So What’s Next?


Our consumer culture tells us to keep moving forward, keep looking for what’s around the bend. But maybe that’s human nature.

I remember when I was a kid, I could hardly wait to read like my big brother and sister could. Then I could hardly wait to go to all day school and be in the school programs like they were. Some years later I could hardly wait to have homework like they did. Then I could hardly wait to become a teenager. When I finally reached that oh-so-important landmark, I could hardly wait to get my driver’s license, to go to college, to get my own car, to vote.

In other words, there always seemed to be something up ahead, something to anticipate. I don’t think I’m alone, though the particulars may vary. Certainly the consumer culture has capitalized on this tendency.

Just this Christmas, my nephew reported that the day before, a certain store had already put out their Valentines Day gift “suggestions.” OK, we’re pretty used to Christmas going up before Halloween and certainly before Thanksgiving, but Valentines before Christmas?

But that’s the nature of the financial beast we live with. Its appetite is voracious.

Which only makes our natural tendencies toward a lack of contentment grow worse. We would have been satisfied with our old phone if the new one hadn’t come out. We were perfectly happy with the car we were driving until we saw the bells and whistles installed in the new model.

And suddenly, the Christmas that we had longed for, looked forward to, worked hard to prepare for, suddenly seems a little tattered, worn around the edges. Valentines Day is coming, though. That will be something cool and special and exciting to look anticipate.

The sports world embraces the same mentality. Prior to the Super Bowl, all the promotion is geared toward the Big Game. Nothing is more of an event in the US. But before the game is over, whatever network is airing it, will be running commercials for the next big sporting event they are covering—the college basketball tournament or some golf extravaganza or the next NASCAR event or something.

I’ve decided this looking forward isn’t really a bad thing. After all, we should want to grow up.

We probably all have heard of or know some immature mama’s boy who’s been spoiled and simply stopped growing up. He might be in his late twenties, early thirties and still he has no desire to find a career, commit to a marriage relationship, take on the responsibility of providing and caring for his own family. No, it’s comfortable and easy to simply stay at home and have the doting parent come through with nurture and support.

Generally we think of such an arrangement as unhealthy. Why? Because an adult is supposed to grow up and take an adult role. If a teenager still crawls instead of walking and will only accept a baby bottle, not solid food, we’d all see the immaturity right away. We’d want to see that child grow and mature, not stagnate in a babyish state.

So desiring the next step of growth is actually a good thing, a God-given, innate drive that is healthy.

But like other drives, this one can go too far and become ruinous pretty quickly.

The drive to get a job becomes the drive to move up the corporate ladder, no matter what the cost. The drive to provide for your family becomes the drive to acquire more and more wealth, no matter whose needs you ignore. The drive for a fit body becomes anorexia. And so on.

The bottom line is, we need balance. God put us on a path he described as narrow. There’s not a lot of drifting left and right when you walk a narrow path.

So too with contentment and growth. We should desire change. As Christians the change we should most desire is to be made in the likeness of Christ. So we ought not stand pat or play with the hand we’ve been dealt.

Up to a point.

We should want our life and not someone else’s. We should be content to be a mechanic or nurse or lawyer. Not everyone is going to own a car dealership. If everyone became a doctor, who would do the nursing? Not all lawyers should become judges. But there’s nothing to keep us from becoming the best at what we do.

In reality, the heart of the matter is the heart. We can approach whatever circumstance we’re in, even being the patient, not the caregiver, with a heart attitude to serve like Christ would. That should be our “next,” far beyond the next special day or the next special event or the next special achievement. After all, none of those things are eternal. The “next” that we want should be the thing that lasts.

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Published in: on December 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm  Comments Off on So What’s Next?  
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Christ At The Center Of Christmas


Whatever else Christmas once meant in another culture at a different time, and no matter what it means to those today who don’t know Jesus, the reality is, He has made such a big impact on the world that there’s hardly a place that doesn’t acknowledge His birth at Christmas.

In truth, His coming changed the world. We are right to give Him praise.

Great is the LORD and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3)

For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1Peter 1:20-21)

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20)

May God richly bless you this Christmas.

Published in: on December 25, 2017 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Christ At The Center Of Christmas  
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Heroes Of Christmas – Joseph


OK, most people would count Joseph as either a hero of Christmas or a bit player. After all, Scripture doesn’t say much about his role other than that he went to register for the census along with Mary. Even that statement makes him seem sort of like a butler or bodyguard. I mean, Mary had to get to Bethlehem some way in order to fulfill the prophecy about the Messiah’s birth place, right? So why not on Joseph’s coattails?

The thing about Joseph—he shows his mettle between the lines.

