Paying for the Privilege

I read a most astonishing article some time ago. Wealthy white American women are paying up to $2,500 for a meal and a gut-wrenching session about how racist and bigoted they are. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/03/race-to-dinner-party-racism-women?fbclid=IwAR12AvWdTyht5RV0vfBfZ5XUEnA4441GU8efLSX8xtdfePI2R9KEesCipI8 Over a fancy dinner, they discuss how their privilege has (arguably) caused them to ignore and/or deny the needs and rights of others, based largely on prejudices and fear.

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I won’t waste space to analyze all that I think is wrong with this scenario– but I will say the following:

  • $2,500 is a lot of money for most Americans, let alone many others around the world It’s more than most people spend in a month for groceries, utilities, and more, let alone one meal.
  • Talk is (according to the old phrase) cheap.
  • If having difficult talks over a plate of overpriced pasta and wine could really solve major problems, I’m shocked that we still have so many problems in the world!

I’m dismayed by this article. I hope that some good comes from these efforts, but I don’t expect such tactics to end racism, bigotry, or ignorance. These women are paying for a privilege on top of all their other privileges– the right to feel righteous and “woke” to lingering problems that have never personally touched them. It would not occur to them to invite 10 women who don’t look like them, don’t live like them, don’t speak like them, and don’t dress like them to come and share their dinner. They would not share their hospitality, their fine china, or their fancy dessert with a working-class woman with olive skin and an accent, or a single mother fighting to make ends meet and losing the battle– of any skin color. They might give another $2,500 to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen across town– they would not befriend anyone who needed those services, however.

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Most importantly, they are likely to believe that by “owning” their prejudices for an hour, they are absolved of their responsibility to “love their neighbor as themselves.” They can be comfortable in the belief that their feelings “do them credit” and make them better than others who “are in denial” about their “subconscious biases” and “micro-aggressions” toward the people with whom they interact (or routinely ignore). They may take high-minded actions to force the government to “deal with” people less fortunate than they, but they will take no steps to get involved personally with the families who suffer from injustice and poverty just outside the gates of their exclusive communities.

But another more insidious problem with the article is the way I can choose to respond to it. Articles like this are designed (on some level) to create anger, division, and a sense of disgust toward those who are considered “privileged.” I look at the hypocrisy outlined in this article, and I may assume that “privileged” rich white people are all alike. I may assume that the “problem” is their affluence and their indifference– that if they could be “made to” care more, or made to pay “their fair share”, poverty would disappear, and with it, prejudice and other issues that separate the “privileged” from the “rest of us.”

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But poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other issues are symptoms of a much greater problem– Sin. And Sin is a problem that can never be solved by sitting down over a meal or writing a large check or even learning empathy with others who suffer. In one very large sense, we all are “paying a price” for Sin. We live in a broken world, where Sin and its effects are felt by all. Even wealthy, healthy, “privileged” people suffer heartache, betrayal, loneliness, confusion, addiction, and loss. None of us has the “privilege” of being untouched by Sin.

And while each of us can and should be active in helping to mitigate the effects of Sin, we cannot eliminate them. We can never “pay” enough to make Sin and its consequences “go away.” Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can do that. The real “privilege” in life is not great wealth, or social standing. It isn’t comfort and the ability to shell out a month’s wages for a single uncomfortable meal. It isn’t the temporary feeling of being more “virtuous” than one’s neighbor–and that brings me to reflect on my own actions and beliefs.

