You Can Make a Quiet Difference in this World

Our world is one that wants to get noticed. You need only look on Facebook where it seems everyone has to comment on everything, stream live what they are doing, and make themselves look as witty and wonderful as possible.

Or go to Instagram. People leaving pictures of themselves in exotic places or on a beach in their best bikini. The women, not the men. Sometimes younger people who are trying to get noticed by someone somewhere upload selfies they’ll wish they could unload someday.

Or move on to Reality TV. People who don’t do much of anything getting filmed so we can watch them not doing much of anything. Like a crash that is about to happen many cannot resist watching them. Which is exactly what they want us to do.

It’s a loud day we live in. People clamoring to be noticed using our modern-day connectedness of social media, streaming TV, and the internet to make themselves heard. People work hard at getting noticed.

It’s the way of our world today. But it wasn’t the way for the early church in Thessalonica, a city that was home to Greek gods as well as the Roman imperial cult. An oath of loyalty to Caesar would be administered to its people. It was also home to Jews. By the time the Apostle Paul arrived we can be sure there were Jews in this city living under the threat of worshiping a God other than Caesar.

Paul entered their synagogues and preached that “Jesus is the Christ.” “Christ” means “anointed one.” That title belonged to Caesar. Preaching that “Jesus is the Christ” caused an uproar. The city got real noisy. Paul had to sneak out by night.

Later, Timothy reported to Paul that the Thessalonian Christians had undergone more persecution and suffering. They were just hanging onto their faith. So Paul writes, “…aspire to live quietly.”

“Aspire” originally had the sense of “the pursuit or love of honor or distinction.” A person would work hard at promoting the spread of their name. They would do this through acts of benefaction or by getting their name inscribed on columns or in pavements. It was the first-century form of Twitter.

Paul tells his friends to do just the opposite of the culture. “…aspire to live quietly…” has the paradoxical meaning of “to work hard at not working hard.” He is not telling them to not work. Just don’t work hard at being noticed.

That was a countercultural message then. And it’s a countercultural message now. We live in an age where the one that gets noticed is the loud one, the humorous one, or the extroverted one. Now you not only have to sell a product. You have to sell yourself.

Paul says not to. And that’s good news for people who don’t fit that mold. When you’re told to “do big things for God” but you struggle to juggle all the plates you’ve got going in the air and just get through the day, you may wonder if God can use you.

Turns out he can. We don’t have to be obsessed with pushing ourselves into the public eye. We can be content to be unknown and unnoticed if that is the Lord’s will. We can make it our ambition to not be ambitious about getting noticed. We can be quiet and affect our world.

Rosa did. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a public bus pulled up to its stop in the early evening and a woman in her forties, dressed nicely, walked up the steps, entered the bus, and sat in the front row of the “Colored” section. The bus filled with riders and the bus driver asked her to give her seat to a white passenger.

This quiet, introverted woman inadvertently started a civil rights movement with one word: “No.” When Rosa Parks died in 2005, obituaries called her “soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature.”

Want to make a difference in this world? Don’t start a riot. Just be quiet.

Question: What are some “quiet” ways in which you can make a difference?

 

 

How a Weighted Blanket Can Warm a Life

Johny is a new friend of mine. At least through email and Facebook. She wrote me to tell me about a great cause she is involved in. I thought it would be make for a great story for you to read.

Johny took an early retirement a year ago. (I had to ask for forgiveness right away as that line made me a bit jealous.) But she did not want to just sit. Instead, she wanted to give something back. But with many outstanding organizations to choose from where she could volunteer her time that decision was not easy. ­

At least not until she realized there was a specific group that tugged at her heart. Her youngest child is in Junior High and has had friends through the years with siblings who were autistic. Social interactions with these families created an awareness of the daily struggles these families encounter.

Knowing what to do when other opportunities to “give back” had presented themselves had been easier: making sandwiches to give to the homeless, gathering clothing for a women’s shelter, or assembling care packages for a teen crisis home. But how would she go about helping families with autistic children?

