Tuesday Prayer: The King’s Birthday

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.

Psalm 119:93-94

My Lord and King, today is the day we celebrate Your birth as a human child. Though we don’t know the hour or the date, we do know that our almighty and eternal God did something incomprehensible: You stepped down from Your throne of glory and clothed Yourself in the flesh of Your own creation – not to proclaim Your might as Sovereign but to set us an example of humility and service by Your death. Truly, You are Immanuel – God with us.

Lord, no act of humility or service I can offer You will ever come close to matching what You’ve already done for me. Nothing in creation is worthy of wrapping up and giving to You. I have nothing to offer You on Your birthday; nothing to give that You haven’t first given to me.

All I have is my love for You and my will, such as they are. Though it may be a feeble thread of what ought to be, I offer You my love. I surrender my will to Yours and pray for the grace to remain in a posture of surrender forever.

I give You my adoration, my mind, body, and soul. These are the only gifts I can give my King, and even those exist only because You created them in me. And so as I celebrate Your birthday this year, I give You back what You’ve already redeemed as Your own. I am Yours, Lord; save me. Amen.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

Tuesday Prayer: Two Advents

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

Word of God, on this last week of Advent, we look back at Your historical first coming; a time when You laid aside Your majesty to clothe Your splendor in the substance of Your own creation, being born as a tiny infant – the Son of Man. But there is more to Advent than the past. We also look forward to that great and future Day when You will appear as the conquering King, ready to reclaim the world You’ve redeemed and rule it with justice and equity.

Oh Lord, You are the living Word of God given to mankind that we may know of Your mercy and grace. You are also Faithful and True, the only just Judge who will one day mete out the sentence for all who have refused Your generous offer of salvation in the righteousness of the Christ. Yet for those who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, there is no condemnation but only the imputing of His sinless perfection and a grace we cannot earn.

This Christmas season, Lord, help us to be mindful of the incredible wonder of this, the greatest Gift ever offered. May the contemplation of Your Son be larger in our consciousness than any baking, buying, decorating, or anything else. And as we contemplate His beauty, teach us to delight in Him more and more and in this world less and less. Indeed, Your word warns that friendship with the world is enmity towards God, so please show us where we need to reject the world’s way of thinking and being in order to fully embrace Yours.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4

Not only for ourselves, but for those who we will encounter this Christmas season, not only our loved ones, but our co-workers, those who we see in traffic, the clerks and waiters who serve us in our purchasing and celebrating, and even for our enemies or those who treat us poorly, remind us of the urgency of the message of Christmas. Remind us, too, how we once walked as people who were dead in our sins and give us compassion for others.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45a

Break our hearts for those who stand condemned in this world and give us opportunities to share Your truth with them. Open our eyes to those who lack the hope of Christ to make life’s pain bearable. Even if they are hostile towards our efforts, still goad us to diligently pray for them even as we praise and glorify You by our actions, words, and choices in their presence. Lord, if we could ask for one more gift this Christmas, please give us the privilege of seeing many come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, amen. 

Putting Christ in Christmas

**NOTE: This was originally published on 2014, shortly after I began this blog. I thought I’d revive it this month while keeping my digital time to a minimum in order to maximize time with my fast-growing teens…

After studying in James, I have been thinking a great deal about what escapes my mouth. I have been made mindful of overly-harsh tones of voice as well as barely-murmured grumblings, and each instance has prompted repentance. However, I have also become aware of less blatantly sinful words, of vacant phrases that have a pleasing sound, but if not well-fleshed in action and attitude, are nothing but the hollow clanging of bells or the resonance of a gong — indeed, nothing more than pretty noise.

Sometimes I think that Christmas time is the worst for this sort of thing. I have heard my voice among the crowd of brethren reciting cheerful platitudes and yet going about my December days no differently than my unbelieving friends and neighbors.

Saying things like, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” does not, in fact, make Him my focus for the season. It is just a thing to say, a thing that sounds good to the ears but is really a distraction from the true focus on worldly matters often going on within. Oh what a smug fool I have been to utter such blather and yet entirely fail to live it out!

