Archive for December, 2013

The Tethered Man on Delaware Avenue

I can’t get out of my mind the man with “133” on his hat at our walking track.

   It was the second day after Christmas, crisp and clear outside, and perfect for a walk. I wondered what the dim man in the distance was carrying. As we passed each other I noticed it was a portable oxygen tank. Impressive! Rather than sitting and souring in self-pity, he took his circumstance and the tools available to him and, tethered to a tank, he stepped out and walked for his health. On his equally impressive second lap I muttered to him some unintelligible expression of amazement.

   It’s that time of year for the dreaded New Year’s resolutions. Yet, “new” has some wonderful Scriptural promises: our new birth (John 3), new capacities as creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5), a new home soon on a new earth (Revelation 21). 

   But I am gripped with a biblical idea that can enliven 2014. Have you heard of “firstfruits”? Originally an Old Testament principle of offering to God the first and best of crops, the principle for today is to give God the first offering of gifts and time, plans and purposes (Cf. 2 Corinthians 16:2). How about taking an early day or days in the new year and spending them with God praying, journaling, reading, and listening for God’s purposes for us in 2014? Now, that’s new.

   Writer and teacher Bill Thrasher does this. His first year he asked God for three things to trust Him for in the new year. These three pursuits that year were: to see the beauty of Christ’s character in a new way, to be overwhelmed with God’s love all year, and in a fresh way to understand what it means for Christ to be our life. Certainly, other “firstfruits” would be necessary to grow in these areas, e.g., the offering of the best of time, resources, thought life, and commitments.

   For me, I am retiring this month. No more eight to four thirty. It would be easy to pull back and pull out, and to pursue more leisure, less involvement, and just say “no.” (Several have told me I will have to learn how to say no.) But what is God asking of me for 2014? Do you have some of the same questions? How can I best bring glory to God and Christ—to enlarge their reputations through me in 2014? What areas of my life do I need to declutter so God can have first place in everything? What things will, positively speaking, help me to reverence Him and live in wonder of Him daily? How is He asking me to serve Him and others in this new year?

   As I think about the tethered man to the oxygen tank, I rejoice in this: each year and each day we are graciously given by God a new opportunity to start where we are to grow—to mature and delight in Christ and His plans for us.

   Maybe it starts at the walking track on Delaware Avenue.  

A Bride Married to Amazement

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

 As a poet described a well-lived life, Mary was “a bride married to amazement.”

 Mary wrapped her arms around the will of God and didn’t look back. Her legitimate question,“How can this be?,” turned into an affirmation of faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” That’s a dangerous pursuit in a world of me, myself, and I.

Our images of Mary are somewhat passive. Her words are actually quite radical. This was no domesticated, under wraps kind of gal. She had two strikes against her. Mary was young and she was a woman. She was most likely 14-16 years old. And remember: women were second class citizens. God loves to use God-centered young people. Think of David; think of Mary. 

I invite you into Mary’s psalm, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56), to see how we, too, can have a Mary Christmas.

First, live for the glory of God. Mary exalted—or glorified—the Lord saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” This enlarging of God’s reputation was core to Mary’s heart. Why would Mary desire this above all else? She was humbled (46) and had experienced “great things” under the mighty arm of God (49). What would it mean if, from deep inside, we designed our days with a view to how we might enlarge God’s reputation?

Two other ways we can have a Mary Christmas are to give God His rightful place and go into the world. Mary helps us see God’s mercy comes to those who fear Him (50). An important core idea in both testaments, to fear the Lord is to live in reverence and awe of God. Unbelievers experience dread and terror; followers of Jesus constantly worship and adore Him reverently and in wonder.

To live this way also sends us into the world with God’s message and in service. We see Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and THEN went home. Mary, we wonder, what about your friends that you want to share this extraordinary with? Mary, what about Joseph—you’re engaged now and you need each other so much? Mary, your timing stinks—you’ve got chores to do, lessons to learn, a wedding to plan, relatives to invite.

