My Christmas Wish

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

There it is, recorded for posterity in anticlimactic language – the moment God came to be not only with us, but as one of us.

When I really meditate on the implications of the Almighty Creator as a human infant without even the ability to control His limbs or focus His eyes, it fills me with an emotion there are no words for. How can any act of humility be too great for me to submit to in light of what He’s done for me? How can I not feel awe and reverence and wonder?

But then… I think we humans have a great capacity to trivialize. We see the image of that first Christmas everywhere this time of year, but it is sanitized and greatly altered from the reality. Modern Nativity scenes are filled with a couple of peaceful animals, a Western-style barn, a lovely winged lady, and a small gathering of predominantly white people.

Not remotely realistic. Nor very awe-inspiring.

I wonder sometimes if in this age of rapid technological advances and torrential information overload, we’ve lost our sense of wonder? When we can describe a chocolate bar as divine or a movie as awesome, have we lost our sense of what Divinity and Awe really are?

If we have Westernized and sterilized the Nativity to the point of losing that peculiar mixture of terror and joy brought about by the Most High’s astonishing incarnation, it’s no wonder we so easily lose sight of the purpose of His birth.

Forgiveness of sin. Eternal life. These are tremendous, staggering concepts, but we so often treat them as background information – a side show to the really important stuff of shopping and eating and watching shows. Or at least that is what an objective observer would likely think by the way we spend our time and dollars.

However, no matter how fleeting our thoughts on the Blessed Event of our Savior’s birth, no matter how little value we place on the priceless gift He gave by His death and resurrection, I guarantee there will not be a single human being unaffected by His future return as King of kings!

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

Revelation 19:11-13

Visualize that moment. It’s hard for me not to feel awe. And the crazy thing is, no matter how easy Yeshua may have been to overlook at His unassuming, anticlimactic First Advent, He will not be easily dismissed at the Second.

So today, this season, spend some time reading and reflecting on what it means that the Creator God came to earth as a human child…

That He learned to eat, crawl, talk, walk…

That He experienced the range of human experience and temptation without falling into sin…

That His only experience of sin was on the cross when He bore the weight of all of our crimes…

That He did this for YOU…

That despite the humiliation of an ignoble birth, a life devoid of worldly success, betrayal, the shame of public execution, and all of that, He will come again, but this time in all His power and splendor…

And that next time, you will recognize Him and honor Him whether you believe now or not.

Next time, there will be no decision to make; your decision will be made already – too late for some. Next time, if you haven’t chosen to surrender to Him willingly now, you will surrender… but it will be too late to be saved.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

So my Christmas wish this year is this: Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, consider my Lord Yeshua. Read His story. Think about these things. And give your life to Him so that we can talk about the wonder of His mighty saving grace for eternity.

Choose Jesus, Yeshua Messiah. Choose life.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…

Deuteronomy 30:19-20a, emphasis mine

Christmas Present

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…

Philippians 1:29

It’s that time of the year when peppermint and pine have staged a coup and sent all things pumpkin spice into an ignoble retreat to the clearance shelves.

The North Pole has launched its annual penetration into American homes as well. All over social media, parents are documenting their complicity with the greatest stalker of our age, the Great Elf Himself (you know who I mean – the man in the red suit), by positioning his elvish spy network in various locations throughout their homes. Evidently this is how he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake…

But of course, all of this martial festivity is a feint to disguise the main offensive which targets our contentment and will lay siege to bank accounts and credit lines for the month of December: the tantalizing lure of the perfect gift.

Ah, Christmas!

Is it just me who sees the irony in all the smiling faces and twinkling lights when the first Christmas was celebrated in the murky stink of a stable? When the first Gift was born to be raised up as the Lamb of God who would be slaughtered to take away the sins of the world?

Perhaps this is why Paul told the Philippian church it had been granted to them to suffer for Christ.

Being a nerd, I had to peek into the original Greek and research the word translated granted. That word, transliterated echaristhe, carries the connotation of doing a favor, graciously bestowing, or giving freely.

Think about this: the Philippian church had been favored with suffering for Christ’s sake.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ll know that I have written about the unusual blessing of chronic migraine and what my God has done in me through pain. But I can hardly say I’ve suffered for His sake; I’ve just learned – or rather, am learning – to suffer well for His glory.

But meditating on this verse lately has changed the way I pray for my kids.

