The Extravagance of Christmas

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Imagine going to a home where both the husband and wife are successful, recognized, and respected doctors. Do you have a mental image?

Recently I had the opportunity to do that with a friend from high school. She and I were traveling from Ohio to Michigan to have a little reunion with another classmate from high school. I tried to imagine what I was going to find. I was battling with feelings of intimidation all the way there.

Driving up to their home, I was surprised by its simplicity. Nothing on the outside screamed of money, or pride, or extravagance. When we were invited in and given the “tour” I felt so welcomed. It was a lovely home, inviting and warm. It was beautifully decorated in its simplicity. The only room my friend claims to have “decorated” is a small half bath. And it is precious. The only ‘extravagance’ I saw, and I’m sure my husband wouldn’t see it as such, was the amazing sixty inch stove in the kitchen.

We had a wonderful visit. And as all good visits do, it ended much too soon. On the way home I chatted with my friend, but I was also carrying on an inner conversation with God. The clearest thing I heard was that extravagance needs to be on the inside—in our spirit. Just as it is with Him.

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I spoke at a banquet not long ago and I shared that my least favorite question of the season is: “So, are you ready for Christmas?” The question begs at what things are still on your to do list, things like shopping and baking. I think the question misses the whole point of Christmas, what Christmas really is. Christmas is about God so lavishly loving the world that he gave his one and only son so that you and I might have life. And he didn’t come with fancy wrapping or trays of cookies.

My husband has always been the kind of person to buy extravagantly. Let’s just tell it like it is: he goes overboard. But it’s the way he is. He has no moderation button. He loves all out. And I really love that about him.

When I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story Jesus tells: Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”Mark 12:40-42

That’s what we have to be ready to do. You know what’s really cool about my friends the doctors in Michigan? I think they’ve really figured out how to love that way. I may not be able to give a lot of gifts, but I can give my all whenever and wherever I can.

Are you ready to be that ready?

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Christmas Wonder

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I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King. (John Jacob Niles)

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Growing up, when I started a conversation with “I wonder…” Mom told me to be careful because if I ‘wondered’ too far I’d get lost.

Maybe getting lost in a little wonder wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Who couldn’t benefit from adding wonder, curiosity and amazement to their life?

It makes me sad that there is so little true wonder. Sure, we wonder where we put things, and how we’ll pay the bills. We wonder about the future…but it’s more like fear.

Listen to the conversations around us: everything is “amazing” or “awesome.” But is it really?

What makes you go “WOW!” Clear down to your toes?
What takes your breath away?
What causes you to shake your head when you try to make sense of it?

The Christmas story does that for me.

After 400 years of silence, of wondering where God was, he burst onto the scene in the most amazing and unexpected way.

A baby, a manger, a carpenter, a teenage girl in a small town.

Go figure.

Go wonder.

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Advent: From Our Fears Release Us

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In my quiet time this morning, I was reflecting on Psalm 3:

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Fear. Fear bordering on paranoia. Bullying.
I read a news clip this week of a teen who killed herself because her peers had been bullying her. My heart ached, for her, for her family, for those peers.
What if this psalm had been breathed into her? What if God, God who could enable her to lay down in perfect peace in the presence of her enemies–and sleep–had been made real for her?
How real is he to me?
Save us, God, from our fears.
The words to an old hymn are in my head now:

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. (Charles Wesley)

Oh that we could come to know the Perfect Love that casts out all fear.

Advent Begins

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Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

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Protecting Baby Jesus

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I found this on my Facebook news feed. It seems a little boy was concerned when he heard the pastor describe Herod’s rage and plan to kill all the baby boys born around the same time as Jesus.

This was his solution. Baby Jesus needs protecting.

And maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Have you heard? Thieves are stealing Baby Jesus from nativities everywhere.

Watch this

Companies are offering insurance. People are putting GPS tracking devices in statues so they can find Jesus.

Have you been trying to protect Baby Jesus?

The question sounds ridiculous until we think about how we also try to protect God. How in the world would we do that, you ask.

Have you ever decided not to take your needs to God because they’re too small to matter or too big for Him to handle?

Have you pulled a “Sarah” and provided God with your plan to help Him out–and get what you want when you want it rather than waiting on His timing?

Do you ever protect God’s reputation from ridicule or scrutiny by leaving him out of your conversations and choices?

Perhaps rather than “protecting” Him, we would be better off knowing Him better. If we had a clearer perspective on who He is and how he sees us:

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
    Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them[e] with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
    putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
    and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
    and everything that swims the ocean currents.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (Psalm 8, NLT)

That God doesn’t need me to protect Him. But, I definitely need him!

How about you?

 

 

 

I Just Don’t Think Like God

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There was a time, early in my ministry, when I felt like God was nudging me toward a position in a state far from home and everything familiar.

Nothing about the potential move made any sense at all.

My husband and I traveled to Wisconsin from Ohio, interviewed, and talked the long trip home about how God couldn’t possibly want this for us.

We couldn’t call the district superintendent until Wednesday. Three days after we returned home. We would wait and then tell him, “No thank you.”

But before Wednesday came Tuesday. On Tuesday night there was a missionary speaker. I was on the platform as music director and my husband sat in the back pew with our two daughters (ages 2 and 1).

Three times during the message the missionary said, “God’s ways don’t always make sense.”

Do you ever feel like God has to bang pretty hard to get something through to you? I felt that way that night.

I didn’t look at my husband the remainder of the service. We gathered our things and walked in silence to the car. We said nothing most of the way home and then all at once, from both of us at the same time, out it poured.

We both heard it. We both knew. We were moving to Wisconsin.

Because God’s ways don’t always make sense.

Christmas teaches us that. None of what God did, or used, or planned made any sense from our limited, human perspective.

Can we trust that even now, today, His plans may not make sense to us, but there’s a reason and He is beyond worthy of our trust?

I hope so.

Here’s one of my favorite Christmas songs that poses the question from Joseph’s point of view.

Scripture text to ponder and consider: Isaiah 55 

What Season Is It?

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Here we are in the season of Advent. For years I have written a daily devotion, focusing on different aspects of preparing for Christmas.

This year I didn’t…couldn’t.

I’ve felt like the child in the picture above. Watching. Feeling separated from whatever else was happening. My mind scattered, feeling unable to focus on what was necessary.

Waiting. Surely something is coming. It’s right around the corner. Anticipating. Daring to reach out and take hold of hope.

But hope is fragile, fleeting, and confusing.

Do I really want what I think I want? Can I handle it? Or will it disappoint again…will I?

Yes, it’s Advent. Are you watching? What is around the corner for you?

(More Advent thoughts to come…let’s walk the road to Bethlehem together.)