The Wonderland of Faith

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Many of our traditions and songs link Christmas with winter. A White Christmas is ideal, yet for most of the world where we live, Christmas is a bit early in the winter. The glory of winter is a month or two in the future. December 25th is only the third day of winter officially. So, Christmas windows are painted with fake snow and wonderlands are sung about and usually it’s raining or stark and gray with bare trees. There’s a parallel to faith. Beginning to believe in Jesus is different from the wonderland of really knowing Him the way that Scripture reveals Him. If you’ve accepted Christ and it’s not the wonderland everyone’s sung about, you should realize that you haven’t seen anything yet. A shelf is a terrible place for a Bible! A drawer is worse! If you want to see the wonderland of faith in Christ, you can only do so through the lens of God’s Word. Just as you usually have to travel through time from Christmas to experience the best of winter, so you have to travel through Scripture from the point when you start to believe to experience the best of God. This is how He has designed weather and faith.

Lord, open me so I open Your Word. Forgive me for making a chore out of what you’ve designed to be a joy. Teach me to learn. Help me to read. Make other things dull compared to the time I spend in Your Word. Show me Your face in Your Word that I may live as Your child.

The Gift of Worship

Read John 4:19-26

The story of the little drummer boy was striking to me as a kid. Although the version we’re familiar with is relatively modern (1958), it teaches an ancient and precious truth: that a gift can be anything that comes from the heart. As a boy, my heart went out the little drummer boy. He had nothing to give. All he could do was play his drums. Many of us feel this way in life. We feel like we don’t have anything special to give God. We feel empty-handed before God. Christmas proves us wrong. From the shepherds of ancient Scripture to the drummer-boy of modern lyrics, one thing is clear, the gift of worship is the greatest gift we can give to God. It is always on God’s Christmas list. It’s what He looks for under the tree (and everywhere else). It’s what He wants from you this Christmas more than anything else. Though he wants it, because He’s God He’ll be just fine without it, but you won’t. Don’t miss your opportunity while you walk this earth to worship its Creator and yours.

Lord God, I worship You this Advent and Christmas season. If You’re looking for a worshiper, You’ve found one in me. Receive my gift to You of worship. I have nothing else of value to give You compared to my worship of You.

Caroling

Read Psalm 40:1-3

One Advent, while in seminary, I took the small Bible study group that met at my house up and down Route 17K caroling. I’m amazed at this memory. It was a group of college kids without much singing experience, but we managed to get everything together and venture out. The weather matched us, snowy and cold, and people received us graciously.6a00e5517bef068834010536997362970c-500wi The truth is, at every house we went to the people were in tears. They smiled, laughed, got everyone in the house to listen, and told us that we were like angels. Two or three houses into our tour we came across a family whose father was in the last stages of cancer. He sat in his wheelchair by his sliding door with his hospice worker and family surrounding him. I was told a few weeks later, after he had died, that our visit was a groundbreaking blessing for him. I’m still humbled by the memory of his wife’s voice that January as she thanked me and us. All we did was sing. All we did was sing songs about Christ and the hope He brings that nothing can take away.

PRAYER: Lord, today, 19 days from the end of this season, give me eyes to see and ears to hear Your hope and love. May I be an instrument of Advent and Your Gospel. Thank You for the power of simple songs praising You for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Advent and Cats

Read 2 Samuel 12:1-6

yellow-cat
Not Murdoch, but close in many ways.

Cats don’t care about Advent. Cats care about cats. We have now have two gray female cats that get shut in the basement every night. Children have shoved them down the care chain. They’ve adjusted under protest. Earlier in our Marriage, however, Shannon and I had two jobs, no kids, and one yellow male cat. Murdoch was his name. He was our stand-in for children and he knew it. He slept on our bed. We made room for him, even though he had his own bed. He was my mom’s grandcat. There were gifts for him under the tree for Christmas. Sometimes they were even wrapped with a bow and a tag that said, “To Murdoch.” Even though cats don’t care about Advent or Christmas, Murdoch liked it. Every year, he destroyed Christmas ornaments and peed on our handmade tree skirt. As we became wiser cat-parents, we would set up sacrificial ornaments within his reach on the lower part of the tree. We placed the more valuable ones higher up on the tree. The tree skirt always had that funky smell, despite cans and cans of Febreze. The sentimental side of Murdoch came out every year. He peed in that same spot on the tree skirt. That was Christmas for him.

