This morning, I woke up. I took a breath of clean air. I opened my eyes. I heard my clock ticking. I took another breath. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up inside– protected from the rain and wind and cold. I woke up in a bed. I woke up with blankets for my body and a pillow for my head. I woke up, and moved my head, my hands and feet, arms and legs. I sat up and wiggled my toes. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up to hear my husband’s breathing. I woke up to the knowledge that I am not alone. I woke up to the knowledge that I am loved. I felt safe and comforted. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up knowing that even if I had none of the things I just mentioned, that I still have reasons to Thank You– Things I take for granted; things I haven’t even noticed; things I have not yet seen. Thank You for who You are. Thank You for Your Faithfulness; Your Majesty; Your Sovereignty. Thank You for the beauty of sunsets and snowflakes; for the seasons and the centuries; for family and friends; for triumphs and even for the tears that sometimes come my way. Thank You that you are greater, and deeper, more powerful and more tender than all that I know or imagine.
Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time of wonder. But it is also a time to wonder–to ponder and reflect on the meaning of Jesus Christ. Why did He come? Why did He choose to be born where and when and how He did? The Bible gives us some of the “big” answers– He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45); He came to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37); He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17); He came to give salvation and everlasting life (John 3:16)–and more. But there are still many things to ponder.
I wonder why Jesus came as a helpless infant. He could have taken on flesh and appeared as a full-grown man, and a king at that. He chose to come in weakness and in need– the Lord of all Creation needing to be fed and clothed and carried from place to place.
I wonder about His early life. Jesus had to learn how to crawl, to walk, to talk, to run, to write. Imagine, the eternal Word of God having to learn to speak! The One who would one day walk on water had to learn to take His first steps on land. He was once toothless! Did He lisp when He was first learning to talk? Did He fall down as He learned to walk? Did He run too fast, and skin His knees? Were there foods He didn’t like, or others He preferred? Did the other kids tease Him and hurt His feelings? Did He suffer from headaches or toothaches or upset stomach (or even diarrhea)? Did He get splinters working with Joseph in the carpenter’s shop? Did He have a favorite teacher? When did Joseph die, and how did this change Jesus’s family situation?
Jesus was fully human, and He lived as a baby, and a child, and as a man. His ministry spanned only a short three years– less than a tenth of His earthly life. What did He see in those years? What did He learn? What did He “wonder?”
What if part of the process of Jesus’s earthly life was to remind us that God is with us from our earliest, neediest, and most vulnerable moments to our last breath? What if it was to remind us that even Jesus had “bad hair days” and skinned knees? That He came to experience ALL that is part of being human, including the long wait to grow to maturity and to fulfill His mission, and the hundred little obstacles of everyday life? Or maybe it was to remind us that there is awesome wonder in the ordinary–that even God found it worth marveling over those little moments with family or friends, or watching a glorious sunset, or catching a firefly.
It’s so easy for us to lose the wonder of the Christmas season. But it’s also easy to lose the wonder of those ordinary moments–a shared smile or tear, the excitement of someone else’s birthday, the taste of fresh-baked bread, the way the sun sparkles on the lake. Jesus came to redeem us. And in the process, He came to redeem our sense of Wonder, too.
Last week was the week of our local County Fair. We missed having a Fair last year, so people were pretty excited to go. The exhibits, the rides, the animals, the events and attractions, the food, the games…there was a little something for everyone. I love watching the faces of the children– their wonder and excitement is contagious as they see the various farm animals, or ride the Merry-Go-Round, or discover the joys of Cotton Candy and Elephant Ears.
I grew up with the County Fair– not just as a visitor, but as a participant. And I am encouraged to see a new generation showing animals, exhibiting craft projects, learning new skills, and having fun. Some of them will return as 4-H parents; some to work as judges or to volunteer at a booth for local churches, clubs or businesses ; some to visit from out of town with their own children and grandchildren. There is something about a County Fair that is simple and pure–something that can inspire childlike wonder, even in adults.
