Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Different Kind of Resolution

If you're like me, you haven't even begun to recover from Christmas, much less realize that Friday is New Year's Eve. And yet, ready or not, 2009 is coming quickly to a close.

With each new year, a guilty twinge creeps into my consciousness, whispering that I'm supposed to make a list of resolutions. It's what you're "supposed" to do to better yourself.

When I was an optimistic young girl, I did make lists--exercise five times a week, read my Bible every day, be kinder to my brother.

But it never failed. Less than one month into a new year, and my clean slate started getting red marks on it. I'd break one resolution, then another. And before I knew it, I just gave up, once again feeling worthless that I couldn't be perfect in one thing for even a measly thirty days.

And yet I think the problem was my resolutions were flawed from the start--I was always the one making up resolutions for myself rather than asking God what He would have me to do and then asking Him to help me obey Him in His strength rather than in my own.

All I really needed to do was look in His Word. Look at His commands.

As 2010 rushes near, my heart isn't really looking for a resolution. Rather, God has been drawing me to Christ's charge for Christians to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.

But I don't think it's my heart alone that should be firmly resolved to get the Word out there, but should be the heart of every Christian as well.

During Jesus' ministry, He told His disciples, "'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'" (Matt. 28:18-20).

Later, after Christ's resurrection, He told those same disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

In these two verses alone, Christ empowers you and me to act...but not so that we can fulfill our petty, individual desires. Instead, He empowers us for a greater purpose--to share the truth of Jesus, to teach God's word, to make Christian disciples.

It's an awesome charge not to be taken lightly, although many Christians do (myself included). It's a heavy command, yes, a command--Jesus says "go" not "go if you are brave enough" or "go if you have the gift of convincing speech" and He says "you will" twice, not "you might."

Christ made this a command because He knows the outcome--heaven or hell. And He knows how many souls are at stake. Consider the statistics. 1.5 billion people have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ (IMB "Who's Missing").

1.5 billion.

Wikipedia claims Yankee Stadium seats 50,000. So fill Yankee Stadium 30,000 times and that's how many people have never heard about Jesus, not counting the billions more who have heard of Jesus but not accepted Him as their Savior.

If each person who reads this would share Jesus with one each week in 2010. And if that one would share Jesus with another one....

As the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said, "If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where Are You Christmas?

One of my favorite TV specials of the season is A Charlie Brown Christmas. In one scene, Lucy lounges on the end of the Schroeder’s toy piano as he plays one perfectly executed classical tune after another.

Critical as ever, Lucy berates his song repertoire before asking, “Can you play ‘Jingle Bells’?”

As Schroeder begins playing the song in conventional piano style, Lucy cocks an ear to listen only to interrupt moments later: “No, no, I mean ‘Jingle Bells.’ You know, deck them halls and all that stuff?”

Schroeder then plays the same song, this time with the toy piano producing rich sounds of a church organ. True to character, Lucy interrupts again. “No, no. You don’t get it at all. I mean ‘Jingle Bells’ You know, Santa Claus and ho ho ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.”

At this point, Schroeder furrows his pencil eyebrows in irritation as he takes one finger and crudely pecks out the melody on a now plinking, hollow-sounding, toy piano.

Although this is the worst version of the song, Lucy finally recognizes it and shrieks, “That’s it!”

This scene reminds me of so many people I see at Christmas time. Listening, looking, hoping, striving each year to create the perfect Christmas experience; yet, not realizing the true spirit of Christmas is playing loud and clear through the story of the nativity.

And so they stand in long lines and agonize over finding the perfect present for a long list of family and friends. They dress up for smiling Christmas pictures to include in stacks of Christmas cards that must be mailed. They slave hours over a hot stove to bake dozens of cookies and candies for party after party. They endanger their lives to string brightly-colored lights from the rooftops and decorate their houses with trees, tinsel, and holly. Some even travel long distances to visit family.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities…unless you have bought into the notion that you will find the spirit of Christmas in them.

Sure, most of us have traditions we enjoy keeping. But if we seek to find the meaning of Christmas in traditions, activities, and things, then if something goes wrong, the words “Christmas was ruined because…” might escape your mouth.

When we’re separated from loved ones by death or a snow storm, when we can’t find that perfect gift, when we burn the cookies, when the cat climbs up and destroys the tree---when anything un-perfect happens, the spirit of Christmas lives on…if you’re looking in the right place for it.

The spirit of Christmas is found in the form of a small God-made-flesh child in a lowly manger.

The spirit of Christmas is found in an angel telling a group of frightened shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The spirit of Christmas is found in the multitude of angels who burst forth in song for those same shepherds: “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased’” (Luke 2:13-14).

The spirit of Christmas is found in the heart of every believer in Christ. As Christ said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17)

If you find yourself with the bah-humbugs this Christmas season, if you just can’t seem to get in the “Christmas spirit,” ask yourself what Christmas spirit you’re trying to find—the world’s version? Or the one found in the Christ child?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's In a Name?