What “privileges” do I take for granted? What makes me feel “virtuous?” What makes me feel guilty or ashamed, that I would “pay” to have someone else make me feel “enlightened?” Jesus doesn’t call me to “feel” virtuous. He calls me to follow Him and become more virtuous. He has already paid far more than a month’s wages (or even a lifetime’s wages) to redeem me from Sin’s curse, and allow me to live with peace and joy– no matter my financial or social circumstances! I have the very real “privilege” of knowing Him! And so can anyone else who puts their trust in Him. Through Him, we have riches that cannot be sold, bought, lost, or traded. But they can be shared! I cannot rid the world of poverty, prejudice, greed, injustice, or death. But I can help others find strength, hope, relief, and joy in their journey, as I point them to the Savior. I can’t give a thousand dollars, but I can give a few dollars to a local food bank, or volunteer time to help others. I can share food or water or clothes with someone who is in need just down the street. I can listen to someone who needs a friend, and I can offer to serve where someone needs a helping hand. I can also give the benefit of a doubt instead of harsh judgment– even to those who seem hypocritical or “unenlightened” in their earthly “privilege.”

Lord, my prayer today is that I would pour out compassion– even on the ladies in this article–and on all who need it most. Your heart is that all of us would live in peace and lovingkindness. Help me to see my neighbors as you see them–ALL my neighbors. All the time.

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The real privilege is not of wealth or comfort. The real privilege is to learn to love and be loved as Jesus loves– freely, sacrificially, whole-heartedly and without limit. May we celebrate in that privilege today.

The Urgency of Death

Just last week, one of my high school classmates died unexpectedly.  I’m getting to “that age” when more and more of my contemporaries are experiencing health issues– diabetes, heart problems, cancer, arthritis, even early-onset dementia– but this friend seemed to be in good health.  She had just been celebrating the birth of a grandson, and other milestones.  Death sometimes comes when (and to whom) we least expect it.  It is shocking, saddening, and frightening all at once.  

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Death has an urgency that pushes other concerns away.  Death is final; permanent.  Death is powerful– we can’t cheat it, defeat it, or comprehend it.  Death frightens us, angers us, and mystifies us.  We begin to look at our own life and ask questions–Who am I?WHY am I?  What makes me “me”– individual and uniquely different from everyone else?  Is there a purpose to my being– to my being “me”, “here” and “now”?  How can I find and fulfill that purpose if it exists?  Do I have an eternal destiny after this life?  If so, how can I know what it might be?  Can I change that eternal destiny?

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Some people argue that our origins are accidental; our uniqueness is merely a random generation of genetic code; our purpose non-existent or self-determined; and our destiny no more than dust. They avoid talking about death–and the meaning of life. They want to “live in the moment,” but they don’t want to ask any questions of the past or future. And they mock anyone who does. Many of them hear me or read what I write and dismiss me as intellectually lazy, gullible, or crazy.  I’m all right with that, as long as they will be intellectually honest enough to admit to the questions; and open enough to acknowledge that there may be more than a quick denial as an answer.  Crazy– well crazy is as crazy does, I guess…I’ll let my actions answer that one.

Death is powerful and mysterious, but I believe that God is more powerful, and omniscient– he has already crushed the power of death, and invites us to view death from a different perspective.  When we take everything– including death– to the Lord in Prayer, he takes the weight of it, the fear of it, the pain of it off our shoulders and carries it to the cross.  HIS death overshadows even our own, in its power to overcome. The urgency of death is not that it is the end of all things.  The urgency of death is that it signals the end of our opportunity to recognize and live out the purpose of this short life.

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If that isn’t an urgent reason to pray for those you love, I don’t know of a better one…

It’s also an urgent reason to pray for those around you who are grieving the recent loss of a loved one.  And don’t just be someone who prays..be an answer to prayer– reach out with a card, a note or e-mail, or spend some time with them.  Let them know that a) their loved one is not forgotten, and b) neither are they!

Let Your Light Shine

I live in an area not too far from Lake Michigan. All along the shores of this Great Lake are lighthouses. Some are small; some are tall; some are old and some use the latest technology Some are red; some are white; some are striped. Most are designed to warn ships of rocks, but others warn of shoals and hidden sand bars, as well.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington

We think of lighthouses shining their light in the darkness, but lighthouses also shine in the daytime, through cloudy days, foggy mornings, and stormy afternoons. Most lighthouses also have fog horns, to warn ships when even the light won’t penetrate a thick fog.

