Advent: Christmas Day- When It Isn't What You Were Hoping For

And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. - Luke 2:48-50

It's Christmas Day and it's a sunny 49 degrees outside and I've taken my young men to the park to ride their bike and roller blades, but mostly just to flee the thick-with-virus air that is our house right now.

Christmas day isn't turning out to be all I was hoping for.  My husband woke with a fever and fever blisters with a vengeance lining his mouth and throat.  The boys were up at 6 am wanting to open presents and begin the festivities, but the sick man on the couch next to the Christmas tree had just barely fallen back to sleep at 4am.  So kids got their first gift today: laying aside your will for another's good.  A hard gift to receive, says the 42 year old mom who's still trying to accept that one with a joyful heart.

At 8 am, the too-sick-to-speak dad nodded his head yes to the question, "Can we open gifts now dad?" and the ripping of paper off packages began.  Ryland got his Rollerblades and the Frisbee and boomerang he wanted.  Connor got the all-things-survival gear and books he wanted.  And I got the joy of giving them some gifts I had been inspired to give recently:  The Gift of Time with Mom,  The Gift of Wisdom, The Gift of Responsibility and The Gift of Giving.

After listening to some messages this week on parenting with a God-centered vision, I put together these titled gifts.

The Gift of Time with Mom-  A $25 Starbucks card to be used only with one on one time with me and them individually.   I admit, this one is more of a gift for me than them, but I'm hoping it will help build bridges that'll need to be crossed in the future and someday seen as a real gift.

The Gift of Wisdom-  A challenge with a monetary reward (and prayerfully seeds planted with much longer lasting rewards than dollar bills).

  1. Read the book of John and discuss it with mom over desert. 
  2. Read the Proverbs and write 5 proverbs you like and what you think they mean and 5 proverbs you have questions about.  Discuss it with mom over desert.
  3. Read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, write a 1 page essay and discuss it with mom over desert.
  4. Read A Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, write a 2 page essay and discuss it with mom over desert.
The Gift of Responsibility-  A $15 iTunes gift card with a contract for cell phone use to be signed.

The Gift of Giving- A savings account opened in their name with the following rule: Each month a fixed amount deposit will be automatically added to the account and each month they may withdraw 10% of the account for spending but only after withdrawing 10% for giving and selecting a charity they would like to give to.

I wasn't expecting lauds of praise for these certificate gifts wrapped in prayer and desire for seeds of faith to be planted.  They both said, "Huh.  Cool.  Thanks mom..." which was more than I expected and then set those things aside to play with the fun stuff they got.  That was good.  

It's the part about my husband being very ill and church starting an hour earlier than I had written on my calendar for today's special service that had today not turning out as I had hoped.  We arrived in the church parking lot as the service was letting out and I realized I had missed it.  

Today didn't go how I was hoping, and it got me thinking about Mary and Joseph.  I am sure, being the chosen parents of the Messiah didn't go how they expected.  And it's not just Mary and Joseph who had to deal with their expectations about the Christ.  The misguided expectations of the Pharisees and 12 chosen by Jesus and the crowds led to various conflicts too.   

I'm sure Mary and Joseph didn't expect that Mary would give birth alone in an animal cave and place the newborn Son of David in a feeding trough.  I'm sure they didn't expect him to leave them to go to the temple when he was 12 without telling them what he was doing and then when questioned about his actions say, "Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?"  I'm sure that when he started publicly showing himself to be the Messiah they didn't expect him to get himself betrayed and crucified.  I'm sure along Jesus' life here as the son of Mary there were many expectations Mary had to deal with and let go of and trust God for answers to.

Jesus still messes with his people's expectations.  His birth isn't what we would expect from the King of kings.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  And his ways are not our ways.  They are much, much higher.  And other.  And good.

This life is hard and doesn't always make for happy holidays, but the One who's birth I celebrate today is greater than all my troubles and expectations.  It's him I go to with my questions and struggles and disappointments.  He exposes my expectations and causes me to lift my sights much higher. 

I hope your Christmas was flu-free and very pleasant.  But if it wasn't, I hope you could see the totally expectation-breaking God made into flesh- at least a glimpse- and breath in the out-of-this-world peace and indescribable joy even a glimpse of him brings.

