What’s Christmas About, Anyway?

Sometimes I have felt completely inundated by Christmas. Why do we have to do all this? Yes, I know that we’re celebrating Jesus, but so many of the things we do at Christmas have little or nothing to do with Him. Maybe the reason we put up lights is because He is the Light of the World, or maybe we just love to have little twinkling lights during these long and extremely dark winter nights. Maybe the reason we buy gifts is because the Magi brought offerings to the Christ Child, or maybe it’s just because we enjoy giving and receiving surprises. Maybe we bake all the extra goodies as a celebration of His birth, or maybe we just like an excuse to eat chocolate and sugar. Maybe we decorate trees because…Honestly, I have absolutely no idea why we decorate trees!   Whose idea was that, anyway?

We probably do those things for many different reasons, but nostalgia and tradition surely top the list. We remember the joy and excitement from childhood, and we want to continue that. Or perhaps our childhood Christmases were disappointing and we would like to make new and wonderful memories for our own children. The thing is, it can become quite overwhelming. When you Must send cards with a family picture, Must bake cookies for the neighbors, Must put up a tree and decorate it, Must buy and wrap a dozen gifts, Must go caroling, Must make candy, Must put on a Christmas pageant, Must read special Advent devotions, Must have a party for friends, Must have a special breakfast, a special dinner, Must put up stockings, as well as keeping up with all your normal daily jobs…well, the month can become a marathon that leaves you feeling emptied and exhausted.

I have wondered why it all has to happen then. If only we could spread it out through the entire year, surely we could enjoy it all more, right? Why can’t we bake cookies and take them to the neighbors in April? What would be wrong with singing a song outside someone’s window in July? Is candy making something that must be done in December? It’s almost like we have condensed every facet of hospitality and giving and sharing into one twelfth of the year.

We do all this Stuff, and we eat all this Stuff, and we buy all this Stuff, and life races by at a hectic pace while we frantically try to keep up. Yes, we talk about how Jesus is the Reason, but is He really? Is that what makes us do all these things we do?   Honestly, it doesn’t seem like it.   If we suddenly received a revelation that Jesus didn’t want us to recognize His birthday, would we cheerfully stop? Say, “Whew! It’s a relief to be done with all that!” No, we would mourn the loss of our cherished celebration.

What is it about Christmas that makes us do all these things?

I think it’s all about connection. We tend to get too wrapped up in our work, our projects, our mundane everydayness. At Christmas time, we step back from that and focus on connecting to all the people in our lives who are special to us. We are reminded how much richer our lives are with other people to share them. And we enjoy the love.

Love.
Yes.
And I realize that it IS about Jesus after all.
His love, coming down, makes our lives worth loving.

Wishing a blessed Christmas to you and yours!

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Give Them Something To Eat

Reading Mark—God’s Word for the Biblically Inept

 3But He answered them,“You give them something to eat!” And they *said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred [t]denarii on bread and give them something to eat?”    Mark 6 NASB

There are so many parallels in this chapter that I had never thought about. Not only is providing food  in the middle of nowhere an obvious reminder of the children of Israel in the wilderness, but Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a tiny amount of food echoed a miracle performed by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44 (why didn’t I know that?) The thing is, people would have seen that Jesus’ miracle was superior to Elisha’s—less food divided among far more people!

It’s interesting that the disciples were so skeptical—almost dismissive—of Jesus’ command. They had been preaching, casting out demons, anointing, and healing people like crazy (look at verses 12 and 13,) but when it came to providing food, they just shrugged. What do you mean, Jesus? We can’t do that! We don’t HAVE any food.   It didn’t occur to them that they also had never had healing powers or demon-evicting powers of their own.   Their deeds had been a supernatural gift from God, so why didn’t it occur to them to ask God for physical food?

Are we the same way? We are miraculously sustained every moment of our lives. Not only are we provided for and protected, but we cannot take so much as one breath without God’s consent. If we recognize that, why do we limit what else God may be able to do in or through us?

