Friday, December 28, 2007

Anna and "Fluffy"

Just the Thing

A few weeks before Christmas Christy was on the computer shopping for presents for our girls when she said something along the lines of, “I think I found it…” She tilted the screen in my direction and clicked on the link for this little toy puppy called a “Rescue Pet.” It’s a cute little animatronic dog that you “feed” and “train.” The fuzzy little robot puppy actually sits, wags his tail, barks and lifts his leg… I’m serious. Anna has been pining for a pet dog or cat for some time and although none of us in the house are really ready for that, this rescue pet seemed a perfect fit. So, in full confidence that we know our girl, Christy clicked “add to cart” and then “proceed to checkout.” The mechanical golden retriever arrived a week or so later and was just waiting for Christmas day…

About a week before Christmas Anna, Norah and I were walking through Wal-Mart doing a little shopping when we just so happened to pass an aisle displaying a ton of rescue pets puppies. When Anna laid eyes on those dogs she freaked out with excitement. She said, “Dad! Dad! Look at those puppies! Dad, look at that doggy! Can I have one of those for Christmas!? Please Dad? Can I have one?” I played it cool and said, “I don’t know… we’ll see…” But inside I was as excited as she was because the very thing she wanted most was already sitting in our house waiting on her to open it up!

On Christmas morning Anna opened so many presents that by the time she go to her puppy she was almost over the whole thing. She even opened the box without much fanfare, but when she realized what it was she had, she got pumped! Soon she had named the dog ‘Fluffy’ and the two have been an almost inseparable pair ever since, sharing naps, meals and car rides…

On Christmas morning I read a really cool verse in the book of Zechariah, chapter 8 where the Lord was talking about how he was going to restore life and peace to Jerusalem and He said, “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?”

How amazing is it to know that, while we are in the midst of what may seem like the most insurmountable trials and challenges, our Lord has in mind for us amazing things… things we could only dream about, yet He has actually planned them out! And when He blesses our socks off with just the right word of encouragement, that extra money right when we needed it or the beautiful bright eyes of a brand new Christmas baby, He’s not surprised… We may find it marvelous when He gives us just the thing we needed most, but He doesn’t find it marvelous. Why? Because He’s known all along what He was going to do... He knows His children and He’s been planning ahead.

So, the next time you feel like you can’t make it and you’re drowning in your own life, just remember, He knows what you want. He knows what you need and He’s probably already ordered just the thing; wait ‘til you open it…

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Anna's first 'date' with Sam... they went to Alvin & the Chipmunks and then to "Old McDonalds"

Wish List

When I was a kid, I thought Christmas was the most magical and amazing thing in my whole world… I mean, once a year I got to make a wish list of the stuff I was really dying to have, and guess what? …I got it! I would wake up on Christmas morning (or in the middle of the night, rather) and head into the living room with my heart pounding wondering, “Did it happen? Did I get what I most wanted?” And then I would see it… a scooter, a gameboy, a bass guitar. Year after year, to my utter amazement it just kept on happening… I said what I wanted most (within reason) and lo and behold, I got it.

So this year I was thinking about Christmas and wondering just how magical it is for Jesus… in other words, is He getting the thing He wants most for Christmas? Does He wait with baited breath and heart pounding every year to see if that thing He wanted most is there, waiting on Him? Well, of course the thing about a question like this is that you have to find out what it is Jesus wants most… what tops His wish list? I don’t know about you, but that makes me think about the wise men… you see, even though they weren’t really there on the first Christmas, they did bring Jesus presents when they came, and I think those gifts were pictures of the thing Jesus wants most.

The magi brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the traditional view is that these gifts represented different aspects of Jesus… gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity and myrrh for death and burial. Now maybe this is exactly what the wise men had in mind when they brought Jesus these gifts, but what if these gifts were not meant to represent Jesus Himself? It could be that they were meant to represent that one gift that tops Jesus’ wish list. After all, as the wise men told the citizens of Jerusalem after their long journey west, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” -Matthew 2:1

So, how can these three gifts be pictures of worship? Well, I was thinking about gold and how it’s found in veins way down deep in the dark, hard roots of mountains, but when it is mined out and refined, it’s beautiful, bright, soft and ready to be molded. I know that sometimes my worship of the King has to be dragged out of a hard heart that’s been too dark, but when it’s mined out, it’s the best version of me... the one that’s soft and ready to be changed.

Frankincense is actually a resin that comes from the sap of these amazing trees called ‘boswellia’ that can grow right out of the side of a bare rock face, and whose roots cling so tightly that the strongest storms can’t tear them away. The sap that runs slowly down the trunk and dries over a four month time period is called a tear. Harvesters collect these ‘tears’ and use them to make medicine and perfume, but mostly incense. In fact, frankincense is one of the most valuable and beloved fragrances in the world… You know, when my heart is desperately clinging to the Rock of Christ through my strongest and most terrible storms and crying out my tears to Him, He not only hears my prayers, but He smells them as well and there is no more pleasing fragrance to His heart than that.

