Thoughts on Christmas: For To Us A Child is Born


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah   9:6 (NIV)

I am not very good at shopping ahead of time for Christmas.  Fortunately I have avoided the last minute shopping at the mini-mart for gifts, but it has come too close a few times.  My wife, on the other hand, is the picture of organization and planning ahead.  She starts buying presents for the next Christmas the first week of January.  She has a budget and lists of kid’s names and remembers what everyone likes and dislikes.  Between the two of us, you would definitely want her to get your name in a gift exchange.

There is no doubt that my wife reflects a characteristic about Christmas that we may not always consider: that the perfect gift came at the perfect time and was planned before the creation of the world.  How awesome is it to know that Christ’s birth wasn’t reactionary or a move of desperation?  From the beginning of time, through dozens of generations, thousands of years and the stubbornness of human will, God prepared the world for the coming of His Son.  The fulfillment of prophecy and the promise of salvation spoken of from the Garden and throughout all history – talk about planning ahead.

The amazing truth of this is that God takes the same pains to bring us to the gift He sent in His Son as He took in bring His Son to a humble manger in Bethlehem.  Every day He has prepared gifts that will bring us closer to Him.  Every day He has put in place what we need for that day.  On that first Christmas, God sent His Son to bring love and salvation to a dying world, and He is still sending that gift each day to those who are willing to receive Him.

During this Christmas season remember the God who plans ahead.  Remember that there is wisdom for you from the Wonderful counselor, there is power to overcome the world in our Mighty God, there is hope for a life to come with our Everlasting Father and we have a gracious Lord in the Prince of Peace.

Thoughts on Christmas: Simeon’s Song


Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32

Can you imagine holding the Messiah?  Can you wrap your mind around being present when God came in the flesh to save the world?  I asked myself these questions a few years ago when I read this verse.  It is one that gets skipped over sometimes because it is stuck in between the nativity and the ministry of Jesus with the disciples.  It struck me that God had ordained this meeting between His son and His servant to confirm for Joseph and Mary that all they had experienced was real.

It is easy to feel a little jealous of Simeon’s experience, celebrating the arrival of God’s salvation by holding it close to his chest, but I have since decided that we now experience something Simeon did not – the indwelling of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  While Simeon knew who Jesus was and had been waiting for His arrival, he most likely was not living when Christ rose from the tomb.  As believers under the new covenant, we have a fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It really is astounding; that God would dwell in us and make our hearts His home.

In this coming year, in the aftermath of the Christmas season and all the un-Christmas stuff that can come with it, remember that we have received Christ.  We hold Him close to our hearts in faith.  We celebrate His presence in our lives.  We say with Simeon, “my eyes have seen your salvation” and give our praises to God.  This is the meaning and momentum of Christmas; that Christ was sent and received and continues to be sent and received through the Holy Spirit to save the lost and heal the sick and feed the hungry.

Now we become the bearers of the gift, carrying it into the lives of others, presenting them with their “Simeon” moment.  Our words and actions open the doors to present the gift to friends, family, coworkers and strangers, bringing Christ near to those He would save.  Can you imagine holding the Messiah?  Can you wrap your mind around being present when God comes in the flesh to bring salvation to a dying world?  It is our privilege and promise as His children to carry these great gifts every day.  Here is hoping that Christmas does not only mark the end of the year, but gives us the push we need to hit the new year with renewed strength and purpose.

Acting Out Our Faith: Taking the Word


Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. – Acts 8:4

The devil does not give up easily.  He is pride personified and will not stop his rebellion against God.  He incites and manipulates and connives to work against the kingdom of God and he worked hard to squash this new move of God called the body of Christ.  Persecution came in various forms and degrees of harm, but it all worked to overcome something that cannot be overcome – the Word.

The devil’s pride actually becomes a help to those who follow after God.  While the devil was trying to stop the church, the persecution just spread it out and made it grow.  Instead of shutting up and keeping quiet about their faith, believers took the gospel with them to cities, towns and villages.  The good word went with them as the persecution pushed the church out of Jerusalem into the rest of the world.

