A Mary Christmas

Mary and Martha

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42, NIV)

Just call me “Martha.”

I want to be “Mary.”  Really, I do.

But despite my best intentions, each Christmas season inevitably finds me distracted with all my preparations, spending less and less time with Jesus.  This year has been no different.

A late Thanksgiving and an extra full social calendar this past month only made matters worse.  I’d snatch a few moments of prayer in the car as I drove from one activity to the other.  I’d quickly skim my devotional book before turning out the light at night.  But I had yet to slow down long enough to really worship the One whose name this season bears.

Until today.

I had planned to skip church.  The Broncos were playing early.  The service would be identical on Christmas Eve, so I wouldn’t really “miss” anything, I reasoned.  But as I scrolled down my Facebook newsfeed around 10:15 this morning, still in my pajamas, I came across this post:

“The first day of winter – a good day to worship the Most High God!”

And then a few posts later, this:

Adore Him

Suddenly I felt drawn, compelled to drop everything and go worship.  I hurriedly dressed for the 11am service  and headed out the door alone.  I didn’t care what the rest of the family, or the rest of the world, for that matter, was doing.

I would worship Him.

And I did.  Hand raised.  Eyes closed.  Unaware of those around me.

I sat at the feet of Jesus.  My ears listening to His words.  My heart connecting with His.

It was a good – no, the best – place to be.  It didn’t have to be in church.  Worship can happen anywhere, whenever our hearts are centered on Him.  Even in the midst of all of our preparations.

So.  This is for all the “Marthas.”

Remember…

It’s never too late to have a “Mary” Christmas!

 

 

 

A few notes:

  1. I first heard Bob Horner share the phrase “Mary Christmas” when he taught on this passage at a Crusade staff meeting years ago.  I’ve never forgotten it.  I just forget to practice it!
  2. Thank you to my Facebook friends Anastasia and Kevin/Darcy for your timely posts!
  3. The above painting is called “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Henryk Siemiradzki.
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The Gospel According to Beau

We kept hoping he’d figure it out.  Sleep on this side of the Pack ‘n Play.  Poop on the other side.  It was so simple even a puppy could understand it.  But after seven long weeks of hoping (along with almost daily baths!) we finally had to admit that it just wasn’t working.  It was time to try something new.

So we put away the Pack ‘n Play and invited this untrained puppy into…our bedroom.

It felt foolish.  Risky.  Counterintuitive.  He certainly hadn’t earned the privilege or proven himself trustworthy.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  So we did it anyway.

We scattered a few puppy pads around the room, praying that he would choose them over the carpet.  We made him a little bed next to ours and held our breath as he curled up, without whining, in a contented ball.  He slept peacefully, happy just to be near us.

I slept, fitfully, fearfully.  The next morning I cautiously peered over the side of the bed, dreading what I might find.  But lo and behold, he was clean and dry!  And so was the carpet!  We jokingly called it our Christmas Miracle.  In fact, he’s now gone an entire week with nary an accident or a bath!

It’s AMAZING.

Yet isn’t this how Grace works?

We, too, couldn’t help ourselves.  Try as we might we just couldn’t stay clean.  Then, one day, the Father lifted us out of the confines of the Law, which we had been unable to keep, and set it aside.  It was time for something new.  Jesus came, took our filth in exchange for His righteousness, and escorted us right into the very throne room of God.

We did not deserve such kindness.  We had not earned this trust.  Yet it was given to us anyway.

Grace.  AMAZING.

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law.  Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”  (Romans 6:14, NLT)

When we gave Beau the run of our room, we weren’t sure how he would handle his newfound freedom.  We knew he could abuse it.  That’s the risk grace takes.  But being in our presence calmed and settled him.  It changed him.

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?  Of course not!  Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT)

Grace changes us, too.  When we experience the thrill of being in God’s gracious, holy presence, sin loses its pull.  His law is now written on our hearts.  (See Hebrews 8:10.)  We want  to please Him.

We don’t do it perfectly.  Accidents still happen.  But our hearts are inclined in a new direction:  to stay near this One who has showered us with such extravagant grace.

As I lifted Beau onto my pillow for a snuggle the morning of The Miracle, a tear slipped down my cheek.  If I could love a helpless, ignorant puppy through this messy process, how much more must God love me?  If being brought near to us could change him, how might nestling even closer to God’s heart change me?

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

Chris' pillow--his favorite spot!

Chris’ pillow–his favorite spot!

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Friends

FriendsOn two consecutive days this past week I enjoyed visits with two different friends. (Actually, three.  It was a good week.  But to simplify I’ll just talk about two.)

