Friday, December 16, 2011

I Hit Santa Claus

This week’s post is a story I wrote last Christmas. I hope you enjoy the repeat; it’s one that means a ton to me. God bless and Merry Christmas!

Before my small group pastor days, I worked for a little company called United Parcel Service. I was a delivery driver with the brown truck and the brown uniform. Now, UPS is a wonderful company and I’m very grateful for the 16 years I had employment there. But, there was a certain time of year that I dreaded—it was Christmas. From Thanksgiving until the day before Christmas, UPS was a tough place to work because certain difficult elements collided all at once, making a perfect storm of misery for me. First, the work load jumped dramatically because of holiday shopping. Second, the time changed, making daylight hours shorter. And third, snow began to fall. Lots of packages and long, cold, snowy, dark days combined for enormous pressure. My cynicism grew every December and to be totally honest, I grew to hate Christmas.

On one of those cold, dark evenings, my cynicism busted open. It had been a long day. It had snowed all day and I was way behind. I knew I was going to be working deep into the evening. The streets were dark and house numbers were hard to read. My feet were wet and my soul was dark as I approached yet another house with package in hand. I placed it on the dry porch, rang the door bell and began to return to my truck, all the while smelling someone’s supper cooking. All I could think about was why I wasn’t home enjoying a warm dinner with my wife and kids. But as I stepped off the porch, a bright object caught the corner of my eye. It was a Santa Claus lawn ornament—you know, the Santa with a big grin, waving at all who pass by. It was as if this particular Santa was laughing at me that night and I realized at that moment—that stupid Santa represented my misery. Then, in a weak moment, something in me caused me to act on my distain. So...I cuffed Santa. Yeah, I hit him. The back of my hand smacked Santa so hard that he toppled face first into the snow. For a half second, I felt bad and almost went to pick him up… but I didn’t. I left his stupid grin, face down in the cold snow.

For years, I wrestled with the whole concept of Christmas. What’s the point? Why celebrate the birth of Jesus? It just gets twisted and out of hand anyway. And, other than Easter, we don’t celebrate other things that Jesus did. We don’t have Transfiguration parties. We don’t rejoice on the day that Jesus was baptized. We don’t have Miracle Mondays. Why Christmas? Why all the big commotion for his birth?

Oh, I knew all the right answers, but each year I had to find a time to slow myself down and let the real significance of Christmas resonate deeply in my soul. If I didn’t, I’d get caught up in the trappings and cynicism of the season. For many years, a chapter from Max Lucado’s book, God Came Near helped me. Each time I read it, I was reminded of the greatest thing that God ever did for human beings—he became man. God incarnate. God in human skin. God dwelling with us. God dying for us. As I type some words from this chapter, tears still flow from my eyes as I reflect on how God came near for me. I hope they encourage you as well.

It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment. As moments go, that one appeared no different than any other... It was one of the countless moments that have marked time since eternity became measurable.

But in reality, that particular moment was like none other. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created… God had come near.

It all happened in a moment. In one moment…a most remarkable moment. The Word became flesh.

There will be another. The world will see another instantaneous transformation. You see, in becoming man, God made it possible for man to see God. When Jesus went home he left the back door open. As a result, “we will all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”

The first moment of transformation went unnoticed by the world. But you can bet your sweet September that the second one won’t. The next time you use the phrase “just a moment,” …remember that’s all the time it will take to change this world.

Excerpts from “Just a Moment” by Max Lucado, 1987 (Multnomah Press) To read the entire chapter online, go to

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ordinary... Extraordinary

As is the custom, when someone new comes to our small group, we go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell a piece of our story. On a particular night this fall when a new couple joined us for their first night, I asked the group to share who had been the three most significant people in their lives. I love listening to people answer this question because it brings out some great stories and it shows who people value most.

When the time came for my wife to answer the question, I knew who one of her choices would be—me! Well, I hoped for that but I knew there was someone else who had a huge impact on who she become as a person. It was her Grandma Lottie. Janice had grown up on one of those country roads where family farms and farm houses scattered the landscape. Her grandparents lived just a short walk from her home. Lottie was a quiet woman, yet was very emotionally strong and stable. Her husband, a former farmer and carpenter, had a massive stroke when he was in his sixties that left him physically debilitated. Though he was unable to walk and struggled to communicate, Lottie remained his primary caregiver in their home. She served his needs for several years without ever a word of complaint until he peacefully passed away in their home.

If you were to have met Lottie, you probably wouldn’t have been overly impressed at your first meeting. She was quiet, simple, and very ordinary. She would not stand out in a crowd and would be a wallflower at a social gathering. But, her impact on people was profound. You could say it was extraordinary. Lottie’s home was an open refuge to her grandkids. She would always stop what she was doing to make a relational connection with someone who walked in her door. This was especially important to Janice during a tumultuous time in her high school years. When Janice was 14, her mom was involved in a head-on collision which left her hospitalized for several months. During that year of her life, Janice’s mom went through a ton of adjustments dealing with the aftereffects of her accident. As you can imagine, this had a tremendous impact on Janice’s world as a teenage girl. She needed a safe place and her grandma’s house was always that for her. A few years before Lottie’s death, Janice wrote her a beautiful poem of gratitude. The poem now hangs framed in our bedroom as an intimate reminder of Janice’s wonderful heritage. Now eight years after Lottie’s death, Janice can’t read that poem without a tear coming to her eye. She knows that her grandmother had much to do with the person she has become.