Advent Day 20: Waiting For God

Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. -Psalm 69:1-3

Psalm 69 is not exactly a common Bible verse quoted at Christmas.  But I think it's perfect for Advent.  At least it's where I'm at right now.  Maybe you are too.

For lots of people, Christmas is not all joy and jolly.  For many it's a very painful reminder that they long for things to be right and happy and light, but in reality they find themselves in a place where things are wrong and sorrowful and dark.  If you find yourself in a place like that today, I pray this will encourage you as it has me.

I counted 11 times in my version of Psalm 69 where the writer asks God to save him in various ways.

Save me O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck... (vs.1)

...answer me in your saving faithfulness. (vs. 13)

Deliver me from sinking in the mire... (vs.14)

...let me be delivered from my enemies. (vs.14)

Let not the flood sweep over me... (vs. 15)

Answer me, O LORD... (vs. 16)

Hide not your face from your servant... (vs. 17)

Draw near to my soul... (vs. 18)

Redeem me... (vs. 18)

Ransom me because of my enemies.... (vs. 18)

...let your salvation, O God, set me on high. (vs. 29)

Obviously the person writing this was in some sort of circumstance that made him feel desperate for God to show up and do something!  And apparently these circumstances had been there for awhile and the writer wasn't seeing God show up because he writes:

I sink in deep mire, 
where there is no foothold; 
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim 
with waiting for my God. (vs.2-3)

He's sinking.  There's nothing to stand on.  He can't keep himself up.  He's overpowered by his circumstances.  And it's not short lived so he's weary.  His faith-eyes are barely able to see any kind of hope because he's been waiting so long for God to show up and do something about this overwhelmingly difficult, long season.

There's a lot here.  The psalm describes the writers desperateness for God to do something about his circumstances.  He's specific about the circumstances- overwhelming numbers of enemies, lies, reproaches, shame, accusations.  He even says that even though he knows he's not guiltless- God knows the wrongs he's done- he knows these circumstances aren't because he did anything wrong.  "For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach..."  He's in these overwhelming circumstances because he is a God-representative.  He's in this despairing situation because of his identification with God.

At that point you may say, "Well, I'm out.  I'm in the situation I'm in that I wish God would show up for and do something about because of my own mistakes."  That might be true to some extent.  Like this Psalmist, none of us are free from the guilt of folly and wrongs that God knows about and may even be in part cause of our current suffering.  I too am in a long-lasting difficulty that is in part due to my own sins.  But in 1 Peter, Peter says something that always gives me hope and encouragement:

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)

I know that the only person who can claim perfect sinless suffering for God's name's sake is Christ.  But, we who bear his name and love him and seek and him hate our sin and, like the psalmist in Psalm 69 acknowledge our sins before God, we have an "insofar as" sharing in this suffering that Christ perfectly endured.  And we need to see that and believe that, because that's where we will find the deliverance and redemption we long for from God.

The psalmist who wrote this was weary with waiting for God to come do something to deliver him out of these horrible circumstances.  You might be too.  I know I am.  And that's ok.  It's ok to long for God to do something to keep you from being swallowed up by the anger, bitterness, hopelessness and guilt that your circumstances threaten to bring.   What I find amazing in this psalm is that the writers very cry to God to save him and answer him and deliver him and draw near to him and redeem him and ransom him and set him on a high place, is exactly where he finds God giving him hope and a song and a word of encouragement for other fellow long-sufferers.

He doesn't find that his faith-dim eyes suddenly see because God comes in and changes his circumstances.  He finds that in his crying out to God, God is there with him, strengthening him to endure.

By verse 30 of the psalm the writer turns from crying out in desperation and vulnerable confession to praising God with his words.

I wil praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving...

When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
And build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it. (vs.30-36)

This is what we, who are waiting for God this Advent, need to do:  SING and GIVE THANKS!


I can't even tell how many times the simple act of opening my mouth and letting my soul sing, even while the tears flow, has caused me to find God is there.  He's there as I sing reviving my heart and reminding me of his promise: He will conform me to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)  He will make all things new (Rev. 21:5).  He will not reject me or leave me (Hebrews 13:5).  He will judge rightly all that happens to me (1 Peter 2:23).