Like most parents, I’ve wanted to give my kids good gifts. I’ve longed for them to learn from my mistakes and spare themselves the hardship of self-imposed suffering. I’ve sincerely desired for them to have a better life than mine; to make better choices and live with less difficulty.

But by praying for them to be spared hardship, struggle, and suffering, am I praying to deny them a wonderful, God-given favor?

As I look back over my life, I see suffering that I had no control over, but I see more well-deserved suffering brought on by stubborn attempts to live for myself.

I’ve no right to complain about any suffering, really, when I consider that my Creator chose to join in human suffering despite never engaging in human sin. But I have zero reason to complain when I brought pain down on my own head simply because I refused to obey God – or at one point, refused to acknowledge Him at all.

Yet in His astonishing grace, even the harrowing consequences of my crimes are redeemed. Once I surrendered myself utterly to the Lord, He even turned the most awful, negative consequences of my sin into a glorious gift.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Romans 8:28-29

And He really does. In the economy of my Sovereign, truly nothing is wasted!

And so, I no longer pray that my young people will be spared suffering.

Instead, I have begun to pray that no matter how or why they suffer in this life – whether brought on by their choices or thrust upon them by others – God will give them the grace to suffer well.

By suffering, I pray they will be drawn closer and ever closer to the redemptive, compassionate heart of God. That they will choose to suffer for Him for a little while so they can rejoice together with Him for all eternity.

And when I think of suffering in the terms of eternity, what gracious favor is offered to us – embrace suffering for few paltry decades with the promise of everlasting joy to look forward to when it’s done.

What a gift, indeed!

Attitude

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2, HCSB

I know I’ve said it before, but we really are a funny people.

It’s ironic that my country celebrates a national holiday devoted to giving thanks for what we have, then finishes the day off with a commercial holiday in which many retail businesses sell enough merchandise to shift their financial ledgers from red to black (from loss to profit).

“Black Friday” doesn’t even start on Friday anymore, people! Let that one sink in a moment. Evidently, in this nation of wealth and abundance, we can’t even spend nine or ten daylight hours in a state of gratitude and contentment.

I could pick on the fact that, if you were to create a linear graph, you’d probably find the increasing secularization of the good old USA has follows an inverse linear curve to the gradual encroachment of retail sales into Thanksgiving day. I suppose if you’re offering gratitude to an ambiguous nothingness as opposed to acknowledging God as the Provider to Whom we give thanks, there’s really less of a reason to devote an entire day… but I won’t pick on this one.

Instead, I’ll pick on me.

In a recent reading of Colossians in my late Pappaw’s NASB Bible, chapter 4 verse 2 in the NASB grabbed me by the throat. It hasn’t really let go since.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…

Colossians 4:2, NASB

Devote yourselves to prayer… with an attitude of thanksgiving.

As a sinner saved by the unmerited grace of the God I once denounced and by the sacrifice of Yeshua Messiah whom I formerly laughed off as a fable, my whole being really should resonate with thanksgiving. I’ve been forgiven for denying the One who loved me enough to take the death sentence I deserve for my crimes!

For this alone, I ought to have gratitude to God in all circumstances. All of them. Period. After all, no matter what happens to me in the 80-odd years (give or take) I spend on this atmosphere-cushioned ball of rock and water, I’ve been granted an eternal life that I don’t deserve during which I will forever revel in the joy of the King of kings!

But beyond that unimaginable gift, my King has also granted me food, shelter, healthy kids, a loving husband… and the list goes on and on and on. Recently, He has answered a few prayers in overwhelming ways – some of them quickly!!

Yet I’ve realized that when I pray, what I focus on is not the hundreds of granted requests, but the handful I still wait to see. My heart is weighed down by the list of lost people or bleak situations who show no glimmers of interest in the Lord, no hopeful sparks of light.

I focus, not on the abundance God has lavished on me, but on the concerns I’ve yet to see resolved.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of walking with a long-time close friend, and she mentioned how we are both seeing God at work now in both people and situations we fervently prayed together over for years.

During some of the darkest times we shared with each other, lifting up our families in prayer, we never even saw so much as the twitch of God’s finger. His hands remained – almost maddeningly – still.

But now… Yesterday, we both walked and gave thanks together for the many ways we’ve recently seen Him moving in those very same situations.

And so, my friends, not only this week, but from here on out, I am resolved to keep track of the ways I see my God at work, both in the large and the small ways.

