Now for a little Christmas cheer! Yes, indeed, Jesus is a friend of mine. I am so glad. Merry Christmas!
I love to study the images of Christmas. This year a new image came to me; one I had not considered before, which really is the combination of two images I have studied many times.
Luke 2:7 says, “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
There was no room for them in the Bethlehem hotel. This fact often reminds me that sometimes my life is too “crowded” for Christ. I have great intentions for my relationship with Him, but often I choose my “pleasures” over time with Him. Sad to admit, but if I am honest, and you were to look at my schedule many days, it could be said of me that I have “no room” for Christ.
Luke 2:8-9 says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
The shepherds remind me that God first appeared with the news of His Son to those who society considered outcasts. I have read that the courts refused shepherds testimonies in a court of law because they considered them untrustworthy. Shepherds appeared at the bottom of the social status, but they made themselves available to the Christ child. It reminds me that although I have needed more grace than most pastors His grace is fully available even to me!
I have never combined the above two images. Think about this for a moment. The fact that the inn had no room may have been necessary in order for the shepherds to receive the announcement. Imagine if there had been room in the inn. The shepherds would not have been able to visit the Christ child. They would have had to find a place to take a bath, change clothes, and probably change their occupation if they had a hope of seeing Him. As shepherds, they would have been welcome in a barn, but not in the Bethlehem “Hyatt”.
It is a great reminder to me this Christmas that God comes to those who do not deserve His presence or His love. Immanuel presents Himself in places the “good people” never go! He loves people the world has rejected and He makes Himself available without regard to our background, our reputation, the gossip about us, or even our smelliness.
This year I am more thankful than ever that there was “no room for them in the inn.”
I have read these two poems numerous times in devotionals and online. I have never seen a copyright on them, but they are attributed to Ann Weems. The story I have heard is that she is a minister’s wife who lost her son to murder though I could not confirm that online. Her poems speak, however, to the heart many feel this time of year as they attempt to celebrate Christmas with a heavy heart. Perhaps she expresses your heart too.
In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one
Some of us walk in Advent
tethered to our unresolved yesterdays
the pain still stabbing
the hurt still throbbing.
It’s not that we don’t know better;
it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves.
On the way of Bethlehem, will you give us a hand?
Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears have no end?
You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you.
Here are some items that caught my attention this week and caused me to think.
One of my mentors, Dennis Newkirk, wrote a sobering post on called The Currency of Christmas. It is a reminder we all need to hear repeated often.
What if church was run like an airline? With year-end giving on our mind, maybe this is an answer to consider. Check it out on MMI’s post here.
Perry Noble scored another one with me this week. I don’t like thinking of him puking, but I like the application he makes in the sacrifice involved in “getting to the next level”.
Clarksville, where I live, is getting a mega-sized new industry. Not only will this create thousands of jobs and make over a billion-dollar investment, but this industry has the potential to place Clarksville on the leading edge of the new “green economy”. Read about it here.
I am excited about watching father and son coach together at the University of Tennessee next year. I would love to work for one of my boys some day. What an honor!
What did you find interesting this week?
Recently I received some great business advice from my mom. Please understand that my mom is retired from over 40 years of work in the business world, but she is usually not the first person I would think of for business advice. I mean, she is smart, no doubt about that, but she is my mom. I go to Warren Buffett for business advice. I go to my mom when I cannot find my recipe for cornbread. (She makes some killer cornbread by the way.)
A friend of ours, however, has been concerned about losing his job. My mom told me what she has been telling him. He is a salesperson for a company that is experiencing a considerable decline in sales. He claims that if the production people could make it faster, he could sell more products. My mom told him to leave his comfortable desk and chair, show an interest in the production people, and, if necessary, learn to help make the product. Her quote, “You need to make yourself indispensable to the company right now, because desperate times call for desperate measures.”
You know, my mom is right. Too many times when our organization is suffering we cast blame rather than rally the team. We throw in the towel rather than work for a solution. We give up rather than create energy around us. It is easier to quit sometimes than to weather through the rough periods, but the greatest and sweetest victories come to those who stick it out through the hard times and make it to the other side.
Are you discovering tough times? Learn a lesson from my mom. Desperate times call for desperate measures!
I have a great life. I have had years of struggles, which have greatly shaped the person I am today, but these days life is fairly calm and I hate to complain even when I am having a “bad” day. In a church our size, there are always “sober reminders” to keep me grounded. One would think I would become callous to disappointing news after hearing so much of it each week, but some things will always leave me speechless. In those times, I learn more about the reality of life. Other people’s struggles remind me how desperate each of us is for God’s mercy and grace and how incredibly blessed my life is right now.
There are things that no matter how many times I hear them always take me by surprise. Things like:
- When I learn a wife is leaving her husband for another man, it reminds me that what we see in couples does not always represent the reality of what takes place in the privacy of their home.
- When I hear that a young father received an unexpected stage 4 cancer diagnosis, it reminds me that life is fragile and family time has great value.