Myrrh is also a resin collected from tree sap, but it’s different than frankincense… it’s dark, sticky and although its smell is strong, it’s not considered as beautiful as frankincense. Myrrh is actually one of the world’s best natural antiseptics and is used to clean wounds and remove infection. Back in the day it was commonly used in burial to cover up the smell of death… When I think of the thing that holds me back from worship the most, it’s myself… my own selfish thoughts, desires, worries and fears. Maybe myrrh was a picture of our need to die to ourselves… to cleanse our heart of all the selfish stuff that we might mine out that bright and beautiful version of us that is clinging to Him, crying out to Him and ready to be changed by Him. You see, I think that the thing Jesus really wants for Christmas this year is us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Than Love…

There is one nightly ritual we carry on in our house that was started by Christy’s parents… that is, when we’re putting the girls in bed we always tell them, “I love you, I like you and good night.” When Christy told me about this practice from when she was a kid, I instantly thought it was very cool. I mean, everyone needs to know that they are loved, but there is also this other thing in side us that wants to know, “Does anyone like me? Does anyone think I’m cool? Would you hang out with me if you didn’t have to or if we weren’t related?” I think it’s part of what was so terrifying about choosing dodge ball teams in middle school… “What if I’m picked last?” It’s part of what it means to be accepted. It’s the reason peer pressure exists at every stage of life… we want to be loved, but when it comes down t it, we want to be liked too.

This desire to be accepted, liked and cool is such a powerful motivator. It’s the reason people do half the stuff they do. It’s the reason little kids who are funny cut up in class. It’s the reason kids form little clusters of friends and become more and more like each other over time. It’s the reason kids at the high school want the coolest phone or just have to be listening to the right music, and it doesn’t really stop with age. It’s the reason some parents push their kids so hard in sports and in school. It’s the reason some families take the vacations they do or have the kinds of cars and houses they do. There are people late in life who are still asking themselves the same questions they did in middle school gym class… “Is somebody going to pick me?”

This is one of the reasons that I love Christmas so much… if there’s one thing that the Christmas story is saying loud and clear to anyone who will open their ears and listen, it’s this: “God loves you, but guess what… He likes you too!” In Luke 2 we read about those shepherds hanging out in the fields with their sheep when suddenly everything changed… They had always been the social rejects and outcasts… the kids of guys nobody picked for dodge ball, but on this night an angel appeared out of nowhere and told them (of all people) that a Savior had been born as a baby and while they were trying to process this, the sky was rent in two as tons of angels filled their vision and shouted out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

This is one of my very favorite Christmas verses because God didn’t just send His Son to us as a last resort. It wasn’t some last-ditch decision that He reluctantly made against His better judgment, or simply to fulfill some covenantal obligation. This was God’s plan all along and it was the evidence of not only His great love for us, but of the fact that His favor rests upon us. It’s as if the angel’s message for them (and us) was, “Peace… chill out on all of the crazy stuff you do to get everyone to like you and think you’re cool. You see, He does like you!” It reminds me of that awesome verse in Psalm 149 that says, “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him on the tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in His people…”

He loves you, He likes you and good night.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Manger Hearts

One of my favorite lines in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special is when the ‘little red-haired girl’ asks, “Did the Inn-keeper’s wife have naturally curly hair?” I get such a kick out of that because the Bible never mentions an innkeeper or his spouse who (if she existed at all) may or may not have had naturally curly hair… We assume there was an innkeeper, and that there were three kings named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. We assume that Mary and Joseph arrived on a donkey and that everyone in our nativity sets were all gathered together for a nice silent night at the same time under the watchful eye of a pretty little princess angel, but the truth is, the Bible only mentions an inn where there was no room and a manger where there was.

Luke 2:4-7 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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.

I remember when Christy was pregnant with Anna and how we made her crib… how we decided on poplar and picked out the best we could find. How every cut was measured and re-measured and how we sanded and sanded the slats. We went over every square inch of wood a million times with different sand paper, and then with polyurethane. We glued the slats in place and clamped them down to dry. We then poured over the instructions as we assembled this beautiful crib… we picked out a great mattress and the cutest sheets and bumper pad. Everything had to be perfect to give our baby the safest and most comfy nights’ sleep.

And then I think about Jesus in the manger… the Creator of the world was wrapped up in random cloths and laid in a feeding trough. You know, when you make important furniture, you pick great materials and take lots of time and care to build what you had in mind, but it’s not like that with functional barn furniture… That manger was probably thrown together with mixed-up, stray and uneven scraps of wood that had been rejected from all other uses. Broken pieces may have been rigged up and haphazardly nailed into place. It didn’t matter what it looked like or what it was made of because all it was ever going to do was hold horse feed… that is, until that night. On the night that changed all other nights, that manger had the most important job in the world: it held Jesus, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace. That manger became the holiest place on earth.

The throne of God in the temple in Jerusalem was a place only one person entered and only once a year. Inside was the holiest piece of furniture in human history: the Ark of the Covenant, covered in purest gold and watched by golden angels. But that’s not what His throne is like anymore… When God came to earth He chose a manger for His throne and I think He still likes it that way. These days He looks for hearts where He can find a home, and He’s not looking for the spotless, untainted heart… He’s looking for hearts that are like His old manger crib… broken, scrapped, rejected and ill-used, but perfect for Jesus, and when He sits on that throne He makes it holy just like He did on that first Christmas.

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