Archives for the month of: December, 2015

new years resolution 2

Many will begin their New Year with resolutions to change their behavior: stop smoking, start exercising, eat fewer carbs and more fiber, decrease debt, increase savings, lose weight, improve health. Setting goals for our behavior can change our future. But what would happen if we focused on changing our perspective, rather than our habits? How would our lives change if we were as focused on our spiritual growth as we are on our physical health and financial stability?

How different would your 2016 be:

If you lived as though you believed your God was more powerful than your enemies?

If you made up your mind to find joy and be thankful every day?

If you started being defined by the possibilities of God’s power within you, rather than by your limitations, your past, and your weaknesses?

If you believed that doing the right thing was more important than blending in with the crowd?

If you focused as much on being holy as you do on being heard?

If you refused to allow those who wronged you in the past to continue to make you angry?

Improving your health and your habits can honor God. But becoming who God created you to be involves more than your weight, your habits, or your bank account.

As you make plans for your new year, what will you do to:

increase your holiness?

know the Word made flesh and to know His presence in His written word?

be kinder to the people around you?

make your prayers more of a conversation and less of a monologue?

May the changes you choose to make in your new year allow you to become more of who God created you to be. May you know the pleasure of your Father who created you for fellowship with Him because you have made Him your priority.

drummer boy

Of all the beautiful Christmas carols, Little Drummer Boy has always been my least favorite. I find the repetition of “pa rum pa pum pum” irritating. But today as I listened to it, I discovered profound truth in its words.

In the story of this song, the little boy with a drum is taken to the manger where he is told the baby is a king. He recognizes the significance of that moment. The baby’s parents are clearly not rich, but the little boy senses the holiness of that place where God has come to earth. The boy wants to give something to the baby, but feels he has nothing of value to offer.

Isn’t that true for most of us? We want to serve others; we want to show God how much we love him, but we feel inept. Other people’s capabilities and talents look far more glamorous and impressive. Others can inspire with their words or touch deep places in our hearts with music or art. Others are so confident or so gifted. We want to be significant and appreciated; we want to do the right thing and have it work out well. But too often, our best efforts look more clumsy and unprofessional than impressive. So we come to the manger again this Christmas, with patches on our disappointments, hiding our brokenness and frustration, desperately seeking to see the face of God in the midst of the mess and strife of this earth.

The drummer boy had nothing tangible to offer this holy family. But the God who created all the earth and has all power and majesty…didn’t want a gift that man values. What this God values is His people. The boy took what he had in his hands and used it the best he knew how. And the innocence and effort of the child brought a smile to the face of the King of Heaven. This was not about the best drum solo ever; it was about a pure heart offering its best to God.

Does your Christmas include seeking the face of God, or have you allowed our culture to devalue this holiday into frenetic activity? Do you withhold what God has given you because you disdain it or dismiss it as insignificant? Or will you offer what you hold in your hand, trusting that God will see the desires of your heart and transform your best effort into what brings your good and His glory?

What is your drum? The finest gift you have may not earn awards or praise from men, but it can bring a smile to the face of God if you offer it to bring Him pleasure. This Christmas, may you find yourself in the presence of the one who desperately loves you, who left heaven to come and be where you are. With all of your heart and soul, offer him whatever is in your hand…that is what he values most.

Come they told me, A new born king to see

Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king.

So to honor him, when we come.

Little baby, I am a poor boy too.

I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give our king.

Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded; The ox and lamb kept time.

I played my drum for him I played my best for him.

Then he smiled at me and my drum.

stars and angelsUneducated shepherds were doing a menial job and were interrupted by angels. They found God in the middle of the night in a manger in their hometown. The Wise Men didn’t hear from angels; they saw a star. They felt compelled to travel hundreds of miles in a time when travel was dangerous and difficult. Their education and curiosity led them to leave where they were and follow a hunch to see where it led them. They found God at the end of a long, tedious, intentional journey.

Every once in a while, we see evidence of God in our world. Our awareness can come as an unplanned event that takes us by surprise, or it may be an intentional choice to pursue our faith in God, rather than focusing on our circumstances. Sometimes we “find” God when we’re not looking for Him. We are going through the motions of our lives, doing what must be done as best we can, when God interrupts our schedule and unmistakably calls us to Himself.

But sometimes finding God involves our commitment to keep looking. It may be a long journey from where we are and what we know to the place where we understand and see Him face to face. We may have to keep our focus on what we believe as we journey through all that will lead us from where we are to where He is.

The shepherds could have decided that a decent night’s sleep was more important than traipsing off into town. The Wise Men could have easily justified simply recording the appearance of an unusual star, rather than sacrificing a substantial amount of time and money on what could very likely be a wild good chase. But they didn’t. Their hearts were unmistakably stirred, and they ignored common sense and beheld the face of God.

We don’t know what happened after they left the Christ child and went home. Were they permanently changed by their encounter with God come to earth, or was the thrill temporary? Did they spend the rest of their lives telling the story of the moment they saw God, or did their circumstances and schedules retake control of their expectations? Was Christmas a one-time event for them or was it a turning point in their lives?

