Surprise! 4 Days Until Christmas!

 

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“But about that day or hour no one knows… –Matthew 24:36a

At a press conference today in Nazareth, Archaeologist I.M.Fixion holds up a fragile set of scrolls, and makes the following announcement:

“These scrolls were recovered from an ancient rubbish heap outside of Nazareth.  They have been dated to somewhere around 10 a.d.  They appear to be a stack of birthday cards…to Jesus.

“That’s right.  These are cards written to Jesus on the occasion of his surprise 10th birthday party.  One is from an aunt Elizabeth, some are from a bunch of shepherds, and even some very expensive cards appear to come from distant royalty.

“Of course, this is a find of extreme importance, but there’s more.”  He gestures to several of the pages.  “The cards all list the date of Jesus’ birthday.  Adjusting for changes in calendar and so forth, there can be no doubt.  Jesus was born…

“On December 8th.  Thank you.”


 

Surprise! CHRISTMAS IS IN 4 DAYS!

Jesus may (or may not) have had a surprise 10th birthday party, but his birthday has never been a surprise for us.  There it sits on the calendar, bottom of December, circled in red and green.  We know what’s coming, we make our lists, we plan it out.  No surprise.

But what if Christmas showed up unexpectedly, say, on December 10th? What if there wasn’t enough time to do all the million and one holiday traditions we’ve laid out over the course of our lives?  What if Christmas came as a surprise, leaving us to celebrate without all the boxes in our garage, or all the excess baggage in our hearts?

If you had to celebrate the birth of Jesus right away, how would you do it?

Here’s what I think I’d do:
I guess I’d pray.
And give some $ to the church or a charity.
And volunteer somewhere.
And call my family.
And go to church.

What would you do?  In the face of a surprise Christmas, maybe we’d have to let the other stuff go, and focus on what’s most important.  Remember, Jesus doesn’t really need tinsel, or a plate of cookies, or a bunch of parties, or even an overpriced birthday card. If a simpler, more spiritual Christmas celebration sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, maybe we can dial back a little on the pomp and circumstance, and surprise Jesus with an Advent filled with meaning.

This year, for Jesus’ birthday, all he really wants us to send him is our attention, and our devotion.

Those are the real Hallmarks of a Merry Christmas.

Have a great Advent,

Mitch

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Homesick for the Holidays

christmas-is-a-time-when-you-get-homesickI’m homesick.

I know I’m in good company.

I picture countless college students, soldiers, business travelers and others, pining for home.

This is the time of year when it hits hardest.  A time for togetherness, a time of tradition.

But here’s my thing:

I counted it up, and in my life I’ve had exactly 15 places that I have called home.

That’s a lot, although you may have had even more.

Which one am I longing for?

I have wonderful memories that come from many of those places.

Families, fun, meals, gifts given and received.

But this year, it’s not for any of those places that I am homesick.

I am longing for what I might call a heavenly home.

 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  –John 14:23

The earthly world seems especially slippery this year.  I find it hard to cling to some of those “home” traditions with the same joy I do most years.

This year I long for something eternal.  Something true.  Something I can hold on to.

I long for a Love I can call home.

This home is not necessarily a place, nor is it only accessible after one’s death.  It is the Father, Son, and Spirit setting up a spiritual home with you.

A home base.  A safe place.  A launching pad.  HOME.

What triggers this kind of homecoming?

Jesus says it:  Clinging to him.  Living with faith.

This is the kind of home I’m sick for.

The very kind that will make me well.

Merry Christmas!  Cling to Christ!

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Thees and Thous

bailie

 

As pastors go, I’m a fairly casual guy.

I hardly ever robe.  I’ll wear a jacket but seldom a tie.

I’ve been known to read the scripture straight off of my iPhone in worship.

Heck, I even play the drums in our praise band.

So it might surprise you to know where I go when I’m looking for devotional material.

Time and time again I turn to a book, written in 1936, by a Professor of Theology at the University of Edinburgh.

