Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Card - 2012

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:12-14

Merry Christmas!

We hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas filled with the hope of Emmanuel - God With Us.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wise Men Seek the True King

Today, in the midst of all the things I needed to get done, the kids, Chris, and I spent a little time focusing on the part of the Christmas story that has been tweaked and altered over the ages to fit in a little more neatly with the nativity scenes and Christmas movies. That's ironic, because the lesson this story is teaching me today is about refusing to alter the One True God to fit our purposes.

As I think about those Wise Men, the Magi, the Three Kings, whatever you like to call them, I think of all the things we tend to get wrong. (Always looking on the bright side, I know. Call me Pollyanna.) We say there were indeed Three, when anyone who reads the account of their visit to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew knows that isn't necessarily the case. And then we like to throw them into the manger scene with the shepherds, when clearly they didn't visit Jesus on that first night of his birth, but months later.

But those are just details, right? We can fudge on those a little, because that We Three Kings song is so catchy and they just look so regal and stately peering over Mary's shoulder into that ceramic manger on my piano. Honestly, I do let the three kingly guys have their place in our nativity scene and I sing all the songs that refer to them as kings, when they were really magicians/astrologers. I know the way it really went down but don't think it's that big of a deal to go along with all things we've done to make it fit our sweet little picture of Christmas.

What is a big deal, however, is when we tweak and twist and alter the identity of the Savior those wise men sought. When those two or three or eight guys set out to follow that star to the subject of its light, I imagine they were expecting someone with some earthly importance attached to him. I would guess that those men were looking for a regal king that exuded power and authority, or at least had a little bit of money and a powerful family to his name. And it seems certain that that's the kind of guy Jesus' own people were expecting as well. He was born right under their noses, in the very place they expected to find him, yet so many missed it completely.

I think they key, though, is their humility and willingness to accept God's gift for what, or who, it actually was.

Those wise men, when they followed that star, full of faith and expectancy that it would indeed lead them to a King, and when they showed up to the front door of a little house, showered in starlight, to find a toddler and his mom, they didn't get ticked off that their long, hard journey had led them to a nursery. They fell down and worshipped. They didn't argue with God that perhaps he'd made a poor choice in kings or decide that this little guy wasn't their kind of savior. They didn't contemplate an error on their part...maybe this was just an unusually bright star and not a star leading to the one they sought after all.

They saw Jesus for what he is. The perfect and precious Son of God. There was no need to seek one they thought better fit the bill. They knew they'd found the real deal and responded with their worship, a sacrifice of treasure, and a heart overflowing with joy. They got that Jesus may not have been what they expected, but he was the one they needed.

But then you see a whole bunch of other people who didn't even have to go very far or look very hard to find this new king, yet they didn't put forth the effort or have the faith to seek him out. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were surrounded by religious, supposedly God-fearing, people in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. People who knew the prophecy of the coming Savior, but people who overlooked it completely. I wonder if, at the root of their oblivious attitudes, it wasn't the pride of misplaced expectations that caused them to fall short. They wanted a god and a king who fit their bill. They wanted immediate, earthly salvation on their own terms, not a life of sacrifice and suffering as they awaited to eternally be with God.

Jesus didn't suit them. He wasn't their cup of tea. He didn't come with power and money and prestige, or so it seemed. He asked too much of them, expecting them give something up, namely themselves, in order to be a part of his kingdom.

How foolish, we think, as we shake our heads. How could they be so close and miss it?

But think of all the wisdom and revelation and opportunity to know Christ that we've been given. And we see people everyday who trade in a relationship with the King in order to keep their lives the way they like them. Or, many times, I think we just create a king, a god, who more easily suits our needs.

We like a god who lets everyone into heaven...well, except for Hitler and guys like that.

We like a god who wants us to have earthly blessings and will give us the right to pursue our happiness here and now.

We like a god who gives us a free ticket to heaven and only asks that we go to church and pay him a little fee, uh, I mean tithe, every now and again.

We like a god who will forgive us no matter what we've done, whether we are truly repentant for those things or not.

We like a god who says all ways lead to him because that just helps us sleep better at night.

We like a god who gives everyone who's seen hypocrisy in the church a pass because those mean people didn't play nice.

We like a god who says it's okay to live the way we want, because we know, more than anything, he wants us to be happy.

We like a god who makes sense to us because we deserve an explanation for everything.

We like a god who only expects us to be nice to people who are nice to us or forgive those who are sorry they stepped on our toes.

