|Thursday, December 30, 2021|
We love happy endings:
It’s not that we’re pollyannish. We know life isn’t fair. The girl doesn't always get the guy. The job we're confident is God's will often eludes us. The cancer we pray would go into remission does so. Only to return and claim our loved one.
Poised at the edge of a new year while glancing back at the old, this fascination of ours with happy endings is brought into sharp, even painful, focus. And here’s the brutal biblical truth: Nowhere in Scripture are we ever urged to look for happy endings in any earthly endeavor.
Of course, there is no sin in happiness. Heaven will be full of it! And there is nothing saintly about scowls and frowns. But we cannot—must not—set happiness as the object of our earthly lives. That comes later!
The truth is, when we seek happy endings more than holy endings, we are seeking the wrong things. Jesus told us, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." It’s about holiness—not happiness.
And that takes us to a reality recalibration: Pursue holiness, not happiness. One is fleeting. One is forever. The joy of the Lord is our strength—but happy endings are not our right. Not while we walk this earth.
Maybe this last year handed you more than a few disappointments. We’ve all had our share, I suppose. Then let’s remind ourselves earthly happiness is fleeting, but holiness is forever.
Here’s to a new year filled with holiness!
|If Jesus Had a Wish List
|Thursday, December 23, 2021|
Do you make a Christmas wish list? This year, we didn’t get around to it until Monday of this week. As in five days before Christmas (no sense in rushing these things, right?).
The discipline of putting pen to paper brought to mind a question. What if, instead of just Diana and me sitting there in the family room, Jesus was there, too? And what if He decided to hand each of us a wish list? What would we find?
I suspect the Son of God would not ask for a pair of new sandals or an updated robe. If He did, He’d surely ask Diana, not me, noting her superior eye for style. But Jesus would, nevertheless, have a list. We know that because—without listing it on a scrap of paper and labeling it under the header, Christmas—Jesus has already clearly expressed what He wants from us in a much larger document.
For example, I think the Savior would request obedience. Yours. Mine. All of ours. I don’t hear Him yelling—but maybe gently whispering, “Why do you keep calling me, ‘Lord, Lord’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Another item on Jesus’ wish list: mercy. It's the gift everyone wants for themselves—but is oddly reluctant to give to others. Recalling His convicting story of the Good Samaritan, Christ might invite us to reassess our attitudes toward those who are "easy" to reject. Perhaps Jesus might tap His finger on the phrase in Luke 10:37, about "the one who showed mercy."
Looking further at Christ's list, we'd likely find Him requesting a light that shines before others "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 4:16).
Would the Savior's wish list for you be distinct from mine? Probably. After all, you're dealing with different things than I am. Your personal strengths and struggles are unique.
Maybe Jesus would look you straight in the eye while He asked for every single care of yours. Can’t you feel the touch of the Carpenter’s hand on your shoulder as He softly intones, “Cast them all on me because I care for you” (1 Peter 5:7)?
With no disrespect intended, Jesus Christ really is the Man who has everything. Knowing what He wants this Christmas isn't exactly difficult. But giving it will cost us: our pride, prejudice, and preferences. Isn't it time we consider what Jesus wants for Christmas?
|Small Gifts Matter
|Thursday, December 16, 2021|
Small gifts matter.
Check out this email from my friend, Jack:
Peppermint bark in a metal tin. That—and a Christmas card—were in one hand as I knocked on the door with the other. It was just a small gift. With the house cloaked in afternoon shadows, the window's reflection made it difficult to see if Mark was home. Mark lives a few doors down from us, but he’s been existing in a world far from ours: grief.
When at last I saw someone behind the door glass, it was not the face of Mark, the home repair guy we know. This was a girl with braces on her teeth and sadness in her eyes—Mark’s daughter.
This Christmas would be her first without her mom. She opened the door tentatively, and I explained that I was a neighbor a few doors down. As I handed her the peppermint bark, she brightened, and a smile crinkled her eyes.
The next part was hard. How do you express sympathy to a first-year high school student?
“We’re…umm…very sorry about your mom.” She nodded, still smiling as she looked at the candy. “So—please say hi to your dad for me, okay?” I added. She smiled even wider.
