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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Why Is There A Blanket Over Your Head?

It wasn't intended to be a Christmas tradition and yet because it took place over several years when my brother, sister and I were young, it became a tradition.

In our house in Norwalk, California, the kitchen was separated from the bedrooms by the living room. The living room held the Christmas tree and it was one of our traditions for Santa to bring unwrapped gifts that were put under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Not unusal of course. Except that it posed a problem.

My mother adamantly insisted we three kids eat breakfast before opening our gifts. She knew if we didn't, our behavior would deteriorate because of low blood sugar and we'd be too distracted by our gifts to eat. As a result, we had to go to the kitchen to eat.

The problem? To go to the kitchen, we had to go through the livingroom where the Christmas tree held the unwrapped presents. It wouldn't do to have us see our gifts.

So somehow someone thought of the idea of our father and our Uncle Frank carrying us from the bedroom to the ktichen with a blanket over our heads so that we couldn't see. Then in the kitchen we would quickly gobble down our Malt-O-Meal and then head for the tree. Of course, only after Mother had turned on the bright lights of the movie camera.

For years, we were carried through the living room and it became a fun experience and a looked-forward-to-event.

Certainly, no one thought this would become a tradition nor that we would speak fondly of it every Christmas. But that's how traditions are. Most of them are not planned and we may even be surprised that a particular happening became a fond memory.

Are you sometimes concerned that you don't have Christmas traditions? Let me assure you that you have more than you realize. Be confident that memories are being created. And they'll be spoken of in years to come.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Provision Are You Not Seeing?

I remember well how my sister, Karen, wanted a bicycle so much one particular Christmas. And a beautiful bike was waiting near the Christmas tree on that special morning. All of us could see the bike, but for some reason, Karen couldn't see it. She kept opening her gifts and looking around, but her eyes weren't focusing on the bike. It was obvious she was disappointed. The rest of us snickered and rolled our eyes, wondering when she would see it standing against the wall between the Christmas tree and the front hall closet. 

At one point, when it was almost ridiculous how close she was and couldn't see it, my mother spoke up, "Karen?"

Karen turned and looked at my mother with a disgruntled look on her face, "What, mom?"

"Would you please go get a folding chair out of the hall closet?"

Now it was Karen's turn to roll her eyes. "Now?"

"Yes, honey, just do it."

With hunched shoulders, she got up dejectedly and went over to the hall closet--right past the bike! We were shocked. She opened the hall closet, pulled out a chair, and took it over to my mom. 

At that point my parents couldn't stand it anymore and neither could the rest of us. My dad said, "Karen, your bike is by the hall closet. Go get it!"

At first Karen's face didn't register any understanding but then she slowly looked over at the wall by the hall closet and her face broke into a thousand smiles. She lunged for the bike, squealing, and jumped on it. She couldn't say "thank you" enough!

I can relate that story to how the Jews should have known the baby Jesus was the Messiah but their understanding was clouded by accepting only part of the prophecies about the Messiah and casting out the rest. They looked for a human king who would deliver them from their Roman bondage. They ignored all the other signs that said he would be born in Bethlehem by a virgin mother. They wanted deliverance, not a Savior. But God wanted to give them a Savior who would deliver them from their sins.

We still don't know why Karen couldn't recognize her bike standing right there. When we asked her at the time, she could only stare back and say, "I don't know. I guess I was afraid I wouldn't get it and so that fear blocked me seeing it."

I can't really say the motive of the Jews that blocked them acknowledging baby Jesus as the Messiah but maybe they were afraid of what he would require of them: submission and trust. It was easier and less demanding to expect a King that would deliver them from their misery. Maybe they didn't want to submit themselves from the heart. 

Our world can easily celebrate Christmas even though they aren't committed to Christ because it's easy to think of the baby Jesus who didn't require anything. But his birth was only the beginning. In time, he would call people to make a decision: submit in trust or reject in disbelief. I hope you have submitted yourself in trust in a great Savior who left the wonders of heaven in order to die for your sins. 

