The God Of The Impossible

Nativity_Scenes015Mary was astounded. How could she not be? An angel had told her she’d get pregnant, and here she was, still a virgin, staring down into the little face of her newborn son.

As if that wasn’t enough, a group of shepherds crowded into their quarters to worship her baby. Angels, they said, had told them about this child–where he’d be born and how they could find him and how they would know him.

Then there were the two in the temple when she and Joseph went to present Jesus according to the law. First was Simeon who said strange things: that her son would be a light to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel. Then in his blessing, Simeon added that he was appointed as sign to be opposed. He didn’t stop there, but added some confusing personal prophecy about a sword piercing Mary’s own soul.

Then there was the prophetess Anna who thanked God for Mary’s son and talked about him to everyone who was looking for the redemption of Israel.

All this came on the heels of her cousin Elizabeth, her barren cousin Elizabeth, getting pregnant. The angel had told Mary that would happen, too. And it was then he made the whole astounding series of events make sense: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

The bottom line, and the only thing a person actually needs to believe in order to accept the astounding things we read about connected to that first Christmas, is that truth which Mary accepted. When the angel made his declaration about God’s greatness and power and limitless ability, Mary submitted to God–to His plans for her, His capacity to accomplish what He’d made known to her through His messenger.

She got it–that God was bigger than the laws of nature and that He was the fulfiller of prophecy. She ought not be a mother, but she was. The shepherds ought not have known about her son, but they did. Simeon and Anna ought not have declared a poor baby born to an unwed mother in a manger to be the Messiah, but they had.

Indeed, God can do the impossible.

That’s really the truth that separates people today as believers or unbelievers. If God can do the impossible, then He could take on human flesh and be born as a baby. If God can do the impossible, then He could die, once for all, the just for the unjust. If God can do the impossible, then no sin is too great for Him to forgive, no person so far from Him than He can’t reach them.

One of the worst kings in Israel’s history illustrates that point. Manasseh

erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God (2 Chron. 33:3b-7a).

A hopeless case, right? Idol worship, child sacrifice, witchcraft. Evil. But God didn’t turn His back on Manasseh.

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chron. 33:10-13)

Impossible! But no. God “was entreated by him.” God forgives. God redeems. God reconciles.

The Christmas story is both the proof that God can do the impossible and the declaration that the God who is Lord of the impossible accomplishes the miraculous.

How right to praise His name.

Published in: on December 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on The God Of The Impossible  
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Wise Men And The Seeking Thing

christmas-background-2-1408232-m“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. At one time I even had those words as the title of a Christmas bulletin board in my classroom. It sounds sort of profound. And Christ centered.

But here’s the thing. In my experience, it doesn’t seem like we seek God so much as God seeks us.

First, God isn’t hiding. He has purposefully and dramatically made Himself known. That’s what the first Christmas and the ensuing thirty-tree years were all about. Jesus came to show Mankind the Father.

Secondly, people seem to be more interested in dodging and ducking and hiding from God. Or flat out denying and rejecting Him. C. S. Lewis wrote of his reluctance, his fight, actually, against God. He called Him his adversary once and wrote this of his conversion: “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised by Joy).

It seems to me, the people who fall into the category of “seeker” are more apt to be hiders ducking behind the quest for the spiritual in order to avoid God and His claim on their lives. Scripture says clearly that anyone who truly seeks, finds.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

Consequently, it seems to me the seeking process isn’t some protracted, drawn out, involved study of world religions or long nights of deep meditation. Those kinds of things are hiding tactics, more likely to obfuscate than to reveal. God has told us what we need to do to find Him: look at His Son Jesus.

Jesus said to [Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So there’s Christmas in a nutshell. When we look at Jesus come down from Heaven, we are seeing the Father: His love for the lost, His sacrificial heart, His generosity, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness, His humility, His desire for reconciliation and peace, His goodness.