Our culture has tried to reinvent Christmas into something less than God intended it to be. Receiving the gift of the presence of God is too often eclipsed by the frantic search for presents to buy. Anticipation of His presence and blessing gets lost in the preparation and parties. We’ve made Christmas into something we do, rather than a celebration of the God who never forgets a promise, whose incredible love continually calls us into His presence, the one who left Heaven to come live with us.

Whether your invitation looks like an angelic interruption or the nagging hope of a star that draws you to seek Him, follow your heart into His presence. Find Him amid the to-do lists and demands of your Christmas. Immanuel, God with us, wants relationship with you. Let that bring you hope and joy that transforms the event of Christmas Day into a turning point in your journey with God.

RE_Words“Do it again”. As small children my boys would repeat these words to recapture the thrill of some moment or activity they loved. TV sports have been changed by the instant replay, and we mark the passing of time with repeated family rituals on holidays. Repetition is how we learn, how we find comfort, and how we establish tradition.

A significant portion of our lives is consumed by doing the same things day after day. We often drive the same way to the same job, looking for “our” spot in the parking lot. We go to church and want to sit in “our” pew. We repair things that don’t work, or we replace them with things that do work. We shop to replenish the groceries in our pantry, re-mow the same yard, and “reclean” the same house…over and over and over.

We repeat a request that is ignored, rewrite a paper, or reheat leftovers. Adding the prefix “re” to the beginning of a word indicates the idea of doing that action again. Have you ever noticed how many of the words that describe God’s activity in the life of man begin with the prefix “re”?

When God created Adam, He formed man’s body with his hands and breathed his spirit into that body and gave it life. Thousands of years later, in response to the prayers of His people, God recreated himself as a human baby. That baby grew into the one who would sacrifice his own life to redeem his people and restore their relationship with God so that they could receive eternal life. His body was resurrected from the grave so that we could repent and renew our hope in the future without fear of death.

I suspect that part of what we are supposed to be doing during Advent is refocusing our attention from what usually happens to what God is continuing to do. When we intentionally look for God’s activity in our world, we find that He is still working for good in the hearts of those who love Him. We discover that He is still seeking relationship with His people. We are delighted by the presence of the one who has never stopped loving and saving and speaking to His people…and He will do it again, over and over, until He calls us to a new life that we can barely imagine now.

God doesn’t require our perfection before we are welcome in His presence. He is patient with our flaws and our fears. But He wants us to stop repeating the sins of our past, repent, and return to a deeper relationship with Him. He wants to give us a fresh sense of His power and presence so that our faith is renewed and our joy is rekindled. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Advent is to stop going through the motions of what you’re used to doing, and look for God to interrupt your expectations with new perspective on who He is and on who He is recreating you to be.

Advent is the anticipation of His coming into our world. As you look back over your relationship with God, consider the most holy moments you’ve had in His presence and ask Him to “Do it again”.

advent

Our expectations usually land somewhere in between our hope and the reality of our past experience. Past disappointments can diminish our expectations. We can be so focused on our expectations that we miss God. That’s why we need Advent.

 Luke 1:5-25 Zechariah tells the story of God interrupting the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are both “well along in years”. He had been a priest for decades. He may have given up hope of ever serving in the Holy of Holies, but one day, unexpectedly, he was chosen as the priest who would go to burn incense in the Holy of Holies. He no doubt expected to be awed by the beauty and the deep meaning of the moment. He undoubtedly prepared a beautiful blessing to be given to the crowds outside, waiting for him to finish.

 Elizabeth spent decades hoping to get pregnant. In a culture that saw barrenness as a curse from God, she undoubtedly begged God year after year for a baby. But her wrinkles replaced her hope, and she no doubt gave up hope of having a family.

 God miraculously interrupted the expectations of both of them with what they did not expect. Zechariah went into the Holy of Holies to serve God; it never occurred to him that God would actually meet him there. Elizabeth assumed that if God didn’t honor her prayers on her time table, that God didn’t honor her prayers. Both underestimated the God who exceeds the expectations of His people.

 Zechariah’s doubt at the power of God to give him a son left him speechless (literally!) and postponed that prepared blessing until after the birth of John (Luke 1:67-79). We don’t know how Elizabeth received the news, but I have to believe that the pantomime when Zechariah got home was hilarious.

 Advent is the season of the Christian calendar where we “wait” for the coming of God into our world. We don’t like to wait. We try to fill the time with activity and tasks. Too many spend Advent frustrated with long lines, endless chores, traffic jams, and schedules that are too full. We will spend too much money on presents and decorations that will be momentarily appreciated and quickly forgotten. New Year’s Day will find us unchanged by the celebration of Christmas.

 I’ve always believed that I can nearly always find what I’m looking for. Looking for trouble or looking for blessing will give me a much greater chance of finding them. What are you looking for this Christmas? Are you so focused on your to do list that you will miss the presence of God? Does the mundane consume so much of your attention that the holy moments pass you by, unnoticed? Do you eagerly anticipate God’s presence? Do you expect that He will bless you and bring you joy? Are you planning for his answers to your prayers and expecting Him to do something new in your life?

 Hoping that God will interrupt your life to bring your good and His glory is very different from expecting that He will. Begin each day of Advent expecting God to interrupt your schedule. Look for His fingerprints on the events and circumstances on your day. Anticipate a new perspective on His plan for your life. Watch for Him to delight you with His presence and praise Him when He does.