|We are Near Jesus Christ!
|Thursday, December 29, 2016|
The wonder of children…is their sense of wonder.
At three years of age, Lucy is full of wonder. But the Christmas season has a way of drawing it out, like nothing else.
Along with her three siblings, Lucy was intrigued with the idea of visiting a live nativity. The Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Florida does it up big. Think 8,000 square feet of big! Think thousands of visitors walking about the streets of a recreated city of Bethlehem—some walls towering 20 feet in the air.
Don't be frightened off by all the yelling
Hear the sounds of the sheep? Don’t get too near the camel, please. And don’t be frightened off by all the yelling. Those are merely the voices of Roman guards reminding you to pay your taxes.
As you snake your way through the crowded streets, passing by period-costumed artisans, merchants and beggars, it’s easy to travel back in time. Easy to feel as if you are no longer merely reading Luke 2, but living it.
Little Lucy took in all of this. And in whatever way three year olds process this much stimulation, she tucked it all away. Yet it all came bubbling out a night or two later.
From her car seat, she blurted out...
Her mother was driving the kids down the same road that led to the living nativity. This was not their destination, but even in total darkness, Lucy somehow made the connection.
From her little car seat, Lucy blurted out, “We are near Jesus Christ! He’s close to us! We are almost to where Jesus is!"
She was right.
More right than she knew.
The One who came at Christmas and called Himself the Good Shepherd still walks bleak hills on cold nights in search of lost souls. Though you may at present feel far away from Him—He longs for you to come near.
Acts 17:27, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
“We are near Jesus Christ!”
|Go Tell it on the Mountain
|Thursday, December 22, 2016|
He is every teacher's nightmare—the pain of the preschool, according to my wife, Diana. Just look for the boy grabbing toys away from others. Or shoving kids in line. Or hitting the child that ticks him off. That's Garrett.
He plays too rough. Talks too loud. Cares too little about anyone or anything other than himself. Having heard so many stories about Garrett, I was most interested in meeting the little tyke as I showed up with my camera bag.
Like Herding Cats
My wife has a rich tradition of taking a Christmas class photo in front of a floor-to-ceiling wall mural that looks like a Bethlehem neighborhood. Every child is dressed up in a costume that represents a character from the Christmas story and I was there to capture it all on my Nikon.
The outfits are adorable, but collecting 15 preschoolers and attempting to dress them up is like herding cats. Fortunately, this was not the first rodeo for Diana, or her capable assistant teacher, Kathy,
At last the kids were dressed and ready to head off to the photo room. But Garrett was unusually quiet. I saw him stare at the folds of the shepherd's robe hanging from his shoulders. Saw him gawk at the sight of white angel wings and fuzzy halos. Saw him ponder the sparkle of wise men who had come from afar.
And then the sweetest little voice sang a familiar refrain: “Go, tell it on the mountain...Over the hills and everywhere!” It was Garrett. Lost in the wonder.
Ruffians and Ragamuffins
Consider: the most unlikely kid in the class was perhaps the only one who truly “got it.” Yet isn't that the way it has always been with this gospel story of ours? It's the ruffians and ragamuffins, the “tax collectors and sinners” Jesus called them—who often get it before the rest of us so called “refined” folks.
Aren’t you glad Jesus came for scoundrels--like you and me?
|Outrageous Gift Giving
|Monday, December 12, 2016|
It's the one last Christmas gift he invites her to open. It’s a small box. Inside, a key. It goes with the (CUE THE MUSIC) Lexus sitting in their driveway. The one with the massive red bow on top. She gives him a look, then a kiss (MUSIC SWELLS), and they roar off down the road happily ever after as the voice-over invites us to get in on the gift giving.
Who DOES this?
Am I the only one watching these commercials wondering, “Who DOES this?! Who gives their wife or husband a Lexus or Lincoln MKZ as a Christmas gift?
Answer: Enough to justify the ad campaign.
