The Day After Christmas

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20 NIV)

 

Ok. So here we are. The tree is bare. The used wrapping paper has been thrown away. And the holiday sugar crash has come and gone. Now, we are just trying to figure out how soon we want to step back on the treadmill. Some of us had a day off from work since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, but we are already beginning to look at our compressed schedules for the week and wondering, “Can I get everything done?” And the kids, who were so excited at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, are beginning to say, “I’m bored.” (Except for the one who got a Samsung Gear VR. He’s happily spinning in a chair, detached from his family, entertaining himself in another world)

Some of us had a day off from work since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, but we are already beginning to look at our compressed schedules for the week and wondering, “Can I get everything done?” And the kids, who were so excited at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, are beginning to say, “I’m bored.” (Except for the one who got a Samsung Gear VR. He’s happily spinning in a chair, detached from his family, entertaining himself in another world)

We’ve looked at the decorations once, but we don’t want to deal with that now. And the leftovers. Who’s going to eat all of that food? Our mind’s eye pictures the treadmill again. Maybe if I set it at just a slightly higher incline…

But it’s no use. We feel exhausted just thinking about summoning the energy needed for everything that lies ahead.

Is this what God intended for Christmas to be like?

Sometimes I wonder.

Our tradition of gift giving comes from the “three” (there could have been more) wise men. But they did not arrive to give their gifts until Jesus was around 2 years old. On the night of His birth, however, there was only one gift given to the Christ child.

No. Not “the gift of life.” That’s too obvious. And for a God who was preexistent, unnecessary.

No, what Christ received the night of His birth was both simple and profound. Summoned by a great company of angels, a throng of smelly shepherds searched every place in Jerusalem that had a manger until they discovered the sight of the nativity. There, surrounded by a small contingent of animals, a man and a woman bent over the small wooden trough and marveled at their newborn son. It must have been awkward for the parents to have this band of men peek their heads in and ask to view the baby. But they allowed it. And when the shepherds saw the angels’ message was true, it was then and only then that they gave their gift to the Christ.

What was the shepherds’ gift?

They gave the gift of praise.

Appropriate. Don’t you think?

In the true spirit of Christmas, “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” Yes, the one Christmas gift that Christ received on his birthday is the same gift we seem to fail to give him every year.

We are so focused on giving to each other (and, let’s be honest, on receiving as well) that we forget to give the one gift that persists and remains relevant even 2000 years later.

Praise.

So, let’s take a moment. If this day after Christmas is leaving you feeling blah-hungover, maybe it’s time to put the focus back on the person it is intended to celebrate. Maybe today can be the beginning of exhilarated rejoicing of a promise fulfilled to all humanity. Maybe today we can begin to see Christmas for what it really is. God. In the flesh. As a baby. Given to mankind to take away the sins of the world.

If that’s not something to celebrate, you may have your priorities wrong.

 

(Quote from Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”)

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Neuroscience and Jesus


This is my dog, Hobbes. And he barks.

A lot.

A car goes by. My dog barks. A neighbor walks past our house. My dog barks. The mailman drives past. My dog (cliché that he is) barks. And heaven help the little Girl Scout who rings the doorbell. The only threat she poses is to my wallet, and I am convinced that if dogs could understand the joy of chocolate, Hobbes would stand on his hind legs, put on a pair of reading glasses, and write her a check himself for a truckload of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties.

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Quick Thoughts: Suddenly 

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

Mal. 3:1 

Whether it is waiting in line at the amusement park or for our company to announce who will be included in this round of layoffs, waiting is never an easy thing to do . I suppose that is because waiting is mostly passive in nature. There’s not much to do when we wait, except take a long look at the ceiling, inhale deeply, and sigh. After a while our imagination begins to pose hypotheticals to us. Mostly it’s the brain’s way of saying, “I’m bored,” and if we could treat our mind like the 7-year-old ADHD child that it is, we would be ok. But when we begin to believe the stories about the monsters being true, we forget that God is a preparing God as well as a God of the suddenly.
I cannot presume what phase you may be in right now, and I know God seems to take His time with a lot of His plans and promises; but without the suddenly occurring, God’s preparations are muted. Imagine how poorly we would understand Him as Creator without the suddenly of “Let there be light.” How He could not have been fully realized as Savior with the suddenly of His resurrection. Or how He would not be clearly seen as King of Kings without the suddenly of His return.

Behind every moment of suddenly is a season of preparation. Those may be long, dry days for you but they are not without promise. They are not without hope. And they do not have to be without action. 

Just as a farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, and irrigates the land, so we too can actively join God in His work as we wait for the harvest of His preparations to arrive. Your role may seem insignificant now, but you cannot anticipate a bounty if you will not go out into the fields. 

So pray to God. Actively seek His moment of suddenly. It is out there. It is waiting for you. Like the dawn, it will not be there. 