That’s when prayer can open your eyes to something right in front of your eyes. That’s what happened for Johny. She had been involved in her church’s prayer blanket ministry and at one point in time had made a blanket for a grandmother who was raising a grandchild who had Autism. That grandmother came to her and asked her if she could make a weighted blanket for her grandson.

What happened next is exciting. Johny conducted a lot of research to make him one. Along the way the process evolved, eventually finding a better way to make them than other options that were available. Word was sent out to organizations and families who could benefit from these special blankets as research shows that weighted lap blankets provide a calming pressure for those needing help with sensory processing.

After getting positive feedback and photos from families that were helped, she enlisted the prayer blanket ministry at her church to help produce the weighted blankets. Now, not only do families not have to pay to receive a blanket, they get one custom made for their child. Better yet, it’s been prayed over by many loving hands. Hands with a heart for these special children.

Imagine what it would be like to hear from a mother who tells you, “My child can finally sleep at night.” And imagine what it would be like to find yourself in the middle of this story.

You can, you know. Maybe you’ve wanted to do something too to give back but you didn’t fit traditional ministries at church or in the community. But you can sew. Johny says, “Anyone who can sew a straight line can learn how to do this and in turn, can start making these for their community.”

Or maybe you know a family that could benefit from these blankets. They may not see this article, but you have. You may be the “thread” that connects them to a resource that could have a warm effect on their lives.

And one last way this may help someone: Johny has received her first request for a blanket for an adult with PTSD. There is significant research that shows that weighted blankets put on soldiers who have PTSD is calming and helps them sleep.

So, if you can sew or you know anyone who could benefit from a weighted blanket, or if you would like more information, just write to weightedwonders@outlook.com. You’ll sleep better knowing you helped someone else sleep better. And that’s a good night for everyone.

Question: What can you do to give back today?

 

 

Open the Gift that is You

When you’re a young Jr. High kid and you realize there is something you want but you are unemployed and have no way to buy it you can only hope that someone will love you enough to gift you the desired object.

I was a budding tennis player wannabe who wanted to follow in Bjorn Borg’s footsteps. I grew my hair long. I watched every match I could find. I even tried to walk like him. The only problem was I did not have the tennis racket he had. And I just knew that it was the missing piece that would link me to future tennis stardom.

I don’t remember if it was a birthday or just a surprise, but one day I arrived home to find that my parents had found me the holy grail of my tennis world: a Bancroft Bjorn Borg signature racket. Complete with a cover and press.

It was high excitement. They handed it to me in its wrapping and the first thing I did was open it. I examined it. I ran my fingers in amazement at it. I gripped it with my hands—one on the forehand side and two on the backhand.

Maybe you remember a gift from when you were younger that made its mark on your memory. Or maybe it was as recent as the Christmas holidays. Regardless, if you enjoy receiving gifts, then read on. Because gift giving has been around longer than my childhood.

“…grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’”

Each person in the body of Christ has received a gift.  The first thing we do with gifts is open them.

How do you know what gift rests inside you? Read the gift lists in scripture. Look at individuals in your life you want to be like in ministry. Pay attention to where you enjoy and have the most fun serving. Make a list of your natural talents and skills. God can use all of them in ministry. Add your g-ifts, i-ndividuals, f-un, t-alents and s-kills together and you will find your “gifts.”

We open gifts. But then we use them. Peter writes: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” Your gifts that God has packaged inside you are not to be held onto tightly. They are to be developed and then used within the body of Christ. You have gifts that will help others grow into his likeness. And they have gifts you need too.

No one has all the gifts that Jesus has given to the church.  But each one has a gift to be used. We need to see ourselves and others in the church as Jesus does. That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 12: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…for as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . .”

“Sober judgment” means you understand your place in the body and you understand that others have their place. When functioning together, great things can happen. We can fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.