Open your eyes and acknowledge the gift standing right there by you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I Don't Like God's Definidtion of "Favored One"

You may be reading the Christmas story again this season, but have you stopped to think about God's definition of "favor"? Let's review.

The angel arrives in front of Mary and proclaims,
"Greetings, favored one! The LORD is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salvation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God." (Luke 1:28-30 NASB).
As I pondered those verses again this morning, I suddenly thought, "I wonder if Mary could have ever imagined what being 'favored' would mean."

Wouldn't most of us think, "Oh goody! Favor! God says I'm favored. Now I'm going to meet the perfect husband, have the perfect kids, buy the mansion on the hill, wear only purple, and hobnob with the wealthy and influential people."


No, it meant she would:

  • Be unmarried and pregnant, a most misunderstood circumstance in her community. Without God intervening to save her, Joseph could have had her stoned to death. 
  • Be called a liar. I can hear it now from the townspeople. "Oh, that's a new one for being unmarried and pregnant. An angel came, eh? Oh, sure he did."
  • Give birth in difficult circumstances: out of town, without your momma or a mid-wife, surrounded by strangers, and seeing strange things happening like those pesky angels showing up again. 
  • Become a young widow. I've wondered why God's plan included an early death for Joseph. Why was it best for Mary to be a widow? 
  • Become convinced along with her other children that her first-born is crazy. She tries to convince Him to come home for some help. He definitely needs some R & R--He's been working too hard and is delusional. But her pleas to help Him are rebuffed to the point that He seems to reject her.
  • See her son misunderstood, spit on, falsely accused, and nailed to a cross like the most horrible kind of criminal.
  • Stand at the foot of the cross experiencing the agonizing death of her righteous Son.

Favor? Who would possibly sign up for all that if they knew what God's definition of favor is?

Yes, God does have an interesting definition of favor but that's because He looks at the end results, not the journey of getting there. 

For I'm convinced Mary would have signed on the dotted line again to be God's favored one even if she knew what it meant. For indeed she was chosen for something that Jewish girls through the centuries desired to be chosen for. Although they didn't know what it would mean and only Mary experienced it. 

The question for us is: are we willing to sign on the dotted line for God's own unique definition of "favor" for each of us? It may not be what we think "favor" should mean. But God always brings good out of it--but it's His definition of "good." 

Here's the pen.... Ready to sign?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Stupidity for His Glory

I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when we concluded our phone conversation. Even though I'd had the opportunity to tell my friend about the Gospel, I was crushed to think of the way I'd done it. Why did I not ask more questions instead of "preaching"? Why didn't I inquire about what she thought about who God is? Did I communicate condemnation or hope? I tried to remember what had been said. I couldn't remember much but it felt like there were more wrong things I'd done than good.

As I continued to rehearse the conversation, I prayed, "Oh, Lord, somehow use for good all my inadequacies. I know you love her but since I'm representing you, I want to represent you well."

My thoughts turned to Paul's comments in I Corinthians 4. Let's look at some verses.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (vs 3-4).

Paul doesn't jump into self-contempt like I do. He seeks God's opinions and judgments. I think so many of us depend upon our self-evaluations rather than looking to God for His perceptions of what happened.

Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God (vs 5).

We jump into our own evaluations and we conclude that what occurred wasn't the best. But we don't know what our friend needs to hear. So don't judge your wording based upon their response. They may not even know what they want and need.

So many times, I've followed up on a conversation (I did that just yesterday) and apologized for what I said. Most of the time (like yesterday!) the other person looks quizzically at me and says, "Oh, I don't remember that." Or, "No, I didn't think anything bad of it when you said that." I had been all upset rehearsing what I said, but my friend wasn't!

We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute (vs. 10)
Evidently Paul's opponents in Corinth are saying those things about him, so he is responding sarcastically here. He is making light of their opinion of him because he doesn't mind being seen that way. That's the best part for us! We don't have to mind it either!

I think Paul's perspective can help us. If we are afraid of appearing as fools when we speak of the Lord, we might want to examine our hearts. We could evaluate whether our self-contempt is because we fear looking foolish or silly or unintelligent or... What do you fear being seen as?