His name is John Baillie, and the book is “A Diary of Private Prayer”.

It’s organized into prayers for morning and evening of each day of the month.  Let me give you a short sample from this morning’s prayer:

O God my Creator and Redeemer, I may not go forth to-day except Thou dost accompany me with Thy blessing.  Let not the vigour and freshness of the morning, or the glow of good health, or the present prosperity of my own undertakings, deceive me into a false reliance upon my own strength.  All these good gifts have come to me from Thee.  They were Thine to give and they are Thine also to curtail.  They are not mine to keep; I do but hold them in trust; and only in continued dependence upon Thee, the Giver, can they be worthily enjoyed.

I’m not the only one who seeks out this book filled with thees and thous.  It’s been reprinted many times — I actually have three copies of it.

So what is it about this 80 year book, written in antiquated English, that stirs my soul?

The more formal language is beautiful, written at a time when a single sentence could be a work of art.  It sounds like how I sometimes wish my plain prayers could sound, if only I could muster the words.

And the prayers that Baillie wrote seem to capture deep thoughts and simple ideas in a way that conveys the stirrings of my soul.

Here’s the Amazon link if you’d like to explore this book: https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Private-Prayer-John-Baillie/dp/0684824981

More importantly, I wonder if you have a special book you turn to in your spiritual reading, time and again?

It may be relatively new, like “Jesus Calling” or by an ancient writer like St. Augustine.

I encourage Thee to share in the comments!

Happy reading and have a good week,

Mitch

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Neat Freaking Out

’Slovenliness is no part of religion.’Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.’”  –John Wesley

I’m a neat freak.

Every morning I get up and make the bed.   I pick up the dirty clothes.  Then I spruce up the bathroom and empty the trash.    Occasionally I wipe down the mirrors so there aren’t any streaks.  Every few mornings I vacuum.   It’s a kind of ritual I have…

And it’s killing me.

You see, I am NOT, by nature, a neat freak–this trait has recently been imposed upon me.   In fact, I’m something quite a bit on the other side of the spectrum.  My mother couldn’t teach me to be this neat.  My father couldn’t.  Even my patient wife has all but given up on me being neat.

But my realtor?  She was somewhat more successful.  I believe her words to us were, “Now, are you going to be the kind of a family that needs a whole day’s notice before we show your house, or one hour’s notice?”   I eagerly said, “Have them call us any time.  We can be ready for a showing in 15 minutes!”

Yep, we’re trying to sell our house.  And even my wife, who likes things generally more clean than I do, is feeling the strain.  (Being a Lert can get old after a while!)

If we’re ever to sell our house, we’ve got to keep things in tip top shape.   We want people to experience this home as a thing of beauty, and so I find myself going against my own human nature for the sake of the Big Picture.

It’s got me wondering…

Does God expect me to be this clean in my spiritual life?  Does God expect me to be super assertive and mindful of my own sins and shortcomings?  If so, then being a Christian is a lot more work than many of us realize.   Every day, saying my prayers, reading my Bible?  Every day, helping those in need, loving my neighbors and even my enemies?  Every day, staying vigilant about discipleship? That’s hard! Especially for those of us whose human nature inclines them to be a little bit lazier.

I guess the Good News is that Christ is a bit like our realtor.   Helping us figure out how to get the most out of life.  Holding us to some standards.  Helping us make our lives worth showing to others.

Truth be told,  we’re about six weeks in now, and I’ve gotten in the groove a bit.   I’ve made my bed for the most consecutive days in my life, I’m sure.  And even though there’s stress as we wonder when somebody will buy our place (3517 SW Westport Drive Topeka, KS, in case you’re looking!), my wife and I are trying hard not to freak out.   After all, certainly there are advantages to living in a spotless house, just as there are advantages to trying to live a spotless life.

And when we fall short, Christ is ready to forgive us and help us clean up and move on.

That’s good to know…

Because you should see my office!

Have a Great Week,

Mitch