One friend is “old,” not in age, but in duration–we’ve been friends for over two decades.  (Although the longer we are friends, the more both meanings of the word “old” apply!)  We lived in the same town for a little over two years.  Our mutual love for the Lord is the glue that holds us together despite time and distance.

The second friend is “new.”  We’ve known each other for about two years.  She lives nearby, and is a couple decades younger.  We also share a special bond in the Lord, which makes the age difference seem irrelevant.

And I need them both.

“Old” friends ground us.  When I’m with them I look back.  I remember who I was, who I still am.  We’re a part of each other’s history.   We know each other’s stories.  Conversation flows effortlessly, punctuated with laughter.  (Or “cackling,” as this particular friend’s husband unwisely called it.)

“New” friends inspire us.  When I’m with them I look forward.  I see who I can be.  We’re a part of each other’s present lives.  We know each other’s struggles.  Conversation runs deep, peppered with “aha” moments.

“A friend loveth at all times.”  (Proverbs 17:17, KJV)

Tiny, forest green ‘x’s spell out this verse in a cross stitch which hangs in my hallway.  It was lovingly created for me by another “old” friend.  It serves as a reminder of those special friends “who have been long tried and proved, and found faithful,” and that “…these should be kept to and valued…” (John Gill)

Reflecting on the benefits of newer friendships, this verse comes to mind:

“Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.” (Proverbs 27:10b, NAS)

Because sometimes you just need to sit face to face with someone who can be “Jesus with skin on.”  Someone who will listen as you pour out your soul over a cup of coffee (or, in my case, tea).  Someone you can text at 3:30am to share one of those “aha” moments.  (Yes, she did.)  Because “…a neighbour that is a fast and faithful friend, and who is not only near as to place but as to affections is more serviceable and, useful to a man in time of distress…” (Gill)

So we need them both.

Old friends, who fit us like a pair of well-worn jeans; familiar and comfortable.

New friends, who lift our spirits like a cute, new outfit; fresh and promising.

Both are gracious gifts from God, given to remind us that:

“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b, NAS)

For don’t we need His friendship most of all?

In Him we find the best of both friends; perfect and timeless.

Lord, thank You for friends near and far, old and new.  You give such good gifts.  Thank You for being “(The) Friend who sticks closer than a brother (or a sister!).”  YOU are the very best gift!

(Quotes are taken from Gill’s Exposition of The Entire Bible.)

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Thieves

Emily’s iphone was stolen Monday night.  She thought it would be safe in her coat pocket in the break room at work.  She was wrong.

A few months ago at church she also thought her purse would be safe on the seat next to her during worship.  Wrong again.

Both of these incidents had relatively happy endings.  Her purse was discovered in the women’s bathroom, mostly intact.  Her iphone was recovered within a few hours, thanks to a diligent police officer and amazing modern technology.  (Thieves, beware of a handy little iphone app which signals a lost phone’s exact location!)

The loss of trust, however, is harder to regain.  A sense of personal well being and security is more difficult to recoup.  A thief steals more than mere personal belongings.

A few weeks ago my sister sent me a text message with this question:  What is your favorite Bible verse?  I’ve never really designated one particular verse as my all-time favorite.  But Jesus’ words in John 10:10 were the first thing to pop into my mind:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (NAS)

It seemed like a strange response at the time.  Not the kind of verse you’d necessarily want stencilled over your fireplace or cross stitched in a frame.  References to theft, murder and destruction aren’t exactly family room friendly.

Yet aren’t these the very themes that have been playing out on television screens in family rooms all across the country lately?  One needn’t look far to find abundant evidence of this “thief’s” activity.  Satan’s fingerprints are all over recent events, from the tragic suicide of a well-known pastor’s son, to the drama and devastation on Boston’s bloodstained  sidewalks, to the massive fireball which left a Texas community reeling and mourning.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

Should we be surprised?  It’s his job description, after all.  The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines destroy as “to render useless.”  If he can’t murder his victims outright, he will attempt to rob them of joy, hope and purpose.  He seeks to paralyze, defeat, and make us ineffective.

“I came that they might have life…”

Into this dark reality…Jesus came.  His assignment?  To bring LIFE.

He once claimed Isaiah 61 as His job description.*  Verses 3-5 contain phrases such as these:

“…to bestow … beauty instead of ashes … joy instead of mourning … praise instead of a spirit of despair …”

“…to rebuild … restore … renew … (what has been) … devastated …” (NIV)

This is why He came.  To unravel the work of the enemy.  To return what the thief has stolen.  To take tragedy and somehow fashion something beautiful out of it.  I don’t know how He does it.

It takes time.  Often a long time.  Maybe even a lifetime.

But He can and will do it.  It’s what He’s all about.

And that is why I’m holding on to Him, and to John 10:10, a little more tightly these days.