Do wise men seek Him today as they once did over two thousand years ago? Those ancient magi thought they were going to find the King of the Jews, and they did. But they also found the Creator of the world, the Redeemer of Mankind, the Friend of sinners.

Whoever seeks Jesus on those terms is bound to find Him.

Published in: on December 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Nativity Scene

Nativity_Scenes004I’ve been thinking this year about some of the traditional activities connected with Christmas–presents, trees, music. This past week I had the wonderful pleasure to view Christmas lights.

Not just any lights. There are a couple streets in the city of Brea where the home owners (of very nice homes) go all out at Christmas and decorate in every imaginable way. They hang and drape and wrap and wind and string lights from the peak of roofs to the edge of lawns and everywhere in between.

The result is magical. I mean, it’s astounding the creations these people come up with. They portray every aspect of Christmas you can think of. There are yards outlined with candy canes, others filled with presents. There are arches with holly wreaths and poinsettias and bells and jack-in-the-box-like reveals of children or elves or Santa.

Snoopy and his his crew get a bit of attention and of course so do snowmen and carolers and reindeer. But clearly, Santa is the star of the show.

The new thing seems to be to upgrade his transportation. While there were some sleighs, there were also trains, helicopters, airplanes, and even one hot-air balloon ready to whisk Santa away to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys.

I truly did enjoy the light show, but the thing that stayed with me most was the fact that out of the hundred or so homes we looked at, I only saw two nativity scenes. Two. A couple houses had big Noel signs and one had a “Wise men still seek him” sign. Another home had a lighted cross in an upstairs window.

When I was growing up, Nativity Scenes were not unusual. We used to visit the State Capitol Building in Denver, and there was always a manger scene among the many lavish decorations. Often in the windows of homes we could see a wooden stable with figurines of Joseph, Mary, a collection of shepherds, and magi huddled around a manger where the fairly old looking pretend baby Jesus lay.

One of the families in the school where I taught had twelve children. And they happened to be a very musical group (VERY musical–tremendous talent). At some point they decided to go beyond a nativity display to a nativity re-enactment. I mean, they had, for quite a few years, a new born baby, whether child or grandchild, to play the part of baby Jesus. They did this on the front lawn of their very large home in Fullerton, and people would come from all over to watch the performance, much the way I did this past week to view the Christmas lights.

The point is, the events the Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ, once were prominent in our Christmas decorations. Our technology has improved and our displays have become more elaborate, but with it, there doesn’t seem to be an increase in spiritual awareness.

I couldn’t help but think, though, that once a manger scene at Christmas didn’t mean anything more than any other decoration. They were common, expected.

Now, I doubt people here in SoCal put up manger scenes unless they are purposefully, intentionally making a statement about what they believe about Christmas.

May the lights shining from the homes with Nativity Scenes shine ever brighter this year.

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Why I’m Not Boycotting Or Signing Petitions

pray-399613-mYears ago, I taught Bible to junior highers. Part of the requirement was to memorize Scripture, and inevitably someone would ask why. Sometimes I would pose the question: What if a foreign government swooped in and took away our Bibles. It seemed like a far-fetched possibility, but beyond my imagination was the idea that our own government might tamper with our religious freedoms.

Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening. The government, and social pressure exerted by those in position to do so. A&E, for example.

The government’s role currently centers on a portion of the Obamacare legislation that requires businesses to purchase for their employees, health insurance that would cover abortions and “morning after” pills. Any number of businesses run by people who believe the Bible speaks against taking the life of an unborn child will be forced to do something against their religious convictions or go out of business because the penalties for refusing to purchase the required coverage are prohibitive.

There are several cases before the Supreme Court that might reverse this.

So, do we sign petitions?

Or how about the Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who’s life is in danger or the Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, who was not included in the State Department’s negotiations with Iran. Do we sign petitions to get our government to take our concerns seriously, to pressure them into doing what we think is right?