First he showed himself to be a kind, thoughtful person when he first realized Mary was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father, so by all natural means, that meant Mary had been unfaithful to him.

His choices: break up with her publicly or break up with her privately. In that culture, an engagement was binding, and no one broke an agreement lightly. In the case of an unfaithful wife or an unfaithful woman promised in marriage, the jilted would-be husband could legitimately ask for the woman to be treated as an adulteress. That meant stoning.

Joseph didn’t want that for Mary. In other words, thinking she had wronged him, he still did not want to treat her in like kind.

While he was thinking all this through, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. So, option three, one Joseph hadn’t considered before.

Without a complaint, he did what he was told. How tempting to say, Really? I have to raise a boy that isn’t my own? I have to stand by a woman who will undoubtedly receive the scorn of our neighbors? I have to take her down to Bethlehem, looking like that? I mean, all the relatives will be there. What will they think?

None of that.

What he did do was obey the angel. He married the woman and keep her a virgin until after Jesus was born. Kept her a virgin. That’s nothing to ignore in this story. If Joseph had claimed his lawful conjugal rights, Jesus’s status as the Son of God would be forever in question. Accusations could easily be leveled that this idea about a conception apart from the human order of things was just a convenient story.

But if Joseph kept Mary a virgin, what other explanation was there except that God had performed a miracle?

Further, he didn’t complain that he had the responsibility to deliver that baby safely into the world. Maybe he didn’t actually do the delivering. He might have hunted up one of Bethlehem’s midwives instead. But either way, it fell on him to see that Mary was cared for. That Jesus was cared for. Did he worry and fret and pace while Mary was in labor? Was he kneeling beside her, holding her hand? Did he wipe sweat from her forehead? Did he cut the umbilical cord? Did he procure the cloths that she used to wrap Jesus in? Was it his idea to put Him in the manger?

Joseph didn’t complain that Mary would be the mother of the Christ child but he would be just the stepdad. He didn’t shrink back from a life that would be lived in the shadow of his wife and his stepson.

In fact, he embraced the responsibility. First he made sure Mary’s little baby was circumcised, as Jewish law required. And he named Him Jesus, as the angel had told him to do. When a second angel warned him in a dream—not them, not Mary, just Joseph—that Herod was coming after Jesus to kill him, he got his little family on the road and headed for Egypt.

He obviously kept his ear to the ground, because he knew when Herod died, when he could safely return home.

He didn’t shrink from all that was required of him, even when he had to make personal sacrifices. He listened to God’s messengers. He didn’t insist on his own way. He was kind and protective and obedient—a real Christmas hero.

Published in: on December 22, 2017 at 5:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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Heroes Of Christmas—The Shepherds


There are a number of heroes involved in the first Christmas, but the shepherds happen to be my favorite. Of course they get a lot of press, but surprisingly, I don’t think most of it is for the right reason.

What seems to be the going point of emphasis regarding the shepherds is how low on the social totem pole they were. Some scholars claim that they were even outcasts, that they were thought to be lazy and untrustworthy.

Not everyone agrees. Several scholars point out that Abraham was a shepherd, Moses was a shepherd, David was a shepherd. A quick glance at Scripture, and it’s clear that all of Israel was tied to shepherding at one time. When Judah, who God named Israel, went to Egypt with his family because of the severe famine, they took with them all their flocks. Pharaoh asked that they care for his animals too since they were shepherds by trade.

It seems highly unlikely that the attitude toward shepherds would have shifted so drastically so that they were now despised. For one thing, God Himself identified with shepherds when David wrote in the Psalms, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Isaiah 40 also portrays God as a shepherd:

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (v. 11)

Jews in the first century would have known these and other passages of Scripture that portray God as a shepherd. The information identifying shepherds as despicable comes from sources that were written later or belonged to a different culture, making them at least questionable.

At any rate, one thing is sure. The Bible does not say the shepherds were despised. One scholar concluded that shepherds were not well respected because often children were given the job to care for the sheep. In other words, it was unskilled work that even a child could do.

Perhaps that was the attitude of the day.

The other going belief about shepherds is that they were poor. I don’t know if they would have been poorer than fishermen, however. Especially near Jerusalem with the priests and Levites buying and selling in the temple. Were shepherds in a kind of black market racket for illegal sheep? Maybe. Maybe not.

All that’s speculation. The Bible doesn’t say any of that.

What it does say makes these particular shepherds real heroes of the faith, I think.

Luke 2 records the angel’s announcement to this group who were staying out in the fields at night to do their job. We can see a level of responsibility and commitment there, and sacrifice too.

As Jesus later said, a good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep.

