Thoughts on Christmas: A Mother’s Song, A Daughter’s Song


And Mary said:  “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

It must have been an incredible moment, a moment that both women carried with them through the years their sons were growing up and becoming the servants of God they were meant to be.  One a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah; the other a rabbi who bled for the sins of the world. Both of them miracles.

John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents well beyond the childbearing age – the Abraham and Sarah of their day.  Zechariah was commanded by God to name his son John, but was made mute because he questioned God’s ability to give them a son.  Jesus was the Son of God and Joseph and Mary – one by spirit, one by law and one by blood.  Mary was blessed for unflinching obedience and acceptance.

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, signifying that he already recognized the one he would prepare the way for in an unprepared world.  Elizabeth is moved by the spirit to prophesy, which in turn moves Mary to sing praise to her God.  It is a holy moment, a sacred moment.  Two holy children destined to change the world and two women chosen to love and care for them joined together by God’s Spirit.

Often the song of Mary is considered a mother’s song, and it is, but it is also a daughter’s song to her heavenly Father.  A song of praise and thanksgiving for all that He had done and all that He would do. A song testifying God’s ability to give her everything she needs to do what she should.  A song for Christmas, when we celebrate the day that God gave us everything we need to do all we should.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas day, it is easy to get frustrated with the un-Christmas-like things around us and around the world.  However, the danger of focusing on the lack of Christ in Christmas in our culture is that we don’t focus enough on the Christ in Christmas.  Think of Mary, a young woman in her circumstances travelling to stay with family, avoiding the shame she might endure.  She carried the light of the world inside her, but knew no one would believe her.  In the midst of all this she sings praise to her God; she remembers what she is about and who she is; a daughter of the King.  Instead of fixating on all that could go wrong, or what was uncomfortable or unpleasant, she recounted what good a gracious God she served.  She was preparing the way for the Messiah.

Maybe that is what we should really be about during the Christmas season – preparing the way.  Like Mary and then John, we should be focused on preparing the way for Jesus to come into moments we share with friends, family, coworkers and even strangers.  Let’s prepare the way in our hearts for Christ to have His way in His time.  Prepare the way, Christmas is coming.

I Am…


My daughter was given an assignment in her fifth grade class to write a poem about herself.  I am really proud of what she wrote.

 

I am emotional and tender-hearted

I wonder how God became

I hear the sound of fighting that should be stopped

I see beauty in life

I want the world to have peace

I pretend nothing bad is happening somewhere

I feel innocent

I touch someone with kindness

I worry about what will happen to the world

I cry when people can’t get along

I understand that you just need to let it out sometimes

I say, “I love you.”

I dream of God being present

I try not to argue

I hope that everyone will listen

I am Keely Dae Yeager

The Good Shepherd: Tending a Blemished Flock


I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. – Ezekiel 34:15-16 (NIV)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

Not too long ago, I came home from work to an unhappy wife and a very quiet older daughter.  Missing was the younger daughter, who had locked herself in the bathroom.  I was asked to step in and see if I could extricate the youngling and began working on the lock, little whimpers punctuating my fiddling and tinkering.  The extrication became a little more involved once the door was open.

Big trouble for a little girl.

It was evident that my beautiful little girl had ventured into the world of cosmetology and home décor.  Unfortunately she had done both with the same medium – my wife’s lipstick.  While I could appreciate the artistic flair evident in the strokes of red on the wall, door and daughter, I was pretty sure my wife would not be a fan of the arts that day.  The room and child needed to come out of this experience unblemished.

My little girl didn’t need to be told that what she had done was wrong.  Her tearful demeanor and cowering in the corner were clear indicators that she was afraid of punishment.  We will never know if she was not able to unlock the door, or was too afraid to face mommy and daddy and so refused to unlock the door.  She needed to know that we still loved her, that we were okay.