Hearing Jack's story reminds me that many of us have long taken a cautionary stance on Christmas gifts as evangelicals. "It's not about the gifts we give, but about the gift He gave,” we proclaim. We absolutely don’t want Christmas to be about the presents we buy. No argument, right?
It's certainly true we could never give a gift like God gave us in Jesus. But at the same time, I'm convinced our gift-giving matters—small gifts matter.
Consider how surprisingly few ways there are to express love to someone. You can tell them, write them, hug them, visit them—or give them a gift.
One last thought on Jack's gift. For years, he's prayed for an open door with his neighbor, Mark. Sounds to me like that door is open, at least a little.
Small gifts matter.
|A Shortage of Listeners
|Thursday, December 09, 2021|
You've heard there's a national coin shortage, a computer chip shortage, a cream cheese shortage (I'm not joking), and a truck driver shortage. Supposedly, there's also a shortage of Christmas trees—real and fake—and we can likely expect another toilet paper shortage soon.
To this list, add one more: a shortage of people who care to listen to others. Everybody loves a conversation. But hardly anybody likes to listen.
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of asking someone about their day—and then been fire-hosed with a ten-minute monologue. (Of course, you’ve never done that, have you?).
Despite Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, people feel less heard than ever. It seems to me people are also hurting more these days. But there are fewer people around who care to listen.
This, it seems to me, is our golden moment as Christ-followers. It's our opportunity to witness for Christ by showing the compassion of Christ—merely by listening.
What if we excelled at listening? What if we were the absolute best listeners our lost neighbors and loved ones ever encountered?
You say, “I don’t have the patience—or the time.” Really? Isn't it true we spend most of our prayer time asking of God or confessing to God rather than listening to God? Consider: the King of the universe has time to listen to us. How dare we be less gracious?
What if we listened by locking eyes with our friends and coworkers rather than stealing glances at our phones? What if we nodded our heads in empathy rather than nodded off? And—most difficult of all—what if we resisted the twin urges to either comment on their diatribe or go off on our own?
Ours is a bruised planet. Hear the hurts of others.
Ours is a worried planet. Hear the worries of others.
Ours is a lonely planet. Hear the pain of others.
As we have been listened to by our King, let us listen well to His subjects.
|Thursday, December 02, 2021|
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it was time to set up our Christmas manger scene. Slot A met Tab B, and the white cut-out boards snapped together in no time. The final touch—a white floodlight to illuminate Jesus and the manger scene.
Having shoved the plastic fixture into the lawn, I connected the extension cords, turned the light switch and…nothing. A quick examination revealed a crack that was more than a little suspicious. Time to replace it.
We found a new fixture at Home Depot the next day, and I eagerly threaded the floodlight into the socket. We turned on the switch, and this time the light came on. Then went off. Then went on. Perhaps the bulb wasn’t threaded in all the way? I cranked it firmly a quarter turn—and the darkness was disappointingly dark.
Aha! I needed only to swap out that old bulb for a new one! Problem is, I’d cranked it so tight, the bulb’s glass actually separated from the threaded insert. My (brand new) fixture was doomed.
After a second trip to Home Depot, we returned with an all-in-one LED fixture, plugged it in, and—finally enjoyed the glorious light. Funny how sometimes, shining a spotlight on Jesus takes more effort than you might think.
That’s been our experience with neighbors whom we’ve been trying to get to know—so we can introduce them to Christ. In Mathew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
As for “good deeds,” we’ve made some effort—but it hasn’t seemed to pay off. We tried bringing over a food basket. They seemed to appreciate it, but it didn’t make much of a connection. We gave them a small photo canvas of their little girl. A thank you—but no sense of relationship afterward.
It's tempting to write this off as a friendship that probably won't take off. But back to Matthew 5:16. When Jesus challenges us to let our lights shine, He speaks of letting others “see your good deeds.” Notice that the deeds are plural. As in many. Over time.
So, maybe (like us) you have yet to connect with a neighbor or coworker. You say, “I tried, but nothing’s happened.” Maybe not. Not yet. But try again—I dare you. Because sometimes, shining a spotlight on Jesus takes more effort than you might think.
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