It is comforting to keep in mind that anything the devil may have planned for us has already been seen and considered by the God who loves and cares for us.  He has already worked out ways for those hellish plans to be fruitless while His children grow and prosper.  This is what happens when we take the word with us through life.  When it sits inside of us and forms our thoughts and guides our paths, we walk in the plans that God has for us and won’t fall into the traps of the devil.

Lord, help me to walk with the word in my heart every step of this life.  My I preach it through action and speech to all who will listen and may I not bring reproach to Your word by my failures and faults.  Make me more and more a man of Your word every day.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: A Different Kind of Currency


Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. – Acts 3:6-10 (NIV)

I sure am glad that heaven runs on a different currency than the world.  When the world tries to fix a problem it is all about throwing money and resources at it until it is buried.  Issues are resolved by committee and conference.  We have programmed, politicized and popularized helping the needy, but I think we can come to depend on them more than the power of God.

It is comforting to me that poverty in the world’s eyes has nothing to do with the riches of God.  Peter has no silver or gold to give, but what he does have is better by far.  The power to transform lives, to heal and help those in need, cannot be replaced by material things.  It is gracious to give of our resources and we should give with grateful hearts for God’s providence, but we cannot forget to invest the currency God has made available to us through the Holy Spirit.

I don’t want to be rich in this world if it causes me to be a pauper in God’s kingdom.  I want to be wealthy in the things of God and spend that wealth on others.  I hope that the next time I see someone in need I will remember this and invest the currency that only God can supply.

Lord, thank you for Your Holy Spirit supplying me with kingdom currency.  Help me to spend it wisely and fearlessly for Your glory and the benefit of others. Amen.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Conclusion


But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)

Righteousness is an amazing thing; we all need, none of us have it and there is only one place to get it.  Talk about evening the playing field.  Righteousness requires us all to become spiritual paupers. This makes Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 come into clearer focus.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) and, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

There is no difference between me or the murderer in jail, until either of us admit our spiritual poverty and hunger for something better than all other things.  God has made His righteousness known and available, but we can get too involved in concocting our own righteousness instead.  We can look at the murderer and say, “At least I am not a murderer” all the while hating the murderer in our heart.  This isn’t righteousness, it is spiritual hypocrisy rooted in arrogance.

Righteousness asks us all to start at the same place, to count everything we have done on our own as rubbish.  We empty our pockets, we deny our credentials, we surrender our pedigree and we come before God naked and poor.  We need Him to clothe us.  We need Him to bless us with the riches of His kingdom.  We need His righteousness.

This life is too short to spend time trying to be right; too precious to spend our talents and treasures just to prove someone else wrong.  Make your argument with your life.  Hunger and thirst for righteousness and you will make the best argument possible; that God’s righteousness is better than man’s.  I certainly don’t say this from a place of success.  Every day is a struggle to seek God’s righteousness instead of creating my own, but I believe I am closer than I was last week, last month, last year.  I still hunger.  I still thirst.

Righteousness is an amazing thing, but it is not impossible.  My hope is rooted in the victories in my own life and the cloud of witnesses who testify to this truth.  The righteousness of God is our inheritance, but we must let go of the petty riches we cling to in this world.  We have to let go of our reputations, our degrees, our experiences and grab a hold of the hem of His garment.  Lord, let us hunger and thirst for You more every day.

Giving Thanks: Finding the Peace of God


This is the second repost from November of 2010.  Hope that you all have a Thanksgiving filled with blessing.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. – Psalm 95:1-2

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5-7

In one of my favorite short films, Boundin’, by the geniuses at Pixar Studios, the main character is a lamb experiencing the humiliation of shearing for the first time.  Prior to this experience, his identity was rooted in how people perceived and treated him, so when his lovely coat is stripped away, he is unprepared for the laughs and giggles of his fair weather friends.  Fortunately, wisdom comes in the form of a Jackalope who gets the sheep’s head in the right place by showing him that nothing has really changed about who the sheep is inside.  The young sheep finds a way to be at peace in his changing circumstances and the viewer is wishing they had a jackalope to come get their head in the right place.

