Christmas in July

This summer I have found myself in a bit of a spiritual funk. That’s the technical term when you feel like you’ve just spent thirty nine and a half years wandering in the desert following Aaron and Moses and feeling as spiritually dry as the forsaken desert surrounding us.

I selected some music to help move me out of the funk and into the promised land. The music I picked: Christmas music. Seasonally it seems inappropriate, but for the purpose of turning my mood around, it is just what the doctor ordered. It helps remind me that my faith is the birth of something new in me, and it is constantly being re-born.

Merry Christmas. Don’t get too hot outside…

To be known and loved

Before I created you in the womb I knew you …

Those are the words spoken to Jeremiah by God, but apply to all of us.  I find great comfort in knowing that before I existed or had my first thought, God already knew who I was, and loved me.  Greater still, he loved me and created me in spite of knowing me.  He knew the times I would help a neighbor out.  He knew the times I’d hug my children, my wife, and my parents.  He also knew the times I’d stumble, say something careless, or forget a friend in need.  He knew the times I’d have my doubts about him, be angry at his church, and question his nature.

It is comforting to know that I am here, sometimes struggling to discern and follow God’s will, and even when I get it wrong, God already knew I’d get it wrong.  Even better, he would forgive me, and love me anyway.  Sometimes knowing that is all it takes to give a peaceful moment into what might otherwise be a rough day.

Lessons in Mission from the Man in Black

As I write this I am listening to a collection of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits, many of which were recorded from performances for prisoners.

Sometimes being a missionary does not mean doing anything different than you normally do. Sometimes it is even most effect when it just means changing the venue, and doing what you normally do anyway in a different place or with different people. The result is a spiritual transformation of your normal work into a gift from God for others to receive as a blessing.

Light in the Darkness

The Light That Shines Through the Darkness

 

A gentle reminder entered my bedroom this morning as I read the Good Friday Scripture. Good Friday is a day we Christians tend to think of with sadness, yet it was really the start of the greatest event of our faith.

Without Good Friday, there would be no Easter.

Similarly in our personal lives, sometimes (but thankfully not always) we have to go through a period of darkness to see and appreciate the light.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

Dear John: I was right there with you (Part 2 of 2)

Dear John,

Thank you for your recent correspondence.  I am truly sorry about the way this Christmas season turned out for you.  You may not realize this, but you should since you have boys of your own, that when you hurt, I hurt too.  I know you had a hard time.  I saw you there.  I saw you cry.  I saw you sacrificially love your son, knowing the likelihood that you would get sick too.  I know a thing or two about sacrificial love.

You might have missed it, but I was there this Christmas, even if I didn’t speak directly to you.  I held you through the nights so that, even in the hospital, you slept well.  I made sure the right people were there for you when you needed help.  You might have missed the miracles that were performed in front of you, as the medical professionals did what they were trained to do.  Did you feel my hug when the chaplain prayed with you?

I would like you to look at this Christmas as a Christmas where you were able to experience my love in a different way.  You didn’t miss out on anything.  You received a chance to see my face from a different point of view.

I will be with you every Christmas, and every other day of the year.  I will not let your prayers go without response.  I don’t promise to respond in the manner or timing in which you want, only that your prayers will never fall on deaf ears.  So keep on communicating with me, even when you are angry with me.  I can turn your anger to love if you will let me.

Merry Christmas.

With love greater than you can comprehend, your friend always,

Jesus

Dear Jesus: Where were you? (Part 1 of 2)

Dear Jesus,

Christmas happened this year.  The tree was up, I even managed to get the lights up on the gutters of the house.  The boys got what they wanted.  They “busted” Santa and found the true meaning of Christmas.  We saw a great Christmas pageant at church.  But then things got difficult.

Two days after Christmas, Andrew came down with a high fever and had to go to the hospital for three nights.  I stayed with him.  I’m sure you would have wanted me to do that.  I’m his daddy and that’s my place.  He had influenza.  He didn’t feel good. That was very hard to be witness to.

As if that wasn’t enough … The day Andy was discharged from the hospital I came down with the high fever and the cough.  In fact, I’m still a little bit sick, and my vacation is basically over.  I’ve spent the past several days in isolation in my bedroom to rest and keep from getting anyone else in the family sick.

