Sunday, December 25, 2011

Taking the “Im” from Impossible

Impossible. That may possibly be the best one-word description of Christmas. Nestled among the jolly, twinkling lights and the bright, multi-colored bows and hidden behind every sale banner is a precious gift often overlooked. A gift that could shout but instead it whispers. The brightest gift packaged in the plainest wrapping.

It is the gift of the impossible.

The Christmas season is a time when what shouldn’t be able to happen does happen, when naysayers are silenced if just for a few moments and crazy, illogical, unrealistic dreams become a glimmering reality.

It’s when family members who live states apart forget the cost of travel and make that long but worthwhile trip to see their loved ones. It’s when a child with nothing receives a toy and a hot meal. It’s when selfishness transforms into selflessness and an angry, bitter world, for once, becomes united in a desire for peace.

It’s impossible … but it happens.

It’s when misers find worth in more than cash, and small-town businessmen realize that they really do make a difference. It’s when a dissatisfied, young boy becomes thankful for his family (no matter how imperfect they are) and a grumpy, green mountain recluse discovers that the heart behind Christmas can never be stolen. (Hey, ya gotta love the classics!)

It’s when a childless woman old enough to be a grandma had a son of her own and a young teenager committed to purity was chosen to bear a supernatural child that had no earthly father.

Wait, what? Think about that for a second. Some things are just not physically possible right? When women get to a certain age, they simply are unable to have children. And with young girls who get pregnant … well, it doesn’t happen without a guy’s help.

But in the words of the angel Gabriel, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

You say, “It can’t be true.” But it is.

You say, “It can’t be done.” But God did it.     

He caused two cousins, one too old and one not old enough (a.k.a. not yet married), to each have a son – one son to announce the coming Messiah and one son to be the coming Messiah. Two sons, one miracle. The Christmas miracle.

And it’s because of that miracle – that impossibility becoming possible – that we are able to hope for the impossible in our own lives each year. We can forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, and change the unchangeable. Though life is filled with obstacles that cannot be hurdled, we find that we can leap over them after all.

On our own, we can do nothing. On our own, we have limits. But let’s turn back our eyes to that distant day when a baby who “shouldn’t” have been born was born. A child, who “shouldn’t” have survived, escaped the wrath of a raging king. A God who “shouldn’t” love mankind enough to go through the torture of becoming one of us did go through it.

It was then that He placed His greatest gift under history’s Christmas tree – the gift of the impossible.

Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I am a virgin?”
The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God. Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months. God can do anything!” ~ Luke 1:34-37, New Century Version

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Outcasts in a Foreign Land

Imagine you are visiting a foreign country. You’ve never been to this land before; you don’t know anything about the terrain or the people or their culture except for one thing. You know that it’s the opposite of your homeland.

Everywhere you go you feel dozens of eyes following your every move. They know with one glance that you are a foreigner. It’s obvious in the way you dress, the way you talk, even the way you eat your lunch. (Um, what are all these extra spoons for anyway?) The people know it, you know it – you are not one of them.

Question: How far would you go to blend in?

Let’s say that many of the natives are passionately prejudiced against your country. Their everyday conversation and jokes are filled with obscene insults about your government and your way of life. You have a problem. You love your country and you know that these people are simply misinformed about the place that you come from.

So you have two options. You can either:

Do your best to talk, dress, and act like the natives of the country you are visiting. This includes denying where you are from and joining in their pronounced hatred for your own country. You also hide or burn everything patriotic that you own. (How embarrassing if the natives caught you with that?)


You display pride in your country despite the consequences. You don’t try to change who you are, and you are not ashamed. Sure you endure mockery and are the brunt of many a derisive sneer and mean-spirited scoff. But it doesn’t matter because this place is not your home. You come from a better land, a higher land, and you are loyal to that land. And of all those who misunderstand, to any who will listen, you are determined to gently break down their prejudice and tell them what your country is really like.

My Christian friends, how far do you go to blend in to a culture that is not yours? You’ve heard it before ... “you are not of this world.” You are merely visiting. Foreigners in a foreign land. Does the world notice that you are different? It should.

Do you dress differently? “I want women to show their beauty by dressing in appropriate clothes that are modest and respectable…” (1 Timothy 2:9, GW) And appropriate clothing applies to guys too ...