Or how about the 700,000 people who are advocating a boycott of A&E on Facebook? The conglomerate dismissed the Duck Dynasty guy off the show he created as a result of his answers in a print interview. He was asked about sin and stated his belief that homosexuality falls into that category.

I think it’s reprehensible that a Christian can’t declare what the Bible declares without getting fired from his job.

But I also think it was reprehensible that Paul and Silas were thrown in jail for their faith or that Peter was, that John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, and on and on.

The thing is, the New Testament Christians didn’t turn to political or social pressure as a means to escape suffering. Rather, Peter taught specifically that suffering was cause for rejoicing and was a blessing (see 1 Peter 2 and 4). Even so, believers gathered when Peter’d been condemned to die–not to rejoice, but to pray for his release. And miraculously God answered their prayers.

In contrast, there are examples of Old Testament figures who turned away from God rather than looking to Him as the means for their rescue. King Asa of Judah comes to mind. He started out so well, but his own success puffed him up, and he determined to get out of the next scrape his own way.

God reproved him for turning to a foreign power instead of to Him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.”(2 Chron. 16:7-9, emphasis mine)

So are we Christians today trying to rely on Aram rather than God? I think so.

We should be in prayer. We should ask God to intervene for us, to rescue us, to bring about revival, to use the present circumstances to shine a light on His grace and mercy.

Instead we are shining a light on our rights–rights which I pray fervently God will protect. But it is God who keeps us, not our rights. It is God who gives those rights and who takes them away, as He did the freedom of the Israelites who rejected Him.

Why would we think the Church today should not have the same admonition to trust God, not our own understanding, that the believers of old had?

Do we think we’ve become so much more capable that we can handle our problems without God? Or do we turn to God to ratify our schemes (God, give us a 100,000 more signatures).

I don’t mean to make light of this. Perhaps God is directing some people to confront our leaders. In a democracy, the people are responsible, and I think we should be speaking out, not quietly slinking into the shadows where we can practice our religion in secret. That happens in totalitarian societies. We don’t need to act as if we’re being persecuted to that extent.

We need to speak up and tell the truth–that a person getting fired for speaking his conscience, is wrong. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.

We also need to pray. If we are not looking to God when we’re under attack, when will we look to Him?

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 3

Merlin's_Shadow_2I’ve had fun exploring Morgana and the Knights of the Round Table as part of the CSFF Blog Tour for Robert Treskillard‘s Merlin’s Shadow, Book 2 of The Merlin Spiral. But the strength of a blog tour is the book itself. It’s great that it stirs up thoughts and discussion, but is it a good story?

I’m happy to say, in my opinion, it most definitely is a wonderful story. Above all, I love to be surprised, and I love to see a character grow and change. Both those important aspects of good storytelling are present in Merlin’s Shadow.

The Story. Merlin, taking seriously his commitment to protect the baby Arthur, leaves to escape the vengeful druidow and the betrayer who arranged to kill High King Uther. Merlin’s one concern had been for his sister who he arranged to stay with the weaver and his family.

But betrayal exists in many guises, and Merlin and his band committed to help him care for the heir to the throne find no safe place to hide. In fact, the number of enemies increase, and worst of all, God seems to have abandoned them. At times Merlin would simply like the struggle to end, but as long as Arthur lives, he’s bound by his word to do what he can for the young prince. But what exactly can he do when he’s hunted, enslaved, and deserted?

Strengths. Tension fuels this story. It’s filled with danger, but also with realistic emotional reactions to the crises the characters face.

And readers are concerned with more than Merlin. A subplot unfolds regarding his sister, little Ganieda. With both her mother and father dead, her grandfather, the arch druid Morganthu, takes her to live with him–primarily because he sees her as a tool for his desires. When the weaver comes and takes her into his home, Ganieda believes she’s found a family that will love her. However, she discovers Merlin’s hand in the arrangements which pushes her toward the dark powers awakened when she was with her grandfather.

