I remember sitting behind a beat-up car at a stoplight: smashed rear fender, bald tires, trunk held shut with a rope, rear window cracked, and a sticker on a hanging bumper that read: “This is not an abandoned car.” Christmas is God putting a sticker on the manger that reads: “This is not an abandoned world.” When we could never reach up to God, God came down to us in His Son. When we could never solve our sin and death problem on our own, God sent His Son to solve it for us. So here’s the twelfth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas: We are not forgotten or forsaken or abandoned—God is with us … and always will be. Merry Christmas!
Friday, December 25, 2015
Thursday, December 24, 2015
I know Christmas is about birth, but Christmas is inextricably linked to death for me. My father died the day after Christmas, 1987. My mother died the day before Christmas, 2008. And you’d be surprised how many funerals I do around Christmas. For me, Christmas is not just about a baby’s cry in a manger; it’s about the tears of people in grief. Away in a manger? Yes. Away in a casket? That too. But there’s comfort here for those who know the Savior. When infant Jesus was dedicated at the temple, an old prophet Simeon, who had prayed to see Messiah before he died, saw the babe and declared, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart (die) in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation ….” Without Jesus’ birth there would have been no cross or resurrection. Jesus’ birth got the ball rolling for the remedy to our death problem. Now all of us who know Jesus can, like Simeon, die in peace, knowing that the One who came for us in Bethlehem is preparing a place for us in the Father’s forever home in heaven. Here’s the eleventh of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas: the birth of Christ was the first nail in the coffin of the death of death. Oh, and it also means we can grieve believing loved ones with hope.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
It’s not uncommon, even for believers, to look at all the evil and heartache in the world and think it even if they don’t speak it: Where is God? Where is God in the wholesale slaughter of Christians at the hands of ISIS terrorists? Where is God when the six-year old gets cancer, when a tornado rips through a quiet little town, or where poor people are starving and suffering from preventable diseases? The question is legit. So is the answer: God is with us. Of all of Jesus’ Christmas names, I think my favorite is Immanuel—which means “God with us.” Jesus left the peace, comfort, and glory of heaven to make a beachhead in Bethlehem in humble conditions, the child of peasants. He grew up in obscurity and fulfilled His mission though a brutal death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And on the third day after, He rose from the dead in power and glory. Where is God? He is with us. The manger shows us that no situation is too degrading, no experience too humbling what that God, in Christ, is with us right in the midst of it. The cross shows us that no struggle is too great, no injustice too unfair, no sin too heinous, no grief too deep, no suffering too intense, not even death itself is so awful what that God faces it with us in Christ. And the resurrection assures us that because Jesus rose from the dead and lives today, He is able to send us His Spirit so that He truly can be with us and in us everywhere, all the time, and in every situation. Here’s the tenth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas: Jesus is God – with – us: now and forever.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
When the angel showed up in Joseph’s dream and gave him assurance that Mary’s story about the child in her womb was leget, the angel told Joseph, “And you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” It took another 33 years or so and a cross and resurrection for Jesus to make that happen, but happen it did. Through Jesus, we can have forgiveness from our sins—all of our sins. That’s what He was born for in the first place. So it seems to me that when we are born a second time through our faith in Jesus, we need to practice forgiveness too. This hits home at Christmas when we are often forced into spending time with people we don’t like and people who have hurt us. Oh the tension of those gatherings! All that walking on egg shells! All that hard work to avoid getting face to face with those with whom we are at odds! All that fake-y niceness when we do and that phony-baloney wish of “Have a merry Christmas” when we really mean “Have a nightmare-y Christmas!” Here’s a novel idea: why don’t we act like the Savior we worship and forgive those who have sinned against us? It may not fix the relationship, but it will fix you. And you will find new joy, fresh peace, and a relaxing of the tension that ties you up in knots. I don’t mean to make it sound easy. It cost Jesus a cross. But hey, He’s done all the paying for forgiveness, so we don’t have to, nor do those who have sinned against us. So when your swallowing down your egg nog or your Christmas punch, how ‘bout swallowing your pride too. Forgive, give it to Jesus, let it go. That’s a lot easier than carrying it around. Here’s the ninth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas: Jesus came at Christmas to forgive sinners; let’s join Him.