One of the ways I'm bothered is if I appear to be stupid. I don't know that my friend thinks that way about me, but I fear it regardless. And then I start giving myself contempt. 

Yet, what is the truth? Paul states the truth earlier in this letter, "But we have the mind of Christ" (2:16). That's the truth, not the contemptuous lies that we're heaping upon ourselves like, 

  • "I'm stupid." 
  • "I can't believe I said that; now what does she think?" 
  • "If she doesn't come to know Christ, it's all my fault."

To discard the lies, we need to seek the truth in the Bible.

 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Corinthians 2:2-5).

Maybe the most important point are those verses. Paul says, "I won't depend upon my own abilities. I'm going to depend upon Jesus and the Spirit." 

And that's how I finally found peace. As I belittled myself and feared bad consequences because of my ineptness, I thought, "Well, if she becomes a Christian, it certainly won't be because of my communication skills."

And then it hit me! Who would get the glory? Jesus!!!! The Holy Spirit! If I had been brilliant and my friend suddenly exclaimed "Oh, you've made it so clear. I do want to become a Christian," it would have been easy to give myself credit rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. And since He is the one who calls her to salvation, it's not about me at all. I'm just a weak and inadequate vessel. 

I've shared the following story before but it applies here: Many years ago after I received Christ in my first year of college, I had the opportunity to share the Gospel with my best friend. I felt like I did a lousy job of it. As I explained what had happened to me, she slid to the floor and seemed so beat down, bothered and discouraged by what should have been good news! I felt like I wasn't sharing it well at all.

We lost touch shortly after that and for decades I hit myself spiritually over the head when I rehearsed that conversation. It felt like it was my fault that she didn't become a Christian. I just didn't explain it well!

Then a few years ago, we re-connected! We found each other on social media and began to catch up. I feared asking her about that disastrous conversation so many years earlier. But then she told me she had become a Christian. 

With great relief, I said, "Oh, I'm so glad. I always feared that our conversation about Jesus steered you away from the Gospel. You were so discouraged."

"Oh, no, not at all," she replied. "I didn't think that at all. I slid to the floor because I was confused. But I always remembered that conversation and when I read a book that God used to help me understand the Gospel in that period of my life, I eagerly became a Christian. I know our conversation was a foundation for later."

What a relief! It wasn't about me at all! It was the Spirit working in His way and in His timing. What freedom that gave me to depend upon God and stop the self-contempt.

How about you? Are you pouring contempt on yourself? Yes, you might have been "weak" as Paul describes himself, but God knows what He's doing. Your weakness may be necessary so that God will be glorified. Or maybe it was needed in some way for the benefit of that person. 

If you've had a similar experience or reaction, would you share with us? It'll be an encouragement to me and my readers.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Was Jesus Really in a Stable?

When I recently read Kenneth E. Bailey's book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, I was fascinated that he proposes some different ideas about our favorite images of the Nativity. 

For instance, he suggests that the manger that baby Jesus was placed in wasn't in a barn or stable like we've pictured it, but actually within a private homeHe describes a typical Palestinian home this way,

The main room was a "family room" where the entire family cooked, ate, slept and lived. The end of the room next to the door, was either a few feet lower than the rest of the floor or blocked off with heavy timbers. Each night into that designated area, the family cow, donkey and a few sheep would be driven. And every morning those same animals were taken out and tied up in the courtyard of the house. The animal stall would then be cleaned for the day. Such simple homes can be traced from the time of David up to the middle of the twentieth century. I have seen them both in Upper Galilee and in Bethlehem.

The one-room village home with mangers were made note of by modern scholars as well. William Thompson, an Arabic-speaking Presbyterian missionary scholar of the mid-nineteenth century observed village homes in Bethlehem and wrote, "It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the baby was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region." 