A soiled tree skirt and dead ornaments point to Jesus. Jesus was born to occupy a place on the lower part of the tree. We place the star on top and heirloom ornaments near it. Jesus was born to be shattered. He was treated more like a litter box than a tree skirt should be. Jesus was and is The King. Only hints of this appear in his life as we have it recorded in Scripture. His love and grace always loom larger than his majesty and power.

Murdoch got cancer in 2003 and we lost our dear cat on June 4th of that year. Married 15 years while wanting kids and having none, the loss hit us hard. Pet losses sometimes do. We felt petty and empty, like foolish people who would never know a life we thought God had promised to us. In the years since, the life that Murdoch represented has reappeared. What we love about pets says more about us than our pets. We want life and hope. We want affection, relationship, and fun. Anyone who lives long enough can feel the loss of all this. Jesus took His place at the bottom of the tree so that despair and loss would only be temporary. Life, by faith in Him, is eternal.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the blessings and goodness of life. Though Advent represents eternal gain for me as a believer, help me understand that it meant immeasurable loss for You, Father. A Son who had nothing to do with sin and death became both for us who deserve both. The pain that follows shows up starkly in our simple losses, making them so deflating. We miss people and pets as well as the best of the past, but in You there is always more hope and more life. Amen.

O Come All Ye Unfaithful

Read Romans 3:21-24

“O Come All Ye Faithful?” Maybe the title of this song would be closer to the truth as, “O Come All Ye Unfaithful.” After all, who are the faithful? Jesus came for sinners, people who have fallen short of His glory, the unfaithful – people like us. The miracle of Christmas is that a remnant of the unfaithful on earth is brought by grace to a place where they “adore Him.” God loved us while we were yet unfaithful. That’s the kind of God Scripture reveals Him to be. It’s not, by the way, because He saw that we had potential or that “we at least tried” or any other similar accommodation. Without God, no one has potential or tries. When we think there is goodness in us that God must give us credit for, we block our minds from being able to even begin to understand God’s grace. But, with God and His Grace to us in Christ – because He Who was faithful, Jesus Christ, did come – all the unfaithful who turn to Him by faith are indeed being transformed. Sing choirs of angels!

Lord, as I come, make me faithful. I don’t come to You because I’m faithful. I’m not. You come to me because You are faithful. May I bring You glory and adoration in my response to Your indescribable, personal gift to me of faithful love and salvation.

Pretend

Read John 3:16-18

The Christmas of movies, songs, and childhood dreams really doesn’t exist. The truth about Santa Claus is the truth about Christmas as well. It’s pretend. It’s not real. Chestnuts and reindeer and lawn decorations that only look good at night – it’s all a shiny figment of our collective imagination. But, as figments go, it’s a sweet one. And the joy and closeness that many experience through it is as real as it gets. So, there’s no need to heap abuse on or focus our attention against the pretend parts of Christmas, so long as we don’t elevate them in any way over the timeless, unassailable truth of the gospel and birth of our only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Draw a thick line between the pretend and the real at Christmas. Be free to enjoy the best of the pretend like you would candy, but don’t fail to partake of the truly best, the real – a baby born to die rejected by the world so that you could live forever accepted by God – like you would a meal. Sample the pretend that’s worth sampling in moderation. Do this only to whet your appetite for the real. Then, eat the real and be truly fed. Be truly satisfied only with Jesus Christ.

