Dispelling the Myth of the Perfect Christmas: Part 3

I’ve always wished I could of witnessed first hand when the angel came to visit Mary. Here was an ordinary teenage girl experiencing the supernatural phenomena of the messenger from God Himself. I can’t hardly wrap my brain around it let alone conceive how I would respond if I were her.

And yet Mary’s response captivates me.

When she got over the shock of the news, she worked through her confusion and questions with the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true. Then the angel left.”

Brilliant response.

Faith-filled and a heart that held TRUST as a core value.

She didn’t cower or run in fear, she believed and pressed into the experience. That alone speaks of her immense faith. Is that why God chose her because of the strength of character and belief demonstrated by her life?

As I read the story I focus in on three gifts she seemed to embrace. They are all imperfect, but yet they were the gifts that set her course.

The first gift was humility.

She acknowledged that she was God’s servant and knew she couldn’t do this by herself, she couldn’t orchestrate how it would all happen, she had to rely on God, she had no choice. It was all faith or nothing.

The second was acceptance.

She was willing to accept the imperfect process of how God was laying it all out. The day the angel came, her life changed forever. So many questions unanswered. She confirmed to the angel she would trust and believe God would indeed bring it about. She let go of any control.

The last gift she embraced was the gift of faith.

She had the faith to believe in something bigger than herself by hoping everything the angel said would come true.

Mary embraced the gifts of her fragile humanness and her imperfections. Those around her, the heritage of her people the Jews, expected so much more.

In some ways they demanded their Messiah to come in pure perfection, royally and splendidly.

But Jesus trumped the expected and came unexpectedly.

He arrived in a smelly barn, with dung and hay and poverty.

He was perfect, but he came to an imperfect world.

Jesus was a huge disappointment in his arrival to the nation of Israel because he turned everything upside down. No wonder they had a hard time embracing who Christ was. His calling card was less than perfect.

In the same way, Christmas can come as a disappointment to us in its arrival because of our own expectations.

In the days leading up to Christmas, I don’t think we start that way. It evolves because we have so many other voices and vices that dictate what it should look like.

We expect this time of the year for everyone to behave themselves and be holly and jolly.

Why should they, really?

Just because it’s Christmas?

Why would all of a sudden those cranky relatives turn up at your door-step transformed? When will we get it?

We are an imperfect people and when the stress elevates it heightens our behavior. Each and every one of us have a default switch when stress shows up on our doorstep.

How do we avoid slipping into that mode and flipping that switch? We follow Mary’s example. We embrace the three gifts of humility, acceptance and faith. Here’s what I think it looks like.

We don’t try to do everything all by ourselves.

We set limits.

We ask for help.

When we are tired, we readjust.

We practice humility by letting someone help us that might not do it ‘our way.’

I have a confession to make. I didn’t exercise humility when we put up our Christmas lights a few days ago. I got impatient. I had a vision in my head and expected my husband to read my mind. I was cranky and had to apologize later. Who wants to help a cranky person anyway? No one. Be humble, let go and share the diversity of making Christmas happen.

We accept the imperfect days leading up to Christmas.

We surrender to sitting and practicing ‘being still.’

We listen to that small still voice and remember that people are more important than anything. That includes the person who wants to steal your parking place at the crowded mall, or the person who cuts in line when you’ve waited and are next. We surrender unruly emotions and turn them into kind acts of service and words.

We accept imperfect all around us.

Lastly, we believe.

We choose to believe that Christmas is bigger than us.

It isn’t about you or me, presents, lights, dinner, relatives, a clean house or a perfect Christmas program.

It’s just about Jesus. God coming near to our brokenness, our failure, our emptiness and offering His incredible love wrapped up in a song of hope and peace.

 

Why I Practice Lent

I can remember the first time I decided to practice Lent. I was working at Focus on the Family Canada, and our whole department agreed to participate. I didn’t want to feel left out so I got on the band wagon and we all picked our vice.

I chose CHOCOLATE, and it was the first thing that came to my mind.

I am not sure I understood what I was doing.

It was more of a Let’s all do this together and see if I can stay away from having a piece of chocolate every single day, not to mention chocolate cake, brownies, ice cream and more.

I remember finishing and not feeling any different.

What did I actually accomplish by abstaining?

Nothing.

Why?

Because my heart engaged for the wrong reasons.

It wasn’t about taking something away to embrace a more intimate relationship with Jesus; it was proving I could actually do it!

Now I am sure God didn’t hold it as a sin against me, but I missed the point of the exercise by a long shot. I didn’t become a noticer, an observer or reflective, I was just a on the side participant.

The last several years as I have practiced Lent my heart has grown bigger. This year, in particular, my soul has enlarged more than ever, and I think I finally am beginning to get the point. As I have traveled the past 40 days on the journey crossward of Jesus life, the windows of my soul have opened up. I’ve noticed things I didn’t grasp in the gospels before.

I realize the depth of my own sinfulness.

It isn’t a condemnation realization, it is more of a how much I really need Jesus MORE every moment of my life!

To do otherwise would create a separation from what God desires for my life.

In my pilgrimage, this is what I have discovered…

There is no Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in the book of John.

WHAT? How did I not see that before?

It is nearly embarrassing after loving Jesus for decades and reading the Bible. My daughter-in-love Julie encouraged me when I confessed this to her. She told me we tend to look at the harmony of the four gospels and see them as one instead of individual books. Bless her for trying to make me feel better. I am not sure it worked. Note to self: If I am going to be a Bible teacher and writer, I need to be a better student!