Do you speak differently? “Let no filthy talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up as the need may be. This way you will give grace to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29, ISV)

Do you act differently? “If you belonged to the world, its people would love you. But you don't belong to the world. I have chosen you to leave the world behind, and that is why its people hate you.” (John 15:19, CEV)

All too often we allow the surrounding culture to intimidate us. We squirm under their disapproving glances. They think we’re weird, you can see it in their eyes. They make jokes about us and the things that we believe. Or better phrased, the things they think we believe. They make “being good” sound like a bad thing. They call us freaks and fanatics. (So what? I take it as a compliment. In the words of a popular DC Talk song, “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak; there ain’t no disguising the truth.”)

The truth is, people, we are citizens of Heaven, and we have absolutely no reason to be ashamed of that. Why deny your homeland for a country that is not your own?

Romans 12:2 says this: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)

What is God’s will? God’s will is for us to live above the world. Not to stoop to the grime and muck of their way of doing things, not to conform to their customs and standards (or lack thereof), but to think the way He thinks. His opinion is the only one that matters. He is the One who deserves our loyalty.

But loyalty often demands sacrifice by its very practice. Which is exactly what the previous verse in Romans 12 informs us. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1, NLT)

Sacrifice. It’s a strong word – a serious word. It bids us to lay on an altar all the things that the citizens of this world cling to and fight for. But really it’s like burning a worthless currency, one that holds no real value but the citizens still insist upon using it.

What is this worthless currency we are called to sacrifice? We sacrifice worldly popularity, our pride, our selfishness, and our fleshly desires. We worship God, not by singing a seven-eleven praise chorus, but by the way we live. The movies we watch, the music we listen to, the way we treat people – all this demonstrates how we truly feel about God and His Word.

You’d think that it would be easy ... sacrificing the need for acceptance. After all, who needs the approval of men when God is on our side? And yet there is that part of us that longs to belong, a nagging yearning that tauntingly whispers, “The people are staring. You should try to be more like them.”

No! Don’t believe it. Don’t blend in. Even if a million eyes are watching you and a million voices are jabbing insults, don’t betray your Heavenly Country. Don’t deny your King. Remember that He endured taunting and staring and insults for your sake.

That’s right, Jesus didn’t back down from the crowd. His final resistance was by far the hardest thing He had ever done, but He refused to conform for one reason: He had an eternal purpose in mind. His reason was you – your redemption. Now your reason is Him – His glorification.

Brothers and sisters, when we feel the perplexed glances and the disapproving sneers and the pressure to be molded into something we’re not meant to be, we must remember that we have an eternal purpose. By living for Christ, we are storing up a currency of real value. Living by the “gold standard” if you will. The people of this realm may not acknowledge our wealth, but one day we’ll find ourselves in our homeland. And when we arrive there, our King’s question will not be, “How well did you adapt?” But more likely, “How closely did you stand by My standards?”

No matter what country we roam in at present, the answer to that question is one we’ll live with for eternity.

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Do You Trust Me?

They’ve been discovered. The guards are closing in, swords drawn, determined not to leave the broken-up stone building without prisoners in hand.

There are no escape routes, no back door. Nothing but a large stone-hewn window behind them and a very long drop to the ground.

Impulsively, the young man whips around from the window, hand extended to his female companion. “Do you trust me?”

“What?” The guards are closing in. This doesn’t seem to be the time to discuss the “trust factor” of their relationship.

“Do you trust me?” His words are more urgent this time, his hand reaching farther, nearly begging her to take hold.

Tentatively, her hand slips into his, a puzzled question in her answer. “Yes…?”

“Then jump!”

You may recognize this as a scene from Disney’s Aladdin. If so, you’ll know what happens next. Aladdin and Jasmine leap from the window, plunge through several ragged cloth awnings, and land safely (though a bit roughly) on the sand.

Though simple it may be, that little “trust me” snippet embodies a powerful spiritual analogy. I like to envision this bit of classic movie drama as similar what should happen in the tough spots and back-up-against-the-wall situations of our lives:

Doubts and fears are crowding in around us, determined to take us prisoner. Our circumstances seem hopeless; we see no means of escape. No paths to freedom. And yet, Christ can see our way out. It requires us to take His hand and jump. But first He must ask that fateful question … “Do you trust Me?”

Do we really trust Him enough to jump when doing so appears to be suicide? Do we possess the kind of reckless faith necessary to let Him guide us to the answers that we can’t see?

Let’s borrow from another classic. One of my favorite metaphors for this sort of faith comes from Indiana Jones. On “The Last Crusade” after Indie has passed two of the deadly tests and approaches the final one before reaching the Holy Grail. It looks to be the most challenging test of all – an impassable chasm gapes between him and the lair of the Grail. The edges of the cliff where he stands are deathly smooth and would not permit climbing. He has no rope, no grappling hooks, nothing to help him across.