Christmas is supposed to be a time where I am together with my family.  We are supposed to spend time together, be reminded what makes us a family, and focus on the love given to us through You.  I didn’t get that.  I got to sleep.  I tried to pray.  You didn’t answer.

Now my vacation time is nearing an end just as I’m starting to feel better.  What’s up with that?

Where were you this Christmas?

Cordially yours,

John

Free Gifts

A few weeks ago, my ten year old son and I were browsing books in our church’s bookstore.  I paused to look at a recently published Study Bible.  I was fairly impressed with it, and noticed that my son, Andy, was looking at it with me.

I asked Andy if he would like this Bible.  He responded somewhat hesitantly, “yes, well… I guess so, but I’m not sure that I want to spend that much.”

I was glad that he was watching his money, but it indicated to me that he missed the intent of my question, so I tried again.  “I wasn’t asking if you wanted to buy it.  If you want it, it is my gift to you — I’ll buy it.”

“Oh, then yes.  Yes, please!”  His enthusiasm was contagious to me.

Now, the day after Christmas, I found myself reliving this exchange in my head, and finding myself in Andy’s shoes.  Humanity received a great gift at Christmas.  Some people don’t know the gift is out there.  Some think it must be bought, and worry that they can’t possibly afford it.  Some aren’t sure that they want it.

Sometimes I don’t feel worthy of it.  Sometimes I accept parts of the gift, but not wholy.  The good news is that the generous God that offers us this gift is patient, loving, and keeps the offer on the table for us all the time.

If you don’t have the gift, keep looking for it.

Once you find it, take it.  It’s free for you — the purchase has already been made.

After the Presents

Every year there are some things I can count on at Christmas Eve:

  • Excited kids
  • Reading of the Night Before Christmas
  • Reading Luke, chapter 2
  • Getting the cookies ready for Santa
  • Last minute placement of presents

Sometimes when I’m done for the evening and look at the tree, I worry that I missed the point.  Other times, I look at it, what the real meaning of the season is about, and stare in awe at the pretty lights.

One of my favorite songs to remember my humility at this time of year was originally written by Jackson Browne, titled The Rebel Jesus.  I was introduced to this song by singer/songwriter Bebo Norman as part of his Christmas album, Christmas … From the Realm of Glory.  It reminds me, at a very emotional level, what the true meaning of the Christmas season is, and Jesus’ ministry as a whole.

Sometimes I need that reminder.

Merry Christmas.

Love Came Down at Christmas

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I think it might be my favorite because it is the Sunday we focus on the Love shared with us at Christmas. Through the liturgical calendar, it is the occasions of Christmas and Easter where I feel most connected to God’s love for us. It is overwhelming sometimes.

… love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God …  (1 John 4:7, CEB)

Happy Advent.  Prepare your heart for a large serving of love this year.

The Right People at the Right Time

By all accounts today should have been a very rotten day. There was a perfect storm of several major things going all converging on this day of my calendar. After nearly over sleeping, I started my day in prayer, not asking for a miraculous resolution to my woes, but the strength to deal with it all.

The stress lifted so gently over the day it was not until the end of my work day that I looked back at the day objectively and said “that wasn’t so bad!” The day I expected to be the worst in recent memory turned out to actually be a nice day.

What made the difference?

The people. Today reminded me of how blessed I am to be surrounded in my professional, family, and academic life by people who support me up when I need it, and even when I don’t ask for it. Had it not been for the angels in my life, who probably don’t even recognize their identity as angels, this day would have been one of despair; instead, it was one filled with thanksgiving.

I started the day in prayer asking for strength to deal with insurmountable hurdles. Now I close the day in a prayer of thanks for surrounding me with his care, in the form of the caring people in my life who by a simple smile kept my heart warm and elated.


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Events of Interest

  • Revival: Interview with Adam Hamilton August 7, 2014 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/5206/revival-live-webinar ?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Revival%20live%20webina r&utm_campaign=Eblast%2007222014 We'll be interviewing Pastor Adam Hamiton live on August 7 at 3 pm ET about his latest project, Revival. We'll discuss his travels to Engl and where he followed the life of John Wesley, and we'll talk about the de fining characteristics of a Wesleyan Christian. We'll also include some of your comments and questions…

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