She’s a complex character, though still a child, and it’s Treskillard’s ability to make her thread of the story as compelling as Merlin’s that takes Merlin’s Shadow to the next level.

He’s able to do that with a host of other characters as well: Garth, Caygek, and to a lesser extent Natalenya. One of the most fascinating characters, in my opinion, was old Kensa. Clearly Treskillard has a way of writing unique characters that each have their own problems and needs that propel them through the story.

For those who love history, there’s a sufficient amount sprinkled throughout the story. More than once I found myself forgetting that I was reading legend, and re-imagined legend, at that. The story felt solidly anchored in a real place and time.

But how about the legend? Treskillard has given readers a fresh take on Arthurian lore. Of course there are as many ideas about the heroes, heroines, and enemies as there are writers who have ventured to feature Arthur. Treskillard adds his own while avoiding a simple retelling from Merlin’s point of view.

In addition, this is a Christian work, something that is believable considering the time period and the prevailing religious climate. But the Christianity is not surface. Merlin faces a crisis of the soul and others exercise surprising faith. There’s temptation, yielding, and repenting. The themes, in other words, are strong, even as they are appropriate and completely consistent with the events of the story.

Weaknesses. I have two. The first, I felt Merlin made a significant decision which could have had a stronger motive. I could see what was behind his decision, but it ran so counter to his desires all throughout book 1 that I felt there wasn’t sufficient reason given for the dramatic change that took place.

Along those lines, I thought Merlin’s crisis was resolved too quickly. He’d struggled for so long, I’d liked to have seen his change be more gradual or to have it brought about by something more dramatic. It’s hard to do when what we’re talking about is change in belief, in attitude. I loved the change. Really loved where Treskillard took Merlin. But I would also liked to have seen the reasons behind it strengthened.

Notice, in both instances character motivation is there. For me, those could have been stronger in those two instances, but for others, they may have been just right.

Recommendation. Merlin’s Shadow is a wonderful continuation of the Merlin Spiral trilogy. It’s fast moving, engaging, filled with tension and intrigue. I highly recommend the book to readers, especially fantasy fans. It’s a must read for those who love the Arthurian legend.

I received a review copy of Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard from the publisher in conjunction with the May CSFF Blog Tour.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 2

King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_TableMerlin’s Shadow, like its predecessor, Merlin’s Blade from The Merlin Spiral trilogy by Robert Treskillard, tackles a legend–the well-known and well-adapted legend of King Arthur–but the approach is unique, so there is nothing same-old or predictable about the story.

In truth, Treskillard’s trilogy details what happened before the legend and, in fact, what happened that made the legend possible.

The Arthurian legend is known for a number of things–Merlin and his wizardry; the sword Excalibur which proved Arthur’s right to take the throne; his queen and the love of his life Guinevere; the mysterious Lady of the Lake; and more. The cornerstone of the legend, however, might be the Knights of the Round Table.

One common retelling of King Arthur’s story includes his decision to unify his land by bringing in select, noble knights who would have equal place. Hence he created (or accepted as a gift, according to some sources) a round table so that no knight, himself included, would sit at the prestigious head of the table.

These knights became known for a unique code of conduct. They were “men of courage, honor, dignity, courtesy, and nobleness. They protected ladies and damsels, honored and fought for kings, and undertook dangerous quests” (from “The Knights“).

In Merlin’s Shadow, Treskillard takes the unique angle that a group of knights were already forming around Arthur long before he became king. Their first identifying feature was their commitment to the toddler who was heir to the throne of his father Uther, High King of the Britons.

In truth, Merlin’s Shadow , apart from the character development aspects, is primarily about protecting or rescuing Arthur and finding out who is up for and serious about performing the task.

Of the twelve most commonly named Knights of the Round Table, we’ve already met three, possibly four (I’m not sure about Peredur). They demonstrate the character, throughout the book, of the chivalrous knight before any such code was formalized.

One of the things I love about this book is the huge part that this unaffected selflessness played in one of the key plot threads. More about that when I do my review.

