Tag Archives: the Bible

Lifeless

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As for you, you were dead in your sins. Ephesians 2:1.

Jesus raised three people from the dead during his earthly ministry.

1.  Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Mark 5:22-13.  Can you imagine?  His little daughter.  You see, I have a little daughter.  She has a cough right now and it does not occur to me to fear for her life.  But if I lived during Jesus time……

So Jesus went to her bedside, but she had died while he was on his way there. Jesus took her limp hand between his own rough ones and spoke life over her little body.  “Talitha koum!” (little girl, I say to you, get up!)

And she did.  She got up. She was just alive, then dead, then alive again – within a matter of minutes.  Jesus, Life Restorer.

2.  Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Luke 7:11-12.  The son of a widowed woman, whose future was now coated with unimaginable loss and inevitable poverty. She had lost her husband and her son; there was no one to care for her heart or body. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Luke 7:13.

So Jesus, His heart turned over within him at the sight of her suffering, helped her.  Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. Luke 7:14. The bearers of death stood still at his touch. Death cannot move forward in the presence of Life Everlasting. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. Luke 7:14-15. 

3. Jesus’ close friend Lazarus died from a rapid sickness. Jesus arrived at the grave of his friend after he had been buried four days. He wept with the man’s sisters, Mary and Martha, then stood in veiled glory before his friend’s grave. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. John 11:43-44.

Three dead souls, raised by the power of Living Grace. Is that not what we all fight against – old death? As for you, you were dead in your sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world …All of us also lived among them [the dead] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Eph.2:1-3.

Death is the great equalizer. Jairus’ daughter, in her fresh innocence, was just as dead in the first moment that the breath left her tiny body as Lazarus decaying in his grave after four days of stink and loss. Just as dead as the ashes and bones in the graveyard I passed a few days ago. Just as dead as Jesus wracked on the cross after days of torture. Dead is dead. Ugly dead means the same as pretty dead.

When my soul was dead, before Jesus, Life Restorer, it was ugly dead, like Lazarus. Perhaps yours was pretty dead, like Jairus’ sweet daughter. But dead is dead – lifeless, inert, empty, gone….

We all fight old death. The shame, the injustice, the strongholds of our past life as a dead soul. We wonder if our old soul will rise again, like a zombie, to haunt and devour. Will the cocoon suck us back into darkness, take back our wings and colors, un-make our regeneration? 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.

Do we really understand what Jesus has done for us? He came to breathe Eden life over us. We are dust and breath, earth and heaven, a complex creation. He bought us back from the grave. We leave old death to stink and fester, while we rise above it, more than conquerers. He vanquished death. He made the grave un-true. There is no death for the saints; there is only passage. We leave this world someday for another, a better, world. We are immortal. We once were dead, now we are not. Now we live. Through Christ, the black hole of old death releases us to “life to the full.”

How to escape the fear of old death?

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:44.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, CLOTHE YOURSELVES with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col.3:12-14.

Take off your grave clothes. They are the rags of old death. Replace them with the white linen of virtue and holiness. Wear the clothes of the Living, not the dead. Leave the shrouds of darkness in the grave and step boldly into the light of Life.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Cor.5:17.

Barren

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It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Chip Brogden.

The question of suffering is, really, the only unanswered Question that really matters. Every theological construct unravels in the face of undeserved suffering. Even truth feels trite in the teeth of deep pain. Those who live long enough to see darkness overshadow glory wonder if it can really be true that a world exists that can make fallenness un-true. Is there really an eternity where I will not be defined by my Question, my loss, my suffering? We all ask the Question differently, with our specific queries, like –

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?  

That is my Question. Well, one of them.

I used to cling to Bible stories.  Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s parents, Hannah, the Shunammite woman, Elizabeth.  The Bible bloats with barren women who gave birth to miracle babies who advanced the Kingdom of God. I used to pray with flamboyant boldness to be a Hannah – to birth my miracle baby then a family full.  Lord, I know you have given us two miracles, but, O, Lord, I cannot let go of my strong belief that our family is not complete. There is a hole in our family.  An emptiness.  After four miscarriages, I started to dwell on other stories.  A planet distended with childless women who never held a miracle.  Instead, they wept the empty, unanswered tears of a Question. To them, perhaps I have no right to my Question, and I do not blame them.

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?

