Merry Christmas Adam

Everyone knows that tomorrow is Christmas Eve. But does everyone also know that today is Christmas Adam, which precedes Christmas Eve. Celebrate in style with a McRib at McDonald’s!

Actually, all those dreams I’ve had of a white Christmas this year are being replaced by the reality of thunderstorms and tornado watches. In this case, the line “Hail, the Son of Righteousness” is quite literally coming true in some places with actual hail.

I’m hoping and praying that all my Nashville friends out there are safe and sound in the midst of tornado warnings.

I’m also praying that in the midst of the shopping frenzy, people will remember that what counts most aren’t the gifts under the tree as much as the Gift lying in a manger.

I confess that for me it’s a time to watch all the classic movies like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas and to listen to my vast collection of Christmas music.

Still, it’s also a time for me to reflect and remember the birth that changed history as we know it. There would be no Golgotha and no Resurrection without a Bethlehem. There could be no Risen Savior with Scarred Hands and Feet with out a Child Wrapped in Swaddling Cloths and Lying in a Manger.

Maybe I’m like a broken record when it comes to Christmas, but I don’t care. I do love Christmas. Yes, for the nostalgia and warm fuzzies, but also for the way in which the impossible became glorious reality in the form of Emmanuel, God with us.

So be sure to have all your presents bought and wrapped. Have plenty of eggnog and cheer. But don’t forget to leave room on your schedule and in your heart for the babe born to be a sacrifice for you and me.

And God bless us, everyone!

 

Unspeakable Joy to All You Ebenezers Out There

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“Joy, it’s always a function of gratitude — and gratitude is always a function of perspective. If we are going to change our lives, what we’re going to have to change is the way we see” (Ann Voskamp).

I love the 1951 version of Scrooge, known to us Americans as A Christmas Carol. Most of what I love about the movie is how giddy Ebenezer Scrooge is at the end when he discovers the true spirit of Christmas. That gets to me every single time.

I’m thinking about a Facebook friend who posted about how much she hated Christmas, partly due to the fact that all she saw were the crazy spending, the long lines, the push-and-shove grab-all-you-can mentality.

That’s not Christmas. At least that’s not what Christmas is truly all about.

Joy does come when you shift your perspective from what is seen, i.e. the money exchanging hands, to the unseen, i.e. what can never be bought and can never be earned but only received as a free gift.

I often lose perspective, especially in Nashville traffic. But I always love being reminded that as a believer saved by that amazing grace, I have more reason than anyone to have unspeakable joy.

I hope you never forget who you were when Jesus found you. I hope you never lose the feeling of that moment when your life changed forever and you went from being a nobody set on a dead end street to a child and heir of God bound for something much better than anyone has ever dreamed.

Jesus now and Heaven ahead. Actually, Jesus now and then Jesus AND Heaven ahead. There will always be Jesus.

I love that I discovered Advent later in life because I appreciate it so much more than if I had grown up with it. I also love that I am still coming to understand the full extent of what that unspeakable joy looks and feels like.

I hope and pray that never gets old for any of us who have ever experienced it.

The end.

 

Easter Sunday 2015

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“It is good for us to remember that this stone was rolled away from the entrance, not to permit Christ to come out but to enable the disciples to go in!” (Peter Marshall)

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you'” (Billy Graham).

“But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross” (Bono).

For me, Easter is a bit harder to prepare for than Christmas. You don’t have nearly the commercialism of the season constantly reminding you that the day is coming. Also, Easter isn’t on a fixed day every year like Christmas.

Most of all, Easter isn’t quite the feel-good story that Christmas is. You don’t have the cute little infant being cradled by loving Mary as a doting Joseph watches on. You have the gory spectacle of the cross and the death of an innocent Man to deal with.

But you need both, I think. You can’t have the Greatest Story Ever Told without both the virgin birth and the death and resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin Mary, then He’s not qualified to die for anyone’s sins but His own. If He isn’t raised from the dead, then we are still stuck in our sins and just as hopeless as before.