Don't know what to sing?  Don't have a great voice?  Here's a couple of my favorites to sing when I'm overwhelmed with my circumstances and sadness:


This is harder for me.  Singing seems to come out of me (with the assistance of YouTube or iTunes) more easily, and lifts me almost instantly into hope.  But the psalmist says he will magnify God with thanksgiving after telling him how dim his eyes had grown waiting for God to show up.

When the flood of hopeless thoughts, accusations and heartaches barrages you and threatens to take your faith down, you need to open your mouth Sheila and speak out loud what you are thankful for, or write it if you can't talk!  It will be a gasp of oxygen to your soul and some light for your dim eyes!

It's Christmas.  Everyone is decorating trees and you may feel like the world should be painted grey not red and green and glitter right now.  But what if you took out a piece of paper and started writing what you're thankful for and put it on a tree, or on a wall and decorated your hard, painful, weary-with-waiting-for-God Christmas with words of thanks to God.

Don't know where to start Sheila?  How about the fact that you have access to God's words that pulled you out of a sinking pit this morning?  How about the fact that you've been provided food and clothing and comfort and song and family and... the pieces of paper should cover the tree, or the wall.

Join me today in pouring out desperate cries for God to show up, singing songs of worship and longing and faith, and writing or speaking words of thanks to God that make you and I remember how big and good he is.

Advent Day 12: A Light for Those Other People

I almost went to bed without posting this.  It usually takes me mulling over a passage all day before the light breaks through and I get an "Ah-ha" moment of clarity and excitement that makes sharing it possible.

Tonight the ah-ha hit while I was tucking my youngest in bed. 

The three sections of Luke's narrative on Christ's birth that always catch me are:

  1. Mary's reaction to the shepherds: She treasured and pondered the message they brought about her son.
  2. Simeon's prophecy about Jesus to Mary:  He would pierce her soul and be opposed and expose people's thoughts and hearts.
  3. Simeon's prayer and praise before prophesying to Mary: 
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.- Luke 2:29-32

The third is what I want to dwell on tonight.  It's the "light for revelation to the Gentiles" part.

In the Bible, Gentiles refers to all non-Jews.  According to a Jew, if you weren't a Jew you were a Gentile.  Basically if you were a Jew, Gentiles were all those other people out there.  

As I've been thinking about this verse today and why it catches me I found myself arguing with myself.  I do that.  I think it's healthy actually.  I found myself saying, "Self, as soon as you hear the word Gentile, a lot of context and history come up in your mind.  Its sort of like thinking you remember that time when you were four and smudged ice cream on your nose and said a prayer in Dairy Queen, but you're not sure if you really remember it or if you have some memory created by all the times you've been told the story of when you smudged your nose with ice cream and said a prayer in Dairy Queen.  You don't really know what it means to feel like a Gentile, but you know what preachers have told you it means and it makes you glad Jesus came to be a light to them, because you are one.  But what would it feel like if you were there.  Then.  And you were called a Gentile and seen as the "other people" because you weren't born a Jew?" 

That little argument with myself stuck with me all day.  And then tonight it hit me:  The woman Jesus called a dog knew what it felt like!!

Jesus called a woman a dog?!  You might be scandalized by that but try to not impose current vulgar thoughts and crudeness on the man who knelt protectively beside a woman freshly pulled out of sex with a man who wasn't her husband and thrown to the ground as bait for a trap set for Jesus by the religious Jewish leaders of his day.  (See John 8:1-11)   When reading the account below, don't get stuck on Jesus' comparison of the woman to a dog... he wasn't being crude or rude.  He was drawing a picture with his words to describe an ultimate truth about who he is and why he came, giving the woman an opportunity to respond to this truth in faith.  Let's just read:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.- Matthew 15:21-28

When Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple to be dedicated to God and old Simeon sees him and praises God thanking him for letting him see the One who would be, "...a light for revelation to the Gentiles.", he was announcing that Jesus would be shinning so brightly as truth that an obscure Canaanite woman would see and believe who he was.  And an even more obscure Roseburgian woman would too 2000 plus years later, along with millions of others in between.

In fact, the light of Christ shines so bright, it blazes forward into time from his birth on to reveal the truth of God and life to me and the Canaanite woman who met Jesus as an adult.  And it was dimly seen with eyes of faith by the woman from Jericho who looked at the people of Israel and saw a glimmer of the truth about God as revealed in his people long before Jesus came.