It is very easy for us to lock ourselves away from God and fear what He will think of us if we open up the door.  Our sin or disobedience can seem so great that we would rather try to hide it away and hope that He will ignore us.  But God is a seeker…He is a good shepherd who finds His sheep wherever they may try to lose themselves.  He is the healer and redeemer, cleansing us of our blemishes so we can stand before Him unashamed.  All it took to clean up that lipstick was soap, time and effort.  For our sin it took the perfect Son of God, coming in the fullness of time and taking our place on the cross of shame and punishment.

I cannot think of anything my daughter could do that would cause me to stop loving her or trying to provide all she needs for this life and the life to come.  In a far better way, God loves us and will not relent in calling us to safe pastures.  He will call us out from behind our locked doors.  He binds up our injuries, self-inflicted or otherwise, and He watches over us with compassion and grace.

The evidence of the lipstick incident is gone.  There are no red stains left behind on door, wall or daughter.  They are unblemished in that regard, but sadly my daughter can still get herself into trouble.  She stops listening to those who would guide her in good directions, and finds herself in trouble again.  It is a beautiful thing to see a lost lamb returned to safe pastures; it is tragic to see that lamb lose her way again and head into harm’s way, but that is the life of parenthood.

Our heavenly Father is no less longsuffering than the best of us.  He watches us as we wander our own way, putting our souls in harm’s way.  Patiently He waits for us to unlock our doors that we try to hide behind.  Gently His voice keeps calling to me with the promise of forgiveness and restoration.  With strength beyond anything we can imagine or understand, He carries us from the “the valley of the shadow of death” to lush pastures and quiet waters.

Do you have any locked doors?  Are there any blemishes on your soul that no one else knows about?  Do you worry about the stains of your past being too deep for the Shepherd to cleanse?  I pray that the love of God, the Good Shepherd, would overcome our fears; that we would heed his voice and enter His rest. I pray that we would learn the beauty and power of being His sheep.

The Blessing of Empty Hands


This is a re-post from December of 2009.  This week had a lot of life going on, but not a lot of writing.  I originally wrote this about 3 years ago and have continued to think about the discipline of maintaining empty space in my life for God to do His business.

The Blessing of Empty Hands
Not many of us would consider the word “empty” something positive. Phrases like empty stomach, empty wallet, empty house, empty tank and others, can remind us of loss, struggle, loneliness, disadvantage and even powerlessness. But God’s economy does not work like ours.
I remember watching my four-year-old daughter, Keely, sketching on a fresh, white piece of paper one morning. With the concentration only achieved by the unfettered imagination of a toddler, she formed a whole world eleven inches long, eight and a half inches wide, and infinitely deep. When the length and width ran out of space for her imagination, she looked at me with concern. “Daddy! There’s no more room!” she protested.

I hurried to look through the supply drawer and fetched a fresh sheet. The joy and anticipation that blossomed on her face was worth far more than the finest painting in the best of museums. With renewed energy she began creating a whole new world. The blessing of an empty page was not wasted on my little girl.

A year later we moved to be near family and friends. Keely had mixed feelings about leaving familiar places and good friends. When we arrived at our new townhouse, she ran up the stairs to her empty room. Boxes and furniture would have to wait. Rushing through the door, she described in detail where her stuff would go, already seeing her special room in her head. An empty room had potential. An empty room was available – a blank canvas for a willing artist.

Just this last year my Mom passed away. Her passing was sudden and painful and left a lot of empty places behind. Her love filled so many lives with joy and grace and mercy. She left a faithful husband with an empty home and a grieving heart, sons and daughters without her loving words to bring comfort and encouragement, friends and acquaintances without her ready laugh and contagious smile and so many other empty spaces. She also left my little girl without her Big Nana. As painful as it is to watch my little girl’s tears when she’s missing her Nana’s hugs, I know she will be better for it in the years to come. She has learned – and is learning – how much God can do with an empty space. We all are.

It is a ironic that empty hands are those most capable of receiving. The hording and grasping so prevalent in our society, in our world, disallows so many from receiving anything from God. He so desires to draw beautiful things on our lives, but they are cluttered and scheduled and busy. He wants to fill our hearts with His love, but we have little rooms and closets that hold onto the past and hide away our shame and pain. He wants to give us so much, but we are grasping to those earthly things that help us feel safe and in control. If only we could learn the beauty of emptiness.