This past week, a faithful lady at our church reminded us of a favorite song from childhood– “This Little Light of Mine.” We are called to be like Jesus, the “light of the world.” But what does it mean to “let our light shine”? And what does it mean to “hide it under a bushel?” (See Matthew 5:14-16)

Fresnel lens at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Daytona Beach, FL. Invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, the lens is much thinner than a conventional lens, which allows for a large aperture and short focal length at a lower weight.

Lighthouses use special lenses, called Fresnel lenses, to magnify the effect of refracted and reflected light. The resulting beam of light is stronger and can be seen for miles. Our own “little light”– our weak and imperfect faith; our limited talents and resources; our clumsy attempts– would not be enough to “save” anyone. But God magnifies our efforts as we reflect HIS radiance; His Love and Mercy. And many will be saved as we allow God to shine through us.

St. Joseph Lighthouse at sunset

Lighthouses are consistent– they don’t “turn the light off” when the weather is perfect, waiting only until someone spots a ship in danger. They don’t “dim” the light, or add extra strobe lights for the holidays or special occasions. Each lighthouse sends a consistent signal–steady and sure. But each lighthouse is unique– both in its outward appearance, and in it’s light pattern. This helps sailors tell them apart, and provides further help in navigation. As Christians, our light should also be consistent and unique. God created us with unique talents and opportunities–and we can “shine” the light of Christ in such a consistent and unique way as to help others “navigate” the trials of life. I am so thankful for the many faithful and uniquely gifted Christians who have inspired and guided me throughout my journey–and I want to be that kind of light for others!

Lighthouses are solid. They are normally built close to the shore, but not on the sandy beaches– rather on a rocky outcropping or a solid concrete and steel-reinforced foundation. As Christians, we have a solid foundation in Christ. We need to “shine our light” from that foundation– living out the Gospel of Christ– His life, death, resurrection, and imminent return. Building a bonfire on the beach may produce light, but it won’t stand out in a storm. Building our lives on any other foundation or religious “fad” may produce outward “success,” but it will not withstand storms.

Finally, and this may sound ridiculously obvious, but Lighthouses shine with purpose. They don’t twinkle or glitter; they don’t scream from the shore– “Look at ME! Look at ME!” They don’t shoot off fireworks to captivate onlookers from the shore. But they shine. They send a consistent warning, and provide consistent security to those who need it– and those who are seeking it! “This little light” may not be a blazing comet on the horizon, but without its steady pattern, there is darkness, confusion, and danger for those at sea (on lake in our case!) “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” (Luke 11:33 NIV) We are commanded to shine– to Love others, to reach out with light, and hope, and yes, even a warning. To hide that light is to deny our purpose. To shine only for our own glory is to miss our purpose.

Holland (Michigan) Lighthouse

Father, help me to be a light in the darkness today. Help me to shine with Your Love, Your Mercy, and Your Goodness. Help me to be consistent, and to shine in the strength of Your Righteousness and Grace. Help me to use the unique gifts and opportunities You provide to show Your Character and Love to others.

What God Didn’t Give Me

I’m very grateful for all the many blessings that God has given me– for Salvation, most of all. But God has blessed me with family, health, freedom, and so many other wonderful things. But there are several things God didn’t give me. Some of them are things I wanted (or thought I needed!) Others are things I never even imagined.

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God didn’t give me a pony when I was younger. God didn’t give me blonde hair. God didn’t give me the genetics to be 5’9″ tall, athletic, and thin– I never became a ballerina or a model. God didn’t make it possible for me to study in France my junior year of college like I had wanted. God didn’t see fit to make “Mr. Right” fall in love with me in high school or college. God didn’t give me children to raise. God didn’t let my father live long enough to walk me down the aisle when I finally got married. And I never won the lottery (probably because I don’t play!– but still…)

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It’s very human to look around and see what others have that we might desire– things that God did not choose to give us; even things that God has taken from us–and feel resentment, envy, and even anger. But we rarely look at those things others have that we would NOT desire. And we rarely look back and see how things we thought we wanted would not have been good for us, or how God removed things from our lives–even good things–for a better purpose. Sometimes, we cannot know or understand such things this side of heaven. But it might be a good practice once in awhile to look back and see what God DIDN’T give us– and thank Him for His wisdom and provision!