One Daniel rescued from the den of lions; forty Roman catacombs swollen with the decayed bones of martyrs fed to the lions.  Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the Widow of Nain’s son raised from the dead; millions of lost loved ones buried in dust while Jesus walked out His mission.  Half a million people miraculously saved from Egyption slavery; half a million people perished in the wilderness without laying eyes on the Promised Land.

There are more unanswered Questions than intervening miracles.

What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Chip Brogden.

I read Job in my quiet times now.  Job is bloody, slashed with gaping theological wounds, like raw meat. There is no book like Job for Questions.

 My complaint today is still a bitter one,
and I try hard not to groan aloud.
If only I knew where to find God,
I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
and present my arguments. Job 23:2-3.

Everybody deals with the Question of suffering in their own way.  Cynicism, idealism, political justice, personal vengeance, nihilism, suicide, addiction, a cause, denial, grief, rage, hedonism, philosophy.  What I love about Job is that its haunting archetypal Question does not end with answers.

It ends with worship.

It ends with God revealing Himself, and Job responding on His face.  Job has just flamed endless savage rage, and God simply acknowledges his pain, then tells Job Who He Is.

Isn’t that how the cancer of suffering heals?  Not with resolution, but with recognition.  The stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  We cannot un-suffer; our story is what it is.  We make our peace with the grief of our story in our own ways.  I cannot make your peace for you; that was Job’s friends’ mistake (well, one mistake among many).  For me, I choose to worship.

Job’s wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Shall I accept only the amount of miracle children I desire, but not less than that?  Shall I accept the story of Hannah, but not the story of a barren mother?  Shall I accept the miracle, but not the emptiness?

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?  

Shall I accept the Answer, but not the Question?

Generations

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These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Heb.11:39-40.

It is cold.  I shiver as I sit upright in bed, my Nook screen glowing into the darkness.  I cannot put it down; I am entranced.  I read a long book, a redemption story.  This story is about a young man raised in a dysfunctional home, battling to be free of childhood pain.  I studied Psychology in graduate school and the intricacies of his relational dynamics fascinate me.  Generational fallout wafts its poison around this young man’s life and he breathes it in, making it a part of him.  Deception, manipulation, greed, revenge, secrets, rivalry, betrayal, anger, selfishness.  The family waded through a generational quagmire of scheming ambition and relational distrust.  Children compete for echoes of lost love.  Sisters and brothers betray each other for tokens of divided attention.  Parents see only their own scars.  This young man grew up twisted, bent inward to dreams.  He experiences a long redemption after leaving home, but he carries scars that occasionally seep out the embedded poison.  His story ends with forgiveness and wisdom, deep resolution that eternally shapes the successive generations.

I read the Bible.  Genesis 30-50.  The story of Joseph, the last Patriarch.

After the flood, the Patriarchs begin with Abraham, who marked the world with a mighty faith, then circle outward to Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph. If you have never read their stories, O my stars, do it now but not with a weak stomach or a legalistic theology. The black thread of generational sin, specifically deception, begins with Abraham then twists its knife deeper into each new generation, creating sticky problems that they try to solve with other forms of moral decay, which divide and overwhelm the family line.  Honestly, the fact that God chose these wrecks to be the foundational covenant-bearers of the history of redemption is so unexpected as to seem wildly ludicrous.
 
I finish the morally muddled history of the Patriarchs as I always do, stunned and introspective. I wonder again that legalists ever read the Bible.  It is not a book for the dogmatically religious.  As wise Pastor Kelly says, the Bible will mess with your theology.  Adultery, deception, nepotism, incest, violence, ambition, rape and division characterize God’s story.  These flawed characters connect, entwine, wind around each other to form a transcendent redemption, but the details are sordid and the key players often despicable.

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into a new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
What we read in Scripture is,
Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”  Romans 4:1-3.  The Message.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:2. NAS
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It hits me late in the night, a heavy weight of glory, the glory of matchless mercy.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – they are exactly the right family to undergird God’s story of redemption.  They are cracked into pieces, just like you and me.  This damaged family produced a series of unlikely heroes, beloved and chosen, not by merit, but by mysterious grace.  Abraham believed in his role in God’s story, which set off a chain reaction of redemptive splendor that continues today.  I emerge from the history of the Patriarchs with no desire to justify their dysfunctional choices or to whitewash their flawed history, as I have heard many Bible teachers attempt to do.  I simply see my own broken reflection in the mirror of God’s word.  They were selected and redeemed by the same mighty grace that woos me.  Therefore I can walk with their limitless confidence in God’s character reflected onto me.  We are all unworthy of our destiny, but O, I am dizzy with gratitude for it.  “I am my Beloved’s and He is Mine.  His banner over me is Love.”(Song of Songs 2:4).  

