thoughts on christmas

I don’t know how I feel about Christmas. For the first time in my life, I suppose since I can remember, I am not all too excited. Some people might say that it’s because everything has become so commercialized. Others say that it’s because I’m getting old, thus becoming more cynical. (Old people, is that true?)

I’m not sure. But what I’ve always enjoyed about Christmas are the things I suppose I’ve always had: wonderful friends and family, much laughter and love. For me, this is a cheerful and joyous time. I get to see my loved ones and celebrate with tons of good games, food, and drink. I am blessed beyond a doubt.

This is not the case for everyone. This season can be especially hard for some, as it might serve as a painful reminder of what we do not have, or what we once had, now gone. Husbands and wives departed, kids you haven’t heard from in years. The loneliness is amplified, and broken pieces of ourselves are recycled. It can be a sort of bone-chilling emptiness.

But then one of my mentors told me something profound. He said that if we look hard enough to see beyond ourselves, perhaps we can begin to rediscover what this holiday is about–giving. If we can give, not just well-intended presents, but of our time and energy and hearts to meet the needs of those around us, then perhaps we would recapture the true spirit of Christmas. We would be modeling after the very Christ, who was sent to heal those who are hurting, mend the torn pieces, and bring life to things once dead.

I thought this was divine. Because if we all lifted our spoons to feed not ourselves but one another, then those with less would have more, and none of us would go hungry. And you don’t have to look far to see that the world is starving for our support, love, and attention.

What if God has chosen us to be a part of the remedy? What if we can bring Christmas to strangers and friends around us? What if we actually look to be Christ to those who do not know him?

For those of us who have been given much, this might seem like a tall order. The problems are plenty and overwhelming, and I don’t know where to begin sometimes. But I think upon Christ, about how God’s son exchanged all his heavenly riches to become human and understand our pain, and I guess that’s where I begin.

So, that’s my encouragement to you this year, by the way of my mentor. Pray to have eyes that are opened to the needs of those around you. Should you look hard enough, I’m sure you’ll find a way to seek and fulfill them.

Let us begin.

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On Fire When He Speaks

Don’t give up. Don’t stop believing. Don’t ever count something or somebody out, just because God’s logic doesn’t line up with yours.

I say this because I was guilty. I was in a lonely, desperate rut no more than a few months back and I was about ready to give up on God. Many people around me were moving up and about in life. Church ministry became a huge burden and I felt like a confused hypocrite. Worst of all, I was lonely. I had very few friends to turn to and share about all this stuff.

Then crazy things started happening. A random acquaintance had a vision about me–the type you read about in the Bible that the apostles experienced. It was like a wake-up call from God. Then our church youth retreat happened, and I witnessed one of my youth actually come to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. It was a reminder that God still changes lives, even when you have stopped believing.

At this point, I’m thinking, life is still hard but God–You know so much better than me. He must be onto something here so I started praying that God would break me and humble me and give me His heart. It’s a dangerous prayer, I know. But it’s one I knew He would answer. Before I knew it, God had broken and afflicted me with deep, personal trials. As if I were the refiner’s gold and He the blacksmith, all my bad habits and wayward thoughts and insecurities were brought to the surface of the crucible. He said He needed to skim away those impurities in order to renew my spirit and use me.

Somewhere in this refining process God started to pour out abundantly into my life. One thing was community. God divinely brought about a close-knit group of brothers and sisters with whom I am not only able to hang out but share deep stuff, inception-like. The other was ministry. God had reinvigorated my passion for the youth and this past weekend, I even witnessed some of them performing their first random selfless act of kindness: they spent their own money to feed a homeless lady on the streets!

All to say that these gifts and trials and lessons from God came as a reminder to me of one thing: LOVE. God loves us all more than we could ever imagine. I was in a lonely, desperate rut. I didn’t deserve any of this. I didn’t even ask for it, really.

But it doesn’t take long before you discover that in this spiritual union, God is the bridegroom and you are the bride. He pursues us with a passionate and furious love. He chases after us, He woos us with His grandness and beauty. He brings us out of our pits of darkness. And out of His unfathomable love, He enables us to love Him back.

It’s true what they say. God works in mysterious ways. I stopped trying to reason and figure it all out, it’s just a silly game I won’t ever win. All I know is that when I enter those pits in life, I must never give up, never stop believing, and never count Him out.

*****

Please do yourself a favor and watch a documentary called Furious Love. It will light your world on fire.