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God allowed me to get chicken pox as a child– but He didn’t let me get Polio, or Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever or Whooping Cough. God didn’t give me blue eyes like my dad– but He didn’t give me Dad’s color-blindness, either. God prevented me from going on a date with one cute and popular boy who asked me out in high school. And the one in college. And the one I worked with. But God delivered me to my husband a virgin, and free of the guilt and shame of a string of failed relationships. God took my father at age 68. But He healed my father after a heart attack at age 50 (the reason I never got to study in France). We had and “extra” 18 years with Dad, and while Dad was sick most of the last years of his life, we didn’t have to see him suffer years of pain, misery, and helplessness. And about that semester in France? Some of my friends went that year– and they were plagued by injuries, nationwide strikes, and other issues. God knew what I wanted in each case; He also knew what was best for me.

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Last year, I was diagnosed with Diabetes. God did not “give” me Diabetes. (That’s another mistake we often make.) God gives good gifts. (James 1:17) But we live in a fallen and imperfect world. Disease, injustice, pain, and heartache are part of this world. Someday, God will redeem the world and put an end to all of these, but for now, there is no guarantee that God will keep us in perfect health or happiness. So I’m Diabetic. I’m not grateful because I have the disease, but I am grateful for so many things related to it. I am grateful that I live in a time when treatments are both available and accessible. I am grateful that I was diagnosed, rather than suffering a coma or dying without help. I am grateful that I have access to healthful foods and the ability to exercise– two things necessary to keep the Diabetes under control. I am grateful that I lived for so many years without the disease. I am grateful for a supportive husband and family members who help keep me motivated. And I am grateful that nothing about having Diabetes changes IN ANY WAY God’s love for me, and His plans to give me eternal life in Him!

Are there things, people, or situations in your life that God DIDN’T give you? Healing that was denied, or blessings withheld? Hurtful things that He allowed to happen in your life? That He took away from your life? God doesn’t want us to pretend that all is perfect in our world. He knows the pain of NOT getting what we wanted, and the agony of losing what we did want. But He also knows the joy that we haven’t yet experienced– the joy of renewal; the joy of restoration; and the joy of completion.

God didn’t give me a pony– nor the hard work of caring for it, or the heartbreak of losing it. God didn’t let me date the popular boy– but He gave me a man of gentleness and integrity. God didn’t give me children to raise, but He gave me grown children, and grandchildren to love. God didn’t “give” me the semester in France, but He did give me opportunities to meet people from France. He gave me opportunities to use the French language I studied– in Florida, Texas, and even the Dominican Republic! God didn’t let my father walk me down the aisle at my wedding. But He allowed Dad and David to meet and even know each other– years before we were married. God didn’t give me perfect health here on Earth– but there will be no disease or death in Heaven.

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Thank you, God, for all that you have given me– even Diabetes–and for all that you have allowed to shape my life. Help me see You in every detail of my life– the pleasant, the painful, the difficult, and the mysterious– and to praise You in every circumstance. Thank you for today, and for all the plans you have for it, and for me. Thank You for being You!

When Nebuchadnezzar is Your Boss

Have you ever worked with a “difficult” boss or co-worker? Even a job you love can become a source of tension and even torture. Maybe they are lazy. Maybe they are unreasonable and demanding. Maybe they are incompetent. Maybe they are corrupt. Maybe they just “push all your buttons.” Whatever it is, it leaves you frustrated, stressed, and questioning your future.

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I’ve worked for several bosses through the years, and most of them were wonderful. But there were a couple…I can still remember uncomfortable confrontations and unresolved issues even years later. And I know several others workers who suffered under those same managers– many of them left to take other jobs because the situation took so long to resolve. A bad boss can really hurt a company or office. They can destroy morale, decrease efficiency, and make it difficult for anyone to know what the goals and expectations are– this week!

