Christmas Questions…

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Things I wonder:

How did Joseph feel when the census was announced? Did he remember the prophecy about Bethlehem?

How did Joseph feel when he couldn’t provide for his little family? Didn’t even have a spot for his wife to give birth?

Who attended Mary while she, a virgin, gave birth? Was there a midwife? Or was it only Joseph? How long was she in labor? And how scared was Joseph?

Did Jesus look like Mary? Or his grandparents? Or anyone else in his family line? What about Joseph? Did His Heavenly Father give Jesus some of Joseph’s features just for fun?

Did the animals in the stable recognize their Creator when He was born?

How much of the redemption plan did the angels understand when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest!”?

What did the sheep do when there was suddenly “a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying…”?

Were those shepherds the only ones in the hills that night? Did the insomniacs of Bethlehem see the light in the distance and wonder what was happening? Or did God close their eyes and ears to the spectacle?

How did Mary feel when a bunch of unwashed shepherds showed up shortly after she had given birth?

Did Jesus sleep through their visit?

What “house” did the wise men find them in? And how old was Jesus when they finally arrived? Did the star show up the night he was born? Or was it in the sky earlier?

How many wise men were there? And did they know each other before the journey? Or did their caravans converge on the way to Jerusalem?

How many of Jesus’ siblings were born in Egypt?

What was the age difference between Jesus and his next oldest sibling?

Did Mary ever look at Jesus’ brothers and sisters and say, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus?”
Things I know:

Because a tiny baby was born to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem, one day I can get all my questions answered.
I can chat with Joseph about how he felt.
I can talk to the wise men about their journeys – the exciting one to Bethlehem via Jerusalem and the covert one as they returned home another way to escape King Herod.
I can meet Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
I can ask Mary to share her side of the story.
Beginning at the stable – but continuing to the cross.
I can ask her what it felt like to watch her firstborn son be slaughtered 33 years after that night in Bethlehem.
And how she felt when she came upon the empty tomb three days later.

Because that tiny baby was born, lived a perfect life and then died to take my punishment upon himself, I can one day look into His eyes.
Be held in His arms.
Thank Him in person for coming.
For staying.
For living an example for me to follow.
For dying in my place.
And for being the answer to every question I will ever have.

From Humbug to Hope

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Christmas stinks.
There, I said it.
The thing many, many people are thinking – or at least feeling.
They may not have the courage to say it, even to themselves.
But tons of us battle it.

It comes in degrees.
Some of us just experience the mild letdown when the presents are open, the final celebratory meal is eaten, THE DAY is over.
Others despair to the point of contemplating – or doing – the unthinkable.
And most of us fall somewhere in between.

It also comes in waves.
Some days are good. Maybe even great!
Pretty lights, good food, laughter with friends, anticipating the look on his or her face when they open that “perfect” gift.

And some days are awful.
The movie that shines a light on everything you don’t have.
The bank account that doesn’t allow the buying of any gifts, let alone the perfect one.
The loss that is magnified by every light, every carol, every decoration, every moment.

I used to think that Christmas crankiness, holiday funks and even despair were reserved only for a select few.
Extreme cases.
The Ebenezers of this world. “Bah, humbug!”
Or those in special circumstances.

But spend long enough walking this earth, spend any amount of time pouring into people and you will discover that it is nearly universal.
Again, to degrees.
And in waves.
But almost always present.

And the person who says, “Oh, the holidays never get to me! I love everything about them!” is probably either lying to you or to themselves.

Because we all get weary.

A friend recently said to me, “The holidays basically turn a flashlight on all your issues and stresses.”
I totally agree.
Except that I would replace “flashlight” with “spotlight”. The big one. The one they use in movies for interrogations. Bright. Shiny. And pointing out every painful spot in your life.

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do?

First, you have to start with the heart of the issue – your heart.
If you are reading this and you do not have a relationship with the Living God, it has to start there. Nothing else you do will “work” if you do not have an active friendship with Jesus. This is more than just head knowledge about who He was and what He did. This is a knowing, a commitment, a choosing-to-trust, a surrender to Him. It happens when you tell Him that you know you are a sinner, deserving of punishment and in need of salvation. But it is also an ongoing walk with Him, a relationship where the God of the Universe calls you His own and where you are choosing each day to get to know Him better. Yes, you are saved from hell by that initial commitment. But if you are born into God’s family when you make that commitment and then never choose to grow, you will remain a spiritual baby. And spiritual babies, just like physical ones, do not have what it takes to thrive in this world. Instead they need constant care with the goal of them becoming more and more grown up, more and more able to thrive. So survival of any of the hard things in this world – including surviving Christmas – has to start there. With a living, growing, ongoing relationship with the Living God.