Not Sweating the Price
According to car buying site Edmunds.com, in seven of the last twelve years, more luxury cars were sold in December than any other month. Better deals come after Christmas, but if you're thinking your sweetheart needs keys to a new Mercedes under the tree, you're probably not sweating out the price.
To my scale of thought—and income--this is outrageous. Over the top. Extreme.
Yet...maybe it's a better metaphor for Christmas than I've given it credit.
How else can we describe the (indescribable) gift of Jesus at Christmas. King of the Universe. Owner of it all. Inventor of water. And babies. And kisses.
Jesus, the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father and Prince of peace is our gift. And He came with the idea of giving one inexplicable gift—His own life…in exchange for ours.
Outrageous! Extreme. Over the top! Makes even the most expensive Ferrari look like rusty trash by comparison.
However, the gift of salvation Jesus offers bears a striking resemblance to the car keys given in the TV commercials. Unless you grab them and unlock the door, it's not much of a gift.
Have you opened the door of your heart to the gift of Jesus?
|Rain Brings Out the Fragrance
|Thursday, December 08, 2016|
It was just a small pine bough there on the sidewalk. But I was obliged to pick it up and take it to my office.
I have always loved the smell, the look—even the feel of pine trees. It must go back to my childhood at Christmastime. To this day, the smell of a pine tree brings back so many happy memories, and whenever I pass by a Christmas tree lot, I like to stand there and just sniff the air.
My favorite restaurant in the entire world is called White Pines and at home you’ll find a soap bar my wife gave me, whose fragrance is pine.
Every December, I walk by Chicago office buildings festooned with pine branches. Often, I stop and inhale the beauty. But a recent walk in the rain confirmed a theory I have long held. It was drizzling and the smell of cut pine boughs wired to a fence was scrumptious. Somehow, rain brings out the pine smell. I don't know why. I don't know how. I only know that it does.
Rain on Your Party
This Christmas, our hopes are high for family gatherings without strain, shopping without stress (and other highly unrealistic wishes). The truth is it's probably going to rain on your party. Not pretty fluffy snow. Ugly rain. Cold and yucky wetness.
Fragrance in You?
And it may all seem a bit disappointing. But if you know Jesus, the unwanted rain can actually bring out His fragrance in you. As 2 Corinthians 2:15 puts it, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
When others see the real Jesus lived out in real problems, it makes for a remarkable fragrance in an otherwise stinky world. I don't know exactly why. Or how. I only know that it does.
|Why I Can't Hit the Delete Key
|Thursday, December 01, 2016|
Confession. I keep some contact names in my Outlook address book even after they have passed away. A former boss. A friend. I just can’t bring myself to delete their names. For example, there’s this guy I met in the pulpit of a church in Romania.
It was one of the first times I ever preached in Ploiesti, the oil producing town an hour north of Bucharest. Stefan (not his real name) stood next to me and translated the message with remarkable ease—despite my rookie ways.
He Never Complained
Stefan was not a large man, but he had a huge heart. His intelligence extended beyond linguistics into technology. He had a responsible job, a beautiful wife, a baby boy, and it was a pleasure to get to know him. Every year when I visited Ploesti, Stefan would faithfully translate my sermon, never complaining when my sentences were too long.
You can understand how I began to look forward to being with him—if only for a short time in his church. We emailed some throughout the year between visits.
Then came the Sunday we headed off to church and I was informed Stefan would not be translating for me—ever. A car accident. You can imagine my shock.
This past November—more than ten years after the accident—I spoke in that same church. There in the front row was this man’s widow, and seated next to her, the little boy that was now a young teenager.
We met afterwards and I could not resist reminding the boy of what a great father he had. Of how intelligent he was and—better than that—how humble he was. The boy seemed to nod his head without much emotion. Too young to remember.
Their Deeds Follow Them
But not me. I remember him. And his wife remembers him. And many others whose lives he touched remember him, too. That’s the way it is with those in die in Christ, for as John writes in Revelation 14:13, “their deeds follow them!”
I cannot bring myself to hit the delete key on this man’s contact page.
Now you know why.
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