Childlikeness is something we are called to by Christ. He loved children, and He told His disciples that if they wanted to be part of God’s Kingdom, they would have to become like little children (See Matthew 18:2-4). We are to pray to Our Father, having childlike faith in His good will and His promise to hear us. Childlike faith is not “blind” faith. Children are often frightened by the big animals or loud noises at the Fair. And they tend, (especially small children) to want to hold hands or stay close to those they know. But they also want to see and experience “everything”– because they trust that their parents and the Fair organizers will not put them in jeopardy. A childlike attitude and trust in God brings us the kind of joy and peace we see in children as they discover, rejoice, explore, and enjoy life– especially during Fair week.
This is not to be confused with childishness. While Jesus encouraged His disciples to have childlike faith, He reminded them that the “children of Israel” had often behaved with childish disobedience and complaining. God is a loving Father. He wants children who follow Him out of love, and who trust Him completely. But He will also lovingly discipline those who have developed a childish rebellious streak. I didn’t see much childishness at this year’s fair, but when I did, it was not exhibited by children, but by those who consider themselves adults. Tantrums, selfish demands, complaining about the weather or the crowds or the noise… While the children at the fair were gracious “winners” and “losers” at the shows, patient and content (for the most part) as they waited for rides or food, some of the adults were grouchy, whine-y, and difficult to please. I’m sure I missed a couple of epic meltdowns by toddlers, and some tears from a few exhibitors, but most of the children were just thrilled to be able to go to the Fair again.
It is easy to recognize and call out childish behavior in others. Obnoxious, foolish, self-centered, unreasonable– those are just some of the adjectives such behavior warrants. A childlike attitude is also easy to recognize– eager, grateful, joyful, hopeful, teachable, honest and open, loving and caring. Oddly, I know several adults who sneer at childlike behavior, even as they exhibit childish behaviors. They brag about their very “adult” approach– cynical, “realistic,” confident, “tough,” clever, independent, and self-sufficient. But they are stressed, angry, bored, distrustful, lonely, and sad. Our loving Father wants so much better for us! Being with childish people is tiring and depressing; being around childlike people is refreshing, joyful, and encouraging!
I’ve been thinking this week about my own attitude. The County Fair is finished for this year, but each day comes with wonders and struggles, competitions, waiting in lines, and dealing with crowds. Do I face them with an attitude that is childlike or childish? Do I trust God to be with me when I go through new experiences, even if they are a bit daunting? Or do I complain and demand my own way, expecting to “win” every game or competition, dragging myself and others through stress and tears? Father, help me to see Your world through childlike eyes of wonder and gratitude. Help me to see others with the love and joy You alone can inspire.
If is a very short word, but it can cause a lot of trouble in our thoughts and prayer life. It seems harmless enough, but it can be very corrosive.
“If” is a speculative word. We waste precious time and energy on things that didn’t or haven’t happened. What if my circumstances were different? What if I had made other choices in my past? What if something happens to my health? “If” seems to promise a lot of possibilities, but it delivers nothing concrete.
“If” takes our focus away from the present. We spend time wondering “what if..” about the future, or “if only..” about our past. And “if” is passive. It causes us to focus on fear and regret, instead of action and accountability.
“If” only has two letters, but the first one is “I.” I don’t spend much time asking “if” someone else made the right choices (unless I’m judging them, which is also wrong), or if something good or bad will happen to my neighbors.
“If” doesn’t have to hurt our prayer life or take over our thoughts, but it must be kept in check. The Bible has a lot to say about letting the “ifs”, “what ifs”, and “if onlys” take over our thinking:
Matthew 6:25-28 Isaiah 35:4 John 14:27 Jeremiah 17: 7-8 Luke 12:28-30 Psalm 59:16 Philippians 4:6-7
The Bible also uses the word “if” to focus our minds and prayers on action and on God’s promises:
John 8:36 2 Chronicles 15:2 Romans 13:7 Proverbs 23:15 John 13:35 Deuteronomy 4:29 Romans 8:31 Psalm 139:7-8
There is a lot of power in that little word, “If.” If only we learn how to tame it!
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who just pretended to listen? They nod or make a sympathetic face, but clearly they have no idea what you are saying. Maybe they nodded at the wrong time, or even interrupted you with some comment that was completely off-topic.
God not only hears what we say to Him, He understands better than WE do!
