Unexpected Christmas

This morning listening to Christmas carols, I was struck anew by Kari Jobe’s “Adore Him.”  We’ve grown up with the Christmas story.  It’s no surprise to us.  Of course, God had his Son born in a manger. Of course, shepherds came and saw him.  Of course, he wasn’t born in Herod’s palace… really, though, of course?

Jobe captures the true surprise this is in the first two verses of her carol:

Countless days on a journey that led so far
Endless nights they traveled to follow the star
They did not find a palace, just a humble village home
And searching for a king, but finding a child, no crown, no throne…

Expectation turned to mystery
For nothing was like anything they dreamed
Anticipating the royal and those honored by this world
Instead they gazed in the awestruck eyes of a lowly peasant girl…

Just think how quickly we feel hurt when we don’t get the recognition we deserve or when someone else gets the credit for something we did.  Here, the Creator of the universe came into the world and didn’t get any of the recognition a mere mortal prince receives.

Recently, I among my friends and family, babies have been or will imminently be born. In the anticipation, I have witnessed many people come together before the baby is even born to love him and give him gifts.  The celebration is natural, and everyone adores the baby.

nativityHow is it then, that the most special baby was visited by shepherds-the lowly-and foreigners?  Why, when the priests learned from the magi that their foretold messiah had come, they did not join the party to find him? Those that should have anticipated his coming the most had no share in the welcome.

How beautiful is our God?!  The scriptures are full of commendations to the humble, and our God exemplified that very characteristic.  The one due all glory clothed himself with humility.  His whole life is a testament to that.  All I can do is worship with gratitude–Thanks be to God!

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Forgiven, Restored

Forgiveness. That’s a blessed word—one that I am still grasping to conceive in fullness.  Growing up, I was exposed to the gospel as early as I can remember.  At the tender age of four, I prayed for forgiveness from all the bad things I had done.  However, due to coming to faith early in life, my concepts of grace and forgiveness were not mature nor complete.  For many, many years I struggled against the misconception that my sins committed after I believed were worse than those I committed prior.  As Christians, we are called to be perfect as God is perfect.  So before being a Christian and “knowing better”, I reasoned it was okay that I sinned and could accept forgiveness.  However, once I “knew better” and was forgiven once for all, any further sins were greater grievances.  I was supposed to be perfect now.  I felt guilt and did not really believe I could be forgiven.  I figured my slate couldn’t be wiped clean again and again—only the first time did that work.  Thus, there were times when I wished I wasn’t saved so that I could be saved and clean once more.  To anyone reading this, I am sure this sounds absurd (at least I hope so), and it is certainly not correct theology.  For so long, I missed out on the greatness of God’s grace, but thankfully, I had wise people in my life who imparted to me a greater understanding of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness—a forgiveness covering all past, present, and future sins.

In college studying the “already/not yet” of God’s kingdom and the nuances of sanctification and justification gave me a framework to better process my own Christian life.  Though there is a distinct time in which I was saved, there is simultaneously a continuing process of being saved—an already/not yet.  I was saved from my sins before while also I am being saved today from today’s sins.  This may seem paradoxical, much like how Christ has established his kingdom on earth already while at the same time it is not yet established in the fullness that it will be when he returns.  There is no point in the Christian life when I can say, “Okay, I am good enough now.”  No, the Christian walk is a continual, humble acceptance that I am not self-sufficient nor self-perfected.  It’s a continual confessional to God.  This keeps me in the right place before God and keeps God in the right place in my life.

I think perhaps a contributing factor to my misconception of grace and forgiveness in the Christian’s life resulted from the strong focus many churches take on sin, confession, and repentance—so much focus on what we do. Not saying the church shouldn’t focus on this, but there is need to go further.  The second part of forgiveness is the reconciliation to God and the restoration to the body of the Christ—the church.  This part—the unity, the wholeness—needs to be preached just as much.

A couple years ago, I read George MacDonald’s The Minister’s Restoration.  Although written to the church of the nineteenth century, it opened my eyes to the need for restoration in the church even today.  MacDonald was concerned at the stigma related to certain sins and lack of full restoration to equal status in the church.  The full circle of forgiveness comes to completion in restoration.  Restoration says that if you confess and repent, you are forgiven and in right standing.  You are no second class citizen, no scarlet letter.  You are not forever marked as unequal with other believers.  No, you are instead one of the body, one of the many who are forgiven fully from all the sins each of us commit.  Jesus did not come to only save us from some sins but all sins.  He didn’t come only to partially unite the church but to wholly unite it in him.  Our perfection is only his perfection.  None of us can shame another for we are all equally unholy in ourselves and equally holy in him.  We are free only because he is perfect and works out our perfection and salvation in us.  It is now a process, but one that will be complete.  How glorious a day that will be when all of our being will be perfectly restored to rightness with God—and all to the Glory of God!

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)

‘Tis the Season

I wrote this back in November for my Christmas letter, so the context is a little dated at this point, but it is still a message of which I am daily reminding myself.

The holidays are coming,  and with them the stress.  Whether it be financial or time limitations or family relations, we struggle against the mounting anxieties that suppress the joy of “the best time of the year.”

This year, I come into the busy season with a mountain of ongoing stresses from the rest of the year to boot.  The last few weeks I ran out of physical time to accomplish all my responsibilities.  To remedy this, I have cut back on my sleep just to have extra minutes in the day.  December is promising to be even busier, and I ask myself, “How am I ever going to do this all?”  I am sure this sounds familiar to some of you as well.

I don’t know about you, but I often think through what I need to get done in the day or week ahead while I am driving.  Lately, I have felt my blood pressure rise on these trips. With my long commute, I end up frustrated that I am in the car unable to act on any of my duties.  One morning this past week, I had to face the reality, that in all likelihood I was going to fail to accomplish something I intended to do.  I might let somebody down.  A project might not result the way I ideally envisioned.

Facing my humanity and fallibility, I must turn to God.  Ultimately, all that I do is his work.  If it is his will for me to accomplish all that I plan, he will equip me with the ability. I have experienced the end of my limits and the release of my burdens onto Jesus.  For He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We burden ourselves with so much.  My greatest burden and stress results from my misplaced value on how well I do and how well I love others.  What relief it is to lay that burden down at Jesus’ feet and instead take his yoke knowing that he already did the work.  His work on the cross ultimately says I am good enough because he was and is perfect.  We labor now for his glory and not our own.  That is a lighter load to bear.

My second greatest burden is that I strive to make purpose or to enact God’s will in my life.  Recently, I read a quote by Amy Carmichael, “It is a safe thing to trust Him to fulfill the desire that He creates.”  Here again, I meet relief as I let go of the pressure to force events to happen in my life and trust to God the very things he has given me.  Trusting God to be God; the God who really did create everything; the God that brought the dead to life; the God that brought salvation to humanity.  I don’t give him enough credit.  Letting God be God brings joy. Playing god ourselves results only in self-destroying stress.

On my daily commutes, my mind still gravitates to my mental checklist, but I am learning to push it aside in prayer—mentally breathing deep and reminding myself that I am about the Lord’s work. He will enable me to do all that he desires.  I am not left to my own devices to do everything.  How joyous that is!

I hope that as you come into this season you will release to God the burdens and stress you carry and truly know the joy he brings.  “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!”