For Better or For Worse

I’m learning about it means to be a good husband. Yes, I am single–in both the technical “marital status” and actual sense. But as a friend had once shared with me, as a Christian I am joined together in a spiritual union with Christ. How I grow and nurture my relationship with Christ provides insight into how I will or will not grow and nurture my relationship with my future wife.

When I realized the truth of this statement, I was saddened. For no sooner had I come to see another truth: I would make a terrible husband. Over a decade ago, as a hopeful but naive teenager, when I had first committed to following Christ, I was in essence making a vow that declared my complete devotion to him–for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health–for the rest of my life. Indeed, I was proving myself to be faithful, when it was an easy vow to keep, when it was for the better, and I was in richness and in health.

But then came the trials and temptations of life, and suddenly the very cords of my relationship were being stretched and broken. Through the lusts and greed and pride of life my heart had become hardened. As the days progressed my love subsided more and more. It happens, so slow and subtle. My feelings became dull, my love grew heartless. I kept serving the church, believing it was my duty. That will keep him smiling, I thought. But he was not pleased. After all, shall a wife be flattered when she receives roses bought in obligation?

I admit there were times when I was unfaithful. I had other lovers. Times when I found other things more attractive. Money, respect, relationships. These lovers danced before me so alluringly. They whispered secret pleasures, they spoke of great thrill. For some time I had listened. I would leave in the evenings to flirt with them, coming back home worldly-drunk, not unlike the man with the smell of cheap perfume and faint lipstick on his shirts. Yet I still had the audacity to face God and say, “But out of them all, I love you the most!”

That was what I was. An unfaithful, unloving spouse. Yet in all his right and power to divorce me, God has stood by my side. He forgives, he forgets, and he chooses to love. He waits for me to come around. This is the power of a vow. Not that it is merely kept, but that in every right for him to break it he chooses not to. That is what is meant by the terms “love” and “unconditional.”

So, here I am. I’m thinking I’ve got to get this right. If I’m not good with God, the most patient and perfect lover, then I will never be the husband and father I ought to be.

Pulling Teeth with QTs

I don’t want to read the Bible. A lot of times I’m not even sure I want God. It sure doesn’t look like it, when you look at the way I spend my time and resources. I had to come to that hard realization this morning. If the Bible is like God’s love letter to me, then why do I have such a hard time opening it? It always feels a bit like pulling teeth, even though I know some of the best moments I enjoy with God are priceless.

So, this morning I just asked God to meet me in my quiet time, as I perfunctorily pulled out my hulking 5 pound leather-bound from its irreverent place on the floor.

Now I don’t normally share stuff from my journal, especially quiet time material, but I figured maybe it’ll encourage someone who struggles with the same thing. Who knows what we’ll learn and how filled our souls would be if we pulled out our Bibles once in awhile?

*****

Sept 24, 2010

John 18:1-11 – Jesus and his disciples entered over the ravine of the Kidron. Judas, knowing he was there, went to gather a group of chief officers and priests to betray him. When they approached Jesus, he asked them, “Whom do you seek?” They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way.” What this shows is Jesus stepping up as a leader and shepherd. He was willing to turn himself in so that the sheep might be protected. That is how much he cares for his chosen ones. Application here? Whenever I doubt Jesus’ love for me, all I need to do is look at the cross and be reminded of all that he sacrificed for me. He gave his life for me–how would he not freely give me all things?

Peter, of course, being the brash/passionate/emotional guy that he is, drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. Peter was ready to scrap, he was ready to defend and die for Jesus at that moment. Which makes his denial of Christ later on all the more interesting. In one moment, he was ready to sacrifice his life for Christ; in another, he cursed and denied ever knowing the man. What gives? I don’t think there might be any more reason other than to say that Peter was just a man who was driven by emotions, instincts, and circumstances. Or maybe it’s because Jesus was yet to be turned in; he was still their triumphant leader and there was still a cause that was worth fighting for. When Jesus was on the cross, maybe he no longer wanted to identify with him–when the going got tough.

I guess in many ways I’m Peter. I’ll follow Jesus when things are good and situations are favorable, but I’m quick to turn the other way when the going gets tough. I am capable of both dying for and denying Christ–I am Peter. This reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis who says, “We learn…that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.” I’m reminded that I can never separate myself from the cross–on it I am dependent and to it I am bound. I am in desperate need of God’s saving work in my life.

One last thought: “Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?’ “(verse 11). That is all there needs to be said about suffering and the will of God. If God has ordained a period of hardship in my life, shall I refuse Him? God is the Maker of this universe–He is entitled to do as He pleases. Jesus knew that, and therefore gave his life, even on the cross, in perfect obedience. Complete and total surrender/submission–that’s what God wants.