I think the magi remind us that we need to step outside the box and into the truth when we look at God. It is a dangerous thing to think we're serving God while, all the time, we're only serving the god we want him to be. We need to be intentional at seeking the God who really exists, instead of being satisfied with the one we've imagined to suit our desires.

Don't just go with the flow. Don't be satisfied with tradition or what other people say or what your shallow faith believes. Get in His Word and seek the One True God this season. Step outside the box, and when you do, be sure you're willing to bow down and worship the One you find. 

Lord, I don't want a shallow, earthly imitation of you. I want the real deal. Help me to think outside my little box and step into the starlight with you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pajama Day Everyday

It's hard to believe, but Chris and I just celebrated the 14th anniversary of the craziest Christmas ever. We decided to cram a wedding, a college graduation, a honeymoon, and Christmas into one week, much to our parents' delight. We all survived, and fourteen years later, we're still going strong.

Personally, I like this phase of marriage better than that newlywed stuff. We're to the point in our relationship where he gives me the anniversary gifts I really clean bathrooms...and our big date night consists of a trip to Chili's with a gift card and last minute Christmas errands to Walmart...and we still enjoy the night. Who needs a big hoopla when you get to enjoy everyday with a kind, helpful, loving, Jesus-following husband and four wild kids?

Below you will see Jack's fourth and final Christmas performance of 2012. Last week was a big week for the little guy behind the microphone. Since I missed the first big solo, I was thankful to get to see a replay at a local nursing home last Sunday. He just looks so adorable and little, and he did a really good job, in my personal opinion, which is not at all biased.

The good news is that I may get to see him perform in the band one day as well. When Maddie, Jack, and I were discussing the possibility of them being in the middle school band one day, he finally decided he might like to play the trumpet.

Then he cheerfully added, "And mama, if you're still alive, you can come see me perform."

Excuse me?

I don't know whether to be concerned that he's had some premonition from the Lord regarding my premature death or insulted that he thinks I'm so old and fragile that I'm apparently knocking on death's door. When I got a little miffed and asked him about his comment, he said, with much exasperation, "I didn't mean anything by it. I'm just sayin', if you're still alive."

Thank you.

Of course, I have convinced myself several times this week that I might be dying, but a not-so-quick trip to the doc that seems a full step up from the doc-in-the-box yesterday, along with a nice chest x-ray, assured me that I'm not. I did endure a brief scolding for not trying some over the counter meds before coming, which was probably deserved as there's a good chance I contracted something much worse than this cough from all those hagard people in the waiting room. Not the best $30 I ever spent, but I suppose it did buy me a little peace of mind, if you can truly get that from an almost-doc-in-the-box.

So this morning, I said something I've never said before, to my knowledge:

"Luke, I fixed your monkey's bottom."

I don't know why, but it was funny to me.

That poor monkey has probably felt like a victim of socialized healthcare, as he's been waiting for a couple weeks on the kitchen counter for the surgeon to take care of his problem. The said surgeon has walked by that pitiful monkey about 1,021 times without fixing it for no other reason than she's a firm follower of the philosophy, "Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?"

I'm happy to report that the monkey came through the surgery fine and appears to be making a full recovery. Time will tell...if we find more monkey stuffing around our house or not.

So you can see it's been a pretty exciting week leading up to Christmas. Mostly, we've been doing this...

lots and lots of pajama days.

These two can be pretty sweet. At times. When they're not fighting or kicking or biting, which Sam apparently likes to do when Chris and I go on a date.

Luke tells me, almost everyday, "Mommy, I love everybody in our family...except you." I'm pretty sure he's confused the word except with the word especially. No, really, I think he has. I'm not just saying that to make myself feel better. Really.

So that's pretty much it. We might go somewhere today. But that will take getting dressed and walking to the car, so we'll see. That's kind of asking a lot.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jesus: God Saves

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

The opinions and politics that start flying after something as tragic as the Sandy Hook event break my heart, for it means we have missed the point. We are trying, in our desperation for hope and meaning and security, to fix things that cannot be fixed by man alone. We are spending our mental energies in futility.

If someone has a heart that is diseased and will fail them much too soon, do we command them to get better? Do we pass a law that tells them that their heart can't be sick? Do we forbid that person from eating anymore high cholesterol, fatty food? No. Of course not. That person's only hope is a new heart. It's the only way to avoid the death that is knocking on their door. They need new life, not new laws.