 

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Renovation

You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—Col 3:9b-10 NASB

Renewed.   That word has never had much force for me. Remember the dryer setting called Air Fluff? It was a setting with no heat, a gentle tossing, designed to freshen linens that had been in storage, or perhaps to fluff a pillow that had gotten flat and worn over time. That’s what the word renew makes me think of—fluffing up, maybe the addition of a little scent, designed to make something that is a bit stale seem fresher.

But in the margin of my Bible, there is a note about that word renewed. It says:
“Literally: renovated.”

Renovated? Well, that gives me a completely different idea! We renovated our kitchen this winter, and it certainly wasn’t a fluff job. The cabinets were torn out, the walls stripped down to bare studs, the windows and door replaced…even the ceiling and floor didn’t escape the purge! My husband worked for many long hours, and the transformation was dramatic. Now it looks absolutely nothing like the old room, even though the outside shell is still the same. Not only are the colors and finishes brighter, but it is completely different to work in. The cabinet doors close properly. There is light where once there were dark corners. The new insulation in the walls makes it warm instead of cold and drafty. There is a spacious feel when before it was cramped. It is simply a different room!

When I look at the passage above, I realize that Renew is actually a perfectly good word—it means “made new,” after all—but I simply hadn’t thought of it in quite that way. Renewal isn’t the ka-chunk of a library stamp or the click of mouse button. It’s not just writing a check in order to receive another year’s subscription to Reader’s Digest. Renewal is a complete makeover! It’s ripping out the old stuff and installing brand new! The Complete Jewish Bible words the end of verse 9 more strongly: “you have stripped away the old self, with its ways.” Stripped away! There is definitely more ‘oomph’ there…a bit more intense than “laid aside,” isn’t it?

But not only is this process a complete destruction of the old you and putting on a whole new you. It also says that the new self is being renewed! God isn’t content to simply give you a “new You”—He is constantly working on that new self, too, making it even better. I also really like the CJB interpretation of verse 10.

“and have put on the new self which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator.”
Col 3:10     Complete Jewish Bible

God isn’t content with a one-time makeover. He isn’t finished with the remodel job. He keeps working on us all our lives.

…fuller and fuller knowledge
…closer and closer to the image of our Creator.

Yes, Lord.   That is exactly, exactly what I want!

Renovate me!
Make a new “me”…not just once, but continually.
Teach me more and more.
Transform me again and again.
Bring me closer and closer to Your Image!

Yes, Lord.

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Framed

Isn’t it strange how a well-intentioned thing can become a distraction?

This morning I was knocked flat by my Bible study. I was finding truth after truth that hit me squarely between the eyes. I was sort of reeling at all the things God had shown me.   It was overwhelming, but in a good way.   There was just so much in the lesson that seemed to have been written exactly for ME. I wrote and I underlined and I marveled and I repented.

As I read the commentary, I drew a box around a sentence that really spoke to me. As I was finishing the lesson, I looked back over all the things I had underlined and starred, and my eyes were drawn to that box.   I admired the way it looked, the style of the lines, and realized that it would make a great little piece of clip art. I wished that it hadn’t been simply scrawled in the margin of my book, but that I had drawn it separately so that…

Wait. It’s a BOX. It’s a simple little collection of lines that was intended to draw my eyes back to the thought that it contained. It drew my eyes all right, but where did that lead? I began to admire the work of my hands rather than the Truth.

Scrawled square

It’s crazy how innovative the enemy is. The sentence in that box was this: “Satan persists where a stronghold exists.” And he managed, for a couple of minutes there, to persist. Satan coaxed me to take my eye off the principle and set it on the peripheral. Like a movable traffic barrier, this marking that was intended to guide me in the right Way was repositioned as a roadblock to direct me elsewhere. He found a stronghold in a few hastily scratched lines—a trap I would not have even suspected. I hadn’t planned for it to be artsy, had taken no time for it.   When I made the box, I was focused on the words, not my pencil, but it became something that tripped me.
How often does this happen? And I don’t mean just on paper. Are there projects that are begun in an effort to do God’s work, yet they somehow take on a life of their own and the framework of the ministry becomes the main focus, rather than the souls it was intended to reach?   Do I ever get hung up on external trappings and forget that God judges my heart?