It seems to be a plummet to certain death. Or … a “leap of faith.”

He has to make a decision. He has to trust his father’s clues. So he grits his teeth, closes his eyes, steps out … and finds that he’s still standing. How is it possible? Standing on air? No. For something he did not see is supporting him. A nearly invisible bridge of smooth, flat rock stretches before him to his destination. It is perfectly camouflaged to create the illusion that it does not exist.

Did Indiana’s “leap of faith” create the bridge? No, it was always there. All he had to do was trust in what he could not see, and what appeared to be the most difficult test turned out to be the easiest and simplest of all.

There’s something utterly invigorating about walking in faith down a road you can’t see. It’s like free-falling from an airplane, knowing that your parachute will be there to carry you harmlessly to the ground. It’s like bungee jumping off a cliff, trusting that the cord that supports you will not break.

It’s knowing that God can always see the path ahead, even when it appears invisible to you.

Many of you probably know Proverbs 3:5-6, one of the best “trust Me” passages in Scripture, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Many times in your walk with God it may seem like He’s asking you to step off a cliff, to leap from the “safety” of your limited understanding into the unknown, to do something that seems crazy and impossible. But if you’ll relinquish your fears and just place your faith in the trustworthiness of His character, you’ll find yourself standing on a path that you couldn’t see. Crooked paths will become straight. Bridges will appear in thin air.

All you have to do is close your eyes, grit your teeth, and hold His hand.

“With perfect peace You will protect those whose minds cannot be changed, because they trust You. Trust the LORD always, because the LORD, the LORD alone, is an everlasting rock.” ~ Isaiah 26:3-4 (God’s Word)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's Who He Is

Sometimes God just blows your mind. That’s one of my favorite things about Him. So many events have transpired in my life recently that were clearly the workings of His hand … it’s made my head spin just trying to wrap my tiny brain around it all.

 But one primary thought – a simple phrase – seems to encompass all of my musings as of late. It’s a glorious phrase as old and true as sunsets are beautiful.

“God is faithful.”

What does it mean for God to be faithful? Definition: “worthy of trust; keeping one’s promise; loyal.” These are a few definitions of the word “faithful.” Our God fulfills all of these and so much more.

He is worthy of our trust; He keeps His promises.

Last year I learned a great deal about trusting my Master. He taught me the sweetness of letting go, of refusing to rely on my own plans and choosing instead to lean on Him. He has stayed by my side even when I questioned deep down what He was up to. He has removed roadblocks and cleared the brush from my path, revealing the sunlight ahead.

He has answered prayers.

Yes, He is faithful. Even when our faith wanes, He remains faithful.

Does He have any reason to be faithful to me? Is He under any oath to bless me or binding contract that demands He must be ever loyal in the relationship I have with Him?

I have done nothing deserving of His faithfulness. Just like His eternal, sacrificing love, His faithfulness is unconditional.

It breaks my heart to think that so many people treat such a loyal, loving God as if He’s cheated them. They get upset with Him. They blame Him for the hardships in their lives. They tell themselves, “God’s never done anything for me.”

Oh really? More likely they have never done anything for Him.

What makes them so deserving of the blessings they claim God is not giving them? What have they done to earn the life of pain-free happiness that they expect Him to dish out? Being the antithesis of loyal and true to Him, how can they demand that He dissolve all their problems and smooth every rocky mess that they’ve created?

And yet He does not give up on them. Though they have spit in His face, He refuses to abandon them. Though they have slandered Him by claiming that He is harsh and unfair, He has remained more faithful than they could ever imagine. He wants to be their Lord, their Guide. Their Master. He wants to light their way onto the path that He has chosen for them. A path that leads away from the death-road they chose for themselves and into unending life through Him. If only they will swallow their pride and realize that He doesn’t owe them anything.

He doesn’t owe us anything … but He offers us everything if we will simply trust Him.

That is ultimate faithfulness.

I think I’ve realized that although God doesn’t owe me anything – He doesn’t have to answer my prayers or speak to my heart or light my path – He does these things anyway because … well why does He do it?

I guess I’ll never know the answer other than that it’s part of His unconditional love and faithfulness. Just one of the defining aspects which makes Him the unbelievably amazing God that He is.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” ~ II Timothy 2:13

"Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” ~ Deuteronomy 7:9