A NIGHTMARE

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

 

Have you ever had a nightmare that was so real and so horrible, but you couldn’t seem to wake up and escape? I’ve had this recurring dream for weeks now—it started around Thanksgiving. It was so dreadful, I must give you a trigger warning. This may even disturb you and your sleeping.
In my dream, people were preparing for Thanksgiving—for traveling to be with family or planning dinner menus, the various things we do to celebrate. But instead of anticipating seeing loved ones, the conversations around me swirled with the busy-ness of the season, the crowds at the stores, the stress of traveling—not the joy of thanksgiving. “How were the lines?” and “Who do you think will be there?” and “I can’t decide what to make,” were some of the questions and comments I was hearing. Instead of thankfulness, it seemed that dread and anxiety were the order of the day.  In my dream, we scraped through Thanksgiving with lots of talk about the work involved, the time it took to prepare, and the exhaustion. People were so glad to “get over with it” so they could relax. But the worst was still ahead: Christmas.
When I worked for several months in Uganda, it was common for the government to announce a holiday on the radio the night before said holiday. That meant that all the banks would be closed; offices would be shut down; many stores would not be serving; and people were generally inconvenienced. But we’re not subject to that sort of ambiguity. All our lives we know that Christmas with its activities will arrive on December 25. But in my dream, I kept hearing, “I have so many things to do.” “I’m not ready.” “There are lots of parties.” “I’m so tired.” “I’m so stressed.” “I can hardly wait until the holidays are over.”
The nightmare was so upsetting, I wanted to scream. Instead, I woke up relieved that it was just a dream. A very bad dream. We have had a whole year to plan for the celebration of Christ’s coming, plenty of time. We have that peace that was promised by the angels; no need to stress. We have the joy of realizing that Baby Boy brings salvation and hope; no need to worry. We have the gifts given us by the Spirit; including patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self control, faithfulness. Actually, we have everything we need to enjoy the seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.
Joy to the world. THE LORD IS COME. Let’s celebrate.

Father, forgive us when we get caught up in materialism and the world. We are part of your Kingdom. Help us to live as citizens of the Kingdom, always glorifying and honoring you with great joy. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

TIME

My times are in your hands… Psalm 31:15

 

Have you noticed how strategically God treats time throughout the Bible—and our lives? In the West, we tend to think of time as something we control and as a commodity we can save or dispense or use as we see fit. To the contrary, the psalmist says that God has time in his hands. Once again, we’re called to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all things. Even time.
We’re often reminded at memorial services of that excellent writing by Solomon:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
Essentially, God has a schedule and time for everything that was, that is, and that will come. Throughout Scripture, God used prophets to speak promises of things to come according to his timing. Then, as now, he was working through the circumstances to prepare his people for fulfillment and for his coming. The role of his children has always been to be faithful during the intervening period; to walk in obedience; to do all to his glory; and to live in expectation.
What happens when we get out of sync with God and revert to our own timetables? (By the way, have you ever noticed the way we always use the possessive “my” when we talk of time—“my” time?) Look at Jacob who tricked Esau into surrendering his birthright rather than waiting on God’s timing (Genesis 26:37-27:45). Aaron tired of waiting on Moses and created a golden calf for the people to worship (Exodus 32:1-35). Saul got impatient waiting for the Prophet Samuel and offered the sacrifice that only the priest was commissioned to do (I Samuel 13:9). There are others, but I wonder if Judas was one of them? Was he tired of waiting for Jesus to reveal himself as the Messiah? We know the disasters that occurred when these men didn’t wait for God’s timing.
Apparently, God values waiting in the making of his saints. Being patient is not something that comes naturally. In fact, it seems that we are inherently impatient. Slipping through yellow lights; counting the minutes waiting in line; incessantly checking the clock… Perhaps that’s why God made provision for patience to grow in us as his Spirit becomes dominant. There’s no sense in trying to achieve patience without God’s help. We want what we want NOW. My African friends say, “You Americans have watches. We have time.”
God has time. He’s never too quick, and he’s never late. He makes things work together, and “in the fullness of time,” his time, his timetable, all things work together. When he sees that we are ready; when the world is ready; when the circumstances are just right.
At this Christmas time when all Christendom celebrates the coming of the Christ child, let us give ourselves anew to God’s sovereignty in our lives, to his complete control in all circumstances, and to trust in his unconditional, unchanging love. And let us give up the idea that time is “ours” so that God may go about his work in his way, in his time.