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One of the difficult things about working under a “bad” boss, is that, often, what makes them a “bad” boss also makes them look “successful”– at least in the short term. They manage to turn in impressive “numbers”– it looks like production is up and waste is down; it looks like everything is in order to outsiders. Those who leave are often workers who have been with the company a long time– new hires come in at a much smaller salary, and with “fresh” ideas– at least initially. If there is an overriding goal, they will pursue it with fanatical focus, making them look committed, determined, and competent. If workers can see underlying problems, other people only see what looks like focused efficiency and “sour grapes” from harassed staff members.

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When I worked for “bad” bosses, they seemed to last about five years, before their cruelty, arrogance, or incompetence forced them to leave. They went on to “new” positions, where they followed the same patterns.

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In the Bible, there was a young man (just a teen when we first meet him) named Daniel. Daniel had grown up in a noble family in the capital city of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was besieged and fell into the hands of a tyrannical ruler named Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was captured, exiled, and taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s service. On the surface, this may have appeared to be a “plum” position; he got to live in the palace, and he served as an advisor. He had food, clothing, advanced education, and many “creature comforts” available to him that were lost to many of the other exiles who were forced into manual labor.

But Daniel’s position was far more precarious than it appeared. Nebuchadnezzar wanted men of intelligence, culture, and breeding– and he wanted them to be clean, healthy, and confident–but he also demanded results, and often, he demanded the impossible! Field hands might have brutal masters who would beat them for minor offenses, but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t inflict punishment– he simply “eliminated” anyone who didn’t produce the desired results!

In the history books, Nebuchadnezzar looks like a successful ruler– his armies had conquered every region they attacked. And by sending the people into exile– bringing the best and brightest to Babylon, and scattering the rest–Nebuchadnezzar kept the conquered regions from rebellion and revolt. He appointed satraps and governors to help manage the empire, and it looked like nothing could stop him from conquering the world! But Daniel wasn’t reading a history book. He was living and working under one of the harshest and cruelest rulers of his time!

The book of Daniel gives us at least three examples of Daniel and his friends being put in life-and-death situations involving some of Nebuchadnezzar’s more impossible demands. And in each case, God gives miraculous rescue to Daniel and his friends as they bravely serve this unwelcome “boss.”

When we study Daniel, we tend to focus on the miracles– the fiery furnace, the writing on the wall, the lion’s den, and the answers to impossible dreams. But God didn’t just send miracles, and He didn’t rescue them from having to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (or in the courts of some of the equally bad rulers who followed!)

God’s purpose in our life may involve serving with or under people who abuse their authority, or who don’t “deserve” to be leaders. But His purpose also involves teaching us to serve, as Daniel and his friends did, with integrity, dignity, and consistency. It wasn’t easy for Daniel– he was the target of jealous plots, megalomaniacal panics, and culture wars. God didn’t rescue Daniel from his situation– Daniel remained in exile, likely for the rest of his life–but God rescued Daniel from being consumed or changed by his situation. And Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a “mistake” that God made. He was God’s chosen tool to punish Israel for its unfaithfulness, and His chosen tool to show His sovereignty OVER even the great Babylonian Empire!

Daniel was known as a man of prayer– that’s how he ended up in the lion’s den (years later under another ruler)! Praying won’t keep us from experiencing “bad” bosses, or from facing difficult situations. But prayer can help us to persevere, to endure, and to be a shining example of God’s faithfulness.

I would love to say that I behaved like Daniel when I was in a “bad” boss situation. I didn’t. I endured, but I was impatient and vocal in my displeasure. I complained, I worked grudgingly, and I even changed jobs to get away from the situations. I don’t mean to suggest that it is always God’s will that we stay in a bad situation– I was lucky to be able to change jobs, and grateful for the opportunity to continue to do good work elsewhere. But in times when we are being tested and cannot change jobs, or have to endure chaos and upheaval for a long season–we need to be willing to be like Daniel, who was faithful, loyal, patient, and trustworthy. Daniel “kept his head” because he kept his heart turned toward the source of his real success– not the King of Babylon, but the King of Kings!