This was such a small thing, but eye-opening. It was a good reminder to discern, to constantly check my navigation, to take my thoughts captive, keep them steadfast on Him.

Am I focused on the frame or on the Framer?

Lord, keep my eyes on YOU.

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Why Evil?

Why Evil?

Why does God allow it?

God is perfectly good, so I have heard it said that He could not create evil. I am wondering how that can possibly be true. God is the Creator of everything. It is He who gives life to all living things, who gives form to every star and every stone, He is the essence of all things. He is omnipotent, all-knowing, and eternal.   He could certainly wipe out all evil in a moment. Therefore, God has a reason for allowing evil to exist.

Without God, no man draws a breath. The Creator opens and closes the womb. Life and death are decided by Him. The wind and the seas obey His command, and the earth hangs suspended in space because He spoke it into being. So logically He has perfect control over evil. It is the exact opposite of all that He is, and yet He allows it to be.

He granted men free will, but without the existence of evil, there can be no free will. How could one choose evil if it did not exist? So why? Why evil?

Evil existed from the very beginning. If there had been no evil, Satan could not have rebelled against God. Adam and Eve could not have given in to temptation. God created angels and men with the capacity for evil, which He wouldn’t have needed to include in the their composition at all. Therefore, God has a purpose in evil.

It’s an unsettling thought, but I can’t make the logic work any other way. To say that God has no part in evil is to say that He cannot stop it, and my view of an omnipotent God simply doesn’t allow for that. God is perfectly good, and yet He allows evil.  Why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Who Am I?

God told Moses, “Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go!”  Exodus 3

Yeah. Just imagine God speaking to your eighty-year-old quietly comfortable self and saying, Okay, now, let’s get moving. I want you to go talk to this tyrant king and boss him around. Take away all his slaves and lead them to another country.

It’s hard to even imagine. Surely we can understand why Moses seemed a bit hesitant. In his younger years, Moses had been on fire to mete out justice for God’s people, (Ex 2:11-12) but at this point he had been living quietly in the back country for forty years. Though he had received an excellent education and understood life in the palace, he surely thought he had left that life forever. When he had fled the country with Pharaoh’s execution orders hanging over his head, he probably didn’t plan to return, and certainly didn’t ever want to attract the attention of Pharaoh again. Besides that, his Israelite brothers hadn’t been very happy with him either!

And so he said it. Humbly.   “Um, Lord? Who am I to do a thing like that?”

God’s response? “I will certainly be with you!”

Moses wasn’t completely reassured. “But why would they listen to me? I can say You sent me, but they’re going to ask me who YOU are!”

And God said, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Of course, we can’t really wrap our minds around “I AM.”   It encompasses past, present and future tense:   I was, I am, I will be, I began being, I encompass all being, and I never have any end. His Being is beyond the understanding of our tiny minds.

I see myself in my wilderness years, quietly comfortable and seeming to accomplish nothing of any importance. It becomes easier and easier to expect very little from myself.   And yet, reading about Moses, I realize that God could decide at any time to call me from my lethargy, to give me a charge.

And my response to that thought is like that of Moses—Who am I?

And the answer is clear. Who I am is irrelevant.
What matters is Who is within me. The I AM.

Who am I? No one.

Whose am I? The great, the all-powerful, the all-knowing, the indescribable, uncontainable, unfathomable I AM.

I am His.

It makes me think of this beautiful song.

