May Your Christmas be Filled with Wonder!

image003Have you ever watched a young child playing with tissue paper? Time with the gift will come, but for now there is fascination with the paper. Young children regularly experience wonder. As we grow, we allow wonder to be displaced by knowledge—or the “maturity” of completing one task and moving to the next. Around Christmas in particular I become busy in the activities of the season, to the point I don’t allow time for wonder. Busyness interferes with my enjoyment of the activities, friends, and wonder of the season. I suspect I’m not alone.

I have been struggling with this recently. Wonder is possible when we encounter something beyond our experience or understanding, but we need to give it room. If the Christmas story has become too familiar, if buying gifts is too routine, or if we have allowed our many activities to press us into a rush, wonder will be hard to find. Yet, if we open ourselves to wonder it can come upon us even amid activity. That is what happened to me yesterday, as I was shopping. I had been talking to Papa about my lack of wonder and He had prompted me to think on His extravagant love gift in The Son. Nice thoughts, but too routine, too intellectual; no wonder. But yesterday, as I walked through a store looking at things, I became aware of the music in the background, music that was familiar. Right there, amid my shopping, I focused on the song and remembered the lyric . . . I can only imagine. In that moment I started to tear-up as the Spirit connected ideas of  imagine and great love in the context of The Son laying down His life. Right there, amid my shopping, I experienced a glimmer of renewed wonder. Are you open to wonder?

Read this bit slowly. The Father, Son, and Spirit loved before they created. In their experience of love, the Son was slain before the foundation of the world. The provision for restoring their creation was eternally certain before they created the world. But after creation, there came a particular point where that provision needed to occur in time-space history. So it was, about 2,000 years ago, that The Son set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, He became human! He provided us insight into His motivation during an intimate conversation with eleven of His friends. As John reports it, after His final dinner and before walking outside the city to pray, Jesus explains: Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. I know we frequently think of this lay down one’s life as relating to His death, and it does; but there is more. Much more. Imagine the Creator-Sustainer of All enjoying His rightful status as King of the Universe, add to your image those of some old testament prophets (like Isaiah’s vision of The Lord, High and lifted up) or from a scene of The Throne in the Revelation. Soak in that image. . . . The coming of The Son, which we remember particularly at Christmas, involved His laying aside His life in Heaven in order to benefit men and women, who He made His friends. Greater love has no one than this. That is His love for us, for me and for you.

Jesus, please cause us to think on You, allow us to experience again Your great love, and renew our wonder.

Not for our sake, but for Your glory.
Thank You Jesus.

Prepare Him Room!

On Thursday I saw a friend who had just returned from a trip to Burma. He shared about the conditions in a town he had visited along the Burma-Thailand border and how—during a lay-over in South Korea on the return trip—he was struck by news coverage there of “Black Friday in America.” Theblack-friday-macys contrast between poverty and wealth was huge, but the stronger affront was our materialism—not only do we have great abundance, we constantly want more. I say “we” because Christians in America most often live the American Way, which is not the Jesus Way. I wonder, for me and you, as we journey from Thanksgiving to Christmas, will we simply repeat the words “Let every heart prepare Him room,” or will we actually make room for Him?

For me, these thoughts follow on the heels of some conviction by Papa concerning gratefulness and my expression of thanks. As Thanksgiving approached I knew my own “level of gratitude” was . . . low. The Spirit used this to reveal how, for me, “thankfulness” too often relates to the tangible. Even my response to the musical encouragement, “Count your blessings. Name them one by one” moves me toward a listing of family, friends, ministry opportunities, and material comforts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be thankful for all God provides, but I do think we need to acknowledge that the American Way has tainted even our theology. Can you imagine trying to explain your view of “blessings from God” to a brother in Ethiopia who is rejoicing in the love of Jesus, even though he will die of starvation later today? Thus, I ask—is our thankfulness and gratitude based in Jesus or in some American dream?

Part of how Jesus was convicting me about these issues was through a simple yet painful thought (which He brought to me more than a week before I learned that a friend’s father had been diagnosed with ALS [“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”]). Here is that painful thought: If you were confined to a bed, able to think clearly but totally unable to move or speak, about what would you give thanks? I have long insisted that we are told to give thanks “in” all things, not “for” all things—but that distinction doesn’t answer the Spirit’s inquiry. My thoughts took the question to a different place: If I owned nothing, had no money, no job, no family, no public ministry (I acknowledged that I could still pray, even if I couldn’t speak)—about what would I give thanks? In such a situation, what would be included on my “Count your blessings” list? Where are those things on my list today?

Amid all this I was quick to affirm the truth of Ephesians 1:3, that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. And, perhaps as a result, my thoughts moved to a question which I believe is rooted in The Jesus Way: Is God Himself the core of my gratitude and thankfulness? Not the material. Not the tangible–not family, not friends, not service (“ministry”). Not even the spiritual blessings. God. I am not sure it is accurate, but my mind went to a sort of “cake and frosting” image: To a fair degree, I have made the “tangible” things of family, friends, and ministry (along with material wealth and possessions) the “cake” and His promises and spiritual blessings the “frosting.” Yet the example of Jesus is the different—for those who would live His Way, the intimate experience of God Himself is the “cake” (the substance) and whatever other “tangible benefits” we receive—especially the material—is “frosting.” Is this not the import of the words, this is eternal life, to experientially know Abba, the only true God, and Messiah Jesus whom He sent (John 17:3). While all this was fresh in my mind, my reading brought me to Luke 12, where Eugene Peterson quotes Jesus saying:

Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed.
Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.

 I don’t share all this to play Scrooge! Most of us enjoy a level of material wealth which allows us to select and give some wonderful presents. Considering the greatness of the gift of The Son, extravagant giving may actually offer others a good image of how Papa acts toward the whole world. Yet, even the good can be corrupted by the ways and thinking of the world. What a sad commentary on Christians in America when at Christmas we focus on things and make gifts based in the American Way rather than in The Way of Jesus. The One who left His throne and kingly crown and came to earth of lowly birth (who “laid down His life for His friends”) says we show we are His when we become “at home” (abide) in His love and love one another as He loved us. He doesn’t call upon us to do this in our own strength or resources; His love for us fills us first, then overflows to others. But it is hard for Him to fill us when we are full of ourselves, our accomplishments, our material possessions, our life, our plans, oustar_over_bethlehem-163441r . . ..

In anticipation of a new intimacy with Him this season, I encourage you to invite His Spirit to speak to your spirit about what you value. Listen, and allow Him to move you further toward the Jesus Way.

May we all prepare Him room.  

John