I am resolved (Lord help me to keep this commitment!!) to devote myself to prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving, looking forward with gratitude to see how my King is mighty to redeem even the most damaged, hardened, and imprisoned heart.

Will you join me?

Thoughts on Halloween

***This is a partial re-write of an old post…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Confession: I am a Halloween scrooge.

For one thing, I’ve always suspected a group of economists plotting to stimulate the economy in lagging months are behind certain holidays, of which Halloween is one.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than happy to part with my scant dollars to help someone in need, though I prefer not to leave my name attached to said dollars. But when it comes to forking over cash for extravagant costumes, ghoulish decorations, or mountains of sugar-laden junk, I’m less than eager.

Still, the main reason I dislike October 31 runs a bit deeper.

If you enjoy the ghastly and the macabre, riding through zombie-infested forests or being startled by creaky floors and hideous visages in darkened houses, that’s fine by me. You do you. It’s just that I do not find any pleasure in these things.

For me, Halloween is an annual reminder of the old me; a day which recalls pre-Christ fascinations of which I am now ashamed. As a atheistic teenager, I had a morbid interest in the occult.

In the days before the internet and smart phones existed, I would visit the restricted section of my high school library (yes, we really had one) and read up on the wicca. I made my own Oiuja board and toyed with it, and I listened to dark, sinister bands like Danzig.

In truth, I didn’t really believe in such things, but I had an interest in the possibility of a spiritual realm beyond what I could see. In retrospect, I know now that God has set eternity in our hearts, but since I had convinced myself He wasn’t real, my enemy slipped in and harnessed the reality of my heart-longing for his own nefarious purposes.

But God had a plan for me even then, and He answered the prayers of those who faithfully interceded for me during those dark years.

A handful of experiences left me convinced the things I explored were more than myth. One in particular shook me. At my fast-food job, a man approached the counter with a terrifying grin and a knowing look in his eye. He handed me his card – that of a wiccan high priest, and either told me I’d be able to find them or the message was written on the card. That portion of the memory is unclear, but I do recall the message.

Keep in mind this transpired before internet search history even existed. I’d read actual, paper books and used a home made Ouija board. There was nothing tangible anyone could have used to track my interest. It spooked me.

Between this and a handful of other bizarre occurrences, the mask of this world slipped and I saw there was a very real, very present spiritual element behind the shiny surface of the American dream.

Fortunately for me, God had other plans. Rather than drawing me in, these events terrified me and caused me to reject the darkness vehemently. It was one step in the process which eventually opened my eyes and heart to my Lord Christ. I cannot claim any merit of my own for this, only that the Lord had designs on my life and used my youthful interest to awaken me to a greater reality.

This is why, when I finally came to Christ on my knees and broken that I had ever dabbled in things so vile, I had absolutely no trouble accepting the fact that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness…”  

For me, this passage is not a poetic description but a gritty reality. I had seen those spiritual forces of wickedness, faces leering at me, smug in their certainty that I would come as they beckoned. But I did not.

The fact is, there is an actual evil stalking this world today. It can be seen murdering babies in the womb in the name of convenience and in the “you deserve it” mentality of self-gratification. It is found in children’s programming that champions disrespectful and selfish attitudes and in adult programs that endorse negative thinking towards spouses or children.

Evil is evident as sexual and physical abuse, in the modern slave trade, and it lurks behind the refusal to accept responsibility for sin. It lulls human beings into an entertainment-glutted stupor. It gnaws the face off a homeless man, and it quietly swindles elderly widows, sometimes even in the name of Jesus Christ. Evil is both brutal and subtle, shocking and silent. It displays itself brazenly in hideous, revolting ways and it dazzles and confounds with a sly and handsome facade.

 Evil is a reality, and I simply do not wish to parody or play with it in any way, nor do I wish my children to be desensitized to it in even a small degree. For me, Halloween is a reminder of the greater spiritual battle that we face each morning both out in the world and within our own hearts.

It makes me sorrowful for all those who are yet deceived as I once was, lulled into complacency and unaware of the spiritual battle that rages around them. It reminds me that I am the chief of sinners, once rejecting and mocking the King who died as a substitute for me. I am humbled and grateful at the extent of His forgiveness, and because of it I have no wish to revisit in even the most playful or lighthearted way the darkness of my past.

