How Your Work is One Way You Love Your Neighbor

The millennial generation aged 18-35 gets a lot of attention these days. We are told that more than anything they are searching for jobs where they can make a difference. And so we read about workplaces like Warby Parker—a popular startup where for every pair of glasses purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need. Think about the difference you would feel you were making working at Warby Parker.

But it turns out that millennials are not the only generation that desire their work to make a difference and have purpose. So do older generations. A recent global survey of all ages revealed 74% of candidates want a job where they feel like their work matters.

Did you know it matters to God? It does. When writing to the church in Thessalonica the apostle Paul wrote in the context of “brotherly love” to “aspire to live quietly…and to work with your hands.” Some in the church had stopped working. Some were out of work but were forming a habit of letting others take care of them. And others were finding patrons to support them which threw them into the business of promoting their patron’s name. The problem with that was they found themselves in compromising situations, like attending business deals at the pagan temple.

So Paul tells them to “work with your hands.” It all goes back to God. In Genesis 1 we find a repeated theme: “And God said…and there was evening and morning, the first day.” This goes on through the six days of creation until we turn the page to chapter two of Genesis where we read, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

Everything we read that God did in chapter one is called work in chapter two. And in case you think he stopped after creation, note these words of Jesus: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” God works.

It should be no surprise then that God gave humankind work. Before he gave Adam a wife or before he gave him children, God gave Adam work. In Genesis 1:26 we discover God’s plan for humankind was to have “dominion over…all the earth…” Then in Genesis 2 he “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” God works and, because we are made in his image, we work too.

That means when you get up in the mornings and you get dressed and you show up for whatever job you have, you are doing so because it is God’s image in you to work. You’re not working just because you have to in order to pay the bills. You’re working because it is in your DNA to work.

And so Paul will not allow people who are made in God’s image to freeload off of other people. That is one of the problems he encountered with the church in Thessalonica. He also believed laziness would be a bad witness to the unbelieving culture around them.

Your work makes a difference. And maybe you haven’t seen it quite this way, but your work is spiritual. How? First, if you are a follower of Jesus you work as if you are working for God and not man (Colossians 3:23). Your work may at times be difficult because of your employer, coworker, or the demands of the job. But you approach it differently because you go about your work as God would want you to. God is at work with you because God is at work in you.

Secondly, you view your skills differently. You acknowledge that what you have to offer is something from God. He has skilled you in ways to be utilized for the benefit of others. Like Bezalel in Exodus 35 who was given skills to construct the Tabernacle, God has given you gifts to be used for the benefit of society.

Paul says when you work in this way, you are loving your brothers and sisters. You are providing something for them without needing them to provide for you. So if you teach, teach as God would have you teach. If you drive a school bus, do it with the care he would give it. If you outfit construction projects with electricity, do it with the precision you would if God were watching over your work.

He is, you know. He is because God works. And he has given you work to do. So do it today with a different perspective. And know that your work makes a difference.

Question: How can you approach your work differently to where it makes a difference?

When You Come to a Fork in the Road Go Towards Your Calling

Maybe you remember an ancient TV show called Friends. (Can you believe the last season of Friends was in 2004?) There was an episode where Monica asked a friend with whom she had started having sex, “Can we still be friends and have sex?” His answer? “Sure. It’ll just be something we do together—like playing racquetball.”

That notion has morphed today to the phrase “friends with benefits.” Greg Boyd has stated that sex today in our culture is seen as a “morally neutral recreational activity, essentially no different from racquetball.” Our culture has deemed it perfectly okay for sex to be enjoyed recreationally and that best happens outside of marriage.

The idea of setting sex apart only for marriage is a strange idea in our culture today.

The idea of setting sex apart only for marriage was a strange idea in Paul’s first century Greco-Roman culture too. F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary of 1 and 2 Thessalonians:

“…various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged. A man might have a mistress who could provide him also with intellectual companionship; the institution of slavery made it easy for him to have a concubine, while casual gratification was readily available from a harlot. The function of his wife was to manage his household and be the mother of his legitimate children and heirs. There was no body of public opinion to discourage porneia [the Greek word for sexual immorality], although someone who indulged in it to excess might be satirized on the same level as a notorious glutton or drunkard. Certain forms of public religion, indeed, involved ritual porneia.”

There was a lot of sex in the city of Thessalonica. Many—if not most—of the Christians that Paul is writing to came out of a pagan background where sexual promiscuity was the norm and widely tolerated.  They had to learn a new way to walk.