And then it will. Radiant and awe-inspiring and beautiful. 

The Lord that you desire will come, breaking out against the night. There will be no more preparations, for He will suddenly be here.

Remember What You Have

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November 10, 2016.

3:43 p.m.

My phone notifies me that my wife has texted me. I am finishing up an appointment with a client and think to myself, “Ok. I’ll call when we’re done.”

3:44 p.m.

My wife calls me on my phone. I decline the call. Whatever she needs is obviously urgent. I begin to hurry my session to a close.

3:45 p.m.

She calls back a second time. This is our signal for 911. I excuse myself from my meeting and answer the call.

“Hello.”

“Mark! You need to leave. Right.  Now. Luke and his friends were crossing the street near the bus stop and have been hit by a pickup. The police say they need a parent on the scene.”

Images of a lifeless, bloody body laying on the ground cloud my mind, making it hard to catch my breath.

“Mark?”

“I’m on it,” I exclaim, rushing out the door with only a brief explanation to my client and our receptionists.

Twenty minutes later I arrive at the scene. The police have gone. The paramedics have left, and a call to my son tells me that he is now at home.

When I walk into the house, I find him sitting at his computer, eating a Pop-Tart.

“Why are you home early,” he asks.

I raise my eyebrows. “Uhhh. Because you were hit by a truck?”

“I’m okay, Dad,” he says. “Really. It’s not that big a deal.” He points to a small abrasion on his wrist that is about an inch in length.

He tells me that he and two of his friends decided to go to the park near our house after getting off of the bus. As they were crossing the street, they noticed a pickup truck stopped at the stop sign facing them. Initially, they waited for him to go, but when he remained stopped, they decided it was safe to cross. However, once they were halfway into the street, the truck began to make his right-hand turn and hit all three of them. My son saw the truck coming and jumped back enough to only be clipped by the vehicle’s side mirror. One of his friends, though, suffered a bruised rib, and the other had two fractured wrists.

I hug my son and breathe a sigh of relief.

Later that night I tell my wife, “You never realize how quickly your life can take a left turn into hell.”

She nuzzles herself into me on the couch and begins a refrain that we will take turns repeating for the rest of the evening: “I’m just so thankful. It could have been much, much worse.”

A week and a half later I am still chilled at the idea of what could have happened, and I find myself randomly thanking God for His protection and grace.

It is a gift I do not deserve. No amount of good deeds could have been exchanged for the life of my son. He is of infinite value and I am a man of limited resources. If God were to weigh me on the scales of justice, I would always be found wanting. And I am acutely aware that there are others in the world who have not been as fortunate as I, so I cannot claim that some cosmic “fairness” is owed to me.  I can only express appreciation and gratitude for being allowed to have my boy, first as a life loaned to me from God and now as a life spared.

But that is the nature of thankfulness, I suppose. One cannot appreciate what he has unless he juxtaposes it against the tragedy of its potential loss. And it is this juxtaposition that lays the foundation for the joy in whatever we have. This is as true for children as it is for jobs, marriages, finances, health, or lessons learned through life.

Too often we forget to measure the breadth and depth of our blessings and falsely presume that they will endure continually. But everything we love, everyone we treasure, every possession we hold dear can vanish in an instant. Everything in life, even life itself, melts away like the morning dew, and if we do not acutely attune ourselves to the transient nature of all our blessings, we will fail to be thankful for what we have been given. Nor will we recognize how God abundantly displays His goodness in our lives.

This holiday season, before you carve the turkey and watch the football game, take time to walk around the house. Reflect on how far you have come over the years. Enjoy how the crisp autumn air has gradually wrapped each tree in thin brown paper. Have a conversation with each person who is at your home. Revisit your favorite memories. Tell a story or two. Laugh with each other.

What is here today can be gone tomorrow.

Remember what you have. And be thankful.

 

 

EXTRA! EXTRA!

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For over a year I have been writing the blog “Living in the Tent.” Initially, I tailored my blog to express how to live a Christian life, both from a theological perspective and a relationship perspective. As a Christian marriage therapist, I felt this would be a great way to blend both of my passions into one expression.

However, as I began to review this blog last month I realized that the majority of my posts on here were more of a devotional nature and less about relationships. I still enjoy writing about how to manage one’s marriage successfully, but I have to recognize that this blog is no longer able to sustain a dual focus. Therefore, I have decided to do the only thing that anyone with a passion for writing, loving God, and helping couples can do…I’m starting a second blog!

This blog will remain intact and continue to deliver the devotional posts that you have been reading. However, my new blog will take up the mantle of providing relationship advice for couples. As anyone can tell you, a wedding is one thing but a marriage is a whole other animal. That is why I decided to create After the Aisle. If any of you are interested in my new blog and the relationship advice that I will be giving there, please click here and check it out. I hope you enjoy it!