Where The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Nativity Scene

I want to invite you to do something somewhat strange this morning- Imagine that you’re God. A little weird, I know, but follow me here. Imagine you’re God, and you want to introduce yourself to the world you made in the personal and impactful way possible. In a sense, imagine that you’re writing the story of the very first Christmas.

How would you do it? Who would you include? Under what circumstances would you make your grand arrival?

Chances are, you and I would choose to do things much differently than God actually did. But maybe, just maybe, the way that God chose to write the story of that first Christmas has something significant to teach us about the point of the story- about Him, and about us.

The story of Christmas is a story of the seemingly ordinary becomes undeniably extraordinary.

Consider the unusual cast of characters- an unwed teenage mother, a common carpenter, a group of backwoods shepherds, and an assortment of foreign “wise men.” And perhaps, oddest of all, God Himself is an infant, the fullness of deity laying in a feeding trough. This is far from a “who’s who” of the 1st century world. In a real sense, one could argue that not even one of these individuals is someone that you’d expect to find at the birth of a newborn King, the God-man Himself.

And yet, here they are, all in one place doing one thing- celebrating and worshipping this King. Strange as it may seem, when we look at the big picture of God’s work throughout history, it actually seems to fit. God has this crazy habit of taking unlikely and unexpected people- stunningly ordinary people– and doing some of His very best work in and through them.

What are we to take from this? How do we connect the dots from the there and then to the here and now? What does God aim to teach us- through Christmas- about the way in which He desires to relate to us today? I see two common threads running through the lives of everyone invited into the Christmas story, two characteristics that are absolutely essential to participating in the work of God in any age.

What are they? Humility and availability. Humility enables us to see ourselves as we really are, as God sees us. It helps us to find our sense of worth in who God says we are, instead of in all of the shallow and temporary labels this world places on us. It recognizes that on our own, we aren’t worthy of even a passing glance from God, and is absolutely wrecked by the fact that He would call us by name to come and be His forever.

This humble heart flows right into a posture of availability. If humility says, “God, I don’t deserve you,” then availability tags it with, “But if you want me, here I am.” Availability is an attitude that says “yes” to God before the specifics of the call even come, because we believe with all our hearts that if He is the One writing the story, then it’s a story worth dropping everything else in the world to participate in.

These attitudes- humility and availability- absolutely saturate the story of the first Christmas, as evidenced by the deep and joyful responsiveness of each character in the story to the call of God on their lives. My favorite expression of this attitude comes from Mary in Luke 1:38- “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.” On their own, they were stunningly ordinary, but because they were willing to lay aside all of their reasons why they couldn’t be used of God, here we are over 2,000 years later, still talking about them.

Enough about them, though- what about you? What does God desire to accomplish in and through your “ordinary” life this Christmas and beyond? How does He want to write a chapter of His glorious story through you? I can’t answer that question for you, but I do know this- the only way to find out is through a heavy dose of humility and availability. When you give yourself over to God in wholehearted surrender- giving all that you are and all that you have, feeble as it may seem- you open the door to a world of extraordinary possibilities.

I want to challenge you to pray two simple prayers this Christmas season…

“God, I don’t deserve you, but thank you that in Jesus, you’ve chosen to love me anyway”
“Because you’ve loved me so well, I give myself wholly and completely to you”

When these two simple prayers become not just the words of your mouth, but the honest expression of your heart, you’ve positioned yourself to experience God in an incredible way, just as Mary, Joseph, those shepherds, and those “wise men” did many years ago.

So, what do you say? Will you lay aside your pride and open yourself up to God? What’s holding you back? Ask God to remove it and allow your ordinary life to be used for His extraordinary purposes.

Draw Near – If You Dare!

Many years ago, my friend, Joel, and I decided to build a bonfire. We had built bonfires in the past, but this one would be one to remember. We spent the week leading up to New Year’s Eve by driving around town collecting pallets from any warehouse that would give them to us. In the end, we had over 200 pallets stacked in a cone formation over 20 feet tall that was strong enough to hold our weight standing on top. This was going to be the best bonfire we had ever done! We setup the bonfire approximately 50 yards from my parents’ house on their 3 ½ acres of land. We put some diesel fuel on the bottom crates and let that soak a bit – knowing that diesel would not be as combustible as gasoline.