I pray to be like Jacob, post-wrestling.  His name means “deceiver” and he lived up to it more than any other Biblical figure except the Devil himself.  But God changed his name to Israel, which means “God Strives.”  Mercy, yes.  On His deathbed, Jacob, the manipulative mastermind behind thirteen broken children, four desperate, conniving women and a bounty of riches gained through ambitious schemes, prayed this prayer of blessing over his grandchildren.

May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.

Genesis 48:15-16.

To see a legacy of faith instead of works, to believe in the Promise more than the past, to walk humbly into an endless vortex of grace…..

Yes.

Simons

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Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. Luke 17:4

Luke the Evangelist records a special piece of Jesus’ story in chapter 7 of his gospel.  Jesus, a blue-collar itinerant preacher, attended a refined dinner party in the elegant home of a Pharisee named Simon.  These cultured men surely believed that a rough carpenter must have been overwhelmed by the grandeur of their important world.

A scandal ruptured the glittering event.

A woman in that town who had lived a sinful life (Luke 7:37) flagrantly interrupted the dignified meal.  She rushed into the formal affair, threw herself at Jesus’ feet, and broke open a vase of expensive perfume (surely the wages of her harlotry). She bathed his simple feet in the liquid fragrance.  She wept so profusely that her tears mingled with the perfume, and then she wiped the mess with her undone hair.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Then Jesus, who was more than a prophet and knew every detail of her sordid story, answered the hissing implication of Simon’s legalistic heart.

“Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred coins, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 

You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.

You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. 

For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

This is my very-super-extra-forever-favorite gospel story.  I can scarcely read it without welling up with my own tears of scarred surrender.

So, why, O why, do I who have been forgiven so much struggle with all of my weak heart to forgive so little?

I am this sinful woman.  I have sinned as deep as the ocean.  Shame has torn me apart.  I have absorbed the ache of rejection. I have known the sweet and shaking power of a grace so abundant that it toppled strongholds with soft yet shattering whispers. I live at His feet with trembling hands, hiding behind a battering ram of mercy that sets me free.  I love Him much because He has forgiven me much.  Yes.

Yet, to my shame, I have not forgiven my Simons.

I write this out of exposed confession, not justification.  I grieve my own self-righteousness.

I forgive weakly, palely.  I forgive like a bloodless ghost who comes back to haunt my own pocked past with deathly whispers.  Remember when she said that….What did he mean by that?…..How can she justify that….?  

Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.  George MacDonald.

Forgiveness raises the dead.  It pumps life into corpses of fallenness.  It puts meat on the bones of forgotten spectres.  Forgiveness redeems and resurrects lifeless relationships and empty characters.

So I memorized these verses and I will repeat them every day this year as I pray to be a Forgiver, like Jesus.  Lord, make me a Forgiver, a Grace-giver.  May I look at my Simons with the same merciful release with which You look at me.  I choose to forgive seven times seventy times, forever, because forgiveness is the life-giving Way of the Cross.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12:14-15

This is the Year of Forgiveness

GTD

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Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col.3:17.

My most game-changing goal in 2012 is to develop my productivity.  GTD = Getting Things Done.  Here are my commitments this year:

1.  Wife & Mommy (this entails shopping, meal planning, tickling, making crafts, traditions, family dates, laughing, disciplining, exploring, travelling, cooking, being silly, picnics, coloring, mopping, making forts, telling stories with silly voices, reading out loud, and lots more fun….).  I want to be super good at Wife/Mommy.  This is Numero Uno.

2.  Clean my house 1x/week (bathrooms, kitchen, vacuum, dust)

3.  Complete one professional development project (book proposal, manuscript, curriculum). I have a book proposal idea that captivates me….

4.  Blog 2x/week (3 is better)

5.  Function as a contributing member of the Women’s Leadership Team at Vanguard Church, which means bimonthly meetings and active administrative/relational support

6.  Complete a Bible Study curriculum to teach at Vanguard Church in Fall 2012

7.  Promote and support Women Inspired as the National Church Liaison Director

8.  Travel with my family to Hawaii for 3 weeks and England for 5-6 weeks, and possibly Cape Cod for some amount of time.