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I don’t know what situation you may be facing today– what injustices, or upheavals you are enduring. But I pray that God would give you the strength and wisdom to be a Daniel. Look past the Nebuchadnezzar in your world, and serve the King!

Looking Beyond..

Have you ever tried to read through the Bible in a year? There are many programs that can help you do it–even Bibles divided into daily readings. Some are organized in segments–a short passage from the Old Testament; one from the New; a Psalm, and two or three verses from Proverbs. Mine is organized in bits from Genesis to Revelations– a few chapters or a short book each day, with every seventh day set aside for reflection.

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It’s curious– the Bible is organized naturally in rough chronological order. In January, as we look ahead to a new year, we are challenged to look back and read about how the world began; in December, we read about the “end” of the world as we know it. But of course, Revelations isn’t about “the End.” It is about the new beginning– a New Heaven and a New Earth.

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As this year closes, and we naturally look ahead to next year, Revelations challenges us– not just to look ahead, but to look beyond! We can’t see the future, even if we try to prepare for it, or even control it. We can’t know for certain even what will happen in the next days and weeks of next year. But God has given us a glimpse of what will be– in His time. If this year has left us complacent, we must look beyond that complacency to see God’s righteous judgment. If this year has us frustrated about injustice, we must look beyond to see God’s coming endless reign of Peace. If thoughts of next year leave us confused or worried, we must look beyond to see how God’s plan is from everlasting, and that He is Sovereign over time and circumstance.

On January 1st, many of us will “start over” reading the Bible, with the opening of Genesis 1– “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..”, reminding us again that God has been in control all along. The story is the same–Creation, the Fall, the Promise, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and the coming Return of Christ– just as God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

We can look ahead– and hope that 2023 will bring goodness, adventures, triumphs, etc.. But we can look beyond, with a certain and sure hope that God has the future in His Mighty, Holy Hands!

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Lord, Thank you for this past year. Thank you for giving us new opportunities in the coming year, whatever circumstances may bring. Thank you for your wisdom and sovereignty in all things– that we can have complete confidence in You! Help us to enter 2023 with that confidence, and honor You in the days ahead, and throughout eternity. Amen.

Christmas Prayer

Father, this Christmas, I want to

Confess that I have not really comprehended what Christmas really means. There are times throughout this year when I have not made “room in the inn;” I have not welcomed Christ in the “least of these.” I have not followed the star, or listened to the message of the angels. I have not come to the manger with gifts. I have been like the people of Bethlehem– asleep and unaware of the miracles taking place under my nose. I have not acknowledged that you are

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Here. Not just that you came. Not just that you lived, and died, and rose again. But that you are present with me–Now! Every moment! Forever. Here. Not just beside me, but indwelling…living in me and working through me, flawed and cracked vessel that I am. Living in and working through other ordinary people You send into my life (as You send me into theirs).

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Righteous Redeemer, help me to understand better Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Glory, and Your Holiness. You did not come to rescue us from some failed plan or cosmic mistake. You are altogether perfect in Your plan of Salvation. Even when I cannot understand Your ways, they are higher and better than anything I can imagine. And Christmas, with all its wonder and glory and contradiction was never a surprise to YOU. It wasn’t Plan B. It was timed down to the minute, scripted to the very last detail, and part of the eternal plan of Salvation.

Inspire me again with the wonder of Your Mercy and Grace. Help me to experience the Joy of the Shepherds, the Awe of the Magi, and the Hush of Heaven as You left Your throne to become a little lower than the angels who shouted Your Glory into the darkness.

Send me, as you sent the Shepherds, to make known Your wonders, as you sent the Angels to tell of Your Good News of Great Joy, and as you sent Your Son into the world to make reconciliation. Strengthen me as an instrument of Your Grace, as a Witness of Your Might, and as an Ambassador of Your Love.