For now, I’d like to recommend some of the other sites on the tour.

* For the chance to win a copy of Merlin’s Shadow see the contest at JoJo’s Corner

* Robert Treskillard’s three part examination of where is God in The Merlin Spiral – Part 1.

* Tim Hicks at Fantasy Thyme takes a look at “The Good, The Bard, And The Not So Pretty” (a play on The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, for those of you too young to remember 😉 ).

* Jeff Chapman’s insightful look at some contrasts in his review.

* See the book trailers re-posted by Jennette Mbewe

If that’s not enough to keep you busy, see the entire list of participants at the end of the CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 1 post.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 1

Sandys,_Frederick_-_Morgan_le_FayRobert Treskillard‘s Merlin’s Shadow, book 2 of the Merlin’s Spiral trilogy is this month’s CSFF feature. Personally I’m quite happy about this because it is in these short days of winter that I so often have a craving for epic fantasy. Merlin’s Shadow has been the perfect remedy.

In the first installment of the series, Merlin is a blind son of the local blacksmith, hardly the wizard we associate as King Arthur’s close adviser. In Merlin’s Shadow, however, some of the pieces of the well-known Arthurian legend begin to fall in place.

Merlin’s Blade already introduced readers to the mysterious Lady of the Lake and to the sword Excalibur and showed the connection to Arthur.

In book 2, readers learn how Merlin became the target of his great enemy and Arthur’s nemesis, Morgana, also known as Morgan le Fey. In Treskillard’s imaginary take on the story, Merlin has a younger sister who he tries to care for and protect. In fact, he lost his eyesight in an attempt to save her from a pack of wolves.

But all changed at the end of Merlin’s Blade, including Merlin’s blindness and his ability to watch over his sister. Left to her grief and the wiles of her druid grandfather, little Ganieda discovers a connection with an ancient dark power.

What do the legends say of Morgana? Of all the characters connected to the Arthurian legend, she seems to have the most checkered reputation. Until more recently she was known as the offspring of a fairy or a demon and a human; an enchantress; the ruler and patroness of an area of Britain; a close relative of King Arthur.

Her traits reportedly resemble those of many supernatural women in Welsh and Irish tradition. She’s often associated with the supernatural ability to heal but also with various promiscuous relationships. One legend has Lady Guinevere expelling her from the court because of her “string of lovers.”

The stereotypical image of Morgan is often that of a villainess: usually a seductive, megalomaniacal sorceress who wishes to overthrow Arthur (from “Morgan le Fey”).

More recently, however, she’s been re-imaged by feminists as an example of feminine strength and spirituality in line with the beliefs of the ancient Celtic people.

Certainly her development in Treskillard’s The Merlin Spiral trilogy is one of the intriguing story threads. She plays an integral part in Merlin’s Shadow as an antagonist but also is a sympathetic figure at times, a wayward child in need of a guide.

In essence, Merlin chooses to care for and guard Arthur instead of Merlin’s sister. How different would these fictitious events have been if Merlin had chosen otherwise? It’s interesting to consider.

In addition to Morgana, Merlin’s Shadow also brings us the beginning of the Knights who would form the heart of King Arthur’s court–those of his famous Round Table. Piece by piece, Treskillard’s story is setting up the traditional Arthurian tale.

The CSFF tour is well underway and those participating have much to say about this outstanding addition to the lore of King Arthur. Click on the links below to read their thoughts.

(Check marks link directly to a blog tour post).

Christmas Music

kids-singing-christmas-songs-498385-mOf all the things I love about Christmas, the music might be at the top of my list. I’m a traditionalist, for the most part, and don’t like a lot of tampering with the old songs.

Recently the music video of a Christmas song has gone viral. I’m referring to “The Little Drummer Boy” performed by Pentatonix. This little carol has for the longest time been my favorite.