That seems like a lot to me.  I am confident that the commitments are manageable, but my productivity needs a boost or I will crumble to dust in, say, February.  Thankfully, I am married to the most productive person I have ever known, ever.  Ever.  He owes his prolific achievement to three powerful forces:  1.  innate drive, 2. Getting Things Done by David Allen, and 3. the Apple store.  I aim to channel his mojo with the self-same Productivity Trifecta.

1. Innate drive.  Check.  Wait, is that a 1997 rerun of Law & Order on TNT?  

2.  Getting Things Done by David Allen.  Yes.  I have it.  I promise to read it.  Even though it is boring to read books that are, ew, practical…..Sigh….. I already use the 2 Minute Rule and the filing system and, Ok, I admit it, they are totally rad.  (I am in love with the filing system because this week when I needed paperwork for Kindergarten registration, I opened my filing cabinet and, bam, immunization record and warranty deed and birth certificate.  Boom. Productive.)

3.  The Apple Store.  Snooze.  I mean, yes, honey, that app is TERRIFIC.  Wait, I just fell asleep again.

But Dreamy Scott loves me so he sets up the stuff he buys for us at the Apple store and tells me how to use it while my eyes glaze over.  Sometimes he even gives me his hand-me-down iStuff when Apple upgrades to, wait….yep, I just dozed off.

So, here I lay down my productivity gauntlet.  You may judge me with my blessing if I fail, but I am confident that I can do my work well if I will put on my big girl pants.  Pray for me to be productive so that (serious stuff ahead) I can reflect glory to the Lord in the callings in which I choose to walk.

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

1 Chron.21:24.

Seeds

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Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Mark 4:27-28.

I ponder the meaning of grace.  Undeserved favor, clemency, mercy, reprieve, pardon.  I live a life soaked in grace.  Some souls live prideful, unaware of the cost of the mercy that shelters them.  Not me.  I breathe fresh grace in constant awe since I come from the dank history of repetitive failure.  Grace sustains me because I need it so much.  I want it to define me.

This morning I curled up with my coffee and read this,

“By our own natural strength and understanding, we human beings cannot take one step on the road to Heaven.  We cannot do our own growing.  We cannot grow our spiritual lives any more than we can grow our bodies.  True, we can eat and drink; but we eat and drink primarily because we are hungry and thirsty, not in order to grow.  Growth is a phenomenon that happens behind our backs, when we are not looking.  It happens the way seeds sprout in the earth.”  Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job.

In spite of my regular prayers to walk in grace, this is a truth that sparkles new to me today.  Grace (undeserved favor, clemency, mercy, reprieve, pardon) is the fountainhead of holiness as well as salvation.  Yes, I must nourish myself in the rich soil of study, prayer, community, good deeds, confession, healing, meditation.  These provide the necessary environment for the hidden work of holiness – and they are fulfilling in their own right. But, after all, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Cor.3:7.  If we earnestly desire spiritual maturity, our souls must strain upward for His presence, not inward to our own striving.

“In the life of faith one of the hardest things to do is to refrain from laboring and spinning and instead to see ourselves as being like flowers or grain, growing not by our own efforts but by the grace of God.”

This truth consumes me.  There is no holiness without grace, no righteousness without the hard Way of the Cross. I do not earn or deserve my own sanctification any more than I earn or deserve my own salvation. But nothing, nothing is impossible with God.  His extravagant and scandalous favor re-invents me.  To Him be the eternal glory that shines from this mysterious conspiracy of divine Love.

O, how I love my Jesus.

 For as the soil makes the sprout come up 
   and a garden causes seeds to grow, 
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness 
   and praise spring up…

Is.61:11

Towers

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When I was in (Christian liberal arts) college , I was the angst-y sort.  I listened to Counting Crows and Ani DiFranco. I dated a guy who wrote a play about an intelligent but melancholy chick who questioned everything.  Her name was Sarah, and she was (TA-DA!) me.  In the play, titled The Bridge, Sarah (played by moi) stood on a rickety old wooden bridge with different people in her life and discussed deep issues like how-far-is-too-far and did-my-parents-screw-me-up.  The play was a huge success.

I made a friend who was a kindred restless spirit.  He and I would sit around on the (for real) old railroad bridge near our school, smoke cigarettes, and contemplate weighty topics with the earnest duality of angst mingled with idealism.  We decided that there are two types of people – blinking lights and steady lights.  We based this insightful metaphor on the radio towers that peppered the endless Indiana horizon.  These radio towers gleamed blinking lights on their pinnacles and steady lights on their lower rungs.

