Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Story

With Christmas just a couple of days away I want to tell you what Christmas means to me.

I was 16, in fact it was only a few days after my birthday. My father gave me independence as a birthday present, telling me that he wanted nothing more to do with me. So I did what any normal kid would do...I went to my mom. The problem is: my mom didn't want me either. In fact my mother informed me not two weeks after I moved in with her that she was leaving the state and that I wasn't welcome to come with her.

Happy Birthday.

To make a long story short: a family that I had known from church took me in. This family had known me for 6 or 7 years by this time and took the chance that I wasn't some homicidal maniac or Norman Bates in training. The lady who took me in recently told me the story of how tragic I looked as she pulled into my mother's driveway and found me sitting on the steps waiting to be picked up, all my possessions in a paper bag. There was no one there to say goodbye, no one to offer words of comfort, no one even to mark the death of my family. I remember very plainly feeling that I was worthless trash; unwanted by anyone and not worth anything.

Those first few days and weeks with my new family were filled with uncertainty. I was sure that I would soon wear out my welcome and find myself again on my own. I knew that it would all end soon and I lived daily with the certainty that this family would come to their senses and throw me away as well.

But the days came and went and I was still there. And along the way  something wonderful began to happen. My "dad" (the one who took me in) and I began to spend time together. He and I would stay up late talking. We mostly talked about Arkansas Razorback football and basketball, but we talked. He never yelled at me or raised his hand at me, he just talked. It's funny, but I cannot remember any serious talks or deep conversations, but I remember those talks with such passion that just writing about them brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

There have been only two times before the birth of my kids that I have cried. The environment that I spent the first 16 years of my life in was not conducive to got you hit some more. But the day that my adoptive dad told me he loved me (I was a high school senior) I went to the bathroom and cried for at least 20 minutes. The second time was in the car as my dad and I were driving to the store. I hadn't been married very long and we had bought a house. My parents had come to look at it and he went with me to the grocery store. During that ride he told me that he was proud of me.

No one had ever said that to me before.

My biological dad died a long time ago. My dad is still alive. I had the chance to spend a couple of days with my parents around Thanksgiving. My dad and I stayed up late one night and talked; just like we used to. His last words to me that morning were "I miss staying up late talking with you."

I cried myself to sleep that night.

You may be asking by now what this has to do with Christmas. Christmas is about God loving us. We have and can do nothing to warrant His love, but He chooses to love us anyway. His love is without qualification, without requirement. God gives His love freely and extravagantly. His gift of Jesus is the perfect example of that extravagant love.

My dad taught me about that  extravagant love in those simple late night talks and in the birthday cakes and the Christmas stockings. He lived it out in the meal blessings and the Bible study and his faithful service to his church. But mostly he showed me that great love in the gentle moments and the laughter we shared during those difficult uncertain early days of our time together.

If Christmas is about giving...then A.J. gave me the second greatest love I've ever known. His love was a powerful picture of the love that God demonstrated at Christmas.

May you know that love on Christmas day...and every day.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Counting Down the Days


We hate it.

How many of us walk back and forth at the checkout lanes at Wal-Mart hoping to find a line that is both short and quick. Who of us hasn't looked judgmentally at someone in the 20 items or less line who seems to have more than 20 items. Yes, we are not good at waiting, patience, long-suffering or anything else you might call it. 

We want it NOW, if not sooner.

The sad fact is that impatience is a universal human trait. We all share this impatience and we all display it from our earliest days. The best of us are unable to completely control our impatience and struggle to keep it under control on a daily basis. 

Think with me for a moment of two about impatience...well, actually, let's think about God's complete and perfect patience.

In Eden Adam and Eve were impatient to know things they were not ready to know. Their impatience led them to disobey God and thrust them into judgment. But God practiced patience when He didn't immediately destroy Adam and Eve at the moment of their sin but instead lovingly and patiently provided for their care and their future (Genesis 3). 

Joseph had dreams that were great and grandiose. His impatience to tell everybody about his dreams led to family strife that ultimately got Joseph sold into slavery and separated him from his family for many  long years. But God used those years to mold Joseph from young dreamer to a mature man who was able to understand the purpose of his struggles was the ultimate salvation of his own people (Genesis 38-50).

Joseph was a good man who faced a hard decision. His fiancee was found to be pregnant, and Joseph was not the father. He was within his rights to break off the engagement and to have nothing to do with Mary ever again. But God sent an angel to instruct Joseph in the wisdom of allowing God's plan to go forth and the Son of God was born (Matthew 1).

Jesus was facing the longest night of his, or anyones, life. His closest friends and followers had fallen to fatigue, leaving Jesus to struggle with the weight of the burden that he was about to bear. Yet in that dark night Jesus was given the strength to say "not My will, but Yours" and our salvation was secured (Mark 14).

Between the last words of the Old Testament and the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1) there are roughly 400 years in which God was quiet. Scholars call this the intertestamental period. Others call this the 400 years of silence. 

But silence does not mean inactivity. 

During this period of history God was busy. Busy protecting his people, busy preparing the world for the coming of His Son. By the time of Jesus' birth there was a common language and an empire-wide system of roads that would make possible the rapid spread of the gospel. Everything that was necessary for the proclamation of the gospel was in place when Jesus was born and it was the work of God that made it so.

You might not like waiting, but God is using that time to prepare you and those who you will come into contact with. He is placing everything for its maximum effectiveness, including you. In your waiting God is busy. When the time is right He will unleash you on a world made ready to receive His message and His messenger. 

Don't see it as waiting....see it as a countdown.

Are you ready?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

One Small Child

Christmas is big. Big decorations, big menus,  big trees, big sales, big spending, 

Christmas is BIG!

Americans like big. We have made a lifestyle of "over." Overspending, overeating, over exaggeration. The "American Dream" has become something more than freedom and liberty, it has become all about acquisition, having more than we need. We super size, king size, and over size everything from cars to houses to food portions to our clothing. And we pay over sized prices for everything. And Christmas has not escaped this uniquely American treatment. 

We want bigger trees, more lights, and larger yard decorations. I simply want to ask if anyone really needs an 8ft. tall inflatable snow globe in their front yard or lighted moving reindeer and sleighs.

Is it possible that in the midst of all this big have we lost the real meaning of Christmas?

Mary and Joseph weren't big, important people. Bethlehem wasn't a big town. Shepherds weren't at the top of anyone's invitation list. God didn't announce the birth of Christ on over sized TV screens or on Fox News. If you slow down long enough to read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke you'll discover that the birth of Christ was a small, intimate affair. 

God deals with us individually. He wants to be in relationship with us. Each one of us is important to him on our own. Our value to God is not based on family lineage or fame and fortune but on the fact that He created us and values us above all things. You are important to God because of who you are, the creation of His hands, and not because of what value you might think you have or whether or not you can be an asset to His plan. 

God loves each of us individually...and that love was so great that God sent His Son to die for us, not  in groups, but for each of us individually. That's love. That's Christmas...the gift of God for each of us. None too unworthy, none too insignificant. 

This year I challenge you to personalize Christmas. Spend some time with the Savior. The quiet moments will allow you to see Him, know Him, and experience His glory in a far more intimate and meaningful way than any 8ft snowman ever would. 

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.