 

Father, do all things according to your wisdom. We trust, and we wait. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

PILGRIMAGE

Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 2:6 (NLT)

Have you read “Pilgrim’s Progress” recently? That venerable tome written by John Bunyan was first published in the 17th Century as a result of time spent in Bedford jail in England and, apart from the Bible, became the best-selling book in publishing history.
In “Pilgrim’s Progress” Christian leaves the City of Destruction in a perilous journey to the Celestial City. As long as he obeys his guides, remembers the teachings, and holds to the path, he escapes the dangers inherent along the way. When he becomes distracted, he finds himself beset by any number of disturbances that cause him great grief and, occasionally, great pain. But there is always help for him.
Even though written hundreds of years ago, the path for pilgrims is still the same. Distractions abound and temptations surround the Christian. Just as the Pilgrim made progress by keeping to the path, by obeying those things he had been taught, and by keeping his focus on the Celestial City and the King, we can successfully negotiate the narrow way. We have a Guide who can be trusted, and experience should teach us the merits of listening to him rather than formulating our own direction.
Let us take advantage of this upcoming New Year to learn and become more astute in recognizing distractions as a danger to our growth and advancement. And we can set our sights on the high calling in Christ Jesus who has promised always to be with us and to lead us home.
Take time to read (or re-read) Bunyan’s classic. It will affirm, encourage, and inspire you.  And you very well may identify with some of the characters and much of the journey.

 

Father, thank you for those who have gone before us and who share their wisdom with those who follow. May we do the same. AMEN.

BUSY-NESS

 

Be still, and know that I am God… Psalms 46:10
During this time of Advent, a season for preparation and waiting, we are encouraged to be still, to meditate, and to ponder on Jesus’ birth and his second coming. Does this spiritual expectation seem oxymoronic when juxtaposed with our Western version of Christmas? How many people in our culture do you know who are quietly reflecting on and anticipating December 25?

Several weeks ago, I heard Dr. Gordon T. Smith talk about the vocational holiness to which God calls each of us in our pursuit of spiritual growth. He defined vocational holiness as “what God calls each of us to do” in our individual lives “without frenetic busy-ness.” Moving about our individual, daily calling peacefully instead of the feverish distraction that often characterizes our days.

I’ve often jokingly said that a discovery I made years ago radically changed my life, and that was that Christmas comes on December 25 EVERY YEAR. That allows me to begin planning weeks and months in advance of the holiday so that by the time of Advent I can begin to quietly reflect on Jesus and my journey with him.

It’s not just the Christmas season that finds us frenetic. Can you think of other times where you’re frantically pursuing your calling, always seeming to be behind the almighty schedule, always mastered by the unrelenting clock? (My African friends tell me that we have watches while they have time.)

A good resolution for the New Year might be to ponder what being still and living in peace would look like in our lives. How would that manifest itself in our holy vocations? Apparently, the reward for stillness is “knowing.”
Father, set us free from the stress and anxiety that is often the product of our own frenzy. Teach us to be quiet and to wait on you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

ENJOY

 

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. I Timothy 6:17

Are you ready for the holidays? Are you ready to jump in and savor all the goodness God has prepared? Will these next few weeks find you rejoicing in the Lord always or are you the Grinch who doesn’t want anyone to sing or make merry?

I recently watched “Babette’s Feast,” Isak Dinesen’s book turned into a beautiful, thought-provoking film about a strict, religious community on the coast of Jutland. As happens often with folks preoccupied with their own piety, the townspeople find themselves in a quandary when a transplanted Frenchwoman sacrificially provides a gourmet meal for them. These church people who have lived for years in self-denial and austere asceticism can come to only one conclusion: We will eat, but we won’t taste. Despite the sin they have each carried for decades, the Jutlanders are determined to maintain their external holiness.

It appears that Jesus’ contemporaries struggled with much the same issues: keep the Law but avoid looking at internal workings. In his beatitudes, Jesus reminds his listeners repeatedly, “You have heard it said…but I say…” He wanted to move his followers from the letter of the Law to the intent of the Law and its effect on the heart.

Years ago, I remember a family who had house guests who’d traveled some distance for a visit. Rather than practicing the ministry of hospitality and showing Christ’s love, they left their guests to attend their church. They missed an opportunity to live out their faith in their rigid adherence to the “laws” they’d accepted. And their guests left just as lost as they were when they arrived.

The upcoming holidays (read “holy days”) provide us multiple opportunities to share our joy and Good News with those pre-Christians among us. But we have to get out of our “holier-than-thou” modes, be in the world, but not of the world. Remember, Jesus was anointed with joy above his brothers (Psa. 45:7) and was so attractive that people were drawn to him and his message. It was the religionists who never understood.

Let’s celebrate the holidays, remembering the Reason for the Season, and draw others to the love and joy of Jesus in us. Rejoice always, remembering God has given us all things to enjoy.

 

Father, remove from us the pride and judgmental attitudes that cause us to see others through critical lenses rather than your eyes of love. Fill us with your joy and open us to the oil of gladness that infectiously draws and blesses the world around us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.