But those particular shepherds had something else going for them. They had faith.

The angel told them that Messiah was born and gave them the sign: a baby, wrapped in clothes, lying in a manger.

The shepherds’ response? They didn’t stand around debating what the angel meant by “manger” or “wrapped,” or “Savior,” or “born.” They didn’t wonder what they were supposed to do about this announcement or if the Messiah had really come. Instead they simply said, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened.” Yeah, that has happened. They made that declaration before they went, before they found the baby, before they saw with their own eyes that what the angel had said, was true.

In other words, they believed the announcement.

In reality, faith is nothing more than believing a particular source. In this case, the shepherds believed what the angel said. Before they had seen the sign. They didn’t go to Bethlehem to see IF it was true. They went to Bethlehem BECAUSE it was true.

Another thing that makes them heroes in my eyes is that when they found Mary and Joseph and the baby as He lay in the manger, they immediately started telling everyone what the angel had said about the Child.

Maybe they also told everyone about the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Maybe they also mentioned the multitude of the heavenly host that praised God in their presence. Those would be awesome events, worthy of stories that you tell your grandchildren. But Scripture doesn’t tell us they bragged about seeing angels and surviving, or about being singled out for such a special visitation.

No. What they wanted everyone to know about was not what had happened to them, but what they had been told about this Child. Their focus was on Jesus, not on themselves.

Great men, those shepherds. Real heroes of Christmas.

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Heroes Of Christmas—The Shepherds  
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God Started It – Reprise


Nativity_Scenes004When I was growing up, my brother, sister, and I had . . . disagreements from time to time. We squabbled about silly things—whose turn it was to do the dishes, who got to sit in the front seat of the car (or if Mom and Dad said we all had to sit in the back, who got the window seats), what TV program to watch, who got the Sunday funnies first, who got to sit where at the dinner table—silly things.

Inevitably our disagreements would escalate, and Mom or Dad would intervene, scolding whoever had caught their attention. Just as sure was the response from whichever one of us was in the hot seat: But he started it! Or she. We were not the instigator. Ever. At least as we saw things.

In truth, there is one time when in fact that line is true. When it comes to our relating to God, He started it.

In the grandest scheme of things, of course, He started it because He started everything! But specifically in relating to Humankind after the first man and the first woman turned away from Him, He started it. And on a personal level, with me, He started it.

The grand scheme refers to the cosmos. God created. The specific dealing with humanity refers to God’s plan of salvation—sending His Son as the sacrifice to expiate our sins. The personal refers to His work to bring me to Himself.

At no time did I or anyone else initiate with God.

He started everything by making Man in His image, after His likeness. Like any child, Adam was helpless when it came to deciding what color hair he’d have or how tall he’d be or how smart he was. He didn’t decide to be like God, with a will and emotions, with the capacity to create and to communicate. It was God who wanted us to be like Him, and so He made us.

It was also God who loved the world, who determined to love us while we were yet sinners, who chose to express His love by His actions. He gave His Son, and His Son died that He might cancel out the certificate of debt we each owed.

And speaking of “each,” God chose me, called me, rescued me. It’s very personal—not some generic salvation, as if he tossed his net into the sea of humanity and scooped up the ones who couldn’t get away, so I was caught along with a myriad of others.

The point is, I wouldn’t be here, there wouldn’t be a Church of which I am a part, and I wouldn’t be His child if it weren’t for the fact that God started it. John said it plainly in his first letter: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (KJV, 1 John 4:19).

Paul spelled out God’s initiating activity more fully. First our condition:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3)

Pretty hopeless—if God didn’t enter the picture. There was no way for dead people to be made alive without a miracle. There’s no way for sons of disobedience to become righteous and holy, apart from God transforming our lives. There was no way for children of wrath to become children of peace and reconciliation except by the power of God to cause us to be born again.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10, emphasis added)

Love is the fourth and final quality our church is emphasizing as part of the Advent season, and certainly love seems to be a part of Christmas. We are reminded of the love of our families—some traveling many miles in order to have a few days together with loved ones; most spend hundreds of dollars and precious hours shopping in order to give gifts to those we love.

We even include a “love” tradition—the hanging of mistletoe—as part of our Christmas celebration. And the holidays aren’t complete without at least one Christmas romantic comedy or classic story with romance.

Then when we look at the events of that first Christmas, we’re aware of Mary’s love for her newborn child, of Joseph’s love for his little family, of the wisemen’s love and devotion that took them far from home to worship the king.

But none of it would have happened if God hadn’t started it. He formulated the plan before the foundations of the earth, Peter said:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18b-20)

And Paul verifies the plan:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6).