I hope that in the years ahead my daughter will learn to appreciate, even anticipate, the blessings of empty hands. I want her to know the power of an empty cross and the salvation Christ purchased with His blood on its cruel timbers. I want her to understand the blessing of an empty tomb and the promise of life after death. I want her to know Christ the savior “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philip. 2:6-7 NRSV).

Imagine what God could paint on your life if you gave Him the space. How wide, and high, and deep, and long? How much faith, hope and love could fit in a heart emptied of unforgiveness, shame, worry, anger and all the other cluttering memories and thoughts that we hold so tightly too? How much could He bless you with if you let go of everything else? Our challenge is to let go of all the things we’re holding onto and approach our heavenly Father with empty hands. Emptiness is where He works best.

Thoughts on Christmas: A Mother’s Song, A Daughter’s Song


And Mary said:  “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

It must have been an incredible moment, a moment that both women carried with them through the years their sons were growing up and becoming the servants of God they were meant to be.  One a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah; the other a rabbi who bled for the sins of the world. Both of them miracles.

John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents well beyond the childbearing age – the Abraham and Sarah of their day.  Zechariah was commanded by God to name his son John, but was made mute because he questioned God’s ability to give them a son.  Jesus was the Son of God and Joseph and Mary – one by spirit, one by law and one by blood.  Mary was blessed for unflinching obedience and acceptance.

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, signifying that he already recognized the one he would prepare the way for in an unprepared world.  Elizabeth is moved by the spirit to prophesy, which in turn moves Mary to sing praise to her God.  It is a holy moment, a sacred moment.  Two holy children destined to change the world and two women chosen to love and care for them joined together by God’s Spirit.

Often the song of Mary is considered a mother’s song, and it is, but it is also a daughter’s song to her heavenly Father.  A song of praise and thanksgiving for all that He had done and all that He would do. A song testifying God’s ability to give her everything she needs to do what she should.  A song for Christmas, when we celebrate the day that God gave us everything we need to do all we should.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas day, it is easy to get frustrated with the un-Christmas-like things around us and around the world.  However, the danger of focusing on the lack of Christ in Christmas in our culture is that we don’t focus enough on the Christ in Christmas.  Think of Mary, a young woman in her circumstances travelling to stay with family, avoiding the shame she might endure.  She carried the light of the world inside her, but knew no one would believe her.  In the midst of all this she sings praise to her God; she remembers what she is about and who she is; a daughter of the King.  Instead of fixating on all that could go wrong, or what was uncomfortable or unpleasant, she recounted what good a gracious God she served.  She was preparing the way for the Messiah.

Maybe that is what we should really be about during the Christmas season – preparing the way.  Like Mary and then John, we should be focused on preparing the way for Jesus to come into moments we share with friends, family, coworkers and even strangers.  Let’s prepare the way in our hearts for Christ to have His way in His time.  Prepare the way, Christmas is coming.

Pressing On: Keeping Christ in Sight


Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! – Philippians 4:1 (NIV)

The sermon on Sunday was one of those gentle, but insistent nudges from God to redirect and refocus; an arm around the shoulders and a hand under the chin showing a child the right way forward. Pastor Bill was taking us through a passage in Matthew 5 about asking the right questions, about keeping our eyes in the right direction and living life for something instead of against something. While he was preaching, Philippians 4:1 kept coming to mind.

Chapter 3 of Philippians really is a new prescription for life that if applied will help us be more like Christ. Paul encourages us to keep our eyes on Christ, to put our past achievements behind us and to press on. He is clear that fulfillment of the law by outward action is rubbish compared to being transformed by the one who fulfills the law completely. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “that is how you stand firm in the Lord.” But this truth, this defining movement toward Christ, challenges me to rethink more than my relationship with Him and ask, “How does this change the way I am a husband, a father, a son or an employee?”