One thing my parents did not count on the day I opened their gift was that I also understood the intention of a gift. I wanted to use it. Right then. So they had to pack me and my brother up into the car and take us immediately to the tennis courts. I couldn’t wait for my first serve.

And you don’t need to wait for your first serve either. Open the gift that is you today. Then use it in service to the church and people. In the end, everybody wins.

Question: What is the thing you do best that when you do it you enjoy it and others seem to benefit from it?

 

Know Why You Do What You Do

Do you know why you do what you do? Many of us don’t. Simon Sinek says that many people and companies don’t know their “why” and yet it is crucial to their success.

Sinek is known for his TED talk where he describes The Golden Circle. Sinek says the great leaders and companies of the world all think, act, and speak the same. And it’s the complete opposite from everyone else. He says everyone knows “what” they do. Some know “how” they do it. But very few people or organizations know “why” they do what they do. “Why?” is the cause or purpose or belief behind “what” you do.

Apple is his example. If they did things like everyone else their marketing campaign would go something like this: “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

But they don’t approach their company that way. They begin with the “why?”

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

Sinek says people don’t buy what you do but why you do it. It’s an amazing insight. But it’s also a little scary since most of us don’t know why we do what we do. And yet the early believers knew the “why” behind the “how” and “what” they did. And “what” they did was community.

…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … And all who believed were together and had all things in common. … And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes… (Acts 2:42-47)

If we could travel back through time and sit down in their homes and ask them why they were meeting together they would answer: Everything we do we believe in following Jesus’ way of life.

Jesus is why they did anything they did. They were following the way of Jesus. And one of the things they did was devote themselves to the fellowship. “Devote” means to “adhere to.” If you’ve ever stepped on some gum and found your shoe stuck to the ground, you understand the word for “devote.” Your shoe and the pavement are “glued” or “stuck together.”

The early Christians were stuck together too. Why? Because they saw Jesus stick with them. When they were fun to be around, he stuck with them. When they irritated him, he stuck with them. When they were slow to understand, he stuck with them. Jesus is a model of devotion.

And he wants us to be too. In John 13:35 he says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” When the church loves those in the church, those outside the church will notice. Why? Because Jesus is love.

Jesus is our “why.” Devotion is our “how.” Loving each other is our “what.” And others notice how we love each other. Jesus said in John 13 that this is how people will know we are his disciple, i.e., how we “love one another.”

We do what he would do in the way he would do it. And Jesus would challenge the status quo of our isolated world and create community. Our Golden Circle might sound something like this:

Everything we do, we believe in following Jesus. The way we follow Jesus is by devoting ourselves. We devote ourselves to teaching and fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayers, to being together and having all things in common. We just happen to enjoy community too.

Know your “why” and you’ll know “how” to do your “what.” You might even change the world along the way.

Question: How aware are you of your “why” for the things you do?

 

 

 

 

How to Increase Your Love of God and People

You’ve seen art lovers. They go to museums on their time off. They buy paintings for their home and office.

You’ve seen sports lovers. They watch every college game on the weekend. They buy racquets and equipment and hit the courts three nights a week. They play hoops with other aging bodies even when it hurts.

You’ve seen food lovers. They take cooking classes. They purchase the best utensils for their kitchen. The art lover sees their presentation which resembles a masterpiece and asks to buy it for their home or office.

You know the principle even if you have never stated it: you are what you love. Each one of us becomes something that we love. And we are first what we want.

So says James Smith in his book, You are What You Love. Makes sense, doesn’t it? People know Jay Leno loves cars because Jay Leno owns around 286 vehicles. And people know you by what you love. And they know what you love because you have ordered your life around what you want.

That’s why Jesus asks the disciples who are following him, “What do you want?” He doesn’t ask “What do you believe?” or “What do you know?” Jesus wants to know “What do you want?” This is an important question—maybe “the” question—because as Smith writes, “You are what you love because you live toward what you want.”

