The annual cold

I resolve this cold season to not live afraid of germs, to wash my hands better, to never mock the last tissue in the box, to not despise the lowly toilet paper either, to get my rest without being laid out flat for a few days, and to not allow any further breaches in my schedule that would encourage another outbreak. Welcome 2017.

It is hilarious how much I take for granted, especially when I look around the world. Warm house, good food, hot showers, cold medicine… I enjoy all the best comfort while I am sick, and brush off the experience when I am back to being immune and “invincible.” No matter how long sniffles may linger, this is not an illness I have to pick up each morning for months to come.

I’m sure Jesus shook His head when He told the Pharisees that He, the Great Physician, had come for people who knew they were sick, not the ones who thought they were perfectly healthy. There are many areas of my life where I operate with little more trouble than an occasional hiccup. This cold has been a good reminder to stop forgetting to be thankful.

God, this year I want to be more thankful. Thank You for the chance to remember all I have, take life slowly, stop over-thinking, and appreciate again that You do not demand perfect people, but people who see they have a lot to learn. Please help me embrace that offer for help. And thanks that my cold is better, too. To Your glory, Amen.

Doors to the throne room

I watched One Night With the King last night and was overwhelmed by the dramatic reinterpretation. In this retelling of the book of Esther, there is a moment where Queen Esther runs through rain to reach the doors to the throne room and flings them open. She walks slowly up the hall, every eye staring at her. She is not supposed to be here. Guards! But the king lowers his scepter and she is spared. She faints on the steps.

The whole movie is filled with drama and political intrigue as characters duel for power and attention. I never read the Bible and realized how real the people were. It sounds funny, but I pictured them acting in formal, planned steps like a church service. Nope, life was just as crazy then as in 2016!

But the movie prompted me to think about my own life in a new way. Esther, the wife of the king, could not approach him directly unless she was willing to risk her life. But in Hebrews it says that Jesus, the Bridegroom to the Church, has cleared the way so we can enter the throne room of God at any time! What?

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). 

While I feel like I make some dramatic entrances with my prayers at times, I know God always welcomes me. That is surreal when you think that the supreme Creator of all that exists has made Himself available for me to call on Him at any time. That is not just a demonstration of His power in being able to address all the problems of the world at once, but also shows His love in wanting to address problems over and over. Wow.

God, thank You for a new year just around the corner. The past year was crazy and 2017 looks like it is shaping up to have its own set of wild adventures. Thank You that no matter what, I can run to You for mercy and grace when I need them. What a privilege! Please help me to remember to make better use of that chance this coming year, and to come as boldly as Esther. And more, because You have already lowered Your scepter and told Your guards that I am safe to come through. Thanks.  To You be the glory in how I live with that gift, Amen.

Mall: a picture from December 26

The mall doors opened, and I could almost feel a smoke embrace us with its tendrils. Didn’t we just get presents yesterday? Oh yeah, lots of green stuff. I watched the strollers of hassled babies, gaggles of teenagers, the battle-hardened mall employees. How do so many stores exist? How do they draw these crowds? How much do they spend on sound systems for this amplified music? How can smells travel so far?

I looked around and felt attacked by the need to be cool, included, loved by people no matter what – black tendrils of thought woven into awesome bass beats and stylized signage. And yet I was not walking alone and unarmed. The Holy Spirit walked into that mall with me. Spiritual bodyguard. Big muscles. Good for a joke as well. And so I admired the creativity, artistry, and engineering of the displays. I joked with my friends and prayed for the people who wanted more than this after Christmas was done for them. I danced a little, and remembered the joy of Christmas spans the entire year – because Jesus still lives. I’m still celebrating – even at the mall.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” Isaiah 41:10

Not waiting for a baby

It is Christmas Eve. Should I put sprinklers on my yoghurt? Nah… besides, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I got some cool stuff for some people and they got something for me (I hope). But…where is the giddiness of my childhood? Probably deeper in the ornament box than I bothered to dig this year. Life just keeps going so fast. Where are you, Christmas? I hummed under my breath.

I started thinking about the manger and the Nativity scene. Frozen in place. But if this is a birthday, we’re not waiting for a baby. I’ve heard about my brother’s infamous birth just before midnight. Anticipation, impatience, and MnMs were definitely going around that night. Sounds like my grade school Christmas memories. And now? Well he’s off working today. And I anticipate a man coming home, not a baby.

Maybe Jesus is the same way.