For example, as a father, I have a great deal of experience saying various words and phrases to my children: “No,” “Don’t touch that!” “Stop doing that to your sister.” They are boundary-setting statements, intent on controlling my girls so they will know how to act. While there are certainly times where boundaries are important, I am not so certain that they will have the results I am hoping for if they are used without consideration. I fear that I would only be teaching them how to act without showing them why or why not to act. Then, all I would have given them is a nice script for being well-behaved and never hearts or minds practiced in being the Christ-like children of God He designed them to be.

I don’t want my children to be actresses, performing their way through life, slowly becoming less and less real. I want them to be as real as they can possibly be and that means helping them move toward Christ. And that means that I must move toward Christ ahead of them, showing them the way. I want to be more about pointing them in the right direction than pointing out their indiscretion. I want to encourage their growth in Christ and not their blind adherence to rules and boundaries. I want them to look like Christ more every day not like the Pharisees He struggled with again and again.

Help me Lord to point others in the right direction.

Pressing On: A Little Bit More Like Jesus than Me


Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. – Philippians 3:1-21 (NIV)

 I have experienced great joy and satisfaction watching my littlest girl imitate her older sister.  She has been doing it more and more, a little shadow following her object of fascination around with extreme dedication. The eldest usually handles it well, showing patience and maturity.  However, there are times that her patience wears thin and the shadow dissipates into tears and hurt feelings; then the cycle begins again.

Many times the younger misses the mark in emulating the older over an issue of timing – she is too small, too weak, and too immature.  It is no fault of hers, but the nature of growth and development.  As her coordination improves, her muscles gain strength and her mind absorbs knowledge, she will be able to imitate with great skill.  

Christ, our eldest brother, asks us to be like Him in every way; to love like Him, pray like Him, and extend grace and mercy like Him.  But Christ is gracious and compassionate and gave us the gifts of discipleship and fellowship to make the difficult process possible.  How blessed are we that others around us are a little more like Jesus than we?  How beautiful that we are surrounded by those with the same struggles and hopes and promises? 

Paul encourages the Philippians to help one another in this passage by following one another on the path toward Christ-likeness, a practice Paul followed himself.  To press on is to be more like Jesus tomorrow than you are today.  Do you have a brother or sister in Christ that you can imitate?  What example are you setting for those who are watching you?  I pray that as my daughters look to me that they will be led toward Christ.  I pray that I will watch after those who go ahead and take note of their example.  And I pray that all of us together will make the journey with our eyes on Christ and our prayers for one another.

Pressing On: Acting Our Age


All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. – Philippians 3:15-16

My children are a wonder to me. It is indescribable what the depth, breadth, width and height of their love and trust in me has done to transform the way I think, speak and act. They can repair a broken day with a simple embrace, soothe the worries of modern life with laughter and recalibrate my perspective with the words “I love you, Daddy.” But in the midst of this incredible little universe dwells the horrid, unrelenting presence of sin. Disobedience, selfishness and anger rise up in little hearts and the beauty is tainted and warped just a little each time.

I could pretend that sin wasn’t there. I could just convince myself that my daughters are so special that whatever they do is righteousness. I could hold them to a different standard than the one God holds for all of us. Unfortunately I have met some of those children and it is never a pretty sight. God calls me to something better as a father. He asks me to look at them with His eyes to see them as they are and as they can be. He also has given me the privilege of helping each of them bridge the gap between what is and what can be with faith, hope and love. He asks that I help them grow in their knowledge of Him and His mighty power.

In the passage above, Paul is asking us to “live up to what we have already attained.” I expect my two year old to act like a two year old, I expect my ten year old to act like a ten year old and God expects me to act like a 42 year old man with a long life in God’s family. I am not sure why I should expect my children to act their age if I am not acting mine, and yet I fear that may be the case more often than I would like to admit.