God wrote a set of laws. You can find it in the first part of the Old Testament. It didn't work, but that didn't surprise God. See, the laws were never written so that we could follow them perfectly and find salvation and hope. They were written to show us the impossibility of following them. For a people with a corrupt and evil heart cannot hope to act in a sinless way. We cannot hope to meet the standard set before us.

God said, "You shall not murder." And what have people done since the second generation of mankind? Murdered one another.

We are hopeless if we think we can try, on our own, and command others to follow laws already written on our hearts, which men haven't been able to keep since the Garden of Eden. It doesn't work.

There is only one solution, but I am terribly afraid that many I know and love, and many I will never meet, who all make up this nation, will never even give it consideration. In our pride, we are so certain that we can fix this. We are so certain that we know the right things to do. We are so certain that God either doesn't exist or can't be who the Bible claims he is and that we must take our destiny into our own hands.

But there is one problem. Let's say we figure out a way to preserve the lives of all children in our nation (but only those outside the womb, please) and we all live to 95 years of age.

Every person will still die. It is unavoidable.

So then what?

Is it enough to know that you lived 95 years and so did everyone else you know? In the end, you will still return to the dust. Or worse yet, you will live on, but not where you'd like to be.

I do not say these things to condemn. I say them because I long for people and for our nation to live. But true life is only found in God through Jesus, and we just can't bring ourselves to admit we need him, or that he's even worth needing. We've made a complete mess of our world, but all we can do is blame God and blame each other.

Our only hope is for each one of us to recognize our need for a new heart. And there is only One who can give us what we need.

We don't need to try harder to be nice or try harder to make other people be nice. We need to fall on our face, admit to God our failures and hopelessness, and ask him to make us new, inside and out. We need to recognize that we can try every day of our lives, but we have fallen so short of God's standard that we deserve death.

We are all that murderer who stormed into that school a few short days ago. Jesus said if we are angry at someone in our heart, we've murdered them. I don't know about you, but I've been angry, out of selfishness and pride, a few times in my life. I deserve death. I do.

But someone loved me enough, just like that young teacher in Connecticut loved her students enough, to stand in the gap for me. Someone loved me enough to give his life in order that I might live. I don't deserve it, but Jesus did it anyway. Because that's the kind of God he is. Gracious, loving, and merciful, even in the face of our rebelliousness and disobedience and disrespect.

So we will all find life and heaven? Great.

Think about that. If one of those little children who that teacher hid in order to protect, had jumped out of their hiding spot and run in front of his teacher, declaring, "I don't need you, teacher! I can do it on my own. I've got this," he would have forfeited her sacrifice. They both would have died. Only those who trusted and obeyed their teacher's command to hide and allowed her to stand in the gap for them found life.

You have to admit you need help, admit you need someone to stand in your place when your rightful time to die comes, and accept the sacrifice.

You must admit your sin, turn from it, and ask God's forgiveness, and it can only be found when you believe in Jesus' deity and in the sufficiency of his sacrifice for you.

I think when we, as believers, are heartbroken over the evil in this world and are heartbroken at others' refusal to accept salvation, we've probably gotten a tiny glimpse at how heartbroken our loving God is by these things. I so desperately want those I love to get this, and I so desperately want our nation to see the parallel between our forsaking of the Lord God and the evil that seems to be overtaking us. It is not a coincidence. It is our sweet God's attempt at waking us up, before it's too late.

I hope that I have not offended anyone by my words. They are meant in love, but many times God's love and God's ways seem to offend us. They step on our toes and tell us we must humble ourselves, and we don't like it. So if I have offended you because I haven't represented the Lord accurately, then forgive me. But if I have offended you because I have spoken truth, then may you come to see the heart behind it...not my evil one, but my Savior's holy one.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,  if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Immanuel: The Miracle of Hope

There is a part of the Christmas story that is often pushed under the rug, ignored, overlooked. We celebrate the sweet baby in a manger, the humble shepherds visited by heavenly hosts, a young mother amazed by her calling, and regal visitors bearing gifts that foreshadow. These images have taken on an almost mystical and magical status for many of us. And they are such beautiful, hope-filled scenes, it is no wonder we sit in candlelit sanctuaries and quietly read and sing of them on Christmas Eve.

But there is that one haunting, often undiscussed bit of the story that gnaws at us.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”

It is that part of the story that has been swirling through my mind lately, and it is that part of the story that came to mind when I first heard of the brutal murder of women and children in Connecticut a few days ago. Here we are, preparing to celebrate the hope of Christmas, and yet this season only makes the murders seem more tragic, if that were possible.