It is hard to be thankful when we are plagued by anxiety.  We tend to shift into survivor mode when anxiousness and fear take the helm.  That really doesn’t help us become “more than conquerors.”  I don’t believe that God desires us to choose between fight or flight when faced with the challenges of this world and our own sinfulness.  I do believe there is a peace that allows us to face even the worst of all possible events in our lives with boldness and even joy.  But just like that little lamb, we need to get our head in the right place.

Paul’s admonition to “present your requests to God” is tempered by an overarching attitude of thanksgiving.  This is critical for us to understand as His children, for we often wait to give thanks after the fact.  Paul is putting forth the idea that we need to lead with thanksgiving; to be grateful for what the Lord will do.  This gets our head in the right place – looking forward to hope and the unfailing promises of God.

What is it that you hope for?  What are the anxieties that keep you from living in the peace of God?  Don’t wait for a jackalope to come along with rhyming platitudes to help you out.  There is one who understands our suffering and the way out.  Put your hope in Him and pray with thanksgiving for His providence, healing and help in your time of need.

Giving Thanks: Our Unchanging God


Since I will be on vacation for the next two weekends, I am reposting for this week and next week.  This week is a repost from November of 2010.  While some of the language is specific to that year, the thoughts behind it are still true.  I hope that this is a timely encouragement during the season of thanksgiving.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” – Lamentations 3:19-24

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’m not sure about you, but 2010 has been a rough year.  Not as rough for my family as some others I know, but it ranks up there as a lean year in many respects.  The surprise for me is that I have never been as thankful as I have been this year.  Not a stick-your-head-in-the-sand thankful; that is just avoiding reality with empty platitudes and heartless prayers.  Not dutiful gratitude born out of blind obedience to some Christian ethic that says, “There is always something to be thankful for in what you are going through.”  That just keeps our eyes off the true focus of our thanksgiving.

The reason I am more thankful this year is a deepening understanding of three words: God never changes.  If this doesn’t make sense, think about what has brought you the most comfort in difficult times.  I would lay odds that most would say family and friends; those we love anchor us and heal us and hold us when we are going through grief, pain and difficulty.  Many of us would also say that sometimes those we love have let us down when we needed them most.  This is where God’s unchanging character can step into our lives and fill the gaps to overflowing.

We live in a broken world where tragedy and trial come without warning or consideration.  We are broken people with limitations, weaknesses and flaws that severely hamper our ability to truly satisfy the needs of others.  Only one can give what is needed for each wound.  Only one meets the needs of Jeremiah when he laments, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.”  The God who never changes.  When everything else is falling apart, including ourselves, God remains merciful, kind, compassionate, faithful and loving.  He is our hope and comfort.  This is at the heart of living in an attitude of thanksgiving.

This isn’t a roadmap to living life without pain and suffering.  It is the compass that allows us to keep moving in the right direction in spite of our circumstances, both good and bad.  When Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “give thanks IN all circumstances” (emphasis mine), he means “in” not “for.”  God is not thankful for hurt or pain or tragedy and I don’t believe He would require his children to either.  Paul is reminding the Thessalonians, and us, that no matter what happens in this broken world, to broken people, God still loves and cares for us, still calls us onward to peace and joy, still holds us in his strong hands.

This Thanksgiving, hold this truth close to your heart and let it guide you to a gratitude that transforms and heals.  Ask God to reveal His heart for you in the midst of your circumstances.  Let God use you to be His compassion and mercy to those experiencing pain and suffering.  Be grateful not for what you have, but for who you belong to, because God never changes.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Overcoming Poverty


The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. – Proverbs 29:7 (NIV)

Poverty is certainly a growing issue of debate and concern today.  Unemployment rates, foreclosure listings and protests have been media regulars for the last few years.  A sour economy has soured our attitude toward the rich, but the real question is how has it changed our attitude toward the poor?

More and more, the burden of the poor seems to be pushed onto the government, but it is clear in the passage that this is the responsibility of the righteous.  Unfortunately, we have grown used to the system taking care of those in need.  We assume that there is a program or benefit available to fix people’s problems, but systems have no compassion or hope or healing.  Systems are not driven by love or fueled by faith.  Systems don’t save people, they just solve problems.  Righteousness can do better.