My wife and I are working hard to lead our girls toward maturity step by step, trial by trial and lesson by lesson. We take time now and then to discuss what may be holding one of them back when they hit a bump in the road. We pray that they will have eyes to see, ears to hear and minds to understand. As we do so, God is doing the same work in us. I have had my fair share of bumps in the road over the years; times when I was content to not only sit in the middle of the road, but roll back, out of gear and out of gas. And every time my heavenly Father was there to lead me back to obedience and forward motion.

In this life of pressing on, God knows where we are and where we can be and what we need to get from the one to the other. How are you doing? Are there still areas in your life where you don’t act your age? Have you come to a bump in the road and lost your forward momentum? I pray that you will call on the mercy and grace of God to help you move forward toward maturity in Christ; and I will ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Pressing On: Not Quite Like Jesus


Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

My two year old is becoming more independent every day. “My turn!” “Mine!” “No Daddy!”  She has a great desire to do things on her own, but more than that, she wants to do what she sees me or Mommy doing.  This has caused her numerous experiences of frustration and disappointment as she doesn’t have all she needs to do what I or Mommy can do.  To her credit, she does not give up, and just like other two year olds, she gets better with time and repetition.

My ten year old is a perfectionist.  She expects to get things right and can get to the point of tears over poor grades or simple mistakes.  She has improved in this area and is more forgiving of herself, but it will continue to be an area of growth.  She is learning there is a difference between doing her best and doing THE best.  One is what she can do and the other is what she working toward being able to do.

Paul, with all of his experience, education and heritage, realized he was not quite like Jesus yet.  He also realized that there were steps beyond salvation to get us to holiness.  If being saved was the sum total of Christian experience, why would Paul tell us to press on toward something more?  While salvation gets us out of hell, pressing on gets us closer to heaven. 

The challenge for us is to not get frustrated when holiness eludes us.  We must press on.  In the same way that I encourage my girls to try it again, overcoming frustration and difficulty, so God encourages us through Paul to just keep trying.  It is too easy to be like my two year old and want to do everything on my own.  It is too easy to expect perfection like my ten year old, and live with frustration and failure.  But God just wants His children to grow and mature in His time and His way; to learn patience and grace for the journey. 

We may not be quite like Jesus, but we keep pressing on because that is the only way to get there and God is willing to wait.

Pressing On: One Man’s Treasure is Another Man’s Rubbish


What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Philippians 3:8-11 (NIV)

Have you ever been to a birthday party where the child being celebrated receives the newest “it” gift?  The other children swarm around with platter-sized eyes and mouths open, a stream of oohs and ahs washing over the room.  Parents look on, wondering how much the next birthday is going to cost them to get the newest “it” gift for their own child.  You can almost hear the chorus of “Did you see what Jane/Johnny got? I wish I had one of those?” as the children ride off in their parent’s cars.  Keeping up with the Joneses starts at a young age thanks to aggressive marketing.

Before anyone thinks that all I get my children for their birthdays are socks and pencils just to teach them a lesson, I freely admit to purchasing a few of the newest “it” gifts for both of my daughters.  I also don’t believe that there is anything inherently evil about Webkinz or Littlest PetShop stuffed animals.  My concern is that over time, my daughters might learn to define themselves by what they have rather than who created them.  It is a conversation that we will have more than once in the course of time.

This passage from Paul got me thinking about my own value system and whether I do the same thing with the newest “it” things in my life.  I was surprised to find in myself this little child pulling on God’s sleeve asking for one more blessing, one more sign or wonder.  I wondered when the “content in all circumstances” had changed to “Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee.” 

Paul gives us a new prescription for viewing the world. He places things in two categories: Rubbish and whatever will help him know Christ more fully.  He isn’t being severe in this assessment, but clarifying for  us that if we truly understand what it is to know Christ, nothing will ever come close in comparison.  I am looking forward to walking this road with my daughters, learning to find our contentment in the hands of a gracious God, rather than the shelves of stores or pictures on the screen.  We can also discover what it is to value Christ above everything else – not as an idea but an active attitude that changes the way we see the world and our place in it.  It should be an interesting journey as long as we press on.