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Transform my thinking. Build my Trust in You, that I would spend less time fretting about my daily needs and the unforeseen circumstances of my days, and more time praising You for what you have done, and will do, and are doing. Help me to embrace Your

Might, Your Majesty, and Your mystery. That the same voice that spoke galaxies into being and the same right arm that raised up empires was wrapped up in rags and laid in a Manger, meek and tiny. That Your glory was hidden in a cattle stall in a quiet village of a conquered nation. That Your plan to bring us life involved Your own painful death at the hands of people You had raised up to power That all of Eternity could be changed in a single instant, even as the Earth slept.

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Accept my adoration, incomplete and uncomprehending as it is. And equip me to Act in ways that bring You Glory and Honor. Advance Your Kingdom, and Thank You for making it possible to be reconciled to You.

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Sovereign Savior and Gracious Shepherd, let Christmas be born in me anew this season. Let me grow in Faith and Obedience. Let me shine like that first star– drawing others to worship You.

Amen.

Lullabies and Hallelujahs

During this season of the year, we hear a lot of “Christmas” music. Much of it is secular music–Santa Claus and magical snowmen, gifts and parties, and the Holiday “blues.” But much of it is related to the real reason for Christmas: the birth of Our Lord. And the number of songs, hymns, cantatas and symphonies related to Christ’s birth is staggering! Popular secular singers record “their” versions of favorite hymns; choirs and orchestras present new songs and ancient melodies. Many of the songs fall into two distinct categories, however. There are quiet lullabies–peaceful and meditative, focused on the infant in the manger; and there are Hallelujahs– joyful and majestic, focused on the wonder of God coming to earth.

I don’t know if there were actually lullabies OR Hallelujahs on that first Christmas. The Bible mentions the visit of the angels, but they were “praising God and SAYING, ‘Glory to God in the Highest..'” We often assume that their praise included singing, but the Bible isn’t specific. But it is interesting to look at the contrast of the quietness of the manger and the Glory of the angel hosts, and hear the contrast in the hymns we raise at this time of year.

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Lullabies, and quiet songs, like “Silent Night,” or “Away in a Manger” call our minds and hearts to the humility of the Christ child. Babies are cute and engaging. And they are not “silent.” But they do not command authority and majesty. Babies cry out for help. They are needy in a way that God is NOT. And yet…God came in the form of a helpless baby. The God who created the galaxies needed someone to feed and change Him; to carry Him from place to place and rock Him to sleep. “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds us that He came to a cattle shed in a small town, rather than to a palace in the seat of power.

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Hallelujahs, like “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” remind us that this was no ordinary child. And yet…the angels did not appear IN the manger or even in the little Town of Bethlehem. The Angels were compelled to sing their praises, not to the learned priests, or the courts of power, but to dumb-founded shepherds on a cold hillside. What an explosive visitation! Their praises (whether shouted or sung) shattered the quiet and the darkness. Like a sudden fireworks display, the Glory of God’s servants split the night.

God enters our hearts– sometimes quietly, like the cooing of an infant; sometimes dramatically, like a chorus of angels. God is at work– sometimes in humble moments and ordinary gestures; sometimes in glorious flashes of insight and inexplicable miracles. And this season, our prayers will rise up– sometimes like the humble cries of a newborn baby; sometimes like the soaring songs of angel hosts– prayers of need; prayers of thanksgiving; prayers of awe-struck worship; prayers of simple confession of our own unworthiness, and of God’s sufficiency and everlasting Love. Peace and Glory; lullabies and Hallelujahs; simplicity and majesty– all wrapped up on a manger of hay on one Holy Night.

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Christmas is about both the lullabies and the Hallelujahs; the simple light of Truth and the glorious radiance of God’s Holiness.

…And the Word WAS God!

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5; 14

Emmanuel– God WITH us. The Baby Jesus in the manger is the same Jesus on the Cross; the same Jesus who was involved in the Creation of the universe.

