Hesed

A very astute Bible teacher recently opened my eyes to the biblical word hesed. Basically, he said that there’s really no English word that truly captures all the essense of this Hebrew word.

It’s often translated as lovingkindness or stedfast love and is used in reference to God’s faithful love to His people in regard to His promises and His covenant toward them.

This teacher defined hesed in a way that made it come alive for me: “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything” (Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement).

That’s it.

I have no right to expect anything from God. Actually, if anything, I can expect what the wages of my sin have earned– death and hell.

Yet God has given me everything. His everything. Not only did God in Jesus save me from the wages of those sins, He has given me everything for life and godliness.

The best part of the promise is Emmanuel, God with us. That means God with you and God with me. Even in the valley of the deepest darkest shadow of death, God has promised that He will be with us.

Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever” (Psalm 23:6, The Voice).

This is Still the Time God Chooses

“For this is still the time God chooses.”

It still amazes me the way God broke into the world, not as a powerful ruler but as a helpless infant born to a peasant couple in backwoods Bethlehem.

It still amazes me how the first evangelists weren’t the highly trained religious scholars who had spent their entire lives searching the Scriptures but some smelly illiterate shepherds guarding their flocks on some remote hill out in the middle of nowhere.

It still amazes me that the place God chose to lay His head that first night wasn’t on some soft downy pillow but among the straw in a feeding trough.

It still amazes me that God chose to come on the darkest night at the bleakest moment in history and become Emmanuel, God with us.

It amazes me even more that God looked into the darkness of my own heart and said, “For this one, I’m willing to be born in order to die on a rugged cross.”

I’m most amazed that I’m not more astonished at this marvelous event. Most of the time, I take it for granted and presume on God’s mercies like I’m entitled to them, when in reality I’m the least deserving of but most overwhelmed by the grace of God.

Christmas reminds me of what a pastor once said about how heaven isn’t a reward for the righteous but a gift for the guilty. Emmanuel didn’t come for those who are confident in their own abilities and righteousness but for those who know how desperately they need a Savior. He came to seek and save those who know they are lost.

When the time was right, the Anointed One died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us” (Romans 5:6-8, The Voice).

The True Meaning of Christmas 

“O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen” (from The Book of Common Prayer).

It seem like the old adage is true. The older you get, the faster time goes. As a kid, I thought Christmas would never arrive. Now, I feel like if I blink, I might miss it.

This year, I’ve barely had time to revel in the season of Advent and Christmas, and tomorrow is Christmas Day. If only I had a remote control for life with a big pause button to slow everything down for a bit just so I could savor all of the sights and sounds and scents.

But the true meaning of Christmas is for more than just December 25. Its still good after all those ornaments have been taken down and the tree put away for another year. It goes beyond December and into the new year and follows all the days of every year.

God has come near. As my pastor says often, Christianity isn’t that we can get to god but that God in Jesus has come to us. He didn’t wait until you and I got our acts cleaned up and made ourselves ready to receive the Incarnate. He came when we were in the middle of our biggest messes. He came when we needed a Savior the most.

Even after the shine wears off of those gifts, the best gift will still be that Emmanuel is still here. He has not left us and He never will. The hope of Christmas is the hope that will sustain us always.

 

 

Only One Thing Matters

“Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.

Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.

Jesus: Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her” (Luke 10:38-42, The Voice).

This Advent season may find you stretched too thin. You might feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions toward a hundred different destinations, each one seemingly as important as the rest.

I believe the word from God for this season is this: the best place to be is at the feet of Jesus. Only one thing matters as we approach Christmas– creating margins and spaces in your life and heart to be able to hear the voice of your Good Shepherd.

Only one thing matters– seeing the Christ in Christmas an adoring the infant King, wrapped snugly and laying in a manger. As the worship song says, everything else can wait. Some of those to-do list tasks can even be left undone.

If you achieve all your holiday goals and purchase every last present and miss Jesus, you’ve missed Advent.

The best witness you can give this Advent season is to say no to the excess spending and the tyranny of the urgent while being still before the presence of God, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

You don’t have to be idle to be still. You can go about your daily life with a sense of urgent expectancy and waiting with hope. You can adore the Christ by your Christlike attitude in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, by your kindness and patience toward others, remembering that the one thing that matters most is not in your wallet or in your shopping bags or in your day planner but rather in the middle of your Nativity scene, laying in that manger.

Advent Eve

“Awaken! Remember that God comes! Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today, now! The one true God, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history, but he is the-God-who-comes.”

That’s what Advent signifies. God is not the otherworldly deity that we can never reach but Immanuel, God with us, wherever we are.

God is not I Was or I Will Be, but I Am. For whatever your present need is, God is your supply and God is present in your tears and your pain.

Advent means that God is not indifferent to your plight or immune to your cries. He has come and He is here in the midst of your suffering.

Advent is a reminder that Christmas is more than maxing your credit cards to buy stuff for people who already have too much stuff. It isn’t about gorging on all those holiday dinner staples. It’s not about how many strands of light you can staple to your house.

It’s about the fact that God in Jesus has come near.

“At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler. This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us” (Henri Nouwen).

“Immanuel, Our God is with us
Yes He is with us still
Immanuel, He has not left us
And He never will” (Geoff Moore).

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!

 

I’m Dreaming of a Wet (and Humid) Christmas

So, apparently my dreams of a white Christmas will have to come true in my dreams. The forecast doesn’t look promising in the least.

Try a week of mid-60s to lower 70’s with rain forecasted for every day up to Sunday. Yep, Christmas will be green . . . and very wet.

