Monthly archives: December, 2016

Our Journey Of Hope

 

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Hope and Christmas—a match made in heaven, indeed. It’s the promise fulfilled, the beginning of the rest of the story, the unseen finally seen. Why else would pews be packed this Christmas Eve with worship teams pulling out all the stops but to celebrate the hope of Christmas? Hope, however, has gotten this reputation over the years as being something more celebratory than maybe it is at times. Gratefully, pastors, preachers, and priests all over have grown more sensitive to the temperature of the times, realizing not everyone is experiencing the same level of joy as others. But still, the seats are full on Christmas Eve because of hope, even if just an inkling of it.

 

There is, no doubt, the hope of Christ’s advent, but sometime later after Jesus came, Paul sat down to write to the Corinthian believers and spoke directly into the messiness of relationships—an arena of life where celebration can be so very distant and seemingly impossible for many, especially now as we come together to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Paul wrote, “Love always hopes.” There may be severe misunderstanding and subsequent frustration if we think, “love always has a smile painted on” or even “love always celebrates.” Do not lose sight that Paul wrote directly into the messiness of relationships, where smiles and celebrations aren’t always present. What could he have meant and what would be the point?

 

Explanations abound for what Paul meant when he encouraged his fellow believers to live out an always-hoping love toward others, and one of my favorites is this: “Love holds onto eventual development, which insinuates there is profound underdevelopment currently. It means we remember that God has them on a journey” (Judah Smith). Hope may be holding onto their eventual development, but can we agree that that holding gets tiring, that their eventual development can’t come soon enough? Love always hopes, and always is a long time!

 

Another source helps in a similar way: “Love [always hopes] in the sense that it earnestly desires that all things work out for the best” (BBC). Does this mean we’re foolish? In expressing an always-hoping love, do we become over time people characterized by gullibility? Or has God designed love in such a way that as we rightly hope in the proper place (i.e. Person), we become not great models of naivety, but truer examples of His love and character and a closer resemblance of the best possible version of ourselves? Yes, it must be that. Hopefulness is not synonymous with foolishness. To be clearer, it is not ignoring the pain, blinking at the mess up, or sweeping anything under the rug. It is redirecting our eyes in order to retain a proper focus. This is done not to ignore, but in order to love most effectively. If hope is remembering that God has them on a journey, then redirecting our eyes is looking to that journey, instead of taking a screen shot. More accurately, it is looking to the Journey-Guide. It is not based on the past or the present, but on the Future-Maker. It is not focused on the sin, but on the Sin-Forgiver. Hope is not anchored on broken trust, but on the Trustworthy God.

 

There is no feasible way that we would become foolish by loving others with hope. Not only do we become wiser, but God has designed love in such a way that as we demonstrate it our character is developed. We must not be surprised, however, that our character development comes in the always. Yes, God has them on a journey, but He has us on one, too, and journeys take a while.


Trusting God Through Trials

 

 

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When it comes to the retelling of the Christmas story, quite often Mary seems to get the spotlight on her ability to trust God. And, let’s face it, she deserves it. But, what about Joseph? What about his amazing ability to trust in a seemingly ludicrous story – one that just happened to include making him the father of the Savior of the world!

 

Can you imagine the conflict raging in his soul? Teenager Joseph’s girlfriend has become pregnant. Oh the scandal. But that’s not the worst of it. Yes, they’re engaged, but he knows they’ve never been together in “that way”. The questions ruminate in his mind, “Just whose baby is this?” and, “Just who has she been cheating on me with?”

 

The embarrassment he must feel. The thoughts he must be having. The painful feeling of dread as he knows he has to tell his family and friends. Trying to calm his protective mother who’s insisting he drop this girl who’s “obviously not good enough for her son”. Calling off the caterer. Taking back the ring.

 

Coming to the realization that your life isn’t going to be like you imagined.

 

Feeling that you weren’t really loved.

 

Along with Mary, their story rocks the little town of Nazareth with some pretty big news. And it’s easy to forget – this isn’t a Jerry Springer rerun.  This is Joseph’s story.

 

Understanding Joseph’s humanness, God sends an angel in a dream to explain it all. In spite of all those feelings, thoughts and realities wreaking havoc in his mind and heart, Joseph’s response was trust. “Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.” – Matthew 1:24

 

As we’re entering this Christmas season, what about us? Are you in a situation that doesn’t make sense? Feeling betrayed? Wondering why God would allow this to happen? Feeling alone and a bit lost? Feeling overwhelmed with unexpected things that have gotten thrown in your direction?

 

Can God be trusted?  Ask Joseph.

 

Trust in a God who often uses unique, challenging, and even confusing circumstances in which He calls us to trust Him.

 

 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”  – Psalm 91:14-16, MSG


How Lovely are Your (Dead) Branches

 

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It’s the season of cold weather, snowflakes (in some parts of the country), reindeer, eating holiday desserts everyday, Christmas music, Christmas trees, and…the newborn King, Jesus. My thoughts turned to Christmas trees the other day. I haven’t seen any statistics on how much we, as Americans, spend buying a tree and decorating it, but it can’t be a small number. We love our Christmas trees (and the presents underneath it). My thoughts then turned to us Christians.  The holiday is, indeed, a Christian celebration of the birth of the Messiah, so the comparisons between Christmas trees and Christians are appropriate and humbling.

 

How many of us buy Christmas trees but don’t decorate them? No one does that! We buy them, stand them up in the most prominent place of our house for all to see, cover them with lights and ornaments, and top them off with an angel, a star, (or a monkey finger puppet, like I’ve done in the past).

Now, the tree has its own symbolism, along with the gifts, but I’m offering a new one; one that stings a little, but potentially helpful, nonetheless.

 

So, the tree’s bought, the kids have helped wreck decorate it, and the monkey finger puppet is looking down on your happy family with protective care—great. There’s only one problem–the tree is dead! Congratulations. You have successfully dressed up a dead tree. Merry Christmas!

Of course, you know it’s dead; why else would you pour water in the tree stand (except for the prevention of it going up in flames from the thousands of lights you wrapped it in)? If the water wasn’t a give-away, then time certainly is. What happens when January rolls around? The needles start to turn from a beautiful green to brown, which is not anything like the leaves up north changing colors in autumn. Those same now-brown needles begin to make their way to your floor, where the 7-year old pug (at our house) tries to snack on them (bad Kobe!). The strong branches holding the ceramic ornaments your grandmother made you can no longer stick out, and now sag close to the ground. Finally, the pleasant odor of evergreen gives way to…well…expired evergreen. It was nice while it lasted.

 

Standing next to the Christmas tree, both literally and metaphorically, is the Christian. How have we arranged our lives so that we’re appearing very much alive, but in reality, we are simply not? We are Christians, but struggling to stay connected to the Source of life. The result is not a surprise—they are not being loved by us as God intended and defined. Our love of people may be going okay now, but like with the uprooted Christmas tree, time will tell. Or crisis. Or success. Something will reveal how alive we really are. The water in the tree stand will run out. We’ll start turning brown and smelling bad. Thank God, however, we’re not exactly like the tree; we can get reconnected with those Roots.

 

Dressing up a tree is a wonderful tradition. This year, as your family gathers to make it shine, remember to stay connected to King Jesus, whom we celebrate, so that you don’t wither away like that dead tree you’re trying to keep alive. Merry Christmas!