Friends (and others), I confess: I have been guilty of hypocrisy, of stoutly proclaiming, “Put Christ back in CHRISTmas!” while actually putting Him in the “optional” section of my seasonal to-do list. Too many Christmases have gone by in which I was so busy getting ready for the celebration of the Lord’s birthday that I utterly failed to spend quality time with the Guest of honor.

But He is gracious. He has exercised patience with me for years, drawing me closer, humbling my heart, and giving me abundant reasons to love Him more. This Christmas, I have chosen a more lonely-looking path but one that I have found to be more rewarding. I have simplified my celebrations, which sometimes means saying “no” to many fun and even good things so I can say “yes” to what God is telling me to do.

Finally, finally, after years of knowing what I ought to do, I have begun to actually make time with the Lord a priority. Nor is it done out of shame or remorse or even obligation as I confess I have been guilty of in the past. No, now this time is something I crave, an immense yearning to know Him better, an unquenchable thirst for His presence. This time I have not put Him on my to-do list at all. I have turned the thing over to Him entirely and then taken my place at His feet, listening as He tells me what it is on each day’s agenda.

Do I always get it right, then? Am I saying I have this business nailed down? No, I am not saying that at all. In truth, sometimes I listen with half an ear, impatient to get moving or I re-prioritize my day according to what I think is best. But I am beginning to change my habits, beginning to allow my mind to be truly transformed. No, I certainly have not yet obtained it, but I press on toward the goal… and don’t think for a moment that I am particularly gifted or disciplined. By His grace, any of us can do it.

So will you join me in trying something different this year? Let’s resolve not only to put Christ in Christmas–let’s put him in our morning commute. Let’s put Christ in the way we speak to our spouse or our children, in the way we respond to a grouchy grocery clerk, in the way we reply when someone speaks hatefully to us, in the way we react to praise.

Let’s put Christ in the numerous menial tasks that occupy our days. Let’s put Christ in our private thoughts, in our entertainment, in our decision-making, in our giving, and in our receiving. Let’s put Christ in ALL we do for all of our day and on every day, for with joyful exhilaration we can celebrate the eternal gift of Immanuel: God with us. Every single day.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:21-23

To My Atheist Friends This Christmas

I beg the indulgence of a few minutes for any of my friends (or really anyone at all) who scoffs at the notion of the Babe in the manger, the joy of Christmas, and everything else associated with “Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23b).

In our few minutes together, allow me to ask a favor. Forget anything you think you know about Jesus Christ and anything you’ve seen perpetrated in His name on social media. This Christmas, I humbly ask you to consider the singular Person, Jesus Christ, though perhaps not for the reasons you may think.

My reason is an honest, heartfelt desire to share with you the One in whom you may find peace, even in a turbulent and troubled world, because He has overcome the world. He’s even lived in it and knows what it is to suffer as a man.

Once an atheist myself, I have found in Christ an unshakeable peace, an overflowing hope, and even a purpose for pain. I’ve found so much more, but in the interest of keeping this brief(ish), allow me to share an excerpt from Orthodoxy, a book written by another former atheist, G. K. Chesterton:

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever …

… Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt…

…When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” (emphasis mine)

The message of Christmas is not a message of good tidings so all people can have a good life. It is a message of good tidings because at the birth of the Christ child, a unique event took place in the history of everything. The Most High God, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, laid His glory aside and confined Himself to the frail substance of His own creation in order to do what mankind could not – save them from a hopeless eternity, from a propensity for evil, and from their own stubborn pride.

Or to put the thing into more bite-size portions: The Creator learned to crawl. The One who spoke the world into existence learned to speak his mother’s name. He endured puberty, He felt hunger, He felt sorrow and sickness, joy and zeal, betrayal and ridicule and everything else a human being can feel but without falling into wrongdoing. Ever.

The message of Christmas is almost too difficult to put into words because the first Christmas put an infinite God into a finite form. How do you phrase that adequately, really? Words fail.

Where we have weakened and given in to temptation, Jesus saw the thing through to the uttermost. In fact, He alone among humankind knows the fullest extent of temptation because He alone among men never caved in to temptation. He alone never fell.