So I love both seasons. More than that, I love how Advent comes before Christmas and Lent comes before Easter, giving us time to prepare our hearts and minds for what it all means.

This year, Easter means that no life is wasted. It means that every life matters and every single person ever born matters to God. It means that your and my identity doesn’t come from honor rolls or bank accounts or resumes, but from Calvary. At the core, who I am is the Beloved of God, who proved that He thought I was worth dying for on that cross.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, there are only 263 days left until Christmas.

 

 

A Good Book

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There’s nothing like a good book. In my opinion.

When it comes to books, I’m not . I read all kinds, from fantasy fiction to historical biographies. I just finished a book called unbroken about Olympic runner and World War II pilot and POW Louis Zamperini. It was a hard-to-read yet fascinating look at what one man went though and how he came out stronger on the other side. I’ll let you read the book to figure out how.

I just started a book about Queen Elizabeth II. I anticipate this will be another winner.

At some point, I will probably read The Lord of the Rings again. I will also re-read The Space Trilogy. Those are books that I read through every year.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I read a lot. Usually, I read when I first get to work and during my lunch break. Sometimes, I read a bit when I get home if I’m not too sleepy. Such is the exciting life I lead.

I do think that reading makes you a more well-rounded, if not more intelligent, person. You learn not only facts and figures, but also how to better articulate your own opinions. Reading good books can’t help but lead to better expression of your own ideas. At least that’s what I think.

The best I figure it, I will need to live to be at least 220 to read all the books that are on my ever-growing to-read list. For every one book I read, I add two that I intend to read at some point in my lifetime.

I finished reading through the Bible a few days ago. I didn’t plan on finishing so early in the year, but it just happened. Next year, I will take it more slowly.

So my suggestion is to find a good book to help pass those summer hours. I’m always handy with a recommendation or two if you need ideas.

 

What I Read This Morning

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I’ve been reading through the Bible this year in a different translation. It’s called The Voice, and I really like it. It’s not perfect, but I have yet to find a translation that was perfect. That’s why I tend to use more than one and go back and forth between different ones.

That being said, I was struck by reading a familiar passage in a different way. Here it is:

If you’re listening, here’s My message: Keep loving your enemies no matter what they do. Keep doing good to those who hate you. Keep speaking blessings on those who curse you. Keep praying for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other cheek too. If someone steals your coat, offer him your shirt too. If someone begs from you, give to him. If someone robs you of your valuables, don’t demand them back. Think of the kindness you wish others would show you; do the same for them.

Listen, what’s the big deal if you love people who already love you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you do good to those who do good to you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you lend to people who are likely to repay you? Even scoundrels lend to scoundrels if they think they’ll be fully repaid.

If you want to be extraordinary—love your enemies! Do good without restraint! Lend with abandon! Don’t expect anything in return! Then you’ll receive the truly great reward—you will be children of the Most High—for God is kind to the ungrateful and those who are wicked. So imitate God and be truly compassionate, the way your Father is.

If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge. If you don’t want to be condemned, don’t condemn. If you want to be forgiven, forgive. Don’t hold back—give freely, and you’ll have plenty poured back into your lap—a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, brimming over. You’ll receive in the same measure you give” (Luke 6:27-38).

That’s a hard teaching. I know I could never do all that in my own strength. But that’s what t I’m aiming for. That’s what we’re all aiming for if we truly follow Jesus.

I had another thought. People want to paint Jesus in their own colors. Either they make Him into an ultra-rightwing conservative or a peace-loving liberal fanatical. I do think there’s some merit to both, but yet each side falls short in its vision of the Messiah. Jesus Himself prayed for Jerusalem that she might know His peace, but yet He also said that He didn’t come to bring peace but a sword.