When I was young, and then when I had few monetary goods, I identified with the character in the story the song narrates. (And now, as I think about it, I have to wonder how much of my interest in the song when I was young had to do with the fact that it told a story. But that’s beside the point.)

Of course there’s a good helping of fantasy woven into the story. (Hmmm, there’s another reason why I might have been drawn to this song at an early age.) Nevertheless, it brings forward some critical aspects of the Christmas story.

One is that we are to worship, we are to bow down and sacrifice to the new born King. That Jesus is this King is a second, clear truth, central to the song. And third, God doesn’t despise the lowly, those with empty hands.

Of course, performance matters, which is one reason the Pentatonix version of “The Little Drummer Boy” has become so popular this month. With the rise in status of choirs brought on, in large part, by the TV program Glee, followed by Sing Off, the choral equivalent of American Idol, the viewing public was ready for a stunning performance at Christmas time of one of the traditional, but not often sung in church, songs about Jesus’s birth.

I think the Pentatonix rendition is amazing. Two of my friends, from very different circles, shared it on Facebook. More than 18,000,000 people have viewed it on YouTube. The group has also created a video of their performance of “Carol of the Bells,” with over 11,000,000 views, so maybe they are going to revive traditional Christmas music on their own.

As much as I love the old songs, I don’t mind new ones surfacing when they carry the gospel message through engaging music. Years ago Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith performed Christmas songs, including some that were new.

Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God,” might be the best one I’ve heard though–and that was only once. A few years ago the radio broadcast Family Life Today played that song as part of their pre-Christmas programing. What a wonderful song about the “real meaning of Christmas.”

Would that “Behold the Lamb of God” would go viral.

Why Christmas Can Be Hard

eagle-1132464-mIn the best of times, Christmas can be hard. For me, there were Christmas programs to rehearse and then to attend while “monitoring” a host of lovely junior highers. All in a day’s work. But so was practicing and coaching my team in a Christmas basketball tournament, buying and parceling out Christmas goodies to give to my homeroom, decorating the room and hanging Christmas bulletin boards.

Then there was the Christmas church program, gifts to buy and wrap for my family, decorations in my home, a church party, a school faculty party.

Of course, times weren’t always the best. There was the occasional cold, progress reports that happened to fall the week before vacation, travel plans, stormy weather.

In short, Christmas time is far from restful. Add in the fact that Christians often receive admonitions to “keep Christ in Christmas.” All the busy-ness and we are supposed to incorporate worship. In fact we are supposed to make all the other things serve worship.

It can be hard.

I mentioned in “Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven” that losing someone you care about can make Christmas hard, but so can relational problems, long distance moves, marriage break-ups.

In all this, I’m convinced that God doesn’t want the remembrance of His Son’s birth to be a source of despair or doubt of fatigue or sadness. He is a God who prescribed lavish celebrations for His chosen people as part of their worship of Him. He is a God who promises feasting and parties for those who come to Him. He is a God whose Holy Spirit produces, among other things, the fruit of joy and peace.

Add to this the fact that He gives the gift of grace and forgiveness so we do not have to earn right standing with Him–as if we could anyway. Rather, what He wants is our joyful, grateful response–the pure exhilaration at finding ourselves unshackled and the overflowing appreciation poured upon the One who broke our bonds.

Our exhilaration and appreciation can come out in all the things we do at Christmas time. We can decorate and do Christmas programs, shop and wrap, party and perform all in light of God’s great gift. We love because He first loved us. We serve because He served us. We sacrifice because He first laid down His life for us.

If we are mindful of what God has done for us, if we do not look at Jesus as a perpetual baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, if we have responded and are responding to His greatest gift, then our Christmas may be hard, but it will be the kind of hard that has purpose. Like training for the Olympics, only better.

And in the end, we’ll be preoccupied with looking to God and will forget to check to see how hard things are for us today.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the fnstrength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Published in: on December 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm  Comments Off on Why Christmas Can Be Hard  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven

christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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