I fear as the world and our nation rocket toward ever-increasing evil and Godlessness that one of our temptations—young and aging—is to retreat into our own Christian subculture instead of going into the world of people with no hope. Jesus sent us and prayed for us in John17…”I don’t ask you Father to take them out of the world but to protect them from the evil one.”

Now these are the ways we too can have a Mary Christmas: live for the glory of God, give God His rightful place, and go into the world Christ was born to die for!

The Quiet Among Us

“She…continued to speak of Him.”

You have permission to think silly things about me.

   When I was in my thirties, long, long ago in a faraway land, before there were computers with soft keyboards or the joy of grandkids in the land, I was pounding away at my typewriter one day and one finger hurt. Aghast at the possibility of a pain-filled life, I assumed in those days once your joints begin to hurt it only gets worse until your last breath on earth. This really happened and I remember it vividly to this day.

   Well, the finger did get better and I am typing pain-free right now. But it was an important moment for me, screaming I had the choice to be defined by the pain or to continue on. Anna, knew real pain.         

   She slips in unnoticed at the end of the nativity story in three short verses. She teaches young and old a lot about the continuing value of Christ’s birth. She lost her husband while young, and when we find her in Luke 2:36-38, she is still a widow and eighty-four years old. Her loss did not define her life. Young and old alike are inspired by Anna’s purposeful life and perseverance in faith.

   Like Simeon just before her in Luke 2, she was among the Jews who have been called “The Quiet in the Land.” Anticipation was their life calling. Violence, bitterness, and political posturing were not the means to relief from the dangerous realities in Anna’s world. The Messiah alone would bring “the redemption of Jerusalem.”

   How can we anticipate Christmas like Anna? Anna worshipped day and night. Her sorrow and bitterness at the way “life” had treated her was washed away—in time—by prayer, thanksgiving, service, and fasting. I think her service was her devotion to worship. Young person, develop this secret in life while your habits and life patterns are being established: Nothing replaces personal and gathered worship and everything in life finds the foundation for what it needs and wants—comfort, help, direction, joy, relief—in worship. Aging person—John—I wonder: Could it be that the greatest purpose in our declining years is foremost to make worship the most important thing. Busy-ness, staying active, service, and nurturing relationships are all important (fishing, too). Where does the joy of worship “day and night” fit in?

   How can we anticipate Christmas like Anna? Anna used her role as prophetess to “speak of Him to all those who were looking” for The Messiah. The good news—the gospel—is news to be told. Yes, our life does enhance believability for the message but our life isn’t the message. Lots of pagans live good lives. They have nothing about eternity to tell. It’s hard, but the quiet among us have a word to tell.

   We, too, can join Anna as we wait and watch for the next appearance of Messiah-Jesus. If we do, it will shape and invigorate our days, and give us real words of hope at Christmas and all year!

Have a “Blessed” Christmas

Travel with me to the final scenes of the Nativity where we join fellow-traveler Simeon.

 

In Rembrandt’s painting, “The Song of Simeon” (1631), Joseph is near baby Jesus, holding the offering of the poor—a pair of turtledoves. Mary watches quietly, in the light but unassuming. Others watch in the shadows. Rembrandt is unparalleled in using light and shadow. So, at the center, as if a spotlight were precisely focused, there is a weathered old man with long flowing hair. Spent from aging and waiting all his adult life in unnoticed service, Simeon holds baby Jesus and is looking toward heaven. You just must do a web search and gaze—slowly—upon this masterful portrait. Better yet, hear God tell Simeon’s story in Luke 2:22-35.

 

Poet T.S. Eliot describes Simeon as “…the one who has eighty years and no tomorrow.” He has waited all his life for this one moment. There is nothing else he is living for. Nothing has sidetracked Simeon and he knows: this is God’s purpose and time, and this is his “fifteen minutes of fame”—though fame is the furthest thing from his mind.