To me, Jesus was so much more than either conservative or liberal. He was (and is) the Eternal God-Man and, just as God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours, so in a way is Jesus. He’s beyond any of our categorization.

One thing I know. Jesus didn’t come to legitimize one side or the other. He didn’t come to justify a belief system or a political platform. He came to seek and save the lost, no matter where they came from.

He asks one thing of us. His command is, “Follow me.” More than an ideology or a systematic theology, Christianity is and has always been about following the person of Jesus. That’s it.

The Love of God Revisited

“Take your human feelings, multiply them exponentially into infinity, and you will have a hint of the love of God revealed by and in Jesus Christ.  With a strong affirmation of our goodness and a gentle understanding of our weakness, God is loving us – you and me – this very moment, just as we are and not as we should be.  There is nothing any of us can do to increase his love for us and nothing we can do to diminish it” (Brennan Manning).

Tonight at Kairos, I got a much-needed reminder about the unconditional love of God for me.

It’s easy for me (and I’m sure you as well) to get caught up in the trap of a performance-based view of love and then transfer it to God. It goes like this:

If I live right, God will love me more.

If I read my Bible more, God will love me more.

If I tithe more, attend church services more, treat people better, and so on and on. . . .

The truth is that if I never read my Bible one more time, God’s love for me would remain undiminished (thanks to Michael Boggs for that gem of a reminder).

The truth is that the nature of God as love means that He cannot love any less than perfectly anymore than He can be anything less than 100% holy or 100% righteous. So He is 100% loving toward you and me.

The catch is that He chooses to love me when He doesn’t have to. He chooses to love you simply because it is His pleasure and His delight. It’s nothing that you and I bring to the table or anything about us that makes us lovable. Only the love of God in us and for us can make us lovable.

A dangerous prayer to pray (that may not seem dangerous) is to ask God to show you just how much He loves you. Your mind won’t be able to contain the answer. After all, it is beyond human comprehension or understanding.

As always, let that love be what defines you, not what your friends say or think, what your annual job performance review tells you, what your level of success and influence tells you, or anything like that. You are not defined by marital status, career, finances, popularity, or even religious standing.

Only God’s love has the power to define (or redefine) you, heal you, save you, and transform you into something worth loving.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m not loved this much to hoard it all. I’m loved so that I can receive it and turn around and love those around me the same way. In fact, the true measure of how I’ve really received the love of God is how well I share it with those around me who need it most but deserve it least.

Just think about that for a while and see if it doesn’t blow your mind.

10 Years Later

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In all the hoopla of gift-giving and gift-getting (not forgetting all the food-eating and dessert-eating), I almost forgot a very important anniversary.

It was 10 years to the day on December 24 that my beloved cat, Lucy, came home again after getting out and having an adventure. A very un-Hobbitlike adventure.

She somehow managed to get out and get lost on December 22. All the frantic searching in the world on the next day produced nothing. I vividly remember being distraught and very emotional. I had all but given up hope of ever seeing her again.

We had put up flyers all over the neighborhood. These flyers had her name, age, description, approximate weight, and a black-and-white photo. Apparently, on December 24, the mailman recognized the picture and informed us that she was taking up residence in a neighbor’s garage down the street.

I can imagine her trotting up to a strange lady and saying something like, “I’ve lost my family. Will you be my family?” Of course, this isn’t Narnia, so she wouldn’t actually say these things, but it would all be implied by her meowings.

Apparently, she got rained on a bit, got her nose scraped a bit, and had a few traumatic events, but came out of it the same old weird, goofy cat she’d always been.

I got her back on Christmas Eve. That remains my best gift.

She’s had a few other adventures since then, including a cancer scare which she thankfully survived.

Thinking back on the whole thing, I’m reminded that for those who want to come home, there’s always a way. Even more so with God.

No one who wants to find God, earnestly and truly, and know Him will be denied. All who seek Him in truth find Him and find at the same time that really He was the one seeking them. He was the one pursuing them and wooing them. The only way we ever find and love God is that He first finds and loves us.