Obviously, such a possible change of perspective doesn't diminish the power of Jesus being born as a baby and coming as a human. But it does remove the problem some people have with thinking of Jesus in a smelly "barn" kind of setting. And it still lets us know that God designed His Son's entrance in a humble setting. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Final Spiritual Dementia Symptom: "Don't Make Me Suffer"

In our final contrast of Lewy Body Dementia with "spiritual" dementia, we'll look at "Don't Make Me Suffer."

As a part of her disease, Audrey had hallucinations that people and things were spraying her with water, even toxins. Before we started her on a new medicine that mercifully helped her (drugs don't always bring the results hoped for with every patient), she would sit in our living room with a piece of paper in front of her eyes, blocking the spray that was supposedly coming from the television. 

Many an evening, Audrey would scream at Larry, “This is your house. You have to do something to stop the spraying. You are a mean son that you don't prevent this from happening.”

Larry was helpless in preventing it or convincing her that nothing could be done--because it wasn't really happening! She was determined to find someone to prevent her distress. She often commented, “Nobody should treat an old lady like this!”

In the midst of our inability to help her, I recognized my own demand that life shouldn't treat me “like this” with it's struggles and difficulties. I get angry with God that He doesn't prevent the “spraying” of bad things. Although Audrey's spraying couldn't bring good into her life, God does allow difficulties in my life to draw me closer to Him. It is only through challenges that I recognize my need of Him and my inability to handle life on my own. I was learning, even through being challenged by caring for Audrey, that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Every time I was tempted to be impatient, unkind, or insensitive to Audrey, I could choose God's enabling power to see Audrey through God's eyes of love and choose to love her well. I never perfectly arrived at that goal, but God graciously helped me make progress.

And that's, finally, the last thing I learned through Audrey's Lewy Body Dementia: I have a choice. God holds me responsible. Audrey couldn't make a choice. Her disease had stripped away her ability to make wise, godly choices and God never held her accountable. 

But I'm aware of my spiritual dementia. I choose to cast away truth,  protect my image, take things personally and expect that life should treat me kindly. I can't blame anyone else. 

God used Audrey to reveal to me my spiritual dementia. He also used that journey of caregiving to diminish my spiritual dementia.

What is God using in your life to diminish your spiritual dementia? You can trust that He is doing that for your good and His glory.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Another Spiritual Dementia Symptom: "Where's My Value?"

We are continuing a series about the symptoms of "spiritual" dementia. I'm comparing how my mother-in-law Audrey responded to people and life because of her Lewy Body Dementia with my own "demented" kind of thinking and responding. This symptom is "Where's My Value?"

As Audrey lost her ability to remember, her identity and value diminished—in her eyes. She often said, “I used to be the one that everyone came to for remembering things. Now I can't remember anything.” Soon after, she added, “I don't know why the Lord keeps me here. I'm not good for anything.”

Sadly, the things she depended upon for her value were stripped away. And since she could no longer contribute in those ways, she didn't see that she had any worth. Even our insistence that people enjoyed her company wasn't comforting or affirming. Her long held beliefs of how she should contribute had been taken away.

I can identify with this aspect of dementia in my "demented spiritual" thinking. I also label certain things as my identity and value. When God has stripped those affirmations away, I've floundered in believing I still have meaning and significance. Or if someone gives me a message that I'm failing in what gives me meaning, I think I'm nothing, even though “in Christ,” my value never changes.

As a women's retreat speaker, if I think my presentation wasn't up to par or someone seemed unhappy with it, I agonize over it. Recently, a woman in the audience scowled at me the whole time I was speaking. Adding to that, I believed that I hadn't done my usual good job. I drove home beating myself up. What I depended upon for my value was challenged. I even thought of returning my fee. 

After a few days of dealing with my feelings, I knew I was depending upon my performance rather than my position in Christ for the source of my value. And regardless, I was just as loved by God. And if it was true that I had not done a good job or I hadn't prepared adequately, I could ask for forgiveness.

As I worked through this, I recognized how I'm like Audrey. I'm “demented” to think my value is based upon my performance. Thankfully, my true value and worth are based in who I am "in Christ" which never changes.

Our final symptom will be covered in our next post: "Don't Make Me Suffer."