Month: December 2015

The Stable, the Manger, and the Point

Luke 2:6-7

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

We hear over and over again during the Christmas season how the idyllic manger scene that we often portray is far from the reality of Christ’s birth. So, in trying to correctly envision that night, I thought back to Baylor’s “Christmas on Fifth” celebration this year. It was the first time we’d taken the kids and they were excited about the petting zoo. However, after waiting 45 minutes to see Santa, it was dark, and as we entered the pen where the animals were roaming, I found myself constantly worried about where I was stepping and what I might be stepping in. The smell that enveloped the area gave me ample reason to worry that there might be more than mud underfoot. I worried that it would get in the tread of my shoes, and on the cuffs of my jeans. I couldn’t get out of that pen fast enough. And I imagined, much to my discomfort, the idea of having to sit down there, lay down there, labor there, and deliver a baby there. The image changed slightly when our pastor shared last Sunday that Joseph and Mary were actually staying on the ground floor in the home of extended family, where livestock were kept overnight for safety and warmth. Nonetheless, if a couple of hours in a pen on Fountain Mall was enough to produce the stench of the petting zoo that night in Waco, surely the setting of Jesus’s birth was still plenty humble.

But imagine my surprise upon learning that the unpleasant smell and the manure were almost entirely beside the point. That the point was, in fact, for Jesus to be born in the town of Bethlehem, a town known for its industry of raising and providing sacrificial lambs for the temple and for families—750,000 lambs a year. That, just as those lambs were swaddled and laid in a manger to prevent the blemishes that a flailing baby lamb might inflict upon himself, Jesus was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. That, just as shepherds would regularly inspect those lambs for defects, shepherds were summoned from the fields that night to inspect the very last sacrificial lamb who would ever be required for the forgiveness of sins. That He would be born in a home where, in just a few short hours, aunts and uncles and cousins would be bustling about, doting on, and falling instantly in love with this newborn baby boy. And finally, that this love would allow Him to be declared a worthy sacrifice.

This Christmas, may we reflect on that little town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and on the manger and swaddling clothes, and on the shepherds and the baby Jesus. May our own love be rekindled for the Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world. And may we proclaim with the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)!

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The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.

Compassion for Humanity

Psalm 103: 13-14

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

I may have mentioned before how I feel like our testimonies should be living, changing, and growing. God should be moving in us each day—what He’s doing in and through us should never be stagnant, it should never be only in the past. I’m thankful that God challenges and convicts me each week, and that I have the privilege of sharing that journey with all 12 of you. Does my testimony include falls and failures? Absolutely. But just as surely, His continued work in my heart is evidence to me that I am not living surrendered to my sins. It gives me faith that God is not through with me yet. And I praise Him for it.

It is against this backdrop that I confess that this week, I lost hope in humanity. I felt disappointed, and to some extent betrayed, by the words and thoughts expressed by some within my circle of friends and family. I felt like we couldn’t find a common ground—and of course, I was in the right. My first instinct was to—well—judge. I quickly convinced myself that these people lacked compassion. To some degree, they were heartless. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)? So there I was, peering into hearts that looked to me a lot like tar pits. But then I felt the disquiet that often accompanies the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I heard a still, small, slow voice speaking to my heart, No.

No. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t my place to judge. I can’t see people’s hearts. But I could see their actions, and I could tell that these people (and frankly most others) were not to be counted upon. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that GOD will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19)? God, not people. So the best course of action was clearly just to rely solely on God for every need and to ask for nothing from others, expect nothing from others. But again, there was that still small voice, No.

How about bearing with one another (Colossians 3:13), and accepting those of weaker faith (Romans 14:1)? No. I don’t know about you, but in my flesh, I end up applying these verses from a place of pious self-righteousness, which was never the author’s intent. It wasn’t Paul’s intent, and it wasn’t God’s.

My heart finally started coming around to a right place once I started thinking about what Jesus would do, what Jesus in fact did. I know it sounds trite, but it’s so right. Jesus encountered an adulterous woman at a well, and another in the street, and He forgave both. He chose Peter, knowing full well that this guy’s fear of man and his temper would lead him to sin. Then later, He asked if Peter loved Him with a sacrificial love. Peter’s answer was essentially, “No. I mean, come on Jesus. You know I love you like a brother and you’re one of my closest friends. Isn’t that enough?” The answer was basically, “No. But that’s okay, you’ll get there.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

But this seems to always be Christ’s sentiment. So even though I may occasionally struggle with my fellow humans, even though I may not be able to reconcile their perspectives with my own, I know what Jesus would do. Or rather, I know what He wouldn’t do: He wouldn’t give up on them. So if I want to be like Him, then I can’t give up either.

Our Unreasonable King

Joshua 10:12-13

“On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel….
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down
about a full day.”

Have you ever read the book, The Little Prince? I first read it in graduate school, and I have finally decided that Tijge is old enough to read it as well. So I’ve been reading it out loud to him over last month or so. There is a point in the book where the little prince is travelling among planets near his own, very small planets, each inhabited by only one person. On the first planet, he meets a benevolent king…

“…the king insisted that his authority be universally respected. He would tolerate no disobedience, being an absolute monarch. But since he was a kindly man, all his commands were reasonable.” And then a bit later, the little prince “ventured to ask a favor of the king: ‘I’d like to see a sunset… Do me a favor, your majesty… Command the sun to set…’” The king replied, “…One must command from each what each can perform….Authority is based first of all upon reason….I am entitled to command obedience because my orders are reasonable….You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But I shall wait, according to my science of government, until conditions are favorable….around seven-forty!”

When I read this section of the book, I couldn’t help but think about how different this king is from ours. Of course, God is benevolent and kindly, but I realize with great joy and peace that He is far from ‘reasonable,’ at least by this king’s definition. You see, God needn’t wait for conditions to be favorable to make a command and have it obeyed. All throughout the Bible, we see accounts that assure us that God’s commands defy the laws of nature, the laws of science, the laws of man, the laws of the universe….and as unreasonable as they may be, they are OBEYED.

God parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-13); Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25), walked on water (Matthew 14:25), calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41), brought the dead to life (John 11:43), was crucified under the cover of darkness at midday (Luke 23:44-45), and rose again on the third day (Luke 24:6).

This is how I know that God is with my friend, Russell, who is fighting for his life after a heart attack at age 39. It’s how I know that if there is even one kidney on the face of this earth that is a match for Emily, God knows exactly where it is, whose it is, and how to get it to her. It’s how I know that if God wants us to adopt a child, He is perfectly capable of providing divine intervention, divine revelation, divine wisdom, or divine peace. And whatever you’re facing today, our God—our King—can be trusted to command the absolutely unreasonable on your behalf. And to Him be the glory!