The problem we face is that in following Jesus we often find we have wanted something other than him first. And so we have lived towards those things that occupy a higher place in our lives. We need our wants to be transformed.

It’s possible. One way we try to do this is by learning. We study. We attend Bible class, worship and hear sermons, we take online studies and read the Bible more and read more books. There’s nothing wrong with learning. At its basic definition a “learner” is what a “disciple” is: someone who learns to live the life Jesus would live if he were in our shoes.

What we often miss in our era is we think learning has to do with only the brain. So we try to cram more knowledge in it. And then we learn that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love” and we realize we have not become good at loving.

Biblical learning goes past head knowledge alone. Knowledge has a sidekick named Behavior. Classically, behavior can be formed in two ways. The first is imitation. Our culture values originality but the Bible values imitation. Jesus said “follow me.” Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

Want to learn to love? Find people who love God well and love people well and spend time with them. Watch them. Ask questions. Invite input. Imitate them as they imitate God.

Then practice. Move what you are learning to your behavior. We listen to a virtuoso violinist and we marvel at how fluidly and flawlessly she plays. But what we don’t see is that because she loves the sound a violin makes she has spent hours and hours practicing. The Apostle Paul says our practice takes place in Christian worship. It happens when the church assembles for worship of God. And it happens when the church assembled dismisses into the world.

Jesus asked those disciples “What do you want?” They didn’t really know so they followed him. And what they saw they imitated. What Jesus did they practiced. Things they thought they wanted most they learned they needed least. What they wanted most was God. And so they learned to love him first.

This year may you love God first. Imitate God lovers you can find. Practice.

Before long people will look at you and say “That person is a God lover.”

Question: How well are you known as a “God Lover?” Who will you imitate and how will you practice this year?

Make 2017 Your Year of Transformation

When my boys were young they loved to watch The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I’d watch it with them because I loved it…I mean…I wanted to be a good dad and spend quality time with them.

We watched each episode with anticipation because we knew the script. At some point these ordinary teenagers would be faced with an enemy. They would speak the words, “It’s morphin’ time!” and immediately transform into martial arts super heroes. We’d say the words along with them. But, other than in our imaginations, we did not change.

Wouldn’t it be nice if transformation were that easy? But you know as well as I from experience it seldom is. And yet, transformation is the crucial issue in your spiritual life today. We are to take it seriously because the New Testament writers took it seriously.

Paul uses the word “morphoo” in his writing. For example, Paul urges “…be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  Paul tells the churches of Galatia that he is in the pains of childbirth until “Christ is formed in you.”  He tells the Corinthian church that we are being “transformed” from one degree of glory to the next.  The word there is metamorphoo, from which we get our word metamorphosis.

When a person is following in the way of Jesus, transformation is expected to happen. John Ortberg has written in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted that when we follow Jesus but don’t change, two bad things can happen. One thing that can happen is that we just give up on change. A person settles for the idea that they have done the minimal requirement necessary for “getting into heaven” but has given up on the hope of “heaven getting into them.”

The second thing that can happen is a person settles for pseudo-transformation. This occurs when a person or group focuses on external markers to give them some assurance they are different than those who are not following Jesus. James Dunn talks about these boundary markers in his commentary on Romans where he says that the rabbinical writings of the day talked a lot about circumcision, the Sabbath, and dietary laws. He says that if you were to ask a rabbi in the first century what the core of the Law was, they would quickly recite the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Why then did they focus in their writings on circumcision, the Sabbath, and dietary laws? The answer is these were external boundary markers for who was in and who was out. It still happens today. Christians are often known for what they “don’t” do. Those are boundary markers. Even churches have them: “Spirit-filled, non-denominational, contemporary music vs. traditional music, a real discipling church, a real Bible-based church.” It happens whether we realize it or not. Those are boundary markers.  All groups have them.