We love seeing the Baby Jesus in the manger. We like the idea of Jesus, the good teacher and friend. We even bow our heads to honor the Jesus of the cross. We pray to Jesus, acknowledging that He is the God-Man who came to save us from Sin. But sometimes, we get so comfortable seeing Jesus lying peacefully in the manger or serenely enduring the pain of the Cross, that we ignore His absolute Holiness and Power.

Jesus was fully human– he ate, slept, cried, felt cold, and felt pain. But He is also God– fully Divine; fully Sovereign. He doesn’t force us to worship Him– not now, anyway. Someday, though, every knee will bow, and every tongue compelled to confess that Jesus is the Ultimate Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Philippians 2:10-11). Larger than life; more permanent than history; eternally Sovereign.

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We pray to a God who is so awesome and glorious that no person can see His face and live. And yet, we pray to a God who so loved mankind that He came and walked among us, lived among us, and died among us. We look at Baby Jesus in the manger– we see the face of God. And when we look at our neighbors and friends, we look at those made in the image of God– we see those beloved of God; those Jesus came to save.

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This is not new theology. This is basic Christianity. But sometimes, in the bustle of the “Season, ” we forget the wonder and the miracle that is the very reason for it all. God is NOT distant. He is not looking for reasons to reject or condemn us. He reaches out to us EXACTLY like a baby reaches out– seeking to be held close. He is as close as the person sitting next to you at the dinner table, or sharing a seat on the bus. GOD! Not a theology; not a list of do’s and don’t’s. Not an esoteric idea. A Presence; a living Christmas Present! An eternal Gift of Love! One with arms and legs; a twinkling eye and infectious smile.

In this season of Advent and Christmas, may we let the Glory of God fill us with awe and wonder. And may we let the Love of God fill us with hope and joy. May our prayers be like the sweet singing of the Angels on that Holy Night so long ago. “Glory to God in the Highest! And, on earth, Peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).

In the Beginning Was the Word…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14 (Authorized KJV)
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We celebrate Christmas as the “birth” of Christ. Yet, the Bible tells us that Jesus (Christ) was in the beginning with God: Jesus had no beginning and no end. He is eternal with the Father and Spirit. We call this season before Christmas “Advent”– we await and celebrate, not the birth of a new being, but the advent of His coming from Heaven to earth.

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Jesus came to Earth for many reasons– some of which are given in the Bible, and some of which are likely beyond our comprehension. He came to live among us as a man of flesh and bone (John 1:14); He came to bring life and light (vv.4-9); He came to live a sinless life, which He sacrificed as a ransom for the sins of the those who repent: and He came to serve others–to model the kind of service that God desires from us (Matthew 20:28). Jesus came in obedience to the Father (John 6:38). Finally, Jesus (as a member of the Triune Godhead) came because “God so Loved the World” (John 3:16) –He Wanted to come! The Advent was part of God’s perfect plan. It was not Plan B, developed after the fall of man. It was so “from the beginning.” It was foretold and prophesied. It was planned down to the tiniest detail.

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Jesus has always been. He has always been The Word of God. Jesus speaks. Jesus listens. When we pray, it is natural to speak words to The Word. Jesus created us to communicate. Unlike any other creature on earth, mankind chooses to communicate through complex and subtle language, as well as through art, music, dance, architecture…even food! We chatter about trivia; we choose to wear certain colors to express our moods; we make silly faces at infants and delight in their own facial contortions.

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Prayer is so important, because it is the essence of expressing our hearts and minds to the very one who created us to BE communicators. God listens through all the words of all the languages we use (or the non-verbalized thoughts, groanings, etc.) to hear our true heart-cry.

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This season, we take time to reflect on just what it means that Jesus was “In the Beginning…” as well as in the manger. We reflect that “before Abraham was”–He IS (John 8:58). We glory in the knowledge that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8). These “words” give us life and hope and joy– not just now, but throughout all the years of our lives.

What a reason to say just a few words today in prayer!

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