Blinking lights were on top, we mused, but they paid the price by switching off half of the time.

Steady lights were, well, steady. They were unfailing, dependable; but lower.

(D to the RAMA…….)

I lived like a blinking light.  After all, I had a well-developed metaphor to justify, right?

Throughout my twenties, I danced a long, broken rhythm of failure and salvage. Through both extremes, I learned that I am the beloved object of divine pursuit.  I began to recognize the steel underpinnings of mercy in an inconsistent life.  Slowly, I understood the cost and the glory of holiness.  The Holy Spirit transformed me deliberately, excruciatingly, through a lifeline of grace in the murky waters of regret and loss.  The joys of those years far outweigh the pain. I finished college and graduate school, moved to breathtaking Colorado, met and married my best friend, gave birth to two miracle babies, experienced indescribable healing, settled into a beautiful life.  The theme of my twenties was REDEMPTION.

though i have closed myself as fingers, 
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens 
(touching skillfully,mysteriously)her first rose. (e.e.cummings)

As I approached my thirties, to be blunt, I wanted to get off the crazy train.  No more aching crashes and burns, no more falls from earthly grace.  I began to hunger for my long redemption to produce the quiet solidity of righteousness. The theme of my thirties is PURITY.  I ask God to transform me from a wrecking ball into a rebuilder as He purifies me.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach and it will be given to him. James 1:5.

The Lord whispered the theme of PURITY for my thirties through my friend Tosha, who has a theme for every decade of her life.  To cultivate PURITY, I prayerfully decided to devote myself to developing a PURE character trait through every year of my thirties.  Last year, the character trait was truth.  This year, it is forgiveness.  

(Why do I choose forgiveness?  Click here to read why.)

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Heb.12:12-13.  I thought I was good at forgiving, but, to my shame, I have discovered recently that my arms are feeble and my knees weak. This year, I pray for strength deep and abiding to be a grace-giver.  I remember well my seasons of limping, falling forward into grace.  I want to shine a light of grace on those in darkness.  I want to build a towering monument to forgiveness in my life.  Blinking or steady, it does not matter; I want to shine forgiveness from a glowing countenance free from shame and strongholds.  This is the year of forgiveness.

Emmanuel

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14.

Frederick Buechner –

“Christmas is not just Scrooge waking up the next morning a changed man. It is not just the spirit of giving abroad in the land with a white beard and reindeer. It is not just the most famous birthday of them all and not just the annual reaffirmation of Peace on Earth that it is often reduced to so that people of many faiths or no faith can exchange Christmas cards without a qualm. 

On the contrary,

if you do not hear in the message of Christmas something that must strike some as blasphemy and others as sheer fantasy, the chances are you have not heard the message for what it is.

Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell.

Emmanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with us.” That’s where the problem lies.

The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy.

Year after year the ancient tale of what happened is told raw, preposterous, holy and year after year –

the world in some measure stops to listen.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. A dream as old as time. If it is true, it is the chief of all truths.

If it is not true, it is of all truths the one that people would most have be true if they could make it so. 

Maybe it is that longing to have it be true that is at the bottom even of the whole vast Christmas industry the tons of cards and presents and fancy food, the plastic figures kneeling on the floodlit lawns of poorly attended churches. The world speaks of holy things in the only language it knows, which is a worldly language.

Emmanuel. We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true.

Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find.

  • Christmas is commercialism.
  • It is a pain in the neck.
  • It is sentimentality.
  • It is wishful thinking.
  • The shepherds. The star. The three wise men. Make believe.

Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound. To dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves. It is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood and of the child that continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us. 

Emmanuel. Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel.

God                    With                 Us

A neverending kiss of endless Incarnate Grace.

Hallelujah

Joy

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Many generations ago, simple shepherds watched over their sheep on a hillside on just another night.  Suddenly, the light of impending Joy dazzled their humble lives – and lit up all of history.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:9-11.

Yesterday we returned from a snow trip to Vail. We are tired, but we hold a new collection of white-dusted memories.  Tonight we light the candle of Joy.  It is a pink candle.  In advent tradition, purple is a somber color, pregnant with heavy meaning.  But pink is exuberant, overflowing with life.