But Jesus came along and had a different way of identifying.  “Love God.  Love people,” he said.  Paul said the same thing: “I might have a lot of boundary markers.  But if I don’t have love, I’m nothing.”  John agreed.  “Whoever loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God.”

If you go back and look at the conflicts Jesus had with the religious leaders, they mostly had to do with circumcision, dietary laws, or the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were concerned about the boundary markers.  But for Jesus the key question was their orientation. Were they moving in the direction of loving God and loving people?  That’s why he scandalized people by saying the tax collectors and prostitutes were in the kingdom ahead of the religious leaders.  His boundary marker was the heart, and it was a transformed heart.

Want real transformation this year? Then Paul says we need to go into training like athletes (1 Corinthians 9:24) because there is a huge difference between “trying” and “training.” If I “tried” to run a marathon tomorrow, I might make a few miles before having to stop. But if I “trained” for a marathon, there’s a good chance I would see the finish line.

Start training today. Find a spiritual gym, a church, who can help you train both spiritually and emotionally towards maturity. And see if by the end of the year you have moved further in the direction of loving God and people.

Go ahead and say it. I know you want to. “It’s morphin’ time!”

Question: What training do you need to begin to be the person you want to be?

Your Best Year Yet

We’re already into the New Year. Four days have already been marked off. And if you’re not careful you’ll be staring 2018 in the eyes and wonder, “What happened?”

Our years have a way of passing quickly. And the older one gets the faster they seem to fly by. That’s because we have more time that we have experienced. So one year to an 80-year-old seems shorter than a year does to a 5-year-old. (Remember how summers seemed to last forever when you were in elementary school but by high school it felt like you just got started and then it was time to hit the books again? Yeah, I thought you’d agree.)

So before this year takes control of you why don’t you take control of it? Here are a few steps that can make this your best year yet.

Decide what you want to say “yes” to. One of the regrets people have is what they did not do or people they did not spend enough time with or things they did not experience. In many instances the reason is they never decided they would give themselves permission to say “yes” to those things.

So right now take some time to answer the question: What do you want to say “yes” to this year? You may want to think in three basic categories I plan around each year:

  • Family. At the end of my life I cannot imagine ever thinking I had spent too much time with family. It seems with life demands there is never enough time. But if we plan to say “yes” to family we will plan time for family. Maybe it’s a bi-weekly date night with your spouse. Or a monthly outing with each of your children, separately, just to let them know they have your undivided attention. It may be planning trips to see extended family.
  • Faith. Faith is critical to my life, so each year I want to say “yes” to the things that will nurture and build my faith. Things like Bible reading and study, gathering with others for worship, investing myself in a few with whom we can mutually encourage each other. This takes time. But if you believe the benefits are eternal as I do, you’ll want to prioritize these things over other things that may be short lived.
  • Fitness. In order to give my best in any of the things I say “yes” to I know I need to do my best at staying fit. So I say “yes” to exercise and eating well. Moderation in everything is important. A doctor friend of ours from years back would say “the body is designed to handle just about anything you put into it, as long as you don’t put too much.” Mental fitness is part of the goal too, so how will you improve there this year? Are there books to read? Courses to take? Webinars to join? You have time to improve your fitness this year. You just have to say “yes” to it.

Once you have your “yes” list in hand you then need to decide what and/or who to say “no” to. You have time wasters in your life and you probably know what they are: television, gaming, social media, surfing the web. Feel free to add to the list. At the end of the day do these add quality to your life? Maybe some. But definitely not at the expense of the “yes’s” you just listed. You have to say “no” to these and keep them in balance.

There are people you may have to say “no” to also. If your boundaries are shaky you will let other people suck up your time. You will allow them to get you involved in things that keep you from your “yes” list. You will allow them to pull you into their problems. And before you know it a year has gone by and you have not said “yes” to many things you intended to.

Understand, your “yes” list is not an excuse to never help someone else. But it is your guide to knowing what to say “yes” and what to say “no” to.