To followers of Jesus’ way in that culture Paul writes: “abstain from sexual immorality.” What Paul is teaching to most people in America or Europe comes off sounding ancient and out of touch. But it is part of what he says is God’s will for them. It is part of their sanctification, the way God has set them apart for his purposes.

Then and now culture says, “Go wherever your body leads you.” Paul teaches to “go wherever your calling leads you.” Their calling was found in his words:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter…” (1 Thess. 4:3-5).

He is saying that marriage is to be based on something more than just sexual attraction, although sexual attraction plays a part in a marriage relationship. There is to be a sanctity about the relationship that honors the marriage and keeps the sexual act within that relationship.

This view of sex and marriage was new to the pagans coming to Christ in Thessalonica. We can guess that many would realize that they had sinned in regards to this teaching. They couldn’t go back and erase their steps.

That’s where the good news comes in. Paul greets them with these words: “Grace to you and peace.” It’s a reminder. It’s a reminder for anyone who hears God’s call and wants to meet him that his path is paved with grace.

And for those who desire to avoid sexual immorality, remember this: when you come to a fork in the road walk towards your calling, not your culture. Culture will often pull you away from God. But your calling will draw you towards him.

So follow God’s plan for marriage. And play racquetball with your friends all you want.

Question: How strong is culture’s pull on your life?

 

 

 

Review the Directions to Get to Your Destination

When my sons were young I decided they needed to learn how to read a map. We’d go through the basics: find your starting point, find your destination point, trace the options you could find between the two points, decide on your route, and drive. Usually these teaching lessons would be met with this reaction: “Why do we need to know this?”

Looking back now they had a point. Little did I know that by the time they would start driving and taking trips there would be such a thing as a smart phone and an app called Google maps. It does most of the work for you. I know. The boys had to teach me how to use the app. As long as you know where you want to go you don’t even have to log in your starting point. It already knows where you are.

When someone calls you and invites you to a destination spot that you are unfamiliar with, you can just use a map app to get there. And when God calls you to a destination, he will help you get there too. Your destination? Sanctification. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

“Sanctification” is a big word that you and I don’t use very often in day-to-day life. It can also be translated “holiness.” But we don’t use that word often either and even less when we think of ourselves. (Although sometimes, when I look in the mirror first thing, I exclaim “Holy Cow!”) We picture a holy person as someone in a robe living in the desert or somewhere no one else wants to be.

So let’s de-churchify the word for a minute. Sanctification, or “holiness,” simply means “set apart.” If something is holy, it is set apart from something else. Imagine some evening Karen is driving home from work. I’m at the house preparing a gourmet dinner. (I said “imagine.”) I’ve got her on speaker while I’m cutting up tomatoes when she tells me, “By the way, that new family from church is coming over. I invited them. We should all arrive in about five minutes.”

In my panic I twitch and slice my finger. At first I don’t notice the bleeding since I’m slicing tomatoes. But then I feel it. And when I look I see that I’ve sliced off the tip of my finger. I dig through the cutting board full of tomato slices and find it. I lift it up and I say, “This is sanctified. It is cut apart. It is holy.”

There you have it. That is what “sanctified” or “holy” means. God is holy because he is set apart from humans because he is set apart from sin. In just one of a multitude of examples, Leviticus 20:26 records God’s command to Israel: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

It’s a succinct passage that reminds us that God is holy and therefore, if we are following in his ways we are to be holy too. Paul is helping his readers know what direction they are walking in life. That direction is towards God’s holiness.

The problem is we sometimes forget where we are going, don’t we? Before we were taught Google maps Karen and I were walking in Rome on our 25th anniversary. We were enjoying the sights until we realized it was getting dark and we didn’t know where we were in relation to our apartment. We had to pull out our map and look like tourists which makes you feel a little more vulnerable to anyone that might want to take advantage of you. Now, you can just pull out your iPhone, stare at it, and look exactly like everyone else who is staring down at their phones when they could be looking at something like the Vatican or Coliseum.

We had to look at the map to remember our directions. Paul says the same, that when you need directions, remember. Paul reminds his first readers and us, “for you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus…” He is saying to go back to their roadmap, the instructions that told them how to walk. But they will need to remember they have those instructions to keep on walking toward God’s calling of them towards sanctification.