Hope pushed up against horror. Life placed next to untimely death. It causes us to question, does it not?

Lord, why? How do you allow this? Both then, in Bethelehem and now, in America? Are you good? Are you love? If so, then why?  

And any of us who are honest have to admit that we cannot give answers to the deepest parts of these questions. There is not a sufficient explanation that will immediately take away the pain that has now been etched into parents' hearts. Even in Bethlehem, they refused to be comforted. The pain is simply too great.  

But the sweet truth that the Lord whispers to us in these moments, if we will be quiet enough to hear, is Immanuel.  

God with us.  

This is the truth that assures us, in the midst of such tragedy and evil, that God is good and God is love. For, while we cannot explain the circumstances, we can gain peace because God has entered into the pain with us.  

When God became flesh in that dark Bethlehem stable, he entered the suffering, sorrow-filled, fallen world as a human. He left the comfort of heaven, by choice, to share in our pain. He traded his glory, for a time, to experience our grief as one of us. He was born into the smelly muck of an animal pen, as if to say, from the beginning,   I enter into your grief. Since you are not spared grief in this fallen world, I will not be spared it either.  

If Jesus had stayed on his throne, viewing all this suffering and grief from afar, we might have reason to think God is some puppet-master who takes pleasure in watching others suffer. When he said, "Don't worry. I love you. Everything will be okay," we might have reason to say, "Yeah, right. Easy for you to say from your throne room."  

The reality is, however, that it was not easy for him to say. When Jesus entered into this world, no part of it was easy. From his birth to his death, life was hard. He was spared murder as a babe in Bethlehem, only to be brutally murdered as a righteous man years later. His earthly life was filled with pain and suffering, just as it is for so many today. But the difference is, he chose the pain and suffering...for us.  

So at moments like the ones we've experienced this week, we can come to God Almighty, knowing we approach One who knows our pain well and who entered into it completely...for the purpose of providing us a way out. HOPE.  

Hope beyond the evil. Beyond the grief.  

For just beyond the manger and the cross, stand the empty tomb and the occupied throne.  

Just beyond the tears and the questions, stands One who understands. One who is called Immanuel.  

He is not God above us. God beyond us. God apart from us.

That first Christmas night, He became, now and forever...  

God with us.  

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever...but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.

You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.

For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
Isaiah 9

I think our real question should be not, "Why would you let this happen?", but "Why would you do so much to provide us, a selfish, disobedient, and evil people, such hope?"

Now that is something that defies explanation, and should leave us saying:

“I will praise you, O Lord!

You were angry with me, but not any more.
Now you comfort me.
See, God has come to save me.
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.”

With joy you will drink deeply
from the fountain of salvation!
In that wonderful day you will sing:
“Thank the Lord! Praise his name!"

Isaiah 12

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Cheer

I am here to announce that we are officially to the part of the Christmas season where I am seriously seeking to regain my perspective. Mind you, I have nothing but a long list of first world problems and I just read of the horrible tragedy in Connecticut where over twenty people have been killed (mostly children), so I recognize that I have nothing to stress about...

...and yet I feel stressed! I've decided I feel so stressed because I cannot commit to leave the house with a 2-year-old in tow. I need to get some things done, but I know that to head to Walmart right now with this adorable yet not-so-fond-of-the-buggy child is a risk I'm not yet desperate enough to take. I've spent the better part of the last hour debating on whether or not to go, and then devising a plan as to how I can go to the store later with no children.

Yes. You'd think at this point in my life, having been a parent to four toddlers, I would have this all under control. No problem. I'm an old pro, right? But that is the problem. I'm old. I'm tired. My mind is shot. And I've had just enough Walmart With a Toddler experiences to know how horribly awry it can go. How do you spell awry anyway?

Okay, so now I've just wasted another minute of my day looking up awry on then listening to the computer voice pronounce it just to make sure I did indeed have the right word. I did spell it correctly, which is quite an accomplishment considering I have only about 43 brain cells left.

Obviously, I am making good use of my time. This is what I do...procrastinate until I'm about to be completely unable to breathe, then put it in high gear...and just watch out if you get in my way.

"Sorry, children. Mommy is just getting ready to celebrate the joy and wonder of the birth of Jesus. Please put on your helmets."