Christ came through the people of Israel.  It is the way God chose to reveal himself.  He came to save them and multitudes of other people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  He is the bread of life, whether you get a crumb, or a whole slice you get life unending!   And he is the light of the world, whether you saw a glimpse of him before he came in the flesh or after he died and rose from the dead you'll be exposed and aware of the truth of who he is and what life is all about!

Christ came through Israel, and he comes through all who believe- to be a light to the other people!

Oh Lord! Let the light of Christ shine through me, that others who don't know him might believe in him too and be glad!

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!- Psalm 67

Advent Day 10: opposed, piercing and revealing

Advent day 8 and 9 were spent on the floor of the acute rehab unit at Banner Del Webb hospital. Yesterday, day 9 was a particularly long and even record setting day. I worked with two new nurses and together (along with the help of some coworkers who were gracious enough to come help us out on their day off) we admitted seven patients to our unit on our shift, a record number of admissions in one day for us. I put in over 14 hours yesterday, came home, crashed, woke up this morning at 6 and packed Goats Make Soap Co. up for her last farmer's market of 2016. Therefore, no Advent posts for Thursday and Friday.

 I do want to pick up where I left off on Wednesday though.

There are three phrases in the Luke account of the birth of Christ that grab me every time I read them.  The first is Mary's response to the shepherds report of angels declaring to them the birth of the Savior.  The second is in Luke 2:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” -Luke 2:25-35

The part in bold is the part that makes me stop.  It's what Simeon says to Mary about the Lord's Christ.  First it was an announcement of great joy to shepherds and peace to men and a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and now a sign that is opposed and a sword piercing Mary's soul and thoughts of hearts revealed?

The Lord's Christ, the Savior that God sent into the world to be the Light of the world is not a warm fuzzy pat on the back for people.  Mary's son Jesus was not even going to be a comfort to her.  He wasn't to simply be a perfect son, or even the special son who would finally rescue her and her people from oppression.  He would be the cause of a sword piercing through her own soul.

And for God's special people, Jesus would not just be the long awaited descendant of David who would finally make Israel the royal people of God again.  He would cause many in Israel to rise and fall.

And for me, and you, he would not simply be that ticket out of condemnation we think we secure with a special prayer or soaking with water.  For us, he is the revealer of the thoughts of our hearts.  He exposes what we can manage to hide from others our entire lives.  He shines his penetrating light into every crevice of our desires, affections and will so that as much as we may have convinced ourselves that we're pretty good people and we don't really need saving or a God, we cannot hide our guilt and need and worship of created things.

Christ will not be to anyone simply a more righteous way to get what we want.  First he will cause us to feel opposed.  First he will pierce our soul with the truth about what we really want and what we really need.  First he will cause us to see for ourselves who we really are in light of the One who made us.

This Christ we celebrate at Christmas is joy unspeakable, but only to those who have surrendered his opposing rule, his piercing words and his thought revealing light and have embraced the joy that comes with loosing all that we've held onto in exchanged for the utter freedom of being His!

For the rest Christ will have to be dealt with.  He cannot be ignored or escaped.  He will be opposed.  He will be an offense.  He will be a pain.  He will leave no place to hide.

The joy of loving and following Christ is worth loosing all false thoughts of control, suffering the pains of heart and soul that come with being his, and living in his exposing light which humbles us to live a life of constant vulnerability before him and others.

Advent Day 7: What Will You Do With The Message

My favorite telling of the birth of Christ is in Luke.

There are a few phrases that always catch me in Luke's narrative. One of them is when the shepherds decide to go find this Savior that had been announced to them and they find Mary and Joseph and the baby and start telling them, and apparently others, about this glorious news made known to them by angels.  It says:

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.- Luke 2:18-19
When Mary heard these poor shepherds tell their story about the angel of the Lord announcing to them the good news of a Savior and the host of angels praising God with those famous words, "Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace among those whom he is pleased!", she didn't seek out a publicist or start planning for her position as future Queen Mum.  It says treasured up all the things that the shepherds told her and pondered them in her heart.  And apparently that was a different reaction than the others who wondered.

The words "wondered" and "treasured" and "pondering" in those verses mean different things in the language they were written in.

