Friday, December 31, 2010

Eve is Bursting with Anticipation...

Eve:(1) the first woman; mother of the human race, fashioned by God from the rib of Adam, from the Hebrew word meaning life;(2)the day before a holiday, church festival, or any date or event: Christmas Eve; (3) the period preceding or leading up to any event; (4) archaic word for evening.

So, God fashioned Eve...
We light a candle on Christmas Eve...
On the Eve of His execution...
We'll share a meal this eve...

Eve is a word pregnant with life and expectation.  It stirs our hearts and forces us to look to tomorrow.  It whispers of promise and potential.  Eve dances in the stillness of the ordinary while painting pictures of beautiful tomorrows.  She beckons us from our nap and calls us to life.  Can you feel it?  Do you hear it? That excitement that tomorrow just might be different, that hope that what shames us can be left behind, the promise that the eve is preparing to relent and give way to the morning's mercies- these are the emotions of Eve.   We're on the eve of something brand new...

Or not.

You see, if tomorrow isn't any different than yesterday, eve was only a meaningless cliche.  But, if we allow God to renew our minds and make radically different choices in response to our love for Him, this eve can become a landmark in our lives.  This eve can be the day we decided once and for all that strongholds would be broken.  This eve can be the day that marks our great relent- the day we finally let go of that idol and made an intentional choice for our Creator.  This eve can forever signify the end of a generational curse and the beginning of Life.  This eve can be the last evening of our brokenness that carries us into the first morning of our life, but only if we're intentional in making this year Holy or set apart for the Lord.  

Tell me, friends, what do you plan to do to set this year apart for the Glory of God?

How will this Eve mark your life?

Enough With the Excuses Already!

"Hey! Want to try to read your Bible from cover to cover in just 90 days?"


I'm not as much interested in your answer as I am interested in the thoughts you directed to the question.  If you're anything like me, you allowed your heart to briefly whisper the promise of an intimate experience with your Father just until your mind took over.  Just as you were beginning to see yourself stepping over the "God Margin"- that invisible line that separates everything you can do on your own and what you can do only with the helping hand of the Almighty God- your head interrupted your heart with what has become the worst enemy of your 'abundant life':  EXCUSES.

You know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you?  Those ridiculous 'whispers of reason' your mind gives you for EVERY promising experience that tells a story bigger than yourself.  They've been holding you back for decades, and while you hate the lack-of-life they stand for, you still find yourself hiding behind them whenever your existence threatens to get interesting.  Not only do you give them a voice, but after a while, you give them a choice.  In hindsight, you find that your excuses have practically divorced you from the life you've been praying for, and still, when they speak up, you bend your ear.  Maybe they're the reason you didn't go to prom or the reason you allowed your heart to check out on your marriage. They might be the reason you decided to 'give up' on your own family member or the reason you've hidden and lied every time opportunity knocked.  Maybe it was an excuse that allowed you to be quiet when you hated yourself for it the next day.  Or, perhaps excuses talked you out of school, an introduction, an apology, a trip to Malaysia or sending that letter to your Mom.  Maybe they simply talked you out of dancing in the rain with your first love, making that long distance phone call or making a U-turn to pray with the man you passed on the street.  Bottom line?  Excuses are our not-so-silent killers.  They don't necessarily rob us of our physical breath, but they steal from us the experiences that were meant to define our lives.

"It's too much..."  
"I'm don't have enough..."
"I'll never..."
"But, I..."

Thief.  Liar.  Manipulator.  Distraction.
Excuses rob our lives of memorable, heart-changing experiences.
Excuses tell stories about what we have at our disposal.
Excuses twist our views of who we are, effectively diminishing what we do. 
Excuses grab us by the chin and force our attention from anything  that matters and puts it on ourselves.

I dare you to shut them up.  Like a three year-old writhing and screaming for his way in a grocery store, I dare you to ignore them.  Like the crabby old lady that pulled out in front of you and gave you the finger, I urge you to take a deep breath and concentrate on more important things.  Learn how to shake your head at your enemies.  Remember how to roll your eyes when someone tells you that you can't.  Dig deep and pull out that, "Watch this," attitude.