 

Simeon prepares us for Christmas in very powerful ways.

 

Initially, he shows us how to wait—to wait for Christmas, to wait for the will of God in our lives and world, to wait for the return of Christ. What does waiting look like? Luke says Simeon lived a just and devout life. That is what waiting looks like! Waiting summons faithfulness to God in words and acts, and moment-by-moment worship of God. What is the Father asking me to wait for?

 

Next, Simeon’s life was surrounded by the Holy Spirit. His story in the Gospel of Luke has surprising references to the Holy Spirit—“[the Spirit was] upon him,” “[it was] revealed to him by the Spirit,” “he came in the Spirit.” We need and can “keep in step” with the Spirit of God (Galatians 5). Will I journey alone this season when God the Spirit seeks to walk with me?

 

Then, in the midst of the greatest moment of his life Simeon “blessed God.” Imagine that—we get to bring joy to God. Imagine again weary mother of young children, grieving one, tired worker, sick or aged one near the end, struggling follower of Jesus the Messiah—we get to bless God. Simeon’s psalm in Luke 2 is remarkable, with allusions to the Scriptures, fulfillment of prophecy, and a focus on the glory of God. “Lord,” he says, “now you are letting your servant…” Humility abounds. His hope is inseparately linked to God’s plan and Messiah Jesus—and not to impotent governments, emperors, or worldly wisdom. How will I bless God this Christmas?

 

This Christmas, will I wait with the faithfulness of Simeon for the will of God, living beyond reproach and faithful in the service and worship and the work God has given me to do? That will bless God and be a blessing to many!

 

Leftovers Anyone?

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

In the Christmas movie, Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street, Kris Kringle—Santa—expresses concern for how the world has lost touch with the importance of Christmas, noting “Christmas is not just a day. It’s a frame of mind.” I think the same about Thanksgiving.

   Our family went to Ooltewah to be with 25 or 30 other family and friends for Thanksgiving. It was a good time, with plenty of quality food. You should have seen the dessert table! However, one disadvantage was there weren’t many leftovers. Our host gave us a sandwich bag of turkey to take home, but I polished that off quickly.

   So, unfortunately, at our house there aren’t the infamous turkey leftovers this year to remind me of the day and idea of Thanksgiving. No turkey soup, no turkey pot pies, no turkey sandwiches, and no turkey candy. I am just kidding about the last one, but I’m sure you get the idea.

   There are lots of reminders to be thankful in Scripture. It is a core idea—not a leftover. In your readings, have you noticed the amount of verses about thankfulness? For instance, the Psalms would be very skinny without the many references to gratefulness, and whole Psalms would disappear without it.

   Some years ago we visited my engineer brother-in-law at his workplace. He’s a leader for an aerospace company out West. After our security check-in, Barry took us to his office. It was on a second floor, and had a full glass front so he could view the multiple cubes of engineers he supervised. Strikingly, in each cube was a strategically placed sign: “No whining.” Thanksgiving is the answer for whining. Granted, there are appropriate cries and anger at injustice and evil around us (Psalm 73). But like a barking dog, scratching at the back door, whiners make persistent complaints about almost anything before a disinterested audience. I struggle with this. Do you?

   A thanksgiving way of life is rooted in the character of God. It starts with God who gives us life and keeps us. Such a way of life continuously moves us from whiner to worshipper and from cynic to cheerleader for the person and work of God everyday. Thanksgiving people see the sovereign hand of God in their past, look for His greater purpose in our present experiences, and rest in God for our future. We expect past and present, but are you surprised about the future? In our thankfulness for the future we place ourselves in the trustworthy hands of the One who made us, making our focus God—not our circumstances.  

   Idea: our New Year’s resolutions should start the day after Thanksgiving. Here is mine: whine less; thankfulness more.

   Kris Kringle had a good point but left out God. Will we?



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