Joy to the world.  The Lord is come…

…Let earth receive her King…

…Let every heart prepare Him room…

…And heaven and nature sing…

…And heaven and nature sing…

…And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

As tiny snowflakes dance over Vail, we abide under the jagged nearness of the Colorado Rockies.  We eat, sleep, play, rest, connect under its untamed shelter.  Nothing sings God’s glory like a wild mountain range coated with falling snow.  Nothing invites childish glee like an expanse of fresh powder.  Heaven and nature sing.  In the midst of Advent season, we roll away together for the simple purpose of enjoying the sweet wonder glowing in a snowy day.  Let every heart prepare Him room.  Snowball fight, flying intertubes, snow angels, hot cocoa, gondola, hot tub.  Joy to the world.

Immanuel-God-With-Us sought us in our heaviness and lifted us into freedom. The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Mt.4:16.  He burst through His own grave to save us from ours.  It is a gift too great, too infinite, to bear on fragile shoulders.  Why, O why do we not crumble back to dust under the weight of it?  Always and only because the Gift is wrapped in Grace.  The proper response to Incarnation is infinite, overflowing, staggering, explosive, rollicking JOY JOY JOY JOY.

…Joy, unspeakable Joy, an overflowing well, no tongue can tell…

We are human, and therefore composed of dust and breath.  We cannot live on the high plane of Joy to which the gift of Incarnation forever beckons.  But we can, and ought, to revel in earthly Joys.  We should pursue them wholeheartedly in God’s name and to His glory.  (Snowball fight, flying intertubes, snow angels, hot cocoa, gondola, hot tub.)  Simple family laughter is a profound form of worship.

…Joy, unspeakable joy, rises in my soul, never lets me go…

What do you do to light the candle of advent Joy?

Martha

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But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Luke 10:40.

We leave for Vail on a ski trip tomorrow.  Today we made these Christmas tree cakes…

…made and delivered several of these Christmas cocoa mixes…

…sorted, washed and folded a lot of these…

…fetched my dog’s vaccination records from the veterinary clinic, shopped at Walmart (a feat of desperate courage during the holidays), packed for three of the four members of our family, washed approximately seven thousand dishes, sat in on Jack’s Christmas program rehearsal.  I ruined a double batch of banana bread.  It was undercooked in the center when the timer beeped, so I put it back and and forgot to set the timer as I scooted out of sight, out of mind in order to discipline a wayward child.  When I finally remembered the neglected loaves, they were tough in the middle and black on the edges.  Bummer.  I just love that recipe. 

The hours of my day slip away in a whirlwind as I strain to check off the list.  I snap at Jack after dinner.

“Do NOT touch that suitcase.  Mommy worked super hard to get that ready; please keep it organized. ” 

“Mommy, you hurt my feelings.  You are kind of grumpy with me.”

Pause.  I want to escalate, to blame.  I force my mind to see the priorities we choose to live.  Relationship over productivity.

“You are right, Jack.  I am so sorry.  I feel grumpy because I have a lot to do right now, but that is not your fault.  I did not make a good choice with my words.  I should speak with kindness to you.  I’m so sorry.  Will you forgive me?”

Competence should not require forgiveness.  I lose my sight when I choose a mere series of tasks to guide my hours.

After the day fades into night, the house settles into the peace of sleeping children and finished projects.  When I look at my list, I rest in a successful day.  But when I look at my heart and the hearts of my children, I feel the loss of missed opportunity.

Lord, I almost completely slipped past who they are today.  My little ones were a distraction instead of a priority.  I spent my day annoyed at their child-longing for my value and attention.  I feel ashamed.  I am sorry.

As I sit here typing, tears well up as my eyes lock on the Jesse tree standing strong on the kitchen counter.  Every day of Advent, we read a Bible story. Together we weave the ancient truths throughout history, tying the threads of Old Testament foreshadows into the profound glory of Incarnation.  After the day’s story, we hang an ornament that represents the daily fragment of grace we just experienced.  Every day, we add another simple laminated square onto a growing representation of God’s unfolding redemption story.

The sight of the Jesse tree slays me.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It is not that the crossed out list does not matter.  But the list should always and only be a means to an end.  The means is productivity; the end is ever increasing faith and joy embedded into the culture of our family.

Advent is a season of waiting and preparing.  It can be a hard season, because waiting and preparing are hard for fragile souls.  Today I did not attune my heart to the echoing call of Incarnation – the why of this precious season.

Tomorrow is a new day.  I will spend most of it in the car on windy winter roads with a beloved friend and five (likely maniacal) children.  Two mommies, five preschoolers, one car, three hours.  You do the math. But…..

Only One Thing is necessary.

Yes.