New Year’s Eve brought rain that year and by nightfall the wood and ground was soaked. Still, as the revelers gathered at my parents’ house, we lit the fire. Both results of this lighting were unexpected – though they should not have been. First, those extraordinarily dry pallets lit and burned, all 200 of them, in approximately two minutes. The fire was so high and so hot that those standing on my parents’ back porch, approximately 50 yards away from the fire, had to move back. The ongoing rain helped, but my dad had concern that the siding on his house would melt from the heat. The second result was less spectacular – thousands of nails fell to the ground in my dad’s yard that needed to be picked up before he could mow again.

With this image in mind, refer to Hebrews 10:19-22:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

 Since we have confidence by the blood of Jesus and assurance of faith, Christians are called to draw near to God – entering the holy places. How quickly and carelessly we might read a passage with such a remarkably frightening instruction. Draw near to God. That’s it? Draw near to God? Draw near with confidence?

  • The people of Babel sought to draw near to God via their own means and the languages of man were confused.
  • Moses drew near to God in the burning bush and had to keep a distance and remove his sandals on that holy ground.
  • God drew near to the people in Egypt and killed the firstborn male of every living thing of value that was not under the banner of sacrificial blood.
  • God drew near on Mount Sinai and boundaries were erected around the mountain so that no one might accidentally touch the base of the mountain and die.
  • God allowed Moses to glimpse His goodness (but not His face) as He passed by, but Moses had to hide in the cleft of a rock and his face radiated from that encounter to the point of scaring others around him.
  • Aaron’s two sons offered an incorrect offering before God, and He sent fire out to consume them and they died.
  • Aaron was told to only enter the Holy Place at the correct time and in the correct manner, accompanied with sacrifice and cleansing, lest he be killed as well.
  • Uzziah drew near to the Ark of God in an unworthy way and died immediately.
  • Solomon built a house for the glory of God, the Temple, and sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep to prepare for God’s presence.
  • The priests dedicated the Second Temple with 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 male lambs, and 12 male goats to prepare for God’s presence.

This is still the God we worship today. His holiness has not changed. His requirements regarding the approach of His glory have not changed. Anyone who dares to approach the holy presence of God must do so through the means that God has established or he will surely die.

That is the great joy of Christmas! We have confidence, assurance and even peace in the presence of God because when we could not approach Him, He approached us. He sent Himself – God the Son – Jesus – to take on humanity, live perfectly, die sacrificially, rise victoriously, and rule eternally. It is through the sacrificial blood of Jesus, and only through the blood of Jesus, that we may draw near to God. That is a good tiding of great joy that has come to us!

The Gift Everyone Needs This Christmas (And Beyond)

Christmas Gift

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
(John 14:6, ESV)

By now, most of us are well into the throes of preparation for Christmas (just 17 days left!), and for many of us, preparation for the big day includes at least some measure of shopping for gifts. While it can be a lot of fun to find ways large and small to bless those you love, if you’re anything like me, you’re often left with at least a small percentage of folks on your list who are incredibly difficult to buy for. There are different reasons for this difficulty, but especially in an affluent culture like ours, the obstacle often comes down to some version of this fact- This person doesn’t really need anything.

(Note- I have a theory that the older a person gets, the more true this becomes. This is why we often buy our older family members and friends really strange and random gifts. For example, my 84 year old grandfather often gets buckets of car washing supplies for birthdays and Christmas. I don’t know that he minds, but seriously…when was the last time you thought to yourself how much you would enjoy opening up some Armor All on Christmas morning??? That’s my point.)

But what if I told you that there is at least one gift that everyone, without exception, needs desperately this Christmas? And what if I told you that if you have trusted and followed Jesus, you already have this gift wholly in your possession? And what if I told you that God gave you that gift not only so that you could receive it, but also with the expressed intent that you would “regift” it to others too?

I’m talking, of course, about the gift of Jesus, and of the Good News that rescue from sin and restoration to a right relationship with God is available to all in Him. Jesus is God’s great Christmas gift to the world, to sinners and rebels like you and me. And while most of us get it at some level that this is a great gift worth celebrating, I’m not certain that we recognize just how necessary this gift from God was and is– not only for us, but for everyone else too.