- When I sign another military “notification in case of tragedy” form indicating that I have to bring “bad news” should something happen to the solider, it reminds me that others serve our country so that my family and I can be safe and worship freely.
- When another teenage daughter becomes pregnant, it reminds me how much pressure is on our teens today and how desperately she needs our love and direction for life.
- When a mother or father loses their job, it reminds me that their biggest concern this Christmas is not what to buy but how will they buy anything.
- When I find out the reason a couple has been married for years, but does not have children is infertility, I am reminded that there is a pain in a couple’s heart that I will never quite understand.
- When I talk with a family who has lost a child to tragedy, it reminds me that some pain in life never completely goes away.
At Christmastime, “sober reminders” always help me remember that Jesus came to those who are hurting, those down in heart, and those in need of a Savior.
I completed my first marathon today, the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama. I registered in September and began a training program that would help me get ready by mid December. I kept on schedule through my 18-mile run, but then life got crazy and I was not able to run much the last four weeks before the race. I had considered not running, but decided I had worked too hard and so I pressed into it and finished. The first question I get is “Would I do another one?” The answer is yes, but I have learned a few things about marathons that I would do differently if I did another one.
1. If you have to spit every few feet, spit long and hard. I hit my shirt a few times.
2. Do not drink 2 cups of coffee and a triple-shot latte’ prior to the race. It woke me up, but I had to stop at the first six porta-potties.
3. The Rocket City Marathon needs more porta-potties. I waited at least 3 to 5 minutes each time I stopped.
4. Girls take longer in porta-potties than boys do.
5. Starting is easier than finishing. The first four miles make you feel you could run forever. Do not be deceived. (Of course, that statement is indicative of a lot of life.)
6. A little encouragement goes a long way. One little boy yelling “Keep going” made the difference for me at one point.
7. Learn to stretch. I never have and it caused cramps towards the end of the race.
8. Cheryl is a great wife. I would not want to do a marathon without her.
9. I get nervous the night before and slightly cranky.
10. Nothing beats the feeling of crossing the finish line and knowing the race is over. At that point, who cares about their time?
If you are looking for a flat course and fun marathon, consider the Huntsville Rocket City Marathon. I should of course mention that I could not have made this race without God’s help. The last three miles I said “Thank you, God. Thank you, God” over and over again, because there were times I didn’t think I could complete it. So, Thank you, God.
I want to encourage you to release your children to explore their own faith. Okay, that sounds very liberal. I apologize, but let me explain. I hope your children have a solid faith in the one true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I would make that a part of daily prayer and intentionally lead them towards that reality for their own life. The truth, however, is that your children are some day going to question their faith. At some point in life, most people I know have questioned whether what they have always believed is true. My encouragement is to let some of that process occur while your children still live in your home or under your authority.
With that in mind, here are five quick suggestions to consider to spur a life-long faith and to allow your children to explore their faith:
1. When children are very young, set the stage for them spiritually with what you think is best for them. For example, if church is important, and I think it is, then do not let a 2 year old determine whether you go to church. Take them to church on a regular basis so it becomes a natural part of who they are as individuals.
2. At the same time, let the children’s needs play a part in deciding what church to attend. As tough as it may be on grandparents not to have their grandchildren in the same church, it would be better to have your children actually love their church experience than to attend somewhere they do not enjoy going.
3. Find opportunities to talk about faith and God in non-threatening, everyday environments. Talk about God should never be limited to “church time”. Make God part of your normal life. (He is you know!) Model living a life for Christ in front of your child.
4. As a child, having been raised in church and heard all the “stories”, attempts to explore his own faith, do not feel the pressure to answer every question they have. If children are seeking truth, guide them towards the source of truth (God’s Word) and let them explore it for themselves. This is the only way to make sure your children actually “own” their faith. When one of my boys was questioning eternal security, for example, I suggested he read the conflicting passages on the subject and encouraged him to reach his own conclusion. (He did, btw, and landed in the same place I land.)
5. Keep the lines of communication open even when your children are questioning what they believe. I have known so many parents who “freak” when their children express opinions about their faith that are contrary to their parents. I have never seen this reaction work to their favor. It usually causes further separation between the child and the parent. This is where I believe Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.) comes into play. Parent towards Christ early in your child’s life, release them to explore, keep praying for them and loving them, and the principle in Proverbs is that they will return to their roots in time.
Children are going to question their faith someday. Any faith worth having involves periods of testing over time. Chances are good that you questioned your faith at some point. Allow your children to test their faith in God, but pray it happens while they are still in your home or listening to your counsel so you will be there to help them find their way Home again.
Please join me in praying for our new president and his family. Regardless of your politics, as I have said before, we need to respect the office of president.
The more I get to know about the Obama family the more I admire their family values. I hope they bring these values to the White House and influence our culture. The commitment they have to each other as a couple and to their children is one we can all emulate.
Here’s an interesting link I found with trivia about President-elect Barack Obama and wife Michelle. Enjoy: Favorites of the Future First Family