Wondered means to marvel.  To speak 13 year old (since my 13 year old will be hearing this tonight), they were like, "Whoa!  That's legit!"

Treasured means to preserve a thing from perishing or being lost, or to keep in mind lest it be forgotten.  13 year old translation:  She told herself, "Self!  DON'T FORGET THIS!"

Pondering means to bring together in one's mind, to confer with one's self.  13 year old interpretation: She said to herself, "Self!  Isn't this what that angel told you when you found out you were pregnant?!"

Mary didn't have it all figured out when she believed the angel and when she followed Joseph to Bethlehem and when she had to labor and bear a baby in a dirty animal cave.  She didn't know what all these things meant exactly, but she listened, she believed God was at work here and she submitted herself to his will.

I love Mary.  I love her willingness to just trust God and to meditate on the words spoken to her by his messengers.  She didn't over-analyze and try to make sense of it all.  She just received the word meekly, thought about it a lot, and it gave birth to saving faith!

Later, her son would announce himself as the Light of the World and convict all the educated religious leaders of the day of their blindness and deadness of heart and condition as lovers of lies who couldn't bear to hear the word of Christ.  Mary could bear his words, even though she didn't have it all figured out, like James (Jesus' brother) would write later, she received with meekness the implanted word which saved her soul!

How do you receive the words you hear from the Bible?  When you hear about Christ and the words of truth that He speaks how do you respond?  Do you give it a fist bump?  Do you treasure it and talk to yourself about it and chew on it?  Do you reject it because you can't bear it?

Oh Lord!  Help me to receive your word meekly.  May I not become blind and haughty and unable to bear your words.  Keep me humble and hungry for more of you always!

Advent Day 6: Who Is this Baby?

I've been focusing on Jesus as the light of the world in these devotions. I've been thinking about this a lot because of the people in my life who challenge my beliefs and question why I do what I do and why I don't do what I don't do. When someone asks you as a Christian, "What does make you happy? What are you living for? What is your purpose on the earth?" You want to give a sincere and meaningful answer, even if they don't get you.

When I was asked these questions recently and heard the answers coming out of my mouth, I realized this Jesus I believe in as the light of the world really does live in me!  I really am different.  Not because I'm trying to be holier than thou or pious or prudish.  And not because I'm judging the people around me.  I'm different because the same Christ who was born in a cave 2000 plus years ago and grew to be a man who said things like, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.", and, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word." lives in me!

I believe Jesus is who he says he is.  I can bear to hear his word.  I have the light of life.  And because of him I know who I am and where I'm going.  My soul is satisfied and the happinesses of life are full of meaning and the sorrows of life are too.  I know my purpose here, and as the precious soul who challenges me of late pointed out, I am drawn to Jesus like a magnet to steel.   I am not different because I'm above anyone, I'm different because Jesus has forever changed me.

I'm amazed when I think about the fact that I really am a son of light.  I amazed because I'm one of those believers that wrestles with God a lot and is unbelieving often.  My favorite prayer is, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief."  I know that I am who I am because Mary's baby in a manger thousands of years ago is the Light of the World and has exposed my darkness, found me out and caused me to see.

I know this means at least that I will suffer and be misunderstood.  It means at least that I will be rejected by people I love and not feel at home in this world.  It means at least that I will give my life away and not keep it for myself.  But it means so much more.  It means nothing rules me here.  It means I'm totally free because Christ has exposed what enslaves me and given me the power to break free.  It means I will see Christ face to face someday, not in some ethereal experience, but face to skin and eyeball face.  It means one day I will win.  It means sin and death will be nothing someday.  It means I will one day be fully the woman of God I was created to be in the first place.  It means I will spend eternity with this family of sons and daughters of light and our King and Maker.  It means I won't live a life grasping at one source of temporary happiness after another.

What about you?  Have you thought about what the deal is with this baby in a manger?  Have you asked any Christians you know about him and why the believe what they believe?  Have you ever considered reading what he said about himself and what others have said about him?  I wonder if you'd be willing to think about him and see if you can bear to hear his words?  And if you can, I wonder if you'd study him and learn from him and let him make you a son of light.

That's what I want for my precious one who challenges me.  More than anything.  I want this person to know who that baby in a manger is and why it matters that he came.