When a business starts up, it takes special care to create a catchy brand name and image that will stick in consumers’ minds. For instance, “Carbonated Pop” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Coca Cola.”

The same holds true when naming a child. Some have even argued that a child’s name contributes to his/her level of success as an adult. I understand that—many might be hesitant to entrust their life savings to a Wall Street broker named “Jethro.”

Because of this, for all three of our children, my husband and I labored to pick a baby name that we kept secret until their births. We looked for names that gave homage to the generations who have come before us. Names that weren’t too common in our community but also names that would (hopefully) not result in our children getting picked on too much. And most importantly—we looked at each name’s meaning.

Mary and Joseph didn’t have this problem with choosing a name . The angel told them up front what the baby’s name would be: “and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).

The meaning of Jesus’ name was important because His very character was inscribed in His name. His name meant that as the second part of the trinity, He had left His heavenly home to physically come to earth and dwell among us in the flesh. He was 100% God. And yet He was also 100% human.

But why is this such a big deal? And for that matter, why did we need God to dwell with us anyway?

First, the fact that a sinless, holy God would see fit to dwell among sinful humanity blows my mind each time I think about it. There are many days when I want to cut myself totally off from the sin I see being so openly and guiltlessly flaunted in our society…and I’m a sinner, myself. But Jesus who was perfect chose to dwell here. That is incomprehensible.

As the disciple John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).

Secondly, God needed to dwell with us if we were ever going to be reconciled to God. His coming to earth and, ultimately, giving His life on the cross, bridged the gap between man and God the Father, whose relationship had been severed by an endless ocean of sin. Paul writes, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corr. 5:18-19).

Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesied His coming much earlier: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Mary and Joseph couldn’t have possibly known all that their son’s name would mean for them and for all mankind. But through Scripture, we can understand more of how God is with us even still—the Holy Spirit that resides within us, Jesus who makes intercession for us with the Father...


God is with us as our counselor in times where life’s circumstances leave us questioning our next step.

God is with us as Prince of Peace when anxiety, uncertainty, or depression threatens to drown us.

God is wish us as mighty, everlasting king of all creation who will come again soon to reclaim His earthly throne.

This Christmas season, thank God for His son, Jesus.

Immanuel. God’s word made flesh for you, for me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Knowing Your Limitations

I snuggle closer to the heater, pick up my crochet hook and blue nubby yarn. Chain one, two, three...I stop and look at the instruction page again to check myself. I sigh, knowing what I'm creating won't look like the perfect version pictured here. There will be mistakes. Some stitches will be looser than others. Some stitches, I might skip entirely.

I could give up easily. But, I continue, as always.

This is the story of my life. In college, I studied diligently to achieve a 4.00 GPA in Honors English. First in my graduating class--you'd think that would give me a huge boost in confidence. But, it didn't.

Not beautiful enough to be a model. Not much natural musical talent to be a Mozart. Not a strong enough voice to make me an overnight singing sensation. Not gifted enough with words to write a best seller. Not a powerful enough speaker to draw a following crowd.

No matter my achievements, my heart has always proclaimed the truth that no matter how good I am at anything--there's always going to be someone better, smarter... closer to perfection.

This mentality is good in a way because it helps be combat my human tendency toward pride. But it's also self defeating because it leaves me with a fear of trying something--anything--new, something else I won't be perfect at.

God's word says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecc.9:10).

I know this is true. The thing my hand strives "to do" is to live for Christ and obey His commands. But maybe you're like me--you strive to be perfect for Christ...only to fail.

Perhaps you're short-tempered with your children or husband. Perhaps you miss opportunities to share Jesus. Perhaps your prayer life isn't all it should be.

When our life's focus is split among so many things--job, children, household chores--it is difficult to keep our eyes on Jesus. So, what are we to do? Do we give up?

Do we just accept that our commitment to Him will always be second best?

The sixth Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, Philipps Brooks (1835-1893) discussed this very issue in his book, Visions and Tasks, and Other Sermons. He states that we incorrectly limit what we can achieve:

"There is nothing which comes to seem more foolish to us, I think, as years go by, than the limitations which have been quietly set to the moral possibilities of man. They are placedly and perpetually assumed. 'You must not expect too much of him,' so it is said. 'You must remember that he is only a man, after all'" (330).

Then, he explains why our self-imposed limitations are ridiculous: "Why man's moral range and reach is practically infinite, at least no man has yet begun to comprehend where its limits lies. Man's powers of conquering temptation, of despising danger, of being true to principle, have never been even indicated, save in Christ. 'Only a man!' that means only a Son of God; and who can begin to say what a Son of God, claiming his Father, may become and be and do?" (330).

You and I may not be perfect. We may not be number one. But in Christ, who knows what limitations we may overcome if we abide in Him.

I hope your prayer and my prayer will be this:

"O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come in you by the grace of God" (Brooks 330).

We don't know our limitations if we keep striving to work in God's ability and power. Let our lives be a miracle.