Lord God, You only are the gift and the giver worthy of exuberant celebration. Help me not lose sight of the truth of the gospel at Christmas. Only this truth will set me free. Only this truth will quench the thirst and satisfy the hunger of my soul. Thank you for eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Peace

Read Luke 2:13-14, Philippians 4:7

Peace is not what the world thinks it is. Peace is not the end of war or the thing that happens when people who don’t like each other suddenly get along. Peace is not an outcome at all. It is a source. Before any war ends there has to be peace. Someone has to accept something they didn’t before. Someone has to surrender. Before I’m nice to my enemy, I need peace. I have to get it before I can give it. I get it from Jesus. The angels remind me that peace is Christ’s Christmas gift to me every morning. And few gifts are better for “regifting” than peace. It’s a gift I get more of when I give it away. Let there be peace on earth!

Lord, the peace You offer is what I need more than anything else in my life. Before I look for it anywhere else, before I seek it from any counterfeit sources, let me get it from being connected to You, Lord Jesus, by faith. Then I have something I can give others.

A Different Kind of Baby Shower

Read Luke 2:8-12,15-16, Matthew 2:1-11

Imagine a (weeks long) baby shower that only men are invited to. Imagine that these men are total strangers. They are outcasts (shepherds) and foreigners (wise men). No one related to the baby has ever seen them before. Imagine that these strange men not only look strange, but some of them smell strange too (shepherds). And imagine that one of these strange men even brought the equivalent of embalming fluid (myrrh) for the new baby – someday the kid will die and need it and maybe it was on sale. Who knows? Maybe this is why there aren’t many men invited to baby showers these days. Bad gifts and bad smells don’t fit the occasion. Nowadays, baby showers, and Christmas for that matter, are all about good gifts and good smells. Everything is clean, bright, and wonderful. So, maybe some strange men need to get hold of Christmas again and restore its original essence. Maybe we’ve had enough of the holly and the ivy. Maybe its time to bring back the stink of sheep urine on nearly bare feet, the alien sounds of never-heard-before foreign languages, and so many other details from the Biblical account that will remind us of what that first Christmas was really like.

Lord, I really don’t want my Christmas to “stink,” but I do want to know my Lord who entered into the stink of this world for me. Help me look beyond the decorations of the holiday to see the humiliation of Christ that the holiday is based on. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Your Word which reveals the truth about Jesus to me.

Tomorrow is the First Day of Advent 2014

It starts tomorrow! Check in here every day. Follow, comment, and engage. This is something we’re doing together. Advent means waiting. We wait together for God to do in and between us what only He can do.

And He did it through His Son: Jesus Christ.

May God bless your Advent season and Christmas celebrations this year like never before!

He is the reason for everything! 🙂

PS – After Advent the site will stay up and running and change with the seasons. I hope it’s useful for you and I pray it’s glorifying to God. Thanks!

Advent 2014

Hi. I’ve had this blog site ready to go for over a year! I’m finally taking it out of the garage for Advent 2014. I’ll be posting entries from all my past Advent devotionals, especially those I put online in 2010. I had only 4 followers for that year, so nearly everything I post from that year will be fresh for anyone who stops by. I’ve written about 4 different Advent devotionals over the last 16 years as pastor of Goodwill Church, and they hold a special place in my own walk. For me, Advent is one of those times of the church year when meaning has to be hunted down and captured. Once in hand, it yields real spiritual treasure. Advent 2014 officially begins on Sunday, November 30th. I may post before then, but from November 30th to December 24th our focus will be on Christ’s arrival or advent. It happened in history. It happens in us as we make our way through history with Him.

I also plan to continue posting after Advent and into 2015 and beyond. I will work to make this site fully functional, helping you connect with any and all resources from Goodwill Church or our various radio programs, especially Keep Your Eyes on the Road. I will value all feedback regarding this.

I really hope you decide to follow me on this blog; my prayer as a pastor and a friend is that God will supply much to you through our time together. He’s good like that, isn’t He?