And that goes for all the prodigals out there. The Father still waits and looks down the road for those who want to come home. Better than that, He already knows where you are and is whispering the way home to your heart. There is always a way back and a way home.

My reward is that I’ve gotten 10 years of feline therapy and free cat-scans. Your reward for seeking God isn’t as much the gifts and blessings from God, but God Himself. That’s still the best part.

I Believe, I Believe. It’s Silly, But I Believe

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I love the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street. She’s like me and so many others who really and truly want to believe but seem to be running low on faith.

Sometimes, faith IS believing in things when common sense tells you not to. Faith really is the art of believing still even after circumstances and life events haven’t gone your way.

Maybe you’re single with no hope of a spouse in sight, yet you cling tenaciously to a slender thread of faith.

Maybe you’re married to an unbelieving spouse and it’s all you can do to mouth the words ” All things are possible” when it comes to your mate’s salvation.

Maybe it’s a wayward prodigal child or an illness that lingerd. Maybe it’s a dead end job that makes you feel like you’re living a dead end life. Maybe it’s just a general sense of hopelessness and despair.

There’s wisdom in that little girl’s mantra. Good things come to those who keep waiting and hoping. God’s best comes to those who refuse to quit despite everyone else telling them to give up.

I don’t know your specifics or your situation, but I do know God. He hasn’t broken a promise yet or failed to keep His Word. Ever.

Faith isn’t so much holding on to God, but being firmly convinced that He’s holding on to you with everything He’s got and He won’t let go.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

Amen.

Another Boxing Day Has Come and Gone

It’s Boxing Day. At least for another 53 minutes.

All I know of this holiday is that it is celebrated in Canada and that it involves leaving gifts for those in need, or alms, in boxes outside our homes. I would look it up on Wikipedia, but I am beyond sleepy and not inclined for that much brain activity.

I had another great night in downtown Franklin. I ate at McCreary’s Irish Pub, which almost feels like a home away from home because the people who work there seem almost like a second family.

I finally got to see The Sound of Music on a big screen, Franklin Theatre-style. That was worth way more than $5.50.

I took lots of pictures with my iPhone. They’re all posted on my Facebook page, so look me up and see all my pics there.

As you might have already guessed, I’m running low on creativity tonight. I supposed I’m all boxed out. Ha.

On a day when most people have already moved on from Christmas, I’m still listening to Christmas music. I finally found my Ultimate Christmas MP3 CD with over 13 hours of hand-picked favorites. Apparently, I have way too many favorites.

I’m still thankful for the Baby born in a manger, whether it was actually on December 25 (which is highly doubtful) or in the spring (which is more likely). What matters isn’t when He came, but who He came for– you and me.

It’s good to be reminded again that I mattered enough to Someone for Him to come into my world and find me and save me from myself and my sins and my mess.

That’s all for now.

God Bless Us, Every One!

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“Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.” (St. Augustine of Hippo)

It’s Christmas Day.

For me that means a contentment that goes deeper than me getting all the presents I wanted. It goes even deeper than seeing the faces of family when they unwrapped one of my presents.

For me, contentment on Christmas Day comes from knowing that the baby born on this day doesn’t live in men’s hearts only one day of the year, but all the days (I “borrowed” that line from a movie I watched again earlier today).

The true meaning of Christmas will be just as true on December 26 and beyond. It remains true 365 days of the year, every year. Even on those weird leap years.

I’m content. Even if I watch every girl I’m ever interested in fall in love with someone else, I’m content. Even if I never get that dream job, I’m content.

God became human for me so that I could be like Jesus one day. So that everything that belongs to Jesus– perfect peace, complete joy, unending love, eternal riches– could be mine. Better yet, it is mine.

Like Scrooge, I don’t deserve to be so happy, but I just can’t help it. I really can’t.

May that kind of joy be yours on this Christmas Day and on every day that follows!