There was no salvation until the kindness of God and His love for mankind appeared. There were no deeds we could do to earn a righteous standing with God. The great change from dead men walking to alive in Christ came because God started it. And He did so as an expression of His great love.

This post first appeared here in December 2014.

Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Come Down-Reprise


This article, excluding a few revisions, first appeared here in December 2010.

On Sunday, the USA Weekend magazine that comes with my newspaper splashed the word GOD across the front cover. The lead article was “How Americans Imagine God.”

I have a problem right there. God is not formed by our imagination. Consequently, what person A “imagines” about God has no relevance whatsoever as a means of actually knowing Him.

I could say that I imagine the core of the earth is stuffed with daisies, but that would not make it so.

Oh, but someone may say, scientists know about the core of the earth. They’ve done science to prove that it’s most certainly not filled with daisies. However, no one can know about God, so we have to imagine him.

Actually, we can know about God more certainly than we can about the core of the earth. That’s where Christmas comes in. Yes, this actually is a Christmas post.

The whole point and purpose of the first Christmas was God coming to us, like us, so we can know Him.

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; … And His name will be called … Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6).

Paul explained in Philippians 2 that Jesus, who existed in the form of God, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men.”

Then in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he said “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (emphasis mine).

Not your typical Christmas verses, I realize (except perhaps Isaiah 9:6). But here’s the point. Jesus—God Himself—came to earth that we might know Him.

He walked the roads that other men and women walked, debated Scripture with scholars, touched and healed beggars and blind men, preached to crowds of thousands and counseled a single woman. He shared Passover with His followers and blessed a number of little children.

In other words, He didn’t live His life incognito. He rubbed shoulders with people of all economic and social strata and was open about Who He was.

So there were eye witnesses who talked with God, face to face, because they talked with Christ. Some of these eye witnesses, then turned around and wrote down what they had experienced, so the rest of us have their eye witness accounts of some of the more memorable words and acts of God Incarnate.

Let me ask you. Of late have you talked to anyone who has visited the core of the earth?

Me either.

Yet we Americans are so sure of what’s at the core of the earth, but we can only imagine God. I find that ironic and sad.

In reality, we can know God through Christ. Not all there is to know about Him, certainly. But we can know Him.

Someone who says they imagine God is this, that, or the other, is missing out on a real relationship with a real person. We can’t change Him by what we wish Him to be. He is who He is, and He hasn’t kept His identity a secret.

Published in: on December 14, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on God Come Down-Reprise  
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My Most Unforgettable Christmas – A Reprise


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


Speaking of the trappings of Christmas as I did yesterday, I thought it might be fitting to do a look back to what I wrote in other years about the things that surround Christmas.

– – – – –

When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story—it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Trappings Of Christmas


I love Christmas decorations. I love the lights in particular, but I love wreaths and mistletoe, presents under decorated trees, bells, and candy canes, manger scenes, all of it. I even like Santa and his reindeer, the elves, too, and Frosty, to a lesser degree. I’m not sure how Snoopy has insinuated himself into Christmas, but he has. I don’t hate him there. Or the Grinch.

What I’m not so crazy about is the need some people seem to have to find or create a Christian meaning behind every bit of tradition. The Christmas tree, for instance, can remind us of a cross because it’s made of wood, and because the cross provides life, which the evergreen tree suggests. Couldn’t it just be a pretty tree decorated with lights and ornaments?

The funny thing is, I love symbols. I love them. So when Jesus said He is the Light of the world, I think the metaphor speaks volumes. When He said He’s the door to the sheepfold or the Good Shepherd or Living Water or the Vine, the Bridegroom, even the Temple, I think there’s so much to discover and to think about with each comparison, I never tire studying them.

And of course I love fantasy, which is pretty much one gigantic symbol of the inner workings of the human heart.

So what’s my problem with the Christian explanation of the Christmas traditions?

Well, I said it, didn’t I. I have a problem with the “explanations.” If a symbol works, it doesn’t really need to be explained. It stands on its own. But if someone explains a symbol, it reduces it somehow. It becomes a thing more than a concept, an idea, an event.

At the same time things are occasionally just those things. Not every frog is a prince. Sometimes a frog is just a frog. And sometimes a bit of holly garland is just a nice decoration to liven up a room, to add a bit of festive.

But maybe that’s just me. I personally like the fun things of Christmas—the stuff that makes little kids squeal with delight. I remember trying to memorize ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas when I was a kid. I remember wanting and wishing and hoping for snow. I remember the year someone gave us an Advent calendar and we got to open one of the little windows each day in December. I remember trying to stay up until midnight to see if Santa Claus would really show up and drink the milk and eat the graham crackers we left for him. I remember hanging stockings and waking up as early as I could to come into the living room Christmas morning.