Advent: Day 5: Born to Clothe Us In Light

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.- Isaiah 61:10

Today the boys and I went to our first (and probably only) professional photography session. A new friend of mine, Jean, is a professional photographer in Buckeye, AZ and she and I have done a sort of trade of service/goods with each other: soap for pics.

I've never done anything like this. There was very specific preparations that had to be made so that we had the best chance of looking close-up photo worthy. Twice Jean and I had talked about what to expect during the session and laid out plans about what specifically we would wear (including jewelry).  Last week I purchased a white outfit and a black outfit for the boys and I, and laid out specific jewelry I wanted to wear with each outfit. This morning I ironed everything, and we got all dolled up and ready to go and sure enough, didn't manage to get out the door with a fight between the brothers. 

After doing my best to not allow WW III to break out we managed to get in the car and start driving to our session. On the way there I was praying, thinking about the tension in the house of late, the ongoing friction between my polar-opposite boys, and my lack of being at home anywhere in a church, and it just hit me, "For many people getting ready for church in the morning is a lot like the mess I just dealt with." And it saddened me. I know women, men and families who always look so put together. Nothing wrong with that. I like put together. But I bet if I got to know those people well (some of them I do know well), I'd find that they look very put together on the outside but their emotional, relational and personal lives are full of struggles and tensions and conflicts that are anything but neat and pretty.

 So what does this have to do with Advent, or Christmas? As I was thinking about how many of us get all dolled up for church and yet struggle with besetting sins, depression, marital conflict and relationship strife with our kids and others, I thought about how Jesus sees us for who we really are and one day will cloth our lives in perfect rightness.

The Light of the world was born to purchase with his life a whole new life for us who believe in him, and to clothe us with his light, his righteousness.  He called us Sons of Light to be the light of the world while he is not here.  But for now his light shines through our broken lives and we long for the day when we won't be fighting sin anymore and will be made whole and right and godly in every way.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
-by Charles Wesley 1744

Come, Thou long expected Jesus 
Born to set Thy people free; 
From our fears and sins release us, 
Let us find our rest in Thee. 
Israel's strength and consolation, 
Hope of all the earth Thou art; 
Dear desire of every nation, 
Joy of every longing heart. 
Born Thy people to deliver, 
Born a child and yet a King, 
Born to reign in us forever, 
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. 
By Thine own eternal Spirit 
Rule in all our hearts alone; 
By Thine all sufficient merit, 
Raise us to Thy glorious throne. 
By Thine all sufficient merit, 
Raise us to Thy glorious throne 

Advent Day 4: Sons of Light

So Jesus said to them, "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." -John 12:35-36

I did a search on for the word "light" because when I decided to write these meditations out for Advent this year I wanted to focus on the truth that knowing Christ gives life and meaning to everything.  When I read this verse it really struck me.

Sons of light

Jesus called himself the light.  But here he is telling the men who were with him that they would become sons of light if they would believe in the light. In the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

At Christmastime we celebrate the birth of Christ and wrap presents and decorate trees and take special pictures and send pretty cards and sing meaningful carol and catchy jingles.  And at times we get serious for a little while and really think about the miracle that Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us and we worship.  But the implications of what Jesus says about people like me and you who believe him and follow him and hope in him in the verses in Matthew and John is very sobering.

We are sons of light who believe that Jesus is the Light of the World.  Jesus doesn't walk our streets anymore.  He isn't here in the flesh making known truth and grace and the ways of God.  But the sons of light are here.  We're here and we're really different.  We face the same sufferings and sadness and sins all humanity faces, but we have light in our broken lives.  We know where we're going.  We know what life is all about.  We love self-sacrificingly.  We are humbled by what Christ calls us.  And we live everyday to be a reflection of the glory of the One who made us sons of light.

The sons of light don't just remember manger scenes and Christmas carols.  We live to shine in this dark world as living witnesses that Christ has come!

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. - 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Oh what wonder that we should be called sons of Light!  May we really shine like lights in a crooked and perverse world.  For your glory Light of the World!!

Advent Day 3: The Light Has Come

Advent: 24 Days of Looking to the Light of the Word

Day 3 (because I worked day 2 and couldn't squeeze in time to write): The Light Has Come

Real life is that sometimes in attempts to stay worshipful during Christmas by doing Advent readings and devotions you might not get to a devotional at all.