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What is Worship, Part 2

Perhaps you can remember a time when God drew very close to you, almost seeming to whisper in your ear, a time when light seemed to fill your very being and every cell in your body felt vibrantly and vividly alive? And you were overcome with a joy that you can’t explain or describe, but it felt as if you had just received the sweetest gift ever, and you simply couldn’t express the overwhelming gratitude that flooded you.   Those mountaintop experiences are the ones that we remember and wish to experience again, and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful form of worship.

And then I wonder…should we expect that kind of closeness with God whenever believers gather?   Or are corporate worship and personal worship two completely separate things? Are we simply trying to manufacture something of our own when we expect to slip into a heightened feeling during church worship time? There have been many instances where the Spirit of God has fallen onto a person and caused them to speak or act for Him, but are we supposed to be seeking that when we gather in His name? Some groups believe that if you have never spoken in tongues, then you aren’t saved. They see that as the evidence of a changed heart.   Others have their own evidences and expectations that a new convert should follow. But could we be putting too much trust in what our eyes see (which could possibly be what our own hearts and minds manufacture) as opposed to the heart that God sees? Do we put pressure on ourselves to look and act as others do in order to confirm our spiritual standing? Do you find yourself closing your eyes, raising your hands, nodding your head, saying “Amen” or ”Alleluia” as a habit rather than a true affirmation of God’s message in your heart? Do you try to attain a blissful oneness with God (and complete unconsciousness of other people) during the worship time?

–Do you ever feel that maybe you’re trying too hard?

Perhaps corporate worship is more for proclaiming the gospel, for questions and answers and discussion of ideas, rather than actual ethereal worship (an otherworldly experience.) Of course it happened at Pentecost and at other times that many people spoke in tongues or were otherwise overcome by the Spirit, seeming almost to be drunk, but there is no doubt that was an exception rather than an everyday occurrence.

I guess the point I am getting around to is this: Has the feeling of ethereal worship become an idol? Could it be possible that, in our quest for something greater, we have pursued the feeling rather than the reality? Are we wishing for a “high” from worship rather than simply serving God and showing our devotion to Him? And has that desire actually short-circuited the worship experience?  Are there people drifting from one church to another searching for a certain surge of emotion?

Most of us attend a worship service on Sunday. Did you ever stop to think why it is called a “service?” The dictionary defines service as “a helpful act” or “the performance of a duty.”   Isn’t it odd that we use the word, yet we recoil from that meaning? The King James Bible uses the word service in Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. In most modern translations, that word service is translated as worship. Worship is not necessarily a euphoric feeling. It can be, but it’s not always. It’s not for the purpose of having a good time. It’s not about sitting under stained glass, following a prescribed order of events, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, saying words in unison or singing in harmony.   It’s about yielding ourselves to God and allowing His Spirit to fill us. Worship isn’t receiving—it’s about giving.

If you’re not feeling close to God during worship, the problem is not the pastor or the songs or the church you attend. It’s YOU. You haven’t gotten yourself out of the way. You are trying to obtain a feeling rather than give up your will.

The euphoria I have described is a beautiful thing and very much to be desired, but there are many other aspects of worship that are just as vital. Remember Romans 12:1? Offering your body as a living sacrifice is worship! What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? It means to serve selflessly. It means that even when I really want to just relax, I will read that same story to my two-year-old for the twenty-fourth time this week. It means when I am racing to get home, I stop to talk with an older person who is in no hurry at all. Selflessness means that I give up my wishes when outnumbered (or outranked) even though I am sure that my plan would be better.

Those aren’t exhilarating experiences at all. There’s nothing thrilling about giving up my plans and doing things I don’t want to do. It’s more like drudgery, and sometimes really frustrating.   The feelings aren’t what make it worship. Sometimes it’s just… performing a duty. This isn’t at all what we think of when we talk about worship.   But God calls it worship.

And sometimes, if we truly give up our selfishness and instead give ourselves, we do receive a burst of that much-coveted joy that is true worship. Yielding myself to God and allowing Him to work through me –a living sacrifice–IS my worship.

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