These were fun things. And anticipating the fun the other 364 days only enhanced the joy. Every time a Christmas song came on the radio, the anticipation ramped up.

I’m pretty sure that if I were still a kid, all the same fun and anticipation and joy would be there as part of Christmas.

But now, as an adult, I have a deeper joy, a greater anticipation, not of Christmas morning, but of Christ. I know now what Christmas means. Not because someone has explained the red and white stripes of the candy cane or taken away all the Santa things that “compete with Jesus.”

I don’t worship Santa. I know he’s pretend. I know that Christmas Day came into being as a way to counter pagan celebrations. I realize no one knows the actual date of Christ’s birth.

But so what?

So what that we have fun on Christmas and so what that we celebrate Jesus’s birthday without knowing when it really occurred?

The important thing at Christmas, as far as I’m concerned, is this: God gave us His Son and made a miraculous announcement of his birth to a group of lowly angels. Before they even saw the sign which the angels told them would verify this Child’s birth, they said, Let’s go see this thing that’s happened. They didn’t need any more explanation. They only needed to believe the announcement: For today there has been born for you in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

That’s the story of Christmas, right there.

The fun things, are just fun, and we can take or leave them. But shepherds saying yes to God’s message, that’s the symbol that ought not be explained, that means what it means and more. That is filled with a wealth of truth that we can study all our lifetime and never reach an end to the richness of what occurred.

Published in: on December 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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God And The Impossible


At Christmas, it’s more common to talk about Jesus as a little baby, as the Incarnate Christ who came to humble living circumstances, even noting that putting on flesh was perhaps the most humble of circumstances that He faced. But all the while, we kind of forget that Jesus, as God, rules and reigns supreme.

One of the mysteries of the trinity is Christ’s “dual identity.” He is God and He is a baby in a manger, wrapped up in cloths, and in all likelihood, fast asleep when a group of shepherds stop by.

How can this be?

Well, the Trinity, Christ’s divinity, are not the first hard things that confront us mortals. There’s prayer and how it “works,” free will and how it co-exists with God’s sovereignty, creation and the whole idea of speaking everything into existence from nothing.

Atheists often think Christians are fools, as if we don’t see the difficulty in these beliefs. Ironically many atheists also claim that Christianity came out of the imagination of some humans who simply made it all up.

Made it up?! Who would think up some idea of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit actually being One? Crazy talk. Anybody who can count can read that sentence and arrive at three, not one. But no. The Bible is clear. Jesus said He and the Father are One.

And the God-Man thing? Really? Jesus had two natures? Well, no, but kind of, yes. So He had a split nature? Definitely no. Then what? Well, all God and all man, but not two. Uh, the math isn’t adding up again.

This makes no logical sense, the atheist says. Which does call into question the idea that some finite mortal dreamed it up. Wouldn’t it seem more likely that if someone was coming up with a new religion, they make it seem clear and reasonable and easy to grasp? That’s what I’d do.

But instead we have a God who is both just and merciful, Judge and Savior, King and carpenter. How can this be?

There’s really only one way. All these claims can only be true if God is more than we are. If He is transcendent. If He can do the impossible.

And as it happens, that’s precisely what the Bible says about Him. The statement comes as part of the pre-Christmas story.

An angel appeared to the not-yet-married young girl living in Nazareth to tell her that she was going to have a baby, that this boy “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Just one problem, Mary said. I’m a virgin. She was not some dumb brunette, that one. She understood all about how babies were made.

No worries, the angel responded. God’s power is at work here. And just so you know, your cousin Elizabeth, who is barren, who is past childbearing years, she’s pregnant. Has been for six months. Because, you see, Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

So, if nothing is impossible with God, what in the Bible does not make perfect sense? A cataclysmic world wide flood? Yes, God can do that. Stopping a river and making a dry path to the other side? God can do that too. Closing the mouths of hungry lions? Yes, that’s on the list of impossible that God can do.

If nothing will be impossible with God, the most logical position to take is that some impossible things are going to take place.

Mary got that right away. Her response was, I’m God’s servant. I’ll do whatever you say. She accepted the impossible. She wasn’t pinching herself or trying to wake up. She wasn’t questioning what bit of bad cheese had she eaten the night before.

Granted, later she would have her moments of uncertainty when Jesus began His public ministry, but there, before His birth, she knew—God’s in charge, and I’m not. His ways are not my ways. And I’m not going to pretend mine are better. Because He, not I, can do the impossible.

Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise


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.

This article first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Comments Off on Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise  
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