*See Luke 4:16-21.

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What Kind of Love

They deserted Him when He needed them the most.  One betrayed Him…with a kiss.  Another denied three times that he even knew Him. 

(And these were His friends.) 

But He “…loved them to the end.”  (John 13:1b) 

What kind of love is this?

They arrested Him on trumped up charges.  Mocked and mistreated Him.  Sentenced Him to an excruciating death. 

He prayed for them.

(And these were His enemies.) 

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) 

What kind of love is this?

I’m not that different from either one.  I fail Him when I bow my head in slumber instead of prayer.  I deny Him when I let fear of what others might think silence my voice.  I mock Him when I pay mere lip service to His commands.  I crucify Him all over again when I yield to the flesh instead of the Spirit.

(And I claim to be His follower.)

Yet He assures me that  “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20)

What kind of love is this?

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Amazing love! 

How can it be…that thou, My God, should die…for me?

 

 

(Lyrics are from “And Can It Be” by Charles Wesley.  All Scripture references are from The New American Standard Version.)

 

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A Familiar Carol

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.*

This was the song I replayed most often on my “Mercy Me” Christmas album as I drove around town this past week.  (Unless, of course, my 12-year-old daughter was with me, in which case we were “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”)  It was a familiar carol.  But I seemed to hear the lyrics in a new way this year.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Something about this particular verse really resonated with me.  And that was before the terrible events unfolded yesterday at a Connecticut elementary school, interrupting Christmas preparations and shattering a quiet community’s peace.  I can’t stop thinking about the parents whose children’s beds lay empty last night.

It is easy to despair.

Christmas carols seem jarringly out of place in the face of such grief and devastation.  Hate is strong and mocks these songs.  Peace on earth?  Good will to men?

Where are you, God?

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

At times like this we need the message of Christmas more than ever.

God is very much alive.  He sees.  He knows.  He cares.

Jesus came to bring us peace with God, with others, with ourselves.

He is our only Hope.

And the babe that once lay helpless in a manger will return, with fire in His eyes and judgment in His hand.

He will fix this broken world.  He will right all that is wrong.  He will triumph over evil.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Newtown, our nation, and our world need You this Christmas.

 

*Lyrics from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1867.

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Like a Winter Snow

I scanned the first half dozen or so rows on either side of the aisle as I boarded the Southwest aircraft.  An unoccupied window seat flashed like a beacon in a vast sea of vacant middle seats.  I happily made my selection, stashed my carry-ons and buckled my seat belt in preparation for the flight from Denver to Tucson.  The gal seated next to me was friendly, and we quickly struck up a conversation.

Her name was Nina.  She was Jewish.  And an Atheist.

And I was intrigued.

A spirited but respectful discussion ensued, filling the next two hours, and touching on such light topics as the existence of God, the problem of evil, and the free will of man.  I had the opportunity to share a bit of my story with her and how I had entered into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

She raised this objection:  “If Jesus really was the Messiah, then why didn’t he establish his kingdom and set up his reign on earth?”

It was a valid concern for someone from a Jewish background.  Because Jesus didn’t exactly fit the “Messiah” mold.  Sure, he had caused quite a stir when he healed a bunch of folks.  There was a lot of talk around town that he might be “The One.”  But in the end, he just didn’t live up to all of the hype.  No mighty-ruler-who-will-deliver-us-from-our-oppressors here.

And they stumbled right over Him.

I referred Nina to the passage in Isaiah 53, where a “Suffering Servant,” who sounds remarkably like Jesus, is described.  And shared that, while it is true that He didn’t fulfill all of the Messianic prophecies at His first coming, the story isn’t over yet.  One day He will return to set the world right and establish His kingdom.

She listened attentively, but remained unconvinced.  Soon our flight touched down in the Arizona desert.  Nina and I both agreed that our conversation had been enjoyable and mutually stimulating, and we parted company.  I am praying that she will encounter the Living Christ.

Today I pondered the lyrics of this Christmas song and thought of her.

(You) could’ve come like a mighty storm, with all the strength of a hurricane.  You could’ve come like a forest fire with the power of heaven in your flame.  But you came like a winter snow.  Quiet and soft and slow.  Falling from the sky, in the night, to the earth below.*

It’s true.  The long expected Savior didn’t come as expected.  After all, a Messiah shouldn’t nap in a manger.  A king should wear a robe, not a cross, on his back.

This Christmas, don’t trip over the gift that is hidden in plain sight.

“And blessed is he, to whom I shall not be a stumbling block.” –Jesus, in Luke 7:23

*Lyrics are from “Winter Snow” by Audrey Assad.  Follow this link to a great video of her song:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=xpHiAmL8-b0

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