But let me assume that my audience is people who are already trusting Christ, who have already entered that relationship. If that is where you are, then the rest of this is for you. (If that is not you, then the rest of this is just spiritual mumbo-jumbo, not worth reading. But I would love to have a conversation with you about what your life could be in Christ.)

So – let’s get super practical.
We probably cannot change the hard facts of our lives, the things that make Christmas difficult.
If we could change them, we would have already.
So the circumstances are what they are.
And the spotlight is shining.

The only thing I have control over this holiday season – or any day – is me. And here is how I personally get through my own painful places:

I choose to take my eyes off of me. My pain. My feelings. My heart. My circumstances.

I turn the spotlight away from me. And I intentionally strive to do that in a number of ways.

First, I choose to remember that today is not eternity. Today is a blip on the radar screen of real life. And I can choose to live for today – how I feel, what is happening to me, my pain – or I can choose to live for eternity. I can wallow in my present pain – and even take unhealthy steps to self-medicate that pain – or I can remember that heaven is waiting. I can remember that for me, as a Christ-follower, this is the only hell I will ever know. This life is the worst it will ever get. And one day, when God calls me home, this will fade. As Teresa of Avila said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” I am not supposed to choose the day I will meet Him – that is His choice – but I can choose to remember that this life is exceedingly short in light of eternity. And I can choose to trust that if I am here today, there is still a purpose for my life, something He has left for me to do. I choose to live with my feet on earth and my mind in heavenly places.

I choose to remember that God aches with me. As my friend Brent would say, “This is not how it is supposed to be.” God did not create this world with this pain in mind for me or for any of us – but He gave each us free will and with it came consequences. But even in the midst of the consequences of free will, there is hope. God is my vindicator. He is the Righteous Judge. He sees every hurt, every tear, every misunderstanding, every pain. And He is at work in them, for my good and His glory. Even when I cannot see it. Even when the emotions are overwhelming. Even when I doubt Him. He is the God who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)

And then I choose to praise Him. To give thanks in all things. Even when I am not feeling the smallest iota of thankfulness. Remembering only gets me so far – but then acting on what I know is true, what I have remembered, by actively praising Him – well, that is powerful stuff. Setting aside my feelings to choose to DO Philippians 4:8, which says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].” It is an active choice – to turn my thoughts from despair to hope, from grumbling to thankfulness, from pain to praise.

After I wrestle my thoughts into submission (2 Corinthians 10), I look around for ways to actively, intentionally bless others. That may be in a tangible way – serving here, giving there. A note. A small gift. An act of service. A listening ear. Or it may be in a more intangible way – like remembering to pray for others more than I pray about my needs, desires or pain. Taking my eyes off of me. Setting them on “things above”. (Colossians 1). And then seeing the people around me through God’s eyes. Even the annoying ones and the ones causing me pain. Choosing to be His hands and feet. Putting my faith into practice. Making it more than words.

And then, finally, I replace. I love Christmas music – but it doesn’t always lead my heart to worship. Sometimes it leads my heart right back to the wallowing! So I will listen to it sometimes – but I will also replace it. Two years ago I found an Easter CD that I played over and over again in the car instead of listening to the radio. As I belted out, “Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that we can be born again! Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing Christ is risen from the dead!” while driving down the highway, it reminded me that Christmas is just a piece of the redemption story – and that without Easter, Christmas is just another birthday. I still have that CD – but this year I found another great CD of hymns. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but for me, the tunes and the words that were poured into me as a child firmly set my heart in the right place, a place of worship and adoration rather than self-pity and woe-is-me. For you, it may not be the music that needs replacing. It may be your budget for gifts. Or the movies you choose to watch. It may be how you spend your free time. Or what you are reading. They may not be bad things that you are doing – but it may be that you can replace it with something better, something that will draw your heart to God and keep your eyes off you this season.

One last thought. I love Charles Dickens. The man had a way with words. And I love that he chose “Ebenezer” for the name of his main character in “A Christmas Carol”. I don’t know if Charles did it on purpose – I suspect he did. But Ebenezer is a biblical word. It literally means “stone of help”. The prophet Samuel set up a stone of remembrance and named it that in I Samuel 7. The people had turned from the Lord and Samuel challenged them to turn back to Him. When they did, they began to have a praise-fest right there – and their enemies, the Philistines, heard about it and decided it was a great time to attack, while the Israelites were vulnerable. But what the Philistines didn’t understand was that we are at our most powerful when our eyes are off of us and on the One True and Living God. And so God defeated the Philistines – and it was then that Samuel set up the Ebenezer – the stone of help – as a reminder to the people of who God is and what He has done. We, too, have that same Help this Christmas – the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone, who will be our foundation throughout the storms that the holidays may bring. My prayer for you and me this season is that, because we have that Ebenezer, we may truly be able to go from “Humbug!” to hope – not just in our outward appearance but all the way through to the heart.