 I want to be clear: I cast no judgement upon others who find enjoyment in haunted houses and zombie makeup. Perhaps it is simply that my faith is too small for me to enjoy these things. . . I am fine with admitting that, for I have yet to move even a small hill or caused so much as a blade of grass to uproot and plant itself in the sea.

There is nothing in my life to point to a mighty or an earth-shaking faith, and I certainly do not think more highly of myself because I choose not to participate in the October 31 festivities. I simply do not need reminders of the evil in this world.

I would much prefer to avoid all that is fearsome and ghoulish and keep my mind fixed instead on all that is good and just and pure and holy–on the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Only enveloped in His presence do I find hope, joy, and peace. And that, my friends, is precisely where I want to be.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13

Migraine and Forgetfulness

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

It’s been a very long time since I wrote a migraine post, so today’s the day. My migraine journey is intertwined with my walk with the Lord, so I can’t really write about one without the other.

Things have been better. One of the newer anti-CGRP prevention medications, Emgality, has cut my headache days down to half or less. What’s more, it also helps with the other, non-headache symptoms such as dizziness, brain fog, and the like.

You see, migraine is not just a really bad headache. It’s actually a neurological illness. Because of this, migraine is a full-body experience that begins before there’s even a slight twinge of pain and ends long after the pain has faded into oblivion (often taking your ability to cognate with it!).

It isn’t just the head and brain that are affected, however. The GI system is often in play, and some people experience numbness or tingling on one side of their body or in their limbs. You can click this link to find out more information.

Lately for me, dizziness has been one of the most alarming warnings of an impending migraine attack. It’s getting bad enough that I no longer climb up on stools or high places without good support because I never know when a dizzy spell will strike.

Thankfully, like I said earlier, Emgality has cut my headache days down to about half. It’s also made my rescue meds actually work much of the time (they weren’t even working before), and has decreased the aphasia and some of the brain fog.

However, half of 30 days is still 15. I’m a long way from well, but you’d be surprised how exciting it is to just have those 15 days back! Even if a good portion of them is still occupied with the prodromal or postdromal phase of a migraine, at least I have more functionality than I have in years past.

Recently, I was tested for celiac disease, which meant I had to eat wheat for several days before the blood draw. The addition of wheat to my diet brought back the persistent daily headache, so I am keenly reminded of how unpleasant the constant, nagging pain can be. It made me so much more thankful for where I am now!

My prayer, though, is that if the migraine situation should continue to improve and the attacks become less and less frequent, I pray I will never forget the lesson. I especially pray that I will never forget my utter dependence on God.

We humans do have a tendency to forget Him when things are humming along nicely.

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land … with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 6:10-12

And yet, it’s when things are humming along nicely that we should be praising Him louder, filled to bursting with gratitude.

That’s what He has been working in me lately. Gratitude. Entering His courts with thanksgiving. Setting my mind on Him and not on earthly things – whether good or bad. And again, thanksgiving and gratitude and praise.

For migraine or no, good times or bad, God is good, and He is worthy of all our praise!

Lord and Father, teach our hearts to love You more and more. When things of this life are good, let us set our minds on You and not forget You. When life throws us a curveball or even pelts us with clod of dirt, teach us to set our minds on You still, always giving thanks in every circumstance for the glorious hope we have in Christ Jesus our Savoir, amen.

Freedom

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 4:31-5:1

I’ve probably mentioned before, but this is the busiest season of my life to date. Just keeping up with my teenagers takes up many hours of my week. Thus my erratic posting…

At any rate, a recent read of the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass coupled with a study of Galatians has me thinking through Christian freedom.

As briefly as I can, I think I’ve spent much of my journey with the Lord grappling with the idea of freedom. It’s taken me some time to come to grips with exactly what it means to be free.

Perhaps this is due to the bizarre misunderstanding of the term, “freedom” my culture embraces. When most of us think of “freedom” in Christ, the mental picture we seem to conjure is more akin to licence than to actual freedom.

Freedom in Christ is not freedom to do whatever one wants. It’s so much better! The freedom Christ died to give is freedom from enslavement to sin. Freedom to choose not to sin, not freedom to engage in it.

The enemy of our soul is a liar whose goal is to steal our freedom and sell us a cheap substitute instead: a free-for-all instead of freedom. Licence instead of liberty.

