited himself over for lunch at Zacchaeus’ home. And before they had finished their chocolate mousse that old tax-collecting cheat had a change of heart and a change of life. And this was no conversion in a some quiet corner so he could take it back if he changed his mind. No, this was public. Zacchaeus announced to Jesus and everyone else at the table, “As of today, I’m a changed man. I’m going to become a giver instead of a taker. I’m going to give half of everything I have to the poor, and if I’ve cheated anyone, I’ll give him four times what I took.”

Jesus was thrilled. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said, “for the Son of Man (that’s Jesus) came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus loved Zacchaeus; Jesus found Zacchaeus; Jesus saved Zacchaeus. And He didn’t even need GPS to do it.

Maybe this Christmas Jesus is seeking you. Maybe that’s why you “happened” upon this blog. Just know that Jesus can find you wherever you are. And He doesn't need a GPS either. He can find you because He is God. He knows who you are and where you are and what’s what with your life. He is relentlessly pursuing you for your good and for your salvation because He loves you like no one else has loved you or can love you. And the best thing you can do in response is surrender to His grace, be found, be saved, be changed. Trust me: that’s one Christmas gift you won’t ever want to return.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Waiting

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tell the one at the door to keep watch. … If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: "Watch!" (Mark 13:32-37)

Just a week ago Friday, I was reminded of how very far I still have to go in my Christian walk. I don’t wait well—especially in traffic. We were trying to get on the bypass off of Carpenter Dam road and because of a new batch of road construction we had to sit … and sit … and sit. I did not sit well. I wasn’t the only one. People were finding whatever place they could to turn around. But I sat and I waited—unfortunately I ran my mouth in the process: whining about this, grumbling about that. I’m pretty good at waiting on some things, pretty lousy at waiting on others.

Christmas waiting has begun. You remember making advent chains: strips of green and red paper glued into circles and strung together with just enough so that if you tear one off each day, when you tear off the last one it will be Christmas Day. Will Christmas ever get here? Kids wonder that every day … as they wait.

It seems like much of life is consumed with waiting. Men waiting on their wives. Parents waiting for school to begin, children waiting for school to end. Waiting for the 16th birthday. Waiting for graduation. Waiting for the wedding day. Waiting for the baby to come. Waiting in lines at the bank or store. Waiting for the sermon to end. Waiting.

We even name rooms for the activity: waiting rooms we call them. There’s the doctor’s waiting room, the surgery waiting room, the waiting room at the service department of the car dealership. And at fast food joints there are even parking spaces that are designed for you to pull into so that you can wait on your drive-through order without causing everyone else behind you to have to wait on you.

Waiting wears on a person after awhile. Waiting for the call to tell you if you got the job. Waiting to hear from the doctor about your tests. Waiting for a client’s response to your sales pitch. Waiting for your teenager to get home by midnight. Much of life is consumed with waiting. And we’re especially sensitive to that at Christmas.

The Bible teaches us how to wait. In our Scripture today, Jesus is teaching the church how to wait on His Second Coming. He tells us to “Be on guard!” He calls us to “Be alert!” We don’t know when He’s coming back, so we need to be ready right now. “Keep watch,” said Jesus. And in the meantime, He calls us to carry out our “assigned task.” We don’t wait by sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Our waiting is active—active in the Lord’s work: sharing faith, helping the poor, praying, loving, giving, serving. That’s how we wait—not in passive mode but in active mode.

And we wait with the assurance that one day Jesus is coming back. He won’t wait forever. And we’ll be accountable to Him for how we waited when He comes. Wait well and be blessed!

Guide to Prayer
- Give thanks that Christ is coming back and reflect on how you can best wait for him in the meantime.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Best Christmas Ever

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:10-12).

Two women were doing a little Christmas shopping one day when they happened past the store window of a local merchant who had a nativity scene proudly displayed amidst the other things in the window. One woman turned to the other and said, "Can you believe it? Now the church is trying to horn in on Christmas."

It may surprise you to know that Christmas is celebrated on what originally was a pagan festival called Saturnalia. It was the only day of the year in which slaves could do as they liked. And since so many of the early Christians came from the ranks of slavery, the church decided to use that day to celebrate the birth of Christ. In 353 A.D. the Pope Julius I decreed December 25 as the Feast of the Nativity. So maybe in a sense, the church did sort of horn in on this holiday. But like other pagan holidays, the church baptized it and gave it spiritual significance.