As I read scripture, I’m always impressed with how God chose to use very ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Just look at the characters in the Christmas story. There are the lowly shepherds, a simple carpenter, and teenager girl. These regular people are living very regular lives. Even God enters the story as something ordinary to any family—a baby. Mary would intimately carry the baby through pregnancy. She would nurse and care and love this child. Joseph would protect and guide this young, vulnerable family. And the sheep watchers, they got to be the first witnesses and guests of Jesus. This is a personal and ordinary setting with some very simple and ordinary people. Yet, God chooses this intimate place to do something as grand and cosmic as he has ever done in history.

So how does God do the extraordinary with those of us who are pretty ordinary folk? Well, as you read through Mary’s story this week in Luke 1, you may find one key answer. A message is delivered to this girl through an angel that she’ll become divinely pregnant with God’s Son. This Son will be the long awaited Messiah who will sacrifice himself to take away the sins of the world. Though Mary is overwhelmed with this news, and I’m sure filled with a lot of questions about her role, her response is beautiful:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1.38

What a profound statement from an ordinary girl! “God, I’m yours. I’ll do what you ask. I want your plan to work out.” Perhaps being used by God in an extraordinary fashion begins with humble statements driven by a willing and submissive heart.
Lottie and Mary were probably a lot alike; humble and ordinary women whom God used extraordinarily to impact future generations. Today, start with Mary’s humble statement as a prayer for this day and this season. Then ask for something extraordinary.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More Than Imagined

Haiti is a hard place in which to sleep. On a mission trip this summer, I learned this in a profound way. It was still 90 degrees when we went to bed. The small fans we shared gave minimal relief. The bed felt more like a summer camp bunk than my comfortable bed at home. The excitement of the day swirled in my brain as I closed my eyes each night. The sounds of the street—car horns, goats, chickens, barking dogs—were constant disruptions. But then there was one more thing—a 17 year old American kid named Zac in the bunk next to me. Every night, he’d sit on his bunk and journal page after page about his experiences of the day. He wasn’t noisy at all, he just needed the light on.

I thought about asking him to find a time earlier in the evening to do this, but it seemed that this was an important time for him. I learned later that journaling was not something he did at home, but rather this was special to his week in Haiti. It was evident that something very personal was happening to him. I sure didn’t want to disrupt that. So, I would pop in my headphones, close my eyes and listen to some music as I reflected on my experiences that day. The light would eventually go off and sleep would come to everyone.

Last week, I got to sit with Zac and talk about the trip. It has been four months since we were in Haiti. Zac was preparing for a presentation he will make to his high school about his trip. He asked me for some help in preparing for his talk. We brainstormed outlines, outcomes, and stories. At the end of our conversation, he went to his car and came back with his journal. He asked me to read it to see if there were any stories I thought needed to be highlighted. He had so much to tell and needed some help narrowing things down a bit.

As I read his journal, I was impressed with the words that had been penned in the bunk next to mine. I was intrigued by how a high school senior was processing the sights, smells, sounds, and experiences of such an intense place as Haiti. As I read, I could tell that something very personal and profound had happened in this young man’s soul. I could even sense that something bigger was happening with this experience; and that through Zac’s experience, others would become engaged in God’s work in Haiti. He wanted this experience to impact others.

For many people who go on mission trips, the impact of the experience is short lived. Life’s routines tend to choke out the potential changes in people’s lives shortly after they return. There are great stories to tell but their life doesn’t change much. But Zac was determined to have his Haiti experience live on through his senior year. His presentation to the student body will be to ask their help in aiding the people of Haiti. He is committed to creating awareness to the needs of Haiti and the work that God is doing there. He also made a great big goal of raising $5,000 to send to the ministry we served on our trip. This goal will engage him his entire senior year.

The Bible is filled with stories of God doing something personal with someone; but as read the story you sense that there’s something bigger going on. The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a perfect illustration. Here’s an elderly couple who has never had children—a disgrace in most ancient societies. God comes to Zechariah to announce that he’ll be a father. Zechariah has some reasonable doubts and God gives him nine months of not being able to speak. We learn that his baby is not only a special gift to this deeply devoted but disgraced old couple, but he will be a gift to the people of Israel. This baby, named John, will be the messenger and forerunner to the Messiah, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. The planet will be spiritually changed because of what God set in motion through John. Four hundred years of silence from God will end through this old couple and their baby.

There are times in life when we sense God giving us a very personal and intimate gift. But, he has a way of linking these personal gifts with something more grand, cosmic, and bigger than we could imagine. We are blessed to become a blessing. We are given gifts to become good givers. We are given life-giving truth to pass it on. We are encouraged to become an encouragement to others.

As you step into the Christmas season, take inventory of the beautiful personal gifts God has given you. Don’t just settle for having a sense of gratitude, look for something bigger. Could God be doing something more than you ever imagined with the gift he’s given you? Zac, who had a cool mission experience in Haiti, would tell you that God may be up to something bigger. Maybe we need to think bigger. Maybe we need pray bigger—this week!