Yesterday, after a sleepless night and a 3:30 AM wake up call from my asthmatic son and his tight airway, I got ready for work and plodded my way through 13 hours of answering call lights and questions about why I looked so tired, along with the daily business that nurses do.  By the time I got home last night I was good for nothing, especially writing an Advent meditation.

I did manage to read some of my Bible asking God to take the few minutes I had at lunch and feed my soul.  I read this:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. - John 3:19
Not exactly one of those honey-bun verses that are sweet and delicious to devour.

It is sweet.  Not that kind of sweet.  It's sweet like finding the cancer that's killing you and the perfect surgeon to cut it out and save your life!  Below I offer the goodness that I've been feeding on from it over the past hours.

The Good, The Bad and The Verdict

That sentence in John 3 comes just a couple verses after the famous  John 3:16 passage every person who watches televised sports knows by heart:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." -John 3:16

That's the good news!  As I've heard John Piper say, Christianity is news!  Not a way to do things, but news!  It's the incalculably good news that God loves, and he loves the people of this messed up planet so much that he would give his only Son to bear the judgment coming against them all if they would only believe that He has done such a crazy-beautiful thing! But there's a reason there needs to be such news.

The words between John 3:16 and John 3:19 are a succinct message about what it means that Christ was born.  It's the good, the bad and the verdict on God and the human condition that required that there even need to be a Christ born.

The passage reads:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

The Good and The Bad

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Joy to The World.  "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!" the song announces.  The message of Christ's birth is joy.  It's joy because it's oh so very good news.  But the news that the Lord has come in the birth of that obscure baby laid in a feeding trough is only 2000-years-worth-of-Christmas-carols-good news because there is first such horrific bad news.  And it's so bad, most of us don't want to talk about it.  Especially not during the glimmer and glee of Christmas.

Over the summer my mother in law was very ill.  She was in the hospital for over a month with complications from pancreatitis caused by a blockage a surgeon couldn't just simply remove.  Eventually though, the surgeon was able to expose the blockage that was causing my mother in law to be so sick and remove it.  Even though we were all glad the blockage was removed, we had to face some even more scary news than pancreatitis.  Cancer.  The surgeon told her the blockage that was causing her pancreatitis was a malignancy and she would now need to endure 6 months of chemo treatments to give her better chances of being free of this cancer.

The joy that entered the world the day that Christ was born is the joy of the cure for the deadly cancer that plagues every human being.  The Bible calls it sin.  It's a church word that most of us think means doing "bad" things (whatever your definition of bad is may vary).  But the Bible doesn't say sin is doing bad things.  It says sin is a condition we are all born with.  A condition that makes us not willing or able to glorify God (which is what we were made for).

So, what's so bad about that you ask?  Trying to answer that would require more than a short Advent devotion, but in a sentence:  The unwillingness and inability to adore and treasure and enjoy and live like the One who made us creates a relationship between us and God where he must condemn and we must die.

God cannot abide with just a little bit of sin.  A little bit of sin is a cancer that kills the relationship of love, intimacy, worship and family God intended to exist between himself and humankind.

If my mother in law looked that doctor in the face after telling her she had cancer and the treatment she would need to rid herself of it, and said, "Who are you to tell me what I need?!!!"  And stomped out of his office offended and unwilling to accept the gift of life he was offering her through cancer treatment, she'd be crazy!

Now I know the analogy between my mother in law's cancer and the sin problem of humanity can only be taken so far.  Doctor's make errors.  There are arguably many options for treatments of cancer.  And a person hearing they have cancer may not want the treatment being offered them for reasons that don't qualify them to be judged as crazy.  But when you stop to think about the atrocities human beings do to each other and the fact that we all know there is ultimate right and wrong and that there is a perfect, good God who made us and knows all things.  And then you think about how He cannot just live with us like this, he has to judge and somehow, bring the evil that permeates our lives to an end or he wouldn't be good, you can't just write off his good news cure and his bad news diagnosis:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

The Verdict

So, Joy the world, the Lord is come... and everyone lived happily ever after, right?  Well, one day yes, for everyone who believes, but that is also another blog or 20.