Does Christmas have much spiritual significance anymore? Well, it does seem that a person has to work at it to make Christmas a spiritual season. There are just so many distractions. So it is important that we prepare for Christmas.

No other holiday gives way to more preparation than does Christmas. Retailers clear out the Halloween stuff and move in their Christmas goods. By Thanksgiving, if not earlier, kids are getting their Christmas lists together and families are pulling box after box of Christmas stuff out of the closet in order to decorate the house. Christmas cards are bought and sent. Special baking. Numerous parties. Over-spent budgets. Hearing the song Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer a jillion times. Kids on sugar highs. Invasions of relatives. Stress to get it all done. No wonder the season often finds us reaching for the Maalox and the aspirin. And to top it off, when Christmas finally comes and goes, many of us will go through the post-holiday blues—a letdown of sorts after all the preparation and all the hype and all the hectic activity comes to a grinding halt.

All that may be true, you might say, but after all Christmas only comes once a year, and these are just the sort of things we do at Christmas. They're traditional. It just wouldn't be Christmas without these things.

It wouldn't? The truth of the matter is that many of us are so locked into our traditional celebrations and preparations for Christmas that in the midst of it all we miss Christ. Oh, not entirely. He gets His place in the nativity scene we set on the shelf. And we'll probably make it to church and to the Christmas Eve service—that's traditional too. But outside the walls of the church building, where is Christ in your Christmas? It’s easy to miss Christ in Christmas. John tells us that Jesus’ own people missed Him. We can miss Him too … unless … unless we take a few steps to encounter Him.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • spend some time each day in quiet devotion;
  • focus on a carol a week—meditate on its words and its meaning, move it from your mouth to your heart;
  • serve someone less fortunate in some tangible way—if possible do it relationally in addition to just throwing money in a kettle;
  • attend worship faithfully;
  • have a birthday party for Jesus.

Why don't you try some of these things this Christmas season? You might be surprised in the difference it could make.

While wrapping presents, a mother said to her daughter, “Let’s make this the best Christmas ever.” To which her daughter replied, “I thought the first one was.” It is. This year, worship Christ, not Christmas.

Guide to Prayer
• Give God thanks for coming to us in Christmas.
• Ask for eyes to see Him and for a heart to make him preeminent in your celebration of Christmas this season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Best for Jesus

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:6-7).

Poor old innkeeper—dude’s not even in the story and he gets bad press every Christmas. “Selfish old codger!” “How could he turn away a pregnant woman?” “Like every businessman, he was just looking out for himself and the almighty dollar.” “How cold-hearted can a person be?!” Poor old innkeeper. Does he really deserve all this?

Who knows? He’s not even in the story. We never meet him. But he finds his way into the story every year. And some are more kind to him than others. B. P. Baker wrote this poem in his behalf:

I only did what you have done
A thousand times or more.
When Joseph came to Bethlehem
And knocked upon my door.

I did not turn the Christ away
With alibi so deft.
Like you, I simply gave to him
Whatever I had left.

Ouch! Baker hints that we were there at the inn too. And that every time we give Jesus leftovers instead of first-fruits we are playing the part of the innkeeper.

He’s got a point. And at Christmas it seems like Christ gets more leftovers than usual. We often spend foolishly and frivolously to provide more than enough gifts for people who have no need of them—I mean, seriously, how many sweaters, how many gadgets, how many toys, do we really need anyway? Seriously. So we make our list, check it twice, give to those who are naughty and nice, and if anything is left over we give a little something to the birthday boy himself, Jesus.

How about making this Christmas season different? How about giving to Jesus first? How about giving to Jesus most? How about giving to Jesus best? First, most, and best in treasure, in time, in talent. Surely your most expensive and extravagant gift should go to Jesus. It is a celebration of His birth, isn’t it? You don’t go to a birthday party and give the best gift to another guest, do you? No. You give it to the birthday boy or girl. Try that this Christmas.

Had this innkeeper known the significance of what was going on out in the stable and the importance of these guests from Nazareth, I think he might have found better space. We do know the significance. Give Christ the better gifts this year.