Then calendar your “yes” list. Look at who you will spend time with and what you will spend time doing. Mark out most of this on your calendar for the year. If you said “yes” to bi-weekly dates with your spouse go ahead right now and put them on the calendar. For the most part stick to it. Then when someone asks you to join them for another event you can honestly say, “Thank you, but I already have a commitment on that date.” Your spouse will thank you for it. (Unless they were offering you tickets to go with them to a U2 concert. Then you say, “I think I can rearrange my schedule to make that work!”)

If you don’t fill your calendar, someone else or something else will.

And lastly, do your best when you are at your best.  For many people that best time is in the morning. Some studies indicate that morning people accomplish more (if you are a night owl don’t yell at me…I’m probably in bed so I can get up early). You can read some findings here. But at least in my personal experience I have found I accomplish more earlier in the day than later.

Whenever you are most productive, that’s when you need to produce. Do your best when you are at your best.

Get started with these steps and you can have your best year yet.

Question: How will you make this year your best year yet?

The Sign Will Lead You to Your Christmas Gift

Finding Christmas presents makes the giving fun. And giving clues as to where to find presents is even more fun. We’ve done that with our kids. Maybe you have with yours. You give them clues that lead to more clues which finally leads to the gift. It might go something like this:

  1. Rudolph is Santa’s #1 flyer. Your first clue is by the washer and (dryer).
  2. Santa’s suit is a very bright red. Now go look where at night you lay your (head).
  3. Santa’s lived long, he’s very old. Your next clue is where the food is kept (cold).
  4. To be on Santa’s nice list you can’t be a grouch. Now look under the living room (couch).
  5. The air in the house can get kind of stale. Get outside for the next clue and check the (mail).

On and on it could go until the last clue says: “You’re tired of looking. It’s almost done. Look under the tree and unwrap for some fun!

I admit. There would be something a little Grinchy about sending kids all around the house inside and out and then bringing them right back to the tree. But no matter how you go about it, the clues do what they are supposed to do. They lead them right to the gift they most want.

The best Giver gave his best gift the same way. There were shepherds out in the fields, watching their flock at night. The angel came to them and told them, “…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There is some evidence that there were shepherds around Bethlehem who were priestly shepherds. Some think they were tasked with spotting unspotted lambs for the Temple sacrifices. And some believe they would wrap them in bands to keep them from hurting themselves right after birth and then lay them in a crevice in the rocks called a manger until they were calmed.

We don’t know if all of this is true. The evidence is unclear. But we do know that according to the Torah two lambs were required every day for the daily sacrifice in the Temple. That’s 730 lambs each year and thousands more for other feasts and festivals. Bethlehem was known for sacrificial lambs.

Every day. Every month. Every year. Shepherds watched as these innocent, blameless lambs were offered for sin. They had time to reflect. They knew it was for their sin too. You see, they weren’t even allowed to the Temple to worship because their livelihood made them unclean.

And your livelihood makes you unclean too. No, not your 9-5 job. But the living you do every day. The way you speak to others. Your behavior. The way you go about your relationships.

Preachers aren’t immune. One holiday season I was heading home after a long day. I was almost home a little early one Friday afternoon. I was driving by a school and, out of habit, driving 20 mph due to the school zone even though school was already out for the holiday.

Suddenly the truck behind me sped up, moved over to the other lane, and passed me. I threw my hand up in the air and waved it around pointing my index finger at him thinking “Are you crazy! What kind of idiot are you?!” Then I saw him looking in his rear view mirror. Then I noticed my hand. I thought, “From his vantage point it probably doesn’t look like I’m giving him a neighborly wave. It probably looks like I’m waving one finger at him. Not the index finger.”

I didn’t feel too good about this. I felt worse when he turned into my subdivision. I slowed down a bit so he could get to his street before I got to mine. But then he turned onto my street. And then he turned into the driveway across the street from our house. I had gestured angrily at my neighbor! I waited down the street until he went inside his house. If he ever knew it was me he never said anything. But I didn’t like what was in me.