Maybe we should take out the manger and purchase an extra shepherd boy figure to show Jesus grew. Then maybe another Joseph because the Christ Child grew to be a man. A man who lived and died to save the world and show each person how much He loves them. And maybe a Magi figure would remind me He is not just a man, but a king. My King, with my allegiance. The manger can be put behind an empty picture frame like a baby book. We remember it, but He’s already been born.

So what is Christmas? We celebrate a birthday. And while the Nativity scene in my house is a baby picture, the Bible gives many other pictures too. And the cool thing about birthdays is they celebrate for one day the start of a new year. So I’m going to look at this Christmas as just the start of a new year spent living with Jesus. I hope I will get to know Him better and learn more about what He likes, dislikes, and how to make Him laugh. Oh, and I want to get Him something for His birthday (I know, last-minute, but not late yet!). I wonder what He wants from me this year…something exciting and personal, I think. I’m going to go ask Him.

Merry Christmas!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). 

This isn’t how Christmas works

A long journey, leaving friends and family, paying way too much tax money, sleeping with sheep: this isn’t how Christmas is supposed to work. You sit around in pajamas by a nice fire with marshmallows melting in your hot chocolate before you open presents. Am I right? What’s this about being a wanted man before the age of two? Revolution? Leading a country to war? No way.

And God – all-powerful, all-knowing…He can’t dirty diapers and have an umbilical cord!

Christmas makes no sense. If it is a birthday, I tend to forget the guest of honor. If it is the celebration of a revolution it has stayed very quiet…expanding but not in overt world power. If it is God come as man, I am like the Greeks and start scratching my head.

Is God so much bigger and work so against my logic? Is Christmas a celebration of the greatest quiet revolution that ever challenged the way the world works? Is my day of presents and expectations aimed much lower than a true Christ-coming would encourage?

How real is Christmas? Christ? How real is the unlogical, God of love?

God, please help me to celebrate more than the anniversary of a single day. Please help this to be one point in a shocking, wonderful realization of how crazy and powerful Your love is, and how real the incarnation. Amen.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 

White Oregon Christmas

Christmastime in Oregon is green…or a gray drizzle. Not ice or four inches of snow. The first day was fun. The second day was exciting. The third was annoying. The fourth was odd…the snow became oddly familiar. But it was highly inconvenient. How was I going to get to my family Christmas? With work the way it is we could not help but plan it a week early. No matter what, I was going to make it! No more gifts? No problem. No groceries? We will live with it. A little risky? Not bad enough to be dangerous enough to keep me away. I drove through gravel, snow, slush, and ice and made it to my first really white Christmas.

Luke not only tells about the birth of Jesus, but also the trips the family took to Jerusalem in later years…so it wasn’t out of the question. But pregnant? What gave Mary the determination to travel that far – around 80 miles?

They did not even know it was Christmas. It was tax day, actually. And rooms were harder to get than at a college graduation. So they roomed with the animals. That is a plain and simple birthday, no bows and ribbon on top!

We had fun at Christmas – good food, a gift exchange, special decorations, and a winter puzzle in the corner to match the landscape. Do we try to make Christmas too pretty? Is it too far from that stable? Or is it lending beauty to a time that did not look beautiful at first? Just like the cross?

God, thank You for safe travels on the unexpectedly white Christmas. It was an easy, one-way drive…little extra traffic. But in the middle of all the preparations, thank You for a chance to remember the first inglorious Christmas. Please help me try to make my Christmas celebrations more like that first one. To Your glory, amen.

 

Surprising hours

A whole day free? What people dream of… finding a watch with an extra day on the clock. But me? Well, they began to hang heavy (what am I saying?).

Maybe it is the giant ticking in my head of a three-stories-tall clock counting down the hours to extreme change. And I could hear it too well today without constant demands.

“Come to Me,” Jesus invites. “You with burdens and no-solutions and bad habits you secretly enjoy. Come filthy from life and worn down from wrestling for control.”

He offers rest to those who see they are tired. I try to be self-sufficient. But I keep seeing that I can’t make the mark. Do I see that I need a doctor?

Time to sleep, clean, breathe. Unexpected free hours to reflect and recognize how much I need this freely offered gift. Change is coming, but there is a thrill to go with it as well.

Give up what can’t be kept to gain what cannot be lost. A day well spent. Thank You, God for every hour. Please help me to look for Your help and enjoy the help You offer. Thanks for this love that uses change for so much good. To Your glory, Amen.