Saturday, December 21, 2013

Catch the Wonder

     "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:2 NIV1984)
     I promised last week to write about how to "de-Grinch" Christians, and that I will do, but God has been re-shaping what I planned to say quite a bit (no surprise there, eh?). In fact, I am quite convinced that the most effective way to avoid being a Christian Grinch is simply to catch the wonder of this season and hold onto it. It's when we become distracted away from the wonder of the Incarnation that we head towards "Grinch-ness," I think. 
     But as a recovering Grinch myself, one who was a "Grinch" for all the right reasons (commercialization of Christmas, overwhelming materialism and greed, replacing Jesus with Santa, etc.), I offer a few more thoughts about how to de-Grinch oneself. Maybe they will help a few others rid themselves of "Grinchness."
     First, "don't be afraid." It seems to me that one of the core messages of the Nativity stories is the message "Don't be afraid." I wrote some thoughts on this two years ago, and I won't repeat myself today (you can read that entry by clicking this link), but it seems to me that we tend to be more likely to be Grinchy when we look at the dark world around us rather than the light that has dawned upon it. Our world is a scary and dark place, our nation a deeply divided and troubled nation, our culture is increasingly godless, so it's easy to become frightened when we look at these things, but a shift of focus to the One who is a called "Wonderful" will banish fear quite readily. The world today is no darker than the world our Lord Jesus first entered, and as John tells us "The light shines on in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:9). Catch the wonder of this, and let it melt away your fears and it will become increasingly hard to be Grinchy when you hear about Silent Night being rewritten to eliminate Jesus or other such things. :-)
     Second, ask God to show you how to be known for what you are for, more than what you are against. I have written many times before on the irony of those we are called to reach viewing us as "the enemy," so I won't say much about this today. But it seems to me that the huge message of the Incarnation is that God is for people, not against them. Luke 2:10 tells us that the "good news of great joy" is "for all people," and I'm sure that includes those who don't know that! But my sense is that the more we reflect the joy message to others around us the more we will for sure "keep Christ in Christmas." And perhaps we should especially reflect this to those who seem opposed to us--something we can do if we aren't afraid of them and their opposition. Just a thought :).
     Third, try living above the culture, counter to it in the best sense of the word by refusing to get caught up in its greed, covetousness, materialism. Ask the Holy Spirit to immunize you to the "latest and greatest" pitches that attempt to entice us to buy, buy, buy. Consider the possibility that your child or grandchildren might survive life without "the toy that everyone just has to have." And perhaps you might also consider helping your children share beyond your family (many believers do this already, but just in case you haven't thought of it).  A few less gifts under the tree because there are gifts and other blessings with those in need is a good and lasting lesson for children, I think. And when it's done with joy and compassion it leaves a compelling mark on our families that shines without condemning, methinks.
     Finally, consider the deeper wonder of this season: Jesus' birth marks for all time God's intention to bring greater good into our world than would have been possible if evil that has twisted His creation had not come. Yes, as unthinkable as that sounds, we serve the God who "works all things out according to his predetermined plan" (Ephesians 1:11b), and that means that His goodness went deeper and farther when the adversary opposed Him. So as the light shines on in the darkness, consider the wonder of the One whose goodness cannot be hindered, whose love cannot be stopped, whose light cannot be extinguished (or even diminished), whose plans cannot be thwarted. Consider the wonder that all of this is for you personally and potentially for all other people as well and step into God's healing, peace-bringing embrace. My sense is that neither fear nor Grinchness can stay long in the hearts of those who catch this wonder and are captured by its brightness. 

Captured by the wonder, marveling at the greater good,

Tom, one of Abba's little children 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Inside, not the Outside!

     I had planned on how to avoid being a Christian Grinch today, but I will save that for next week. I am writing today while fighting off an infection, and I don't have the brain space required to write down all of my thoughts about how de-Grinch oneself.
     So today I mostly share from some of my journal entries along the general theme of focusing on the internal rather the external. Why do that? Because focusing on the less important, external things seems to be the human condition--one that believers in Jesus too often remain stuck in even after many God encounters. In spite of Jesus' many words about the "heart," motives, thoughts, and the like, it just seems easier to deal with externals at times, eh? (behavior, healing the body without regard to the soul or relationships, getting financial relief without learning deep confidence in Papa's kindness, etc.).
     So here are a couple of journal entries wherein I reflect about this. Maybe they will serve you in some small way. I will add a couple of comments along the way, but they are mostly as they were written at the time--a good view into my relationship with Papa, if nothing else.
     Regarding "Doing the Right Thing," an entry from June 1 this year. (Kate is one of our nine very special grandchildren--a charming 3 1/2 year who regularly captures her grandpa's attention and heart!): "Papa, I smile a little as I remember your reminder early this morning to heed my own counsel, posted on Twitter yesterday: 'Real change happens when we shift our focus from doing the right thing to becoming the ‘right person’ by being with the right Person and the right people.' It hit me that a lot of my struggles of late derive from my extreme desire to do the right thing. That has always been my main point of stumbling and vulnerability to attack from the accuser, Papa, but I thought I had placed it in the proper perspective. Perhaps the train wreck knocked it loose, eh? But it’s more likely that the painful journey just exposed deeper roots. So here I am, Papa, aware of my great and continuing need to have you work even more change in my heart and thinking. It is important, of course, to do the right thing, but making doing the focus instead of having it flow from a transformed heart always seems to lead me to sadness and stuckness. And seeing Kate’s childlikeness this morning: her innocent and truly joyful and carefree smile, pierced me deeply. That’s what childlikeness really means! Ah, Papa. And knowing you as Father, truly knowing you, will lead to that same kind of childlikeness in us, won’t it? Help me to keep that picture in my mind a lot, please."
     Regarding "Healing what really matters in the way that matters," another entry on the same day: "Ah, Papa. Wisdom flows from you this morning. I think of ministering healing to stress-related diseases, and you show me that people often settle for asking only to end of the symptoms instead of asking you to heal their hearts and thinking (paradigms which power perspective which powers emotion, as suggested in The Shack.)
     "Yes, you give me yet another big thought! We keep asking you to change circumstances, change external things, and you want to give us a much greater gift: changing us so that circumstances no longer dictate how we live life! And then I 'just happen' to see the quote posted on FB from The Unhurried Life! “The way of Jesus is too slow, inefficient and painful. Jesus’ resourcefulness is love, ours is money ...we want Jesus to step it up to make things happen at our pace rather than slowing down our pace to match His. His is the pace of caring and concern not an arbitrary pace of productivity or so-called efficiency." (p. 77). Ah, Papa. (but slow is scary, Papa!)"
     One final thought, not from my journal but from God's journal (The Bible). Take a look at Jesus' model prayer and the prayers of the Apostle Paul and see what you find. My sense is that you may find a clear emphasis upon praying to/from the inside. Consider just this one example: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge –that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV1984)

Looking for the heart of the matter…

Tom, one of Abba's children