So I think I'll just iron some clothes, have Sam take a nap, and then dart out the door once Chris gets home. I'm sure he'll love that plan. But then there's dinner. These crazy people always want three meals and ten snacks a day. What are they thinking? Okay, so I'll cook dinner, and then I'll leave him alone with his four little cherubs. But what if...?

Do you see the problem here? I'm crazy.

The most sane thing I've said all day is, "Stop eating Daddy's computer."

Okay. I'm going to go take ten deep breaths and regroup. But before I do, I have to give God a big shout out. With the flu and most other winter ailments threatening to take over the world right now, I have been begging God to keep Jack well for his choral and theatrical debut this week. The kid has hit the big time. First, it was a solo at church (two whole lines, thank you very much), then his performance with the elite PP Singers in front of hundreds at the local high school, and finally, this morning, he had a speaking part in the second grade Christmas performance at his school. Can I suggest you go ahead and get his autograph now? I'd hate for you to miss your chance before he hits the worldwide stage.

So thanks, Lord, for keeping that little guy well. And thank you that I will survive and, I suspect, even enjoy Christmas once I have a few moments to myself to think. Ha ha ha ha! Just kidding. That'll never happen. I mean, despite the fact that I won't have any moments to think, but I'll get it all done anyway. Or maybe I won't get it all done, and Jesus will still be on His throne and Christmas will still happen.

You get the idea.

Now to figure out where Sam went with that bag of dimes. No, that's not a choking hazard. Why do you ask?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Think I'll Move to Whoville

A few weeks ago, I heard a grandmother share a question that her granddaughter will sometimes ask her when they're spending time together. "Grandma, can we make some memories?" Awww. How precious, right? Only the thought that crosses my mind isn't, "Oh, I should be making precious memories with my children." It's more like, "That's what Grandmas are for. What mom has time for that?"

It didn't stop me from trying a little memory making of my own, though. This morning, since the boys had already spent more than their daily recommended time in front of The Great Brain Melter (a.k.a. the TV), I thought I'd let them help with some of the baking I was doing. And then, 2.3 seconds later, I was contemplating just letting them rot their brains some more. At one point, I was so ready to finish the cookies on my own that I let Sam feed himself spaghetti unsupervised just to distract him. And then I gave him a midday bath.

I'm sorry, but I just don't think two little boys fighting for space as they are perched precariously on a step ladder and touching every potentially messy thing in sight while I'm trying to make something edible is fun. Sure. Now that they're asleep and I'm sitting here with only the sound of the keyboard in my ears, I can look back and feel a small smile making its way onto my face as I picture their angelic faces and helpful little hands. At the time, not so much. At one point, I did announce to them, "This isn't fun!"

I know. Horrible.

We read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas a couple nights ago, and I kind of identified with the poor Grinch just a little. I mean, all that singing and NOISE wafting up from Whoville below. I feel his pain. Sometimes you just want a quiet moment to yourself.

I must admit, though, that those little Whos down in Whoville really knew a thing or two about Christmas. Things didn’t exactly go their way. That quiet-loving, roast-beast-hating Grinch took away all their Christmas stuff, leaving them with some pretty sad circumstances, and what did they do?

They didn't miss a beat! They just hopped right on out there in that little circle of theirs and started belting out their happy Christmas song. It's like they didn't even notice the stuff was missing! And that got the Grinch’s attention like their years of picture perfect celebrations never had.

Maybe they're the ones who came up with a little sign I saw the other day:

Christmas is not your birthday.

I think I’ll make that my Christmas motto this year. It goes along with a little something I have to remind myself of pretty regularly: This is life is not about you, Amy.

Oh, Lord, help me to laugh when the floor is covered in sugar. Help me to smile when they're throwing punches. Help me to sing when the dishes are piled high. And when I don’t, help me to receive your forgiveness and move on.

Make me a little less like the Grinch and a little more like Cindy Lou Who. Teach me that it's not about perfection, it's about redemption.

Friday, December 7, 2012

It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Throw-up, Everywhere I Go

Okay, this is a terrible photo of photos, but I think it will serve its purpose, which is to show you how cute my little angels are. Just look at Sam. He looks so innocent and angelic. Oh, how deceiving photographs can be. But everytime I pass his little picture, it makes me want to go and squeeze him.

If everyone in our family was as sweet all the time as these two look here, being part of a family would be a breeze, would it not? There are moments in time where it's as easy as that, but there are much longer moments in between where it is definitely not. Can I get an amen?