Guide to Prayer
· Give God thanks that He gave His best gift to you.
· Prayerfully seek God’s guidance in regard to the gifts you give Him in this season.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

You Are Not Forgotten

I've written an Advent devotional book for my church family. The devotions are sermon excerpts from 28 years of Advent preaching. I've tweaked them a bit, rounded them off here and there, and put them in a devotional format. Each devotional includes a Scripture text and a guide to prayer. May they stir you to wonder and praise.
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 give him the name John. … And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17).

I still can’t believe we did it. It was a routine Sunday. We went to church at different times in two different cars. I led worship. Shook hands with folks after the service. Locked all the doors. And went home. That’s when we noticed what we’d done. We were one kid short. Kristen was a little toddler—she was there. But where was Nathan? “I thought you had him,” said Dayna. “Me?” I said, “I thought you had him.” At least we knew where he was. A family called and said, “I think you forget something at church.” So I hopped back in the car, raced to church, and there he was—having fun on the playground with a friend. Unbelievable! Dayna and I had forgotten our son. And it wasn’t like we had six or seven kids to keep track of. We just had the two. And we still forgot him.

You ever been forgotten? Ever felt that way? Your children don’t write or call. That friend who said she’d be in touch never followed through. After twenty years in the same company you get a pink slip and that’s that. You buried a loved one, and all the attention you got for a couple of weeks has dried up like a creek bed in August. Forgotten. And sometimes we even feel forgotten by God—prayers that don’t seem to get past the ceiling, worship that never seems to connect. The word is forgotten.

Zechariah and Elizabeth felt that way. Now ready for the old age home, they had no children, no legacy—forgotten. But when the angel met Zechariah in the temple, he reminded Zechariah that they weren’t forgotten after all—the stork was on the way. And this would be no ordinary child. This is the child who grew to become the one we know as John the Baptist. This is the child whose voice would declare after 400 years of heaven’s silence that the people of Israel were not forgotten either: Messiah is on the way!

Even when you feel forgotten, you are not forgotten. God knows who you are and where you are and what you need. Be patient. Wait on the Lord. And when the time is right, He will do a great work in your life. And in the meantime, remember that the Messiah John proclaimed didn’t just come for Israel; He came for you, too. You may be tired. You may be frustrated. You may be impatient. But you are NOT forgotten.

Guide to Prayer
· If you have frustrations with God, confess them to Him now.
· Give God thanks that the Christmas story reminds us that God does not forget His people.
· Pray for patience and trust to wait on the Lord’s timing for His work in your life.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Count Your Many Blessers

One thing you can count on in many churches on the Sunday before Thanksgiving is that they'll be singing Count Your Blessings. You may know the hymn: "Count your blessings / name them one by one. / Count your blessings / see what God has done." It's a great hymn and a great reminder not to take our blessings for granted. Count them. Give thanks for them. Notice how you find God in them. It's a good hymn.
Could I propose another? How about this one: Count Your Blessers. When was the last time you did this? I'm going to do it right now.
  • A mother and father—though divorced when I was in the third grade—who did the best they could under the circumstances.
  • A grandmother who took my mother, my two brothers and me into her home when my mother left my dad. That woman took care of us. She also worked at the local high school. I still remember walking with her to school each morning and hanging out with her in the high school office until it was time to walk a little farther to the elementary school.
  • A pastor and family, the Prices, who took us under their wings as we were traveling the rough road of divorce.
  • A fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Dennis, who pulled me aside one day and told me she thought I was going to amount to something in the world because I had a good attitude. She spoke those words in 1966 and I've never forgotten them. Life words!
  • A junior high football coach, Mr. Cogdill, who believed in me enough to let me quarterback our team.
  • A few ministers who mentored me, fathered me, loved me, and gave me opportunities I could have never achieved on my own: Gary Fenton, Jack Enloe, Gilbert Spencer, Larry Baker, and Bob Meade.
  • Great friends—too many to name—who have encouraged me and challenged me and made me a better person than I would have been without them.
  • My wife Dayna who loves me unconditionally and who puts up with my cursed independent streak and my lifelong struggle of balancing my attention to the needs of the church with my attention her needs too.
  • Churches that have loved me and endured me and shaped me into the pastor I have become and am still becoming today. They deserved better.
  • And of course, the smiling face behind my many blessers: the face of God, Blesser in Chief, of my life and yours.

I could go on, but my granddaughter is hounding me to get off the computer so she can use it to do puzzles or something. So in this season of Thanksgiving, don't just count your blessings; count your many blessers too. And give thanks!