Wanna' see me put my proverbial money where my passionate pen is?

Starting this Monday, July the 11th, I am again ACCEPTING the challenge to read my Bible from cover to cover in 90 days.  There is Life wrapped up in that leather binding and I'll not allow excuses to keep me from it.  No time?  I'll make time.  It'll be hard?  Good.  I've spent years telling my kids that nothing worth having comes easy.  But, you've never done it before?  Great.  I need something new.  But, what if you fail?  My friends will be right there to help me stay on track...  Get the picture?

Divorce your excuses and get your life back!

From Genesis to Revelation in 90 Days...

What's holding you back from the Bread of Life?  (Or whatever "God Margin" thing you're being asked to do...?)

90 Day Challenge

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abiding in the Field

Shepherds.  Really?

I mean, out of all the choirs, priests, prophets and prayer warriors, why did God send the Heavenly Hosts to a pasture in search for a worship team?  Why not assemble an army to wake up the town declaring the good news?  Why not pull out all the stops and send a parade complete with talking donkeys down the streets of Bethlehem?  Wouldn't dancers with beautiful ribbons and choirs declaring the greatness of God make more sense?  Or even a band reminiscent of the crumbling walls of Jericho.  Wouldn't that be a better way to announce the birth of the Savior in the stable?

Why, after roaming His eyes to the ends of the earth and back, did God face his angel-servants and point a perfectly Holy finger in the direction of a dark pasture full of woolly sheep and sleep deprived shepherds?  Could it be that our Father has an affinity for shepherds in general?  I mean, after all, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all shepherds and God chose that bloodline to bless all nations.  David was a shepherd and being so, an unlikely candidate for the crown, and yet was said to have had a heart after God.  And the infant being delivered in the manger was the prophesied Shepherd in the flesh.  It's possible that God, after a history of choosing shepherds to spread His Glory simply continued with His perfect theme and pointed to the sheep herders out of sheer order and symbolism.  But it's just as likely that following suit never crossed the mind of our Creator on that precious Night of nights.

Think about it.  That night was indeed a Holy night and surely the God of the universe was in the mood to celebrate.  After all, the heaven-sent message did tell a story of "good news and great joy!"  The same God who had allowed His people to honor Him with celebration after celebration, feast after feast, and passover after passover was now poised to receive the 'great joy' due Him after the delivery of humanity's Savior.  And on that night, it was obvious that He was unwilling to waste His time convincing people that the baby being born in the barn was worth celebrating.  Imagine how much conversation would have to take place between the phrase, "baby in the manger" and "let's go straight to Bethlehem!"  You see, I think we forget that humanity has been trained to turn their noses up at families who find themselves in the predicament Mary and Joseph were in.  Let's face it, we'd pity that family, not celebrate it.  And God knew it.  Maybe that's why God didn't send the angel to the choir, the priests, the prophets or the prayer warriors.  Remember, people know who we want to be.  God knows who we are. 

God knew who the priests wanted to be.

And He knew who the shepherds were.

You see, those shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks- they had a different idea of the manger than we do.  While they may very well have been the poor, smelly old men our Sunday school teachers told us about, they, by their very nature, had a better view of the barn than we do.  We may associate the barn with poverty, and we wouldn't be wrong to do so.  After all, a mere thirty days later paints the picture of Mary offering a couple of birds as an offering because she couldn't afford the lamb.  But the shepherds' response to a birth in the barn was fundamentally different than ours.  As shepherds, they had spent their lives celebrating manger beginnings.  As a matter of fact, stable deliveries had grown to mean the opposite of poverty to the shepherds.  Because they spent their lives raising and protecting a herd of livestock, the 'baby in the manger' could only mean LIFE, LIVELIHOOD and BLESSING to the simple shepherds in the field.  It's no wonder they dropped everything and hurried to the barn to see what God was talking about.  Life had trained them to see the Miracle in the Manger.  Providence had been pretty effective in using the simple shepherds to shame the wise.  And on that Night of nights, the messenger didn't have any problem convincing the shepherds in the field that the Good News deserved great joy.