It is the righteous who want to provide more than gold or silver can buy.  As much as the poor may need financial help, they need love, compassion and encouragement in equal or greater measure.  In fact, poverty is less a battle over finances and more over the attitude and inclination of the heart.  This is true for both the experience of poverty and the perception of the poor.  When define ourselves or others by what we lack, it can lead to all sorts of injustice.  To truly see justice for the poor we need to preach the truth and live the truth.

Paul had learned the secret of contentment regardless of his circumstances.  This is the most just way to approach poverty and wealth.  When we learn how to be content, we are released to be gracious and giving to others and not be concerned for ourselves.  This is how we can act justly.  This is how we can overcome the spirit of poverty in ourselves and others.  This is how we can continue to minister to the needs of others even if we are not what others would call wealthy.

Lord, help us to care for the needs of others and give with a generous spirit.  May we overcome poverty in our hearts and minds so that it does not define us or the world around us.  Help us to live justly with our finances. Amen.

Gardening Tips: No Need for Seed


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written:

“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (NIV)

Unlike those who depend on the harvest for their livelihood, we get to give ours away.  We don’t depend on storehouses where moth and rust destroy, but the storehouses of heaven.  But it is too easy in our self-centered society, to keep things for ourselves.  There has recently been much discontent among some in the United States about the inequity wealth.  They feel that somehow they have been cheated or robbed, but at the core, they believe they should have what someone else has; they are greedy.  They fall in the same trespass they judge others for and are oblivious to the irony.

This world would be a better place if we spent less time getting for ourselves and more time giving of ourselves.  Our neighborhoods and families would be all the more blessed for our willingness to give to the needs of others.  But the keys are laid out clearly in the passage above: it is a personal choice, done with confidence and without outside coercion.  Giving should be a reaction to God’s goodness to us and our giving will increase with our understanding of His goodness.

Giving, generosity, charity – they are certainly attributes of the followers of Christ, but it isn’t just what we do, but why we do it and how we do it.  We need to be motivated by the right reasons to do the righteous things.  There needs to be purpose and will behind our giving; first God’s and then ours coming in line to partner in generosity to those in need.  Too much is given to fulfill a sense of duty.  Too much is done to meet perceived obligations.  Too much is dedicated to avoiding guilt trips from those in authority.  As followers of Christ we are beholden to no one but God for what we give, but that is a far more demanding position to be in.

So if we put our giving in the hands of God, where does our confidence lie?  It lies in the promise that His storehouses never run out; that He will always provide all we need to do all He wants for everyone He loves.  The real truth is that the seeds were never ours to keep.  When we become selfish with the blessings God provides, we are thieves and robbers, stealing the blessings from others.  Let us give because we have nothing to lose.  Let us do for others because everything has already been accomplished for us through Christ.  Let us be used by God to disperse His blessings.

Lord, help me to live a generous life in light of Your gracious blessings.  May I be used by You to bless others.  Give me eyes to see where it is You would have me give and keep me rooted in Your will.  Amen.

 

Gardening Tips: Count Your Blessings Together


Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways.

You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.

Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. – Psalms 128:1-4 (NIV)

I just finished making a batch of zucchini bread and a batch of squash bread and I have to tell you, eating the fruit of you labors is good….really good.  Tomatoes with more flavor than a juicy steak, strawberries with just the right balance of sweet and tart, and the blessing of watching my family enjoy these products from the field.  Good times.

It challenges me to find that same blessing in our life together with God.  Sometimes we all can get on our own track, concerned with the burdens of our life and responsibilities and forget about what God provides.    We don’t count our blessings nearly enough as we should.  We get overcome by our own burdens and focused on how we can take care of ourselves.  We become less like family and more like roommates.

The amazing thing about working toward the harvest is that you get to eat the fruit and share the experience.  Not only do we appreciate the bounty of the work, but we can bear one another up in the process.  I am grateful for all our garden has provided this year, but I will take laughter and conversation at the table where its fruit is eaten any day of the week.  The problem is that I don’t always do that.  I get focused on my own life and problems and forget to enjoy the blessings that are sitting at the table with me.

Lord, help me have eyes to see the blessings around me every day, especially the beautiful family you have given me.  Grow in me a desire to bless them and encourage them in their journey with You.  Make us a family marked by love and respect for one another. Amen.