god-at-christmas Can’t you imagine Charlie Brown saying to Linus…Ever notice how the Christmas season seems to be a repeat of last year?  There are the Christmas cards to send, the parties to attend, the shopping to do, the meals to prepare and the travel  plans to  visit relatives or the work of hosting family members.  In the words of one writer  “Christmas time is rather predictable.” Could you take last year’s calendar entries and just lay this year’s plans  over that and come up with about the same thing?  Does this sound pessimistic? Cynical? A kill-joy attitude? I don’t want it to sound like that.

But here is the thing. When Christ came here and was born as a baby, it was a total shocker! There was nothing the same about it compared to all the other births through all the other years.  God just knocked our socks off with how the whole birth thing of Jesus played out.  He was virgin born as the King/Messiah with no royal surroundings or heavy weights politically to accompany the event. God never consulted us and did not allow us to weigh in with our opinions on how it should be done. He told us in the Old Testament what He was going to do, and then He just did it!  Jesus showed up as a baby. Our future hopes totally rested on what appeared to be shaky birth circumstances.  How will this thing ever fly with so little of what we have come to believe are necessary components for success?  No financial backing, no public solicitation for support, no powerful dignitaries to speak up for the babe [except the chief honcho who wanted to kill him when the news leaked out]. Yeh, pretty shocking how God does things.

Sometimes God does that with our lives too. It is coming up on Christmas and suddenly you lose your job and face financial set-backs. Shocked, right? Or you approach the Christmas season with a bit of dread and discouragement because God allowed some sorrow or difficulty to come your way since last Christmas. Never thought you would face that, right? Or your carefully laid plans are messed up by some unexpected turn of events or some “clod” decision made by some relative or boss.  Surprised and frustrated, right? Well, your life might be “right on schedule,” for God is doing things His way! The kind of God who came up with Christmas is the God who does things His way! Remember what God said in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The virgin birth of Christ in this world was God doing things His way.  It was proof positive that we need Him if we are ever going to survive this life and the eternity to come.  Salvation comes through God’s work and plan not through my efforts and plans [Titus 3:5]. Joseph and Mary could not produce their own savior even if they wanted to.  And life unfolds in that same way.  In most of life’s circumstances we find ourselves pretty  helpless. The Old Testament Joseph in Genesis told his brothers that all the bad stuff they did which God allowed in his life was meant for good [Gen. 50:20]. The events of his life  made no sense to Joseph  until years later.  His own puzzlement, helplessness, and frustrations over what was happening in his life revealed the surprising work of God for his good down the road  [and for the good of others too] . The God that came up with the shocking surprises of the birth of Jesus in this world is the very same God that is doing things His way in my life and yours.  Randy Alcorn in his book “If God is Good” put it this way: “If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good.” The kind of God who came up with Christmas is the God who is in charge and the God who is good! That makes a difference!  Think it thru




difference 3I just returned from preaching at my home church for their 75th anniversary of ministry.  It was  a life-refreshing day being able to reconnect with many people who highly impacted my life and the life of my wife [who also grew up there]. My father pastored this church for many years and his ministry is still being felt. I talked with one of my Sunday School teachers and then caught up with some who were my peers in youth group. Many of us are out in full time ministry while others serve faithfully in their local churches. Some have gone home to be with Christ.  At the end of the day I reflected back on many of these people and asked myself the question: What was it about them that made such a difference in my life in the long run?  And what is it that I must pay attention to if I want to have the same long-term effect on others whom God has brought into my life and ministry?

I think that part of the answer lies in something Dorothy Sayers said in her little book Letters to a Diminished Church  “…it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”

My home church did a good job of that. The men and women who so impacted me bore an authentic faith that loved us and were deeply kind to us while not diminishing the hold Christ had on them. The  investment of their  time, money, and the way they loved the community around them made a difference to us. As I reflect back I now see that there was a dogged determination to live out their faith consistently over the long haul. That faith  rang true to my wife and I when we were teenagers. The words of Acts 13:36 come to mind as I think of this church “for David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation….” I think also of the testimony God inscribed of Moses in  Number 12:7 “Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house.”

There is one other difference  I kept thinking about. It is amazing how one decision can affect your whole life.  My father accepting the call to this church had life-long implications. My father left a more comfortable situation to come to this church.  Because of his obedience to God, I found my future mate at this church, preached my first sermon under their guidance, was called to ministry while there, was ordained there, and was launched out to my first ministry from there.  Further, God used my father to challenge many others to enter ministry.

I do believe in the Sovereignty of God.  Now could God have done that same thing elsewhere? Of course. But God does use his directive wisdom in our decisions to further his purposes in and through us.  I am grateful for the difference my father’s obedience to God made in my life. I am also humbled and thankful for the church that modeled authentic Christianity to me as a green kid “that took the courage to adapt me to Christ and not Christ to me.”  Am I ready to do that for others? Are you?  THINK IT THRU