It's not too late to celebrate, you know?  Part of the beauty of the Christmas story is that it is eternal.   Every year, you get another chance to be a shepherd in a field.  You get the opportunity to believe the poor family in the barn is literally blessed beyond measure.  And each December, You get to decide for yourself how much 'great joy' you're going to give the 'Good News."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

GOOD news...GREAT joy!

Take a walk with me back in history.  Leave behind the computers, central heat and air, Toyotas and asphalt.  For a few minutes, allow yourself to forget about corporate America and the Industrial Revolution.  Allow the language of history to take you back to a place most people have never been, a place we're only afforded a view of because of the pen of some faithful followers of our Savior.  Walk across the dusty road, allow your eyes to adjust as you cross into the dark, fertile field and duck your head beneath the branches of the small tree as you become a spectator of redemptive history.

...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.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Ah, yes.  "The Christmas story," you say.  But, did you read it?  Did you contemplate each word?  Visualize each scene?  Did you give your heart a chance to feel the story you've had memorized since childhood?  If not, I invite you to read it again.  See it.  Feel it.  Let it sink in.
That's what I did this morning.  I opened my Bible and decided that I wouldn't skim over the story I've taught a hundred times.  I decided that I was just hungry enough for the Bread of Life, just thirsty enough for the Living Water that I would ask that God speak to me- even in a story I've committed to memory.  And, He did!  Look closely with me at the wording of the angel of God:

"Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD news that will cause GREAT joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."
Do you see it?  Nestled there in the midst of the most told story in history lie two of the most absurd adjectives I've ever seen.  Good news.  Great joy.  Before I had the chance to marvel at the wonder of the infallible Word of God, I carried on a mental argument with Luke.  Surely he mixed it up, right?  Surely he meant to say, "Great news.  Good joy."  My faith is just strong enough that my argument quickly gave way to a very precious and personal assessment of the language of God.  
That news the angel spoke of?  That was the news of the Messiah.  All of heaven was bending down to get a glimpse of the Christ-child in the feeding trough.  The angel of God had just finished a search for someone- anyone who would believe and join the celebration.  Somewhere nearby, an infant was crying out against the cool air and all the evil in the world was shrinking back in horror.  The antagonist collapsed in defeat as Joseph held the infant to his chest, trying to contain the rush of emotions that had been given birth along with the child he would raise.  Yes, the news that angel delivered would alter the eternity of the human race, giving sight to the blind and hope to the hopeless.  And it was good. 
Do you hear me?  The news was GOOD.
But the joy?  Read it again...

"Do not be afraid.  I bring you GOOD news that will cause GREAT joy for all the people."

I was moved to tears at the thought of it.  From Heaven's perspective, the birth of my Savior was good.  But the joy...-the joy was supposed to be GREAT.  Our Father sent a gift, His son to the humanity he'd been wooing since the dawn of creation, and it was a priceless gift indeed.  And on that night, if an All-Powerful God could kneel, I believe He did.  I believe he watched us closely with the anticipation of a Daddy who'd spent too much on a Christmas present for his child.  I believe He watched our faces, looking for that moment when we recognized the wonder of the gift and exclaimed our thanksgiving for the gift we'd needed so desperately.  He watched and waited, wanting nothing more than to see our "GREAT joy" for His "GOOD news."

Good News.  Great Joy.

Don't miss it, my friends.  I dare you to peel through the pages of your Bible until you find it.  It might not be tucked in the same verses that held my "GREAT joy,"  but it is there.  Don't let this Christmas pass you by without coming close enough to smell the stable, close enough to hear the rustling of the hay, close enough to see the wonder on the faces of the spectators of Redemption.  Fight for it.  Strive for it.  Reach for it.  And, take people with you.

Look again at the story you know so well.  That good news that promised great joy had a profound effect on those shepherds.  THEY DROPPED EVERYTHING.  They left their livelihood in those fields.  They walked off their jobs and went chasing the Messiah.  And why?  What motivated them?  Read it for yourself. What brought the shepherds from a silent, terror-filled stupor to a foot race to the Christ-Child?  I contend that the "GREAT joy" moved those men in that field.  I think it did then, and I think it still does.

"Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened."

May our "Great joy" motivate every tribe, tongue and nation to hurry to the Messiah!

The news is good.
The joy is great!