In John 3:16-19 Jesus tells us that good news that believing he is the Savior that God sent into the world saves us from the bad news that we are all condemned to eternal separation from God without him.  And he also tells us that not everyone will believe.  Many countless souls have heard this news and still hear this news and either reject it or attempt to not deal with what it really says or say they believe it but their words don't match their life.

In verse 19 Jesus gives us the verdict as to why so many of us hear the Christmas message of Joy to the world, the Lord is come and walk away counting such lyrics a myth:  We like our darkness.

It's boggles me even as I write and try to pull back the focus and think about those words:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

Jesus is the light of the world.  He is the only person ever to have walked this earth who can show us what life is really about.  And He is the only man who exposes the truth about our love affair with evil.  We all have judgments about what is evil and what isn't.  Most of us would agree about the obvious evils:  murder, stealing, lying, cheating, abuse, greed.  But that's where our "light" is really darkness.  In another place Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"  Jesus is the only man who has the ability to tell us what evil really is.  We are blind.  We don't see the cancer microscopically growing in our heart of selfishness, anger, lust, and insatiable appetite for bigger and better.

The reason we don't all really feel an unspeakable joy at the thought that Christ has come into this world is because he exposes us for who we really are.  His life is inextinguishable light.  Our crafty arguments and excuses can't hide from his presence.  We love our darkness.  We love our evil ways.  So we don't fall to our knees at his incarnation because we don't want to be seen for who we really are.

Oh Lord! I don't want to hide from your sin-exposing light.  I want to be who you made me to be!  I want real life, eternal life!  Thank you for coming, humbly and powerfully as you did.  Cause many of us who are reading these words from John and hearing the songs at this time of year that speak of your coming to see!  Cure us of our blindness.  Let the light of the world become our cure and life!

Advent: 24 Days of Looking to the Light of the World

Christmas is a very special time for me personally. My history of personal trials and having a baby boy at Christmastime nearly 12 years ago has changed Christmas for me forever. Every year since then, Christmas has been not a day, but days of worship and meditation leading up to the 25th of December and a new year.  I've spent many years doing a Jesse Tree devotional with my boys.  The last couple years, the Jesse Tree devotional was replaced by other short readings and discussions (read resistance and challenge) with my preteen and teenage sons. This year, I've decided to write out my own meditations and thoughts and share them with my young men.  I am planning to post a daily meditation/devotional between now and Christmas.

 December 1: What Life Is All About

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" -John 8:12

I've been thinking a lot about how following Jesus explains everything.

I'm currently going through a situation where I'm being asked questions, almost daily, about God, what the purpose of humanity is, what marriage is for, how to find happiness and more.  The questions come from someone who doesn't believe in Christ and even admits to being repelled by the idea of worshipping God or needing a Savior.  As I've listened and humbly put forward the answers I felt led to speak I've come to realize what a freedom and wonder it is to see life in light of Jesus.  

Christmas is ablaze with lights.  Lighted trees, lights on the house... everything is lit up.  I love the lights.  The shine and glimmer at night is just beautiful.  But lights aren't just pretty.  They allow us to see.  In fact seeing is really just our brain's interpretation of the light the photosensitive cells in our eyeballs receive.  When you're blind, your eyes don't take in the light.  The light is there, but you don't see.

Light allows you to avoid danger.  With the tiniest of lights on at night I can distinguish a Rubik's cube in the hallway on the way to the bathroom so I don't twist my ankle.  Light invades darkness, but darkness never puts light out.  When the lights are on, night creatures and creepy crawlies scramble.

In the Bible Jesus calls himself the light of the world.  Jesus is the light every human being needs to see what life is all about.

The famous Christmas reading of the prophecy about the coming Child says:

"The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone." - Isaiah 9:2
 Living life in this world without following Jesus is like living in deep darkness without any light.   Sounds scary.  But even scarier is living life in this world without following Jesus thinking you see just fine.  Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:23)  

The Christ we celebrate at Christmas is the way we see what life is all about!  Christmas is about the Light of the World coming into our great darkness, making those who believe in him able to navigate this dark, crazy world with understanding, peace and purpose.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. - John 1:1-13

Light of the World life doesn't make any sense to me without you!  Even though I don't fully understand you, when I look to you, and follow you, I can see where I'm going in life and everything has purpose.  You really are the Light of the World!  Thank you for breaking into my darkness and shining your light on my heart!

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