Smoke Detector Grace

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It happened again last night. I was in over my head – quite literally – and He saved me.

This time it was the smoke detector in my bedroom. I heard the first ominous “chirp” signifying the dying battery as I was contemplating what to have for dinner. And the process thereafter went something like this:

Step 1: Figure out which of the four detectors clustered in the bedroom hallway is chirping.
Step 2: Pray and ask God to reveal which one it is because I can’t figure it out. He answers, making it clear.
Step 3: Climb and stretch to twist it off the ceiling. The highest one in the highest ceiling, of course. In the dimming light of late afternoon. In the one bedroom without an overhead light. With a cat “helper” anxiously looking for a way to assist.
Step 4: Pray and ask God for protection. He answers. Throughout the entire event. And He reminds me that it would be wise to take my socks off so that the chair isn’t as slippery.
(Step 4 ½ : Remove socks.)
Step 5: Unsuccessfully attempt to unplug the smoke detector from the wires in the ceiling, taking care to not yank too hard or to step on the “helper”.
Step 6: Pray and ask God to help. He answers by reminding me that a little light on the subject would make it easier and that I have a flashlight on my nightstand a few feet away.
Step 7: Get down, grab the flashlight. Clamber back onto the chair and figure out how to hold the flashlight in position without the use of either hand so I can see what I am doing, reminding myself to not drop the flashlight on the helpful cat’s head. Remembering that prayer is more useful than a pep-talk, I pray that I don’t drop the flashlight on the helpful cat’s head. Or my toes. The cat leaves. He answered. And I managed to successfully juggle all pieces without ever dropping the flashlight. He answered.
Step 8: Successfully detach the smoke detector from the wires. I praise God for His help.
Step 9: Attempt to yank the little cap off the dying 9-volt battery. While balancing on the chair. With waning light. Pray and ask for help. He answers by reminding me that this part does not have to be done while balancing on the chair. Nor does it require the flashlight.
Step 10: While standing on solid ground, wrestle the cap off the battery and replace it with a new battery, praising God for His help.
Step 11: Climb back on the chair, dreading having to reattach the smoke detector to the wires. Attempt once or twice and then remember to pray. He answers. The third attempt works.
Step 12: Pray FIRST before attempting to reattach the whole thing to the ceiling, lining up the little pieces just right. It goes on the first time. And stays put. With no chirping to be heard. Praise God for His faithfulness in ALL things.
Step 13: Put away the flashlight and chair. Pet the cat. And remember to say, “Thank You” that all of this happened at 6 PM and not 2 AM.


People like to say, “God helps them who help themselves!”
And what they mean by that is, “We like it when people work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
But the biblical reality is that God helps those who realize they are helpless.
And in constant need of Him.
And His help is not just in the form of Saving Grace. Saving Grace is truly amazing. It stepped in, along with its sister, Mercy, when I deserved nothing but the wrath of God for my sin.
And Mercy put my punishment on Jesus. While Grace stood with open arms, inviting me to come into fellowship with God.

That is Saving Grace. And that is awesome.

But God also provides a different Grace.
A living, sustaining, “I-even-care-about-smoke-detectors” Grace. A daily Grace for even the things that are, at best, mundane. A Sustaining Grace.

The Grace that “delights in every detail of my life” (Psalm 34).
The Grace that is the Good Shepherd, “making me lie down in green pastures”, “leading me beside still water” and walking with me “through the valley of the shadow”. (Psalm 23)
The Grace that “directs my steps” as I “acknowledge Him in all my ways” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
The Grace that put the coin in the fish’s mouth when Peter was stressed about paying taxes. (Matthew 17)
The Grace that sent ravens to feed Elijah by an ever-dwindling stream – and then sent him to a poor widow after that, who miraculously had her flour and oil perpetually replenished so that the prophet could be fed.(I Kings 17)
The Grace that “supplies all my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
The Grace that is personal.
And willing to be there for every need.
Every day.
In every situation.

I just need to open my eyes to see it.
Remember to ask for it.  Keep myself in constant communication and right standing with God, not allowing sinful choices to block our ongoing conversation.  Reach out for it with every breath, every task, every conversation.  Revel in it like the incredible gift that it is.
And say, “Thank You” for the millions of ways it is already in my life.

God does not help them that help themselves.
Because they don’t need Him to do so.
They are managing – or think they are – all on their own.
Instead, God helps the helpless.
The hopeless.
Anyone who cries out to Him.
For items great or small.
He cares.
He hears.
And He answers.

I am so glad that God helps the helpless.
Because that most definitely includes me.