That is not the case with us. We can be “Ever Hearing” but “Never Understanding,” just like the people of Israel during the ministry of the prophet Isaiah. (see Isaiah 6: 9-13) Isaiah brought warnings and prophetic judgments from God–calls for repentance and warnings of impending punishments. He spent years delivering the same message to hundreds of people. They heard his message, but they did not listen, understand, or repent. Jesus, in Mark 4:12 alludes to this passage in Isaiah– clearly, the people of his day were equally “deaf” to the truth, even though thousands came to hear Jesus speak
Jesus’ brother James, in his epistle, rephrases the same idea– “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 ESV) Just because we have believed the Good News does not make us immune to hearing without listening, understanding, and obeying.
We have thousands of Bible study books, websites, videos, broadcasts and webcasts, blogs, and live meetings–and, for many of us, they are free and easy to access. There are billboards, memes, t-shirts, Christian radio stations, and more, sharing scripture, testimonies, cartoons, songs, prayers, and more, 24 hours a day in almost every corner of the world and in most of the world’s languages.
But sometimes, the very prevalence of such material causes us to take it for granted; and our hearts and minds become numb to the glory of God’s wisdom and the urgency of His warnings. We hear that God is sovereign– and we say that we believe–but we act as though we know better than God how the world “should” be. We hear that God is gracious and merciful– and we sing praises for His mercy toward us– but we have no mercy for others who fall short of our expectations. We hear that God is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), but we act as though God favors the proud and self-sufficient.
Why would God command Isaiah to continue preaching to those who refuse to listen and obey? And why would Jesus follow in Isaiah’s footsteps– relying on parables and teaching the masses who misunderstood His Gospel?
Scholars have different theories, but I think there are two main reasons:
We know from examples and from experience that the same message that falls on “deaf”ears over many years can suddenly “click.” God know this better than anyone. He is patient and humble. God’s message doesn’t change, but sometimes, it takes a while to “seep in” to the heart and mind. Someone who is “ever hearing” may be processing more of the message than we know. God’s spirit whispers, and His truth can be drowned out, but it cannot be silenced. It is important for us to continue to speak, to write, and to LIVE the truth– not just for others, but to make sure we are still listening, understanding, and obeying the truth.
God IS truth. And God may whisper, but He will not be silent. God is mysterious, but not absent, or cold, or withdrawn. In Romans 1: 18-32, Paul says that God has revealed all of His invisible qualities in all of nature throughout all of time. We cannot say that we NEVER saw the glory of a sunset, or heard the power of thunder, or felt the warm kiss of the sun, or in some other way experienced the loving and majestic reality of God. We CHOOSE to ignore or rebel against God’s ever-present, all-gracious love.
What glories will we see, hear, and experience today? Will we be “ever hearing” but “never understanding” “how wide, and long and high and deep” (Ephesians 3:17-19) is the Love of Christ? I hope we will take every opportunity to listen, understand, and obey His call today!
“He rules the world with Truth and Grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His Righteousness And wonders of His Love.”
Christmas is a time of wonder. Even stories that have little to do with the birth of the Christ Child– Frosty the Snowman, or A Christmas Carol, or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas–involve miracles and wondrously unexpected transformations. We thrill to see redemption and hope triumph over gloom and bitterness. We cheer when the Grinch’s small heart grows three sizes, or when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer makes the team and leads Santa through a snowstorm. We want to believe that there is a special magic about the first snowfall of each year; that the very coming of Christmas Eve holds a special promise of Peace and Goodwill.
But the ultimate Wonder is that of God’s Love for us:
God SO LOVED the world– not because the world was lovable; not because the world’s people were just and kind and honorable; not because God was blinded to the world’s sickness and sorrows, and just wanted to feel “groovy” about the world…
That He GAVE– God didn’t just talk about Love and Joy and Peace– He GAVE–His only begotten Son. He, the creator, became the created– the ruler of the universe became a helpless baby born in a crowded city, banished to a barn because there was no room reserved for his coming. God gave lavishly, sacrificially, completely– He poured out His majesty to take on humanity, and then poured out his human life in service and sacrifice. He kept nothing back– none of his power to avoid injustice, shame, or death; none of his glory or majesty. He suffered the indignity of dusty roads, homelessness, sleepless nights, and crucifixion. He suffered the loneliness of misunderstanding and betrayal by his friends and family.
That WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM– Whosoever! Not the noble, not the rich, not the “eminently qualified,” not the beautiful or strong or intelligent “enough.” God yearns to bring the wonder of redemption to the very ones who are ready to give up; to those who know they don’t deserve God’s love and grace; to those who have not known joy or peace, only darkness and grief– those who cannot earn God’s favor can have it in abundance, if only they believe that God exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)
SHALL NOT PERISH, but have everlasting/eternal life–What a wonderful promise! Wonderful because it is beyond our ability to fathom; wonderful because it is undeserved and unexpected; wonderful because it is the ultimate expression of limitless, eternal LOVE. We think of Death as inevitable and permanent–But Christ came to show us that death is temporary and powerless! Hope and Joy, Love and Peace– they have already WON. They are the reality– the rest is only a vapor.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing. Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy. No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.
Joy to the World– words by Isaac Watts
Advent is a time of preparation– joyful preparation. It is an oxymoron to say it, but it is a time when we remember with anticipation. It is a time to once again prepare our hearts for the arrival of an event that happened over two thousand years ago. Each year, we look backward to look forward! And we prepare as though it were all happening anew– the announcement of the angels, the travels of Mary and Joseph and their arrival in Bethlehem, the wise men following a star..
And we prepare for this year’s festivities– the gifts, the food, the decorations, the invitations and greeting cards, programs and parties, caroling and shopping…But in the midst of it all, hopefully, we prepare our hearts to be rekindled, reawakened to the wonder– beyond the star and angels and virgin birth–the wonder that God would ransom the lost, break the chains of sin and death, redeem the fallen and weary world, and pour all of his Glory into the frail cries of a newborn baby. All the rest of the preparation is meaningless if we don’t prepare to be overwhelmed again by the “glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.”
“Lord, may our hearts be prepared to accept the wonder and joy of this season. May we have new hearts for the wonders of your great Love for us– that you would humble yourself to live among fallen men and women, and die to set them free. That you would rise triumphant, so that we need not fear death. Thank you for this indescribable gift. Once again, let Earth receive her King with joy as all of heaven and nature sing!”
Years ago, Louis Armstrong recorded a song, called “What a Wonderful World.” Video and lyrics here. It’s a pleasant song, pointing out all the wonderful things to see and hear in the world around us…people sharing greetings, day and night, rainbows, children…but it is also a wistful song. Armstrong sings it as an observer, more than a participant. He sees all the wonder of the world around him, and he sees hope for the future. The flowers and rainbows are there for all to see; but the greetings are not for him; the children are not his and will surpass him in knowledge and opportunity.
I could name a dozen other songs or poems with similarly ambivalent messages; songs about smiling, hiding one’s tears, hoping for tomorrow and happy days returning. Such songs acknowledge that our world is filled with wonder, beauty, and joy; they also acknowledge that sprinkled amid the wonder there is heartache and disappointment.
It is tempting in times of hardship to focus on the negative and miss the wonder that still exists around us. It can also be tempting to resent the joy others experience as they soak in the wonder that seems to taunt us.
Some people ask, “How can you believe in God when you see all the pain and suffering and evil in the world?” And others answer, almost flippantly, “How can you doubt God when you see all the beauty and grandeur in the world?” To someone who is in pain, this is the kind of answer that rubs salt in open wounds. It’s not that the answer lacks logic or merit, but it is devoid of compassion.
The truth is, that even in the midst of extreme suffering, we DO live in a wonderful world. The sun still shines, there are still rainbows, and happy children, and, most of all, HOPE.
The Bible speaks of hope as one of the “remaining” virtues– Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love). We hear this, and study it, and recite it, but do we really appreciate it for the wonder it is? Hope may fade in the midst of chaos, but it is not easily suppressed or smothered. Hope gives us strength when we are struggling; it gives us a reason to look up from the ashes and see the sun. Hope gives us the motivation to work and build after a disaster; to risk new adventures; to plan for a future.
Our world needs hope–we need encouragement to reach out; to build and rebuild our communities; to look forward with vision, and set goals to reach that vision. And we need hope to turn our eyes to the source of that hope– for we do not hope in vain!
Even in our fallen world, God is wooing us with wonder, beauty, joy, and HOPE. What we will find in the redeemed world is beyond our wildest imagination