Monday, December 21, 2015
For all the good Christmas does, it also accentuates pain. The lonely often feel lonelier. The poor feel poorer. The grieving feel their loss more acutely. Broken families feel more fragmented than ever. What’s supposed to be a happy time, cuts like jagged glass. The hurting often feel out of step with Christmas. Many want to sing; you want to sigh. Many want to laugh; you want to cry. So hear some good news: God is not out of step with you. He called His Son Immanuel on purpose. The name means “God with us.” God with the lonely. God with the grieving. God with the hurting. God in the midst of broken families. You may not feel Him but He is with you. And if you’ll pray as best you can and wait on Him, He will show up in your life in a way as surprising as Him showing up as a baby born in a barn in Bethlehem. So here’s the eighth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas: Your circumstances do not, cannot, and will not change who Jesus is—God with us, God with you. Oh, and for those of us who aren’t hurting at Christmas, let’s be with them too.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
When I was growing up it was the Soviets, the cold-blooded Commies, who ran roughshod over Russia and Eastern Europe. They were America’s arch-enemies. They were Lex Luthor to our Superman, the Joker to our Batman. They wanted to destroy our way of life, rob of us of freedom, and cheat us in the Olympics. We’re still uneasy with the Russians, but now Islamic Terrorists are the new enemy to hate. And for some Americans, that means all Muslims in general. Christmas throws cold water in the face of such hatred. Remember the words of the angel to the shepherds about that Bethlehem babe: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people!” All people. Even Russians? Yes. Even Muslims? Them too. What part of “all people” don’t we understand? Don’t forget that the Bethlehem Babe had the nerve to grow up and tell us to love our neighbors and our enemies. And if we don’t worship the grown-up Jesus and do what He says, our worship of the Baby Jesus at Christmas is as phony as a 3-dollar bill. So here’s the seventh of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas—this “good news for all people” includes our enemies, people we don’t particularly like or understand, and just as surprisingly, even us.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Listen to the news these days and you’ll hear a common theme: Americans are afraid. We’re afraid another Paris or San Bernardino terror attack is coming to a neighborhood near us. So Christmas comes at a good time this year. One of the messages repeated over and over in the Christmas narratives is this: “Don’t be afraid.” The angel said this to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds: “Don’t be afraid.” I’m pretty sure the angel is saying the same thing to us in this season: “Don’t be afraid. That baby born to you in Bethlehem is named God-with-us.” Christmas reminds us that God has His hands on the wheel of history. Nothing happens that catches God by surprise. Nothing happens that God can’t redeem. And nothing happens to God’s people that can hurt us forever. The coming of Jesus brought heaven to earth. And “if we die before we wake” Jesus will take us from earth to heaven. English poet John Donne said it best: “Fear God or fear everything else.” So here’s the sixth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas—don’t be afraid; God is with us and always will be.
Friday, December 18, 2015
I intended to write a short paragraph for my Facebook page on each of the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Just a simple thought for the day. But because God seems to be using them in a much greater way than I would have expected, I decided to post them on my blog.
Below are the first five of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas. I hope they encourage you in your walk with Jesus in this holy season.
ONE – DECEMBER 14
Here's the first of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas: Herod was a punk and a cut-throat, but he did give some good advice to the magi: "Go and make a careful search for the child." Are you searching for the Christ-child in this holy season?
TWO – DECEMBER 15
Why do you chase the "perfect" Christmas when the first Christmas was anything but perfect by human standards? The eternal King born in a filthy barn to working class people who were away from home because Caesar wanted his subjects to register to pay more tax—and it didn't even snow? Really? Do you think Mary and Joseph envisioned it this way? How 'bout we go a little less Clark Griswold this Christmas and a little more "shepherds in the fields keeping watch over the flocks by night"? They received Christmas just as it was with surprise and wonder and praise. So here's the second of The Twelve Thoughts for Christmas: quit chasing the perfect Christmas and start chasing Christ. You won't be disappointed.
THREE – DECEMBER 16
Centuries ago the church assigned John the Baptist a place in the Advent story. And talk about wrecking havoc with a holly jolly Christmas. He’s an eccentric, backwoods, bug-eating preacher who dresses like a hick—more Mayberry’s Ernest T. Bass than Houston’s Joel Osteen. He’s a Johnny-one-note in his preaching and it’s not, “Merry Christmas.” It’s “Repent of your sins and live a life that proves it.” And instead of the warm-fuzzies we like at Christmas, JB has the nerve to preach fire and brimstone. No wonder Hallmark has never made a Christmas card with him on the cover. So here’s the third of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas—If you want to get the most out of Christmas, instead of indulging yourself, examine yourself: confess your sins, repent, and live a life that proves it.
FOUR – DECEMBER 17
A couple of years ago, I read an article on wired.com about the five greatest toys of all time. And if you guessed that BB guns, bikes, Playstations, and Monopoly were on the list you’d be wrong. According to the article, the five greatest toys of all time are a stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt. I’m guessing not a single parent is giving one of these gifts to their kids this Christmas: “Hope you enjoy your box of dirt.” Truth is: it’s not easy to give the right gift. If we do, there’s no surprise in it. If we don’t, it means standing in long lines at the post office or the customer service desk. God is really good at giving gifts. On the first Christmas, God gave the perfect gift in His Son Jesus. There was surprise in it, delight in it, and anyone who’s experienced this Gift has no interest in returning it. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving—love, life, grace, peace, joy: a whole stocking full of things that matter and things that last. So here’s the fourth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas—in terms of what occupies your energy and attention, make this Christmas less about gifts and more about the Gift.
FIVE – DECEMBER 18
“Reveal Parties” are a big deal these days for expectant parents. And can some of these parents ever get creative! Attenders laugh and smile and eat and enjoy themselves to no end. But I’ve yet to see any expectant parent pull off anything like God’s “reveal party” for His Son. An angel announcement first to Mary and later to Joseph who wasn’t buying Mary’s story. No food was served. No pink or blue balloons were displayed. And it can’t be said that a good time was had by all. There was more fear and trembling than joy and celebration. Nobody was ever more surprised by her pregnancy than Mary. No dad-to-be was ever more shocked at the news than Joseph. But first Mary and then Joseph embraced God’s plan and did their part. “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary, “let it be to me according to your word.” Here’s the fifth of The Twelve Thoughts of Christmas—if God reveals some surprising—even terrifying—call on your life in this season, say yes.