Interestingly enough, the slavemasters of the 1800s apparently took a lesson from the ancient snake. As Mr. Douglass writes:

Thus, when the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labelled with the name of liberty. The most of us used to drink it down, and the result was just what might be supposed: many of us were led to think that there was little to choose between liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as well be slaves to man as to rum.

Fredrick Douglass

It’s the oldest trick in the Book. What God offers is genuine Joy, actual Liberty, a glimpse at real Life and honest Love, and our own self as we were created to be.

The enemy asks, “Did God really…?” and makes us question the Divine motive.

The snake makes love look like it’s withholding some mysterious and desirable thing. But in truth, he wants to bind us up in chains of addiction, sorrow, guilt, despair, anxiety, fear – all the nasty things we struggle under.

And that old serpent is so good at the game by now that he manages to convince us that our chains are freedom; that God wants to take something from us rather than turn us loose to live without fear and crippled by the shackles of our own cravings run amok.

The enemy glories in taking our liberty and sells us addiction, imprisonment, servitude. It especially feeds his miserable, vengeful core if he can sell us our bondage and make us think we need it to be happy. But he knows, friends, the greater the bondage, the less happiness we receive from it.

Oh how he loves to watch us squirm.

But Christ does offer freedom. Real, honest freedom.

Freedom to not need drink to have fun. Freedom to not need a hit or the next fix – of whatever.

Freedom to face death without fear, to let our kids go out into the world without anxiety, to meet the worst possible circumstance with a smile and confidence that whatever may happen to us here, our future is secure in Christ.

Freedom to live and die in victory, knowing that for those who are in Christ, death is really only the final freeing of our self from the temporary shelter of our mortal bodies, so that what is mortal can be swallowed up by Life.

Let freedom ring!

Gotta Have Goals

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15

Cross country running is no joke. This is particularly true here in Tennessee where summer has dug in her heels, refusing to give way to autumn. Because of this, I have tremendous admiration for my youngest daughter and her friends (many of whom I’ve unofficially adopted) on our school’s cross country team.

I’ll admit today is a breezy 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s small comfort when even the trees are calling it quits and dropping their leaves under the relentless sun.

But my cross country kids don’t quit. They persevere.

At the last race, I darted from place to place yelling my atta-boys to the kids as they pushed through temperatures in excess of 96 degrees Fahrenheit/35 degrees Celsius.

Several of the kids have their own health conditions to deal with, making running harder, but they ran it anyway. Occasionally, there’s vomiting along the way, but the kids keep going. Some are faster, others not so fast, yet we scream just as loudly no matter where our runners fall in the pack.

Those who are finished or waiting to run stand alongside the parents, yelling encouragement or handing out water in the chute after the finish line.

These kids are fighters. They stick to it even when it’s tough and they take care of each other. They’ll run beside a struggling teammate. Sometimes, they sacrifice their own race time to stick by the side of a friend in distress.

Suddenly, it hit me why I love these kids so fiercely. They are a microcosm of Christian community done well.

Brothers and sisters, we who are in Christ are not in opposition to one another. We are a team.

We’re running this race together, and we’re running it for the glory of our King. Not for our own prestige. For Christ’s.

When one of our brothers or sisters stumble, we ought to lend our presence and support. When their strength falters, we can run alongside them, offering encouragement.

No matter where they are in the race – way ahead or far behind – we should be there on the sidelines, cheering as madly as if they were in first place.

After all, sometimes just the running is grueling. Even if our runner finishes dead last, at least he ran. At least she finished.

When our own run is a battle through difficult circumstances, we run anyway. We press on to the finish.

We should know each other well enough to know the secret battles we fight, the burdens others carry that make even putting one foot in front of the other a struggle. We ought to shout our support all the louder for it.

In fact, as long as our fellows are running towards the finish line and not away from it, we should be their most fervent supporters!

And if they become disoriented and turn the wrong way, we need to have the guts to step in and point them in the right direction, running right by their side to show them the way.

Did I say we’re a team? It’s more. We are a family. Different parts of one Body.

Our job isn’t to critique each other’s form or ability. Instead, we ought to be sharing in the effort it takes to pursue holiness in a broken and sick world. In broken and sick bodies.

The race is hard. Some days are worse than others. We need each other. We need to take care of each other. The world surely won’t.

So what do you say? Let’s make it our goal to finish strong and not grow weary; to enter the chute on both feet. And let’s help our brothers and sisters any way we can, every step of the way. Even if it costs us personally.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2