You and I need what the shepherds needed: a sign that leads to the Savior. “… wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” I’d like the story of the priestly shepherds to be accurate. It would make this sign have added significance if they in fact wrapped lambs in bands of cloth and laid them in a place called a manger.

I’d like that to be true, but we don’t need it to be true. The shepherds found exactly what they were supposed to find. Earlier Luke told us “…[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them…”

Later, Luke will strike the same cadence when he writes of the crucified Savior: “Then [Simon] took [the body] down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.”

This baby we celebrate at Christmas is our Savior. The shepherds needed one. I need one. And so do you. And that is the gift God gave you. A Savior. God gave you a sign: a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger.

May you find him this Christmas.

 

Even Angels Get Excited at Christmas

What is it that gets you excited about Christmas? Young children opening presents? Giving presents? Getting presents? (It’s OK to admit it.) The family reunion at grandma’s house? The travel? (You’re in a special class if this gets you excited.)

It didn’t take much to get me excited when I was a kid. It always started for me when the Sears Wish Book would show up. Some of you will remember those. It was the Google search engine of the day for kids who wanted to find just the right toy for Christmas.

I was a child of the 60’s and I lived for comic books: Superman, Batman, Spiderman. When I was six-years-old Ideal Toy Company put out its answer to the G.I. Joe action figure: Captain Action. He was great on his own but you could also get costumes to make him into all the other superheroes. I had to have it. So I circled it in the book. I wrote Santa.

And then I waited. I imagined waking up Christmas morning and finding Captain Action under the tree. Together he and I would save the world. And if the imaginary situation called for it, I could put him in his Batman costume and the Dark Knight would bring light to the dark nights in Memphis, Texas.

All the days leading up to Christmas Day you thought about what it would be like to have this toy. Going to bed on Christmas Eve was torturous. You’d try sleeping on your back, then one side, then the other. And you knew if you didn’t go to sleep Santa would not come. Sneaking some Eggnog helped.

It didn’t take much to get excited about Christmas when we were young, did it? But something happens as we get older. The problem is your world has changed. Demands of work. Long lines. Deadlines. Receding hair lines. Expanding waistlines. Bills to be paid. Once we have some money smaller gifts aren’t such a big deal, are they? You can go out and buy those yourself. And when you have pretty much all your basic needs in our First World living, what would ever cause you to get excited?

Imagine not only having your basic needs but having everything you could possibly need. The angels did. And yet they got excited about the birth of Christ. Angels are everywhere in the story of Jesus’ birth. Joseph encountered angels three times. Zechariah once. Mary once. Shepherds once.

Actually twice. The first angel announced the birth of “…a Savior, Christ the Lord.” Then the sky exploded with “a multitude of the heavenly host.” What got angels excited about the birth of Jesus?

The prevailing idea of angels in the first century was that they were like a tired, beleaguered army. Their mission to help watch the earth was frustrated by Satan and his minions. Mankind was helpless to help itself. The angels needed reinforcement.

And reinforcement came in the form of a child born in a manger. When God sent help he did not send another angel. He sent the Lord of all angels. The Lord of all.

That’s what got the angels excited. When Luke describes the multitude of them as the “heavenly host,” the word for “host” means “army, troops.” The angels are ready for battle. Their leader had come to save.

War leaves causalities in its wake. You may be one of them. Someone did something to you. Said something to you. You’ve done things and said things you regret that have shaped your life. The world is harsh. And you too are tired and beleaguered. You’re tired of fighting alone.

You don’t have to any longer. “For unto you … has been born a Savior. Christ the Lord.” The Lord of all has come to you and you need only come to him.  And so, when a Savior was born…that was all the Christmas the angels needed. And it’s all the Christmas you need too.