The necessity of Jesus- the Immanuel, “God with us”- is something to which we quickly and easily give lip service, especially in conservative circles, but often, our actual day to day practice doesn’t reflect this conviction. If we’re not mindful, we often buy in to the subtle but dangerous “alternative Gospel” peddled commonly in our culture- that if we’re sincere, if we try hard, and if we behave well (especially compared to other, less polished sinners), in the end God’s good with us, and us with Him. This is a “Gospel” built on the hope of performing for God rather than trusting in Him- and in the end, it’s a dead end.

A lack of deeply rooted Gospel conviction regarding the depth of our sin, the just consequences it brings, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus will inevitably lead us to treat Jesus as an optional religious “add on” to life rather than the central and critical figure He really is in all of life and eternity. Practically, this means two things- One, we will live with far less humility and gratitude toward God than we ought, and two, we won’t be very motivated to give the gift of Jesus to anyone else, especially to those that seem to have their stuff together, who seem to be getting along in life just fine without Jesus.

Somewhat unconsciously, we begin to look at others who we’ve categorized as “good” much like those difficult-to-buy-for folks on our shopping lists, believing that we have nothing of real value to offer them this Christmas, or anytime else for that matter. In the process, we neglect the reality that as followers of Jesus, we possess the best news the world has ever known, the gift that everyone desperately needs- and as a result, we keep it to ourselves.

This Christmas, I want to challenge you to think quite differently about God’s Christmas gift to the world- and to do something different with it, too. I’m convinced that we need to recover a thorough conviction of the necessity of Jesus for salvation that goes well beyond just a passing theological statement and works itself out in practical obedience to God’s call to “regift” what we have in Him to others, no matter how “good” they might seem to be on their own.

The bottom line is this- There are people in your life today who need this gift, and if you have it, it is your privilege and your responsibility to share it with them out of heart of love and compassion. At some point, you believed Jesus was necessary for you, enough to respond to the Gospel message of His grace available through faith. Now, will you be convinced that He is equally necessary for others too, enough to do something about it? I pray you will, this Christmas and beyond, and in so doing, to “regift” to others the greatest gift this world has ever known.

To whom do you need to give the gift of Jesus this Christmas- and beyond?
Practically, what is your first step in thi
s “regifting” process?

Basketball & Encouragement

basketball

I love basketball. I’ve played since I was a young boy. I would spend hours upon hours every day playing and practicing. I was actually a decent player. And now my boy Caleb, who is 6, has begun to play. I actually feel qualified to teach him some things about the game. We go to our hoop and work on dribbling and layups and different aspects of the game.

Just a few days ago, I saw him out playing by himself. I noticed his improvement. I decided I would tell him. I shouted from my garage, “Man, Caleb, you really are getting better! That’s awesome!”

I expected him to turn to me, set down the ball & slow clap in my direction. I expected “Father, I give you all credit for your masterful tutelage. You have inspired me with your words and actions and have proven to be a greater example in the sport that Lebron James. For that, I applaud and thank you.”

Instead…without stopping his play, he shout “I know dad!”

I thought I would be offended by that. But I realized, his attitude was not arrogance. It was confidence. And it was because I had been the encouragement he needed. When we offer accurate words of affirmation, challenge others to be better, and get out on the court and make ourselves present…then we encourage.

You are an encourager when people being around you results in their faith and confidence growing. Encouragement builds healthy self-esteem. It enables people to live with themselves despite their human frailties and imperfections. At the same time, it provides the power needed to make significant changes in personality and behavior. The goal is not self-satisfaction but self-acceptance during a lifetime of spiritual growth. Encouragers see discouraged people and reminds them of who God says that He is and who God says that they are.

When we walk out of the loving fellowship of God’s family, we move into “savage territory.” In that realm we can be easily intimidated. The family of God is not a place for verbal putdowns, sarcastic jabs, critical comment, and harsh judgments. We get enough of that everywhere else. The church is a place we need to assemble for the purpose of being encouraged.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

And we need the encouragers to be louder. Don’t you find it sad that critical & discouraging people are often the loudest in every room. When we have something good to say, SAY IT! Speak up and speak out…and bring LIFE (rooted in the Gospel of Jesus) to the discouraged.