He even knows what it is to desire something other than the Divine plan and yet submit to it anyway. Not only that, but He came to offer Himself as the blood price, not for good and holy men, but for all of us. For me. For you. And you and I know, in an honest moment, that we’ve done some pretty reprehensible stuff.

He knows you, friend. He knows what you struggle with, and he loves you anyway. He’s felt temptation, too, but He has also overcome it. That is the hope of Christmas. That is the hope we can share in Christ Jesus.

I so long for you to know my God – the Pauper King who lowered Himself in order to give us an opportunity to rise ridiculously far above our station. I want you to experience the greatest and most breathtaking love you will ever know on either side of the grave.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:14-16)

I pray He will open your heart as He once opened mine so that some day, we can celebrate together how we both found grace and mercy in our time of need.

Tuesday Prayer: Worship

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

Lord, as we celebrate this Christmas season, let us not forget You as the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. You are the One true God, holy and pure, and in Your unfathomable mercy, You have established the ability to worship within the human heart. In fact, You created us to worship with the intent that You would be the recipient of our cravings and our praise.

Today we confess that we too often allow other things to eclipse Your glory in our lives. The Christmas season can be especially so, for although we sometimes say things like, ” Jesus is the reason for the season,” our actions sometimes betray where our true devotions lie. We can get so caught up in the busy-ness and the secular pressures of buying and giving that we forget Whose birthday it is we celebrate.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42)

So it is that we look to You as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Lord, take our small faith and make it grow. Hone it, refine it, purify it, and make it into something which reflects Your glory to others. Take away all that eclipses Your majesty in our lives, turning our eyes from worthless things and giving us life in Your ways. Make us to love Your Scriptures more, reminding us that it is the very Word of Life to us.

 Give us a passion for Your Kingdom, a hunger for Your presence, and a never-ending thirst for the Living Water. Forgive our lack of trust and help us to trust You more. Fix our eyes on You and ascend the throne of our hearts as our rightful King. May it be that our worship of You is evident to all, shining like a light in the darkness of this world and acting as a guide to bring others to walk and live in the light of Your love, amen.

When Relationships Chafe

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

In my country, the official kick-off was Thanksgiving Day – a day of feasting and gratitude ironically followed by the slightly sickening commercial festivity known as “Black Friday” which actually begins Thursday evening until “Cyber Monday” takes over and filches more dollars from the American pocket. But I digress…

This year, my family had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week. We were blessed to spend some time in Florida with my dad and stepmom. One of my sisters and her family came, too, and what with the great company, fantastic weather, and delectable food, I doubt we could have concocted a better way to spend the week.

But I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

For many people, the family time aspect of the holidays spells nothing but frustration. We all have those family members who tend to be more querulous, and some among us spend the holidays biting our tongues – or wishing we had.

Every family bears a bandaged wound or two. Every family carries scars from past hurts. It’s a part of being human in a fallen world. The brutal truth is that our real-life family gatherings are more apt to resemble a Griswold family Christmas than a Hallmark movie.

The enforced familial closeness of the holidays can and often does cause simmering tensions to boil over.  But you know what? Even then, family time is good.  In fact, I would venture to say this season is wonderful because of the relational difficulties.

You see, one sunny Florida afternoon, I walked back to my earthly dad’s house and talked with my heavenly Dad along the way. In particular, I was praying over the absence of one other sister at our feast. One of our family’s bandaged wounds.

As I prayed about the situation and about others who are more difficult to love, the Spirit of God whispered the words of 1 John 4:19 into my heart. We love because He first loved us.

Naturally, I went back and read the rest of the chapter and I see what He means. When we are faced with prickly relatives or with co-workers, members of our church family, or even strangers at the grocery store who are a little more challenging to endure, it is at precisely this point that we have a choice to make:

Will we love only those who are easy to love? Or will we love them because our Lord first loved us?

I feel now is a good time to mention that this “when He first loved us” moment was hardly one we can boast about. Romans 5:10 reminds us that we were enemies of God when He loved us enough to offer the dearest part of Himself as ransom for our crimes. He didn’t love us when we were lovable but when we were in full-tilt rebellion against Him.

Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells us more than once to love our enemies (see Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35, et al). And back in 1 John 4, the beloved disciple has a great deal more to say about love, not the least of which is a sobering reminder that love isn’t lived out in Hallmark moments but in the gritty and often painful moments of forgiving the unforgivable and answering sharp words with graciousness.

Not because those who hurt us deserve it, but because neither did we. And yet, He loved us anyway.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:10-11)

While we’re busily putting Christ back in Christmas and squeezing in Advent devotionals between shopping sprees and holiday parties, let’s be certain that our daily choices match our lofty sentiments. Let’s try to keep in mind that forgiving can only be done when there is something to forgive. Grace and mercy can only be shown when they aren’t deserved.

In love, let’s hold one another accountable to living and loving in humility and with the grace God extends to us. Not necessarily because our families and associates are worth it, but because HE is. And we trust Him enough to obey.

 

 

All That Glitters…

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Luke 12:34)

Ah, Christmastime…

As I think back on the last 16 years of Christmas celebrations as a parent, I could fill a good many pages with items ardently desired by my children on December 1 and summarily forgotten by March 1 – or significantly earlier.

 

Take this rather gaudy tree topper, for example: 20171218_135503.jpg

When my middle daughter was 5 or 6, we were shopping for seasonal decor (which, by the way, is not precisely one of my strengths). She saw this garishly bedecked woman-thing and her eyes were dazzled with all the golden glitter. She and her sister made a fervent appeal to place this sparkly woman (who, to me, seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of the angelic messengers described in the Bible) atop our tree. Since the thing was inexpensive and their mom is rather, shall we say, thrifty… the girls got their wish.

This year, the old tree topper was pulled from a box in a forgotten corner of our attic. A good portion of her glitter now dusts the furniture and floors, some of the fake flowers have gone missing, and her plastic hair has lost much of its original shimmer.

In many ways, she is a reminder of how like children we humans really are concerning spiritual matters.

Far too often, our heads are turned by whatever bedazzles our eyes at the moment. Our obsession with all that is fleeting is perhaps particularly obvious during the gigantic marketing extravaganza of December, but it is no less firmly in place year-round.

This Christmas, I am challenged by my perceptions of what makes up a good Christmas. Is it food, family, health, and comfort? Or is it the Christ?

In my circles, this December has brought with it a tidal wave of hurt, strife, difficulty, and loss for many who are dear to me. Marriages are foundering, families do their best to ignore empty seats, bitter feuds are barely contained. All around me, there is conflict and both physical and emotional pain. There is suffering. There is sorrow.

Yet even still, there is Christmas. Despite what we may be told or how we may feel, the gift of Christmas goes far beyond even the boon of family, friends, health, and prosperity. It is for rich and poor alike, for the happy and the sorrowful, for the healthy and the maimed.

The gift of Christmas is salvation from sin and the presence of the Almighty God forever and ever, and it remains a limitless treasure and an unending well of joy no matter what curveballs life may throw our way.

And it is not just for December. The gift of Christmas is eternal. The Lord really did come to bind up the broken-hearted, to set free those who are shackled by sin, and to comfort those who mourn. What’s more, He does this regardless of our circumstances.

He, Himself, is the Gift. He is the prize. He is the goal. And He is good – so, so good.

This Christmas, I am praying for all of the redeemed to catch hold of the breathtaking expanse of treasure we have in Him, no matter what else may happen.

I am praying for my Lord to find and rescue friends and loved ones who have wandered far and wide chasing after shiny trinkets, which when caught, are nothing more than gilded garbage.

I am praying that the disillusioned will see past the facade of our adversary’s cleverly enticing deceptions to the trap within, and for them to seek and find the life-giving Well of Living Water instead.

Finally, I am praying for all of God’s people to remember that Christmas does not consist in who we are with nor in what we give or get, but in what we already have in Christ.

May that reality give weight to our joy, defining every interaction we have with others and outshining any glitter-coated bauble so the world will know our hope is not in this world.

It is in the Glory of the Lord of Hosts.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

My friends, as much as I love reading all your thoughts here on the  blogosphere, I must take a bit of a break. It is time for me to spend some time focusing on my Lord and seeking His will for me in the new year. I may be around if time allows, but if not, I will see you next year. Merry Christmas!