I woke up that Christmas morning and Captain Action had come. In my imagination he and I saved the world.  In my adulthood Christ has come and saved my world. He can save yours too. Because of Bethlehem you have a Savior. Christ the Lord.

That’s something to get excited about.

Question: What gets you excited about the real story of Christmas?

A Christmas Invitation You Won’t Want to Ignore

John and Bonnie invited us to our first event of the holiday season. Along with a handful of others we were included in a group we did not know to join them at their house.

I plugged their address into my Google maps and we headed to the party. Along the way I said to Karen, “Do you think we need to pull up the email and check the invitation?” “No, we’ve got their address,” she said. “I don’t think there was any other information we needed.”

We pulled into their subdivision, the gate was open, and we immediately saw a line of cars parked outside a house. Google maps informed us we had arrived so we parked our car and strolled up to the door. We met another couple who was reaching the door at about the same time. We didn’t recognize them but then we didn’t really know anyone on the list. I said, “Are you going to John and Bonnie’s party?” “Yes,” they said. We turned and rang the doorbell.

A Jr. High age boy answered the door. Karen and I looked at each other with puzzled looks since we knew our friends did not have a Jr. High age boy. Then a tall man came to greet us. We exchanged introductions. Peter invited us in and pointed towards the kitchen. “Funny,” I thought, “that John has asked someone else to greet his guests.”

We came around a corner and saw a number of people huddled around the island in the kitchen. They looked at us. We looked at them. John and Bonnie were not to be seen. I looked at Karen and said, “I think we’re at the wrong party.” We went back to the front door found our new friend Peter.

“Peter, I think we’re at the wrong party,” I said while making sure I didn’t see any firearms nearby. “Who are you looking for?” I told him and he said with a laugh, “Their house is right across the street.” I asked him if his party was going to be better than John’s, he said it probably would be, and that if we were disappointed we could come back over. We appreciated the thought, but we were not invited to that party.

Shepherds knew that feeling. Even the one named David did. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1). There are times in a life of faith that God seems to forget his own, and we feel like we are standing in a room full of strangers at a party we aren’t supposed to be at. Maybe Luke knew that. Maybe he wanted to use the story of the shepherds to strengthen our faith for the forgotten times.

The shepherds may have felt left out before that night but not after that night. They’re not used to anyone giving them the time of day. But now an angel is interrupting their time at night. He tells them a Savior had been born in the city of David: Bethlehem. The shepherds went to Bethlehem and found exactly what they were told they would find.  Mary and Joseph.  But most importantly, “the baby lying in a manger.”

We have to wonder why God would choose shepherds over kings or rabbis or the popular to receive the invitation to witness the birth of his son. Could it be that: Kings are paying too much attention to the important people to bother with babies? Rabbis are too busy crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s to be interrupted? The popular have too many things on their social calendar to squeeze in one more activity?

But shepherds? They lead a simple life. They don’t have many distractions. They have no reputation to uphold or social order to protect. God had time for the shepherds because the shepherds had time for God. This rag-tag group of smelly sheep herders the rabbis banned from testifying in court were invited by God himself to be the first ones to testify of the birth of his son.

And they did. What was “made known” to them they “made known” to others (Luke 2:15,17). What had been “told them” they “told” to others (Luke 2:18, 20).

Wouldn’t you love to be invited by God to hear the birth announcement of his son and then get the honor of telling others? Well, hold onto your Christmas hat because what happened to the shepherds has happened to you.

  • You have the same story that they had. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
  • You have the same sign they had. “…you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
  • And you have the same invitation they had. God has invited you into the story of his incarnation. He has included you in the birth of his son. Because of Bethlehem you are not forgotten. You don’t have to feel like an uninvited guest.

But you do have to respond. So spend time around the manger. Put your work down. Schedule some time. Check the directions again and make sure you look where the angels said to look.

When you get there you’ll find you are right where you’re supposed to be.

Question: How can you spend time at the manger this Christmas season?