When I scrambled over to read in the book of Mark Jesus prayer to God in the garden, I saw something I hadn’t clued into before. Alicia Britt Chole in her brilliant book 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger a Different Kind of Fast, helped me to see this in a new way.

Jesus asked God three times if there was another way for him to accomplish the mission. I learned it isn’t about being unwilling it is about being obedient. Jesus surrendered his desire to do it another way, and that’s what obedience is. God doesn’t hold it as sin for our unwillingness but whether we will obey or not. GRACE pure grace.

Lastly, as I traveled with Jesus to the cross, I realized how complacent I could be at times and take for granted the sacrifice God made for me. However, this year because I chose to engage, be a noticer, observer, and reflector and this is what happened to me…

I genuinely grieved as Jesus rode on the donkey into Jerusalem knowing what was to come and how people can turn on you at any moment.

I agonized with Jesus in the garden and empathized for what he had to do and how his own friends couldn’t watch and pray with him. Where would I be in the garden? Asleep?

I wept and wrestled with Peter’s denial in the early hours of the morning as he was asked three times did he know Jesus. I cried because I wondered if I would do the same.

So why is this year different for me?

My heart has softened because I see my own terrible brokenness in a new light and the only one that can help me is Jesus. The cross is the pathway to being forgiven, and the resurrection is the power that lives in me because of the cross. This is the promise:

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 1:19,20

Ironically, today is Good Friday and my birthday. Somehow the mingling of my birth and the remembering of Jesus sacrifice moves me profoundly. It causes me to be grateful on a whole new level.

And by the way, I gave up chocolate and desserts. But it’s different this time. And I am grateful God is so patient with me after all these years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolutions: When You Blow the First Day of the Year

New Year. New beginnings. New start. New chapter. New Resolutions. This is what the first few days of a new year represents or at least is what we traditionally talk about and think about on the first days of January.

I’ve made some serious strides this past year to move my phone away from arms reach before I go to sleep so that when I wake up in the morning it’s not the first thing I grab to start my day.

It had been ruling my life for too long and I made some intentional choices to make 2016 different. I’ve been doing pretty well and wouldn’t you know it, today the first day of 2017 I failed.

I blew it. I went backwards instead of moving forward.

I couldn’t believe it! I wanted a do-over immediately.

I had left it too close to my bed and I unthinkably made the choice that I didn’t want to. Sigh… it happens.

For several few moments I was berating myself as I talked to God and wondered how I slipped so quickly. I had a flash of genius, and the word GRACE came to mind. I could start again in a moment. Whew! The day could be redeemed, the year can start over. I am grateful.

January often is a chance to reflect and make some changes and many of us chart out goals and resolutions. I’ve preferred for many years now to choose a word rather than make resolutions because as I just demonstrated resolutions don’t seem to work for me.

I don’t know who started the trend but choosing a “one word” has caught on like fire and it has given purpose and direction for those of us who have abandoned the resolution making.

Facebook and Twitter is strewn with others sharing their chosen word for the year and it is inspiring to read. Choosing a one word for me has been about “being” rather than “doing.” When I make resolutions it becomes more about doing than creating a momentum of purpose of who I hope to be. I’ve been a human doing rather than a human being more than I’d like to admit.

My one word has become not just a theme for the year but also a pilgrimage. God has surprised me many times as I’ve watched the word we’ve chosen together come to life and intersect with my journey.

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about my word for 2017 and have had many conversations with God about it not sure I want to pick this particular word. It challenges my comfort zone and scares me at the same time. I’ve made the decision to go with it because it won’t go away and when I pray it pops up over and over.

The word is (drumroll) DARE!

What I discovered as I intentionally dug into the word DARE the definition is: to have adequate or sufficient courage for any purpose; to be bold or venturesome; not be afraid; to venture. (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

When I mined just a bit deeper, The expression to dare in the Scriptures never has the meaning of “to defy” “to challenge” or “to terrify” It is always found as the translation of tolmao “To manifest courage(International Standard Bible Encylcopedia)

My spirit soared as I read these words and I cross-referenced the many places in the bible “dare” is found. I cling to the thought “to manifest courage.”

I can do this.

DARE can be my one word for the year.

I have many new ventures ahead and am not sure all what or how my one word will cross over, but I am trusting that this is the word God has chosen for me for 2017.

I am confident He will help me “manifest courage” for each assignment. I believe God will empower me as he directs my steps. Right now, that means finishing my second book of which the deadline is creeping up and I am having to dare to make schedule changes and saying no more often to hunker down and write.

To not leave my “one word” out there all alone to take on an ambiguous meaning, I like to choose a Bible verse to punctuate my yearly one word. I’ve been studying 2 Timothy and here’s the encouragement that Paul gives to Timothy in the first chapter.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

The Message Bible says it this way,

God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.

That seals it for me. God will help me “manifest courage”

As I dare…

to live intentionally and purposefully.

to grow spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically

to equip and empower others.

to share my faith more in 2017.

to live in humility

to judge less and give more grace

to forgive and be kind and compassionate

to love well

and that I would trust God dare to so much more.

Will you join me and the many others in choosing a word for the year? For inspiration and help you might want to check out oneword365.com It’s a great site to get you going.

I DARE you!!