Still, it will be Christmas. There will be gifts and food and candles and food and holiday apparel and food. Did I mention food? There will be food aplenty. The diet starts in 2016.

I’m learning to live out of eucharisteo, out of a mindset of joy and thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on all those rain clouds, I choose to see that when people like you and me couldn’t find a way to get to God, God found a way to get to us. To become one of us. To live and die as one of us.

But not just to live and die, but to live in perfect obedience the life that we could never live and to die as a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sin that we could never begin to work off.

That alone is enough for a million lifetimes’ worth of gratitude. That should be enough for me.

Advent is a season not only of awaiting and anticipating the arrival of the Emmanuel, bu also of remembering why He came in the first place. Advent stirs up gratitude and thanksgiving in the hearts of those who know where to look and what to look for.

So I’ll probably get my White Christmas courtesy of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. It’s still my favorite Christmas movie and it never fails to deliver the feels.

Then again, maybe the best kind of white Christmas is this one:

Come on now, let’s walk and talk; let’s work this out.
        Your wrongdoings are blood red
    But they can turn as white as snow.
        Your sins are red like crimson,
    But they can be made clean again like new wool” (Isaiah 1:18, The Voice).

 

 

 

Christmas In the Eyes of a Child

“Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing” (from The Santa Clause).

I think the reason so many don’t like Christmas is that they’ve stopped seeing it through the eyes of a child.

Christmas isn’t so much for children as it is for the childlike. I don’t mean the childish who pout every time they don’t get their own way.

I mean the childlike, the ones who never stop believing in good and right and magic and happy endings. The ones who see more than just the physical and still have room for miracles and pixie dust. The ones who still have the ability to be amazed and astonished at life.

Jesus said that anyone who wanted to enter the Kingdom of God must do so as a little child. Whoever really wants to experience all that God is must go back to before the cynicism took root, before disillusionment set in, to when just about anything was possible, because for God, anything IS possible.

So let’s go back to the faith of a child.  Let us once again rediscover the ability to be amazed and astonished by the wonder that is Advent and Christmas and the miracle that made it all possible.

“Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: “Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
Be born here, in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
of our hearts and says, “Yes,
let the God of Heaven and Earth
be born here–
in this place”  (Leslie Leyland Fields from Let the Stable Still Astonish).

Secret Battles

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I’ve learned a few things over the course of my life.

One of the most important lessons I’ve picked up is this: you can be around people on a regular, sometimes daily, basis and never know the secret battles they face.

People who put on a brave face and wear a smile can be fighting all sorts of demons– anxiety, insecurity, eating disorders, depression, self-loathing, self-harm.

Sometimes, a person will trust you enough to let you in a little. Often, you will never see all the cracks and broken places.

The beauty is that God sees. When you don’t know how to pray for someone you suspect is going through hard times, you can visualize leading that person to Jesus and letting Him envelop that person, His love filling all the broken places and wounds that person is carrying.

Christmas is all about Emmanuel who didn’t come from above to rescue us from on high, but came from beneath us to lift us up with Him. He became the lowliest of the low, born in a barn in a redneck little town to two nobodies.

The Bible says that as our High Priest, Jesus is able to sympathize with all our weaknesses. He knows all those secret battles you face.

I was reminded of an old favorite song of mine by Julie Miller. She was sexually abused as a child and was able to turn that great pain into great art in the form of some incredible songs. Here’s one:

“I have seen the night of a million tears,
I have seen an angel’s smile,
I have come of age and remained, these years, with the longings of a child.

Nobody but you can find my heart,
Nobody but you sees in the dark,
Nobody but you can call my name and scatter all my pain.

I have had the fears of an orphaned heart,
I have had a homeless soul,
I have been embraced in the arms of grace,
You have brought my spirit home.

Nobody but you can find my heart,
Nobody but you sees in the dark,
Nobody but you can call my name and scatter all my pain.

Nobody but you can find my heart,
Nobody but you sees in the dark,
Nobody but you can call my name and scatter all my pain.

Nobody but you, nobody but you,
Nobody but you, nobody but you,
Nobody but you, nobody but you,
Nobody but you.”

 

Free Stuff

“Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, The Voice).

I confess. I love free stuff.

I periodically go by the Brentwood Public Library where they have two bookshelves off the front lobby to the right where they put all the books and other media that they can’t for whatever reason take.

I always look for hidden treasures there. Mostly, it’s old VHS tapes and 80’s-era computer manuals and other equally useful items.

Every now and then, I do find something worthwhile. A few months back, I found a 1945 Book of Common Prayer in more or less decent shape. Win.

I also like to look through the bins in front of McKay’s Used Books, Movies, Music, and So Much More Store (which isn’t really the name, but what it should be named).

Again, there’s a reason a lot of these got discarded and left behind. Still, every now and then, I can find some really cool stuff. Like the last time I was there, I found three Christmas CDs that I’ve added to my already astounding and amazing collection.

The best gift of Christmas was also free. It came in the unlikeliest of places– in a stone manger inside of a barn on the outskirts of the little town of Bethlehem. It came wrapped not in a fancy package with ribbons and bows aplenty, but in a worn-out cloth.

That gift was Emmanuel. God downsized into human flesh, infant flesh, born ultimately to be the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me.

The gift wasn’t free to God. It cost Him everything. But the gift is free to you and me. The only problem with a gift– any gift– is that it doesn’t become yours until you take it. So will you?

This Christmas, don’t get so distracted by the gifts under the tree that you miss the best gift in the manger.

The end.