And we will too. Wherever you are right now you can journey towards God’s destination for you. Just pull out the instructions you’ve been given and remember your destination.

And start walking.

Question: When you are confused about your direction in life where do you go for help?

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

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?

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?

Find Time to Ponder the Christ-child this Christmas

A baby changes everything. When our first was on his way someone gave us a card that said on the front page: “Congratulations!” It had the picture of the cutest baby you would ever see until ours was born. But then you opened it up and saw these words in large, bold print: “Life as you once knew it is over!”

It was. Babies do have a way of disrupting the routine of life. It starts as soon as their existence is announced.

“Guess what honey?” The young husband has no clue. “Did I forget our anniversary?” he wonders. He takes a stab at it: “It’s our anniversary! Happy anniversary!” he declares. She scowls and says, “No dear, that’s not for three months.”

After a few feeble attempts— “Birthday? First date anniversary? Your mother is coming to live with us?!”—he does what he usually does. He gives up. “Why don’t you just tell me?” This time she can’t hold it in any longer: “We’re pregnant!”

At first he thinks, “We’re pregnant? I’m a guy. Why would she say “we”?” And soon he realizes that although he will not have a bouncing baby boy or girl growing inside his body, he is indeed pregnant too. When she tosses and turns in a sleepless night, he doesn’t sleep either. When she is hungry for Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream, he will be eating it too. When her back aches, his will too once he is done massaging hers.

I know. I’ve been there and maybe you have too. Those nine-months are designed for the baby to be nourished and grow. But they are also for the parents to prepare. Their routines become shaped by preparation for the arrival of the baby. A crib is assembled. A room is decorated. Diapers are stockpiled. Then the day arrives.

The problem is when he came Kris didn’t look like what I thought he would look like. Red-faced. Matted hair. Slime all over his body. Not the clean, days-old babies you see in the movies. I said, “Karen, he’s great. I think he favors your side of the family.”

Yes, when Kris was born our world changed. And when Jesus was born the whole world changed.

Mary’s world certainly did. The angel Gabriel appears and announces: “…you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Gabriel explains that the natural will be replaced by the supernatural with words like “come upon” and “overshadow.” These are words found in the Greek Old Testament that describe the hovering of the Spirit of God over the waters at creation. The Holy Spirit that was part of the creation in the beginning would cause the creation of this child “…for nothing will be impossible with God.”

To this Mary simply responds in faith: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The word “servant” is literally “slave.” We may not like this word so it gets softened to “servant.” But Mary understands her role. She is giving up her hopes and dreams and even her own body to submit herself to the plans of God. She is giving up her questions of what is happening, why it is happening, or where is her life going to end up to an understanding of herself as “slave.”

When the birth comes so do shepherds. They’ve seen angels too and come to see the child. They leave and like the end of Christmas day, after all the opening of presents and playing with toys and feasting on the Christmas ham or turkey and all the commotion and excitement of the day, the night becomes still.

And maybe for the first time since delivering the baby Mary has an opportunity to reflect. “…Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She reviewed all that had happened to change her world and spent some moments “pondering” them in her heart.

“Ponder” comes from the compound verb symballo. “Sym” means “together” and “ballo” means “to throw.” So it means “to throw things together.” We sometimes picture Mary sitting over to the side of the activity somewhere, rocking her little baby boy, having a Hallmark kind of moment.

But much more is going on. This word is used to describe the work of a prophet, someone who would discern what God is up to and announces it to everyone else. That’s what Mary is doing. She gets it! This baby is the son of God. He’s going to change things. He’s bringing mercy. He will bring down the mighty and exalt those who are low. He will feed the hungry that the rich won’t help. Her little baby boy is going to rule in a way that Augustus never dreamed. In a short time, her world had changed and she is throwing things together to make sense of what God is doing in her life.

Maybe your world has changed too. Christmas time is not always the most wonderful time of the year for everyone: Lay-offs leave some wondering how to pay the bills. Sickness sends presents down the list of priorities. Divorce can darken holiday lights. Death of a loved one can steal some Christmas joy.

Christmas is a time to ponder. So this season in the midst of throwing together your preparations for a gathering or throwing together parts to be assembled, may you find some quiet moments to throw together all that is happening in your life. See the good and the difficult. The blessings and the bad. But make sure you throw in with all of that the child born in Bethlehem. Ponder your world less and ponder Christ more.

But be forewarned. This baby changes everything.

Question: What do you think God is up to in your life?