I'll be honest. This is not my favorite way to wake up: "I think I'm gonna throw up!" immediately followed by previously ingested red Gatorade covering my bed. Being part of a family would certainly be easier if vomit was never involved. And taking care of sick kids in the middle of the Christmas season and all the fun events we have planned is not my favorite part of being a mommy. But it's the way it goes in a fallen world.

And now let me share with you one of my favorite passages from the Christmas story:

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac.

Isaac was the father of Jacob.

Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).

Perez was the father of Hezron.

Hezron was the father of Ram.

Ram was the father of Amminadab.

Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.

Nahshon was the father of Salmon.

Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).

Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).

Obed was the father of Jesse.

Jesse was the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).

Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.

Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.

Abijah was the father of Asa.

Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.

Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.

Uzziah was the father of Jotham.

Jotham was the father of Ahaz.

Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.

Manasseh was the father of Amon.

Amon was the father of Josiah.

Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).

After the Babylonian exile:

Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.

Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.

Abiud was the father of Eliakim.

Eliakim was the father of Azor.

Azor was the father of Zadok.

Zadok was the father of Akim.

Akim was the father of Eliud.

Eliud was the father of Eleazar.

Eleazar was the father of Matthan.

Matthan was the father of Jacob.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

Matthew 1:2-17

Ha! Just kidding. (Be honest. Did you just scroll right through that whole list?) Who chooses that as their favorite Christmas passage? Let's face it. It didn't make the cut on Charlie Brown's Christmas, nor is it what we choose to read when gathered with family in the glow of the Christmas tree. I don't know of a song that has ever included these verses or any inspirational Christmas wall plaques with it plastered on them. It's just not so inspirational.

But I came across a few lines in a little book called The Christ of Christmas, which my friend gave to me, written by a late member of our church and a Christian scholar, Calvin Miller. He says, of these verses,

"...think of how God elevated the idea of family by choosing to work with one man's family to redeem the earth. These begat passages are not just names. They are the footprints of a timeless God walking through the generations, until His tread is reduced to the bare foot of the little baby Mary held in her arms."

Isn't that beautiful? It got me thinking about family. The family was the first institution established by God in the Garden of Eden, and he saw that it was good. But things weren't so good when the holy relationship of marriage was used to derail the course of mankind. And so the saga of family began. God says: Good. Satan says: Gotcha.

And ever since, God has been using family to further his plans, and so has Satan.

The Lord didn't have to plop the Messiah down in the middle of an earthly family. He could have teleported him here like a real-life version of Star Trek or had him ride in on a white horse like a magical fairy tale. He could have flown in like Superman or mysteriously appeared and then have been elevated to power by a military coup.

He had options. But he chose a simple little family. A family that hadn't even been officially formed yet, as Joseph and Mary hadn't even tied the knot, and a family that didn't look likely to thrive given the shady circumstances that surrounded it. A young unwed mother meets a nice but religious guy who scrapes together a living as a carpenter. Not exactly ideal.

Not only did he choose this little family, but he really chose all those families that had come before this young Jewish couple. We're all a product of generations past, and who doesn't have some sensational stories from great grandparents and beyond? This long line of names from the gospel of Matthew represents generation after generation of screw-ups. Some loved God in the midst of their messy lives and some did not. Some made good choices and some didn't. Some were kings and some were regular joes. Most were disfunctional in some way and none were perfect. Not until Jesus entered the picture.

Being a part of a family, whether your family begat the Messiah or not, is sometimes blessed but many times messy. Let's face it. Our homes during the holidays rarely look like the oil paintings with the dad, mom, and five kids sitting peacefully around the fire place with their elegant Christmas tree nearby, nor do they mirror songs like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas". Right now, mine looks like my house threw up, along with my kid, who is now sitting on the couch with his siblings watching tv while I ignore them. Not exactly oil painting material.

It's hard to get along with our families during the best of times (though I must point out that Chris and I have been given great families), but add in the hectic hustle and bustle of the holidays and all the time we spend together, and it's nearly impossible. We think of ourselves, our expectations, and our desires, and that doesn't make for a fun holiday gathering. It's so easy for tempers to become short, irritation to easily find its way into our lives, and judgemental attitudes to pervade our homes. Our families and Christmas events can rarely live up to the perfect image we've created in our minds, and that just make us grumpy. Personalities clash and frustration abounds and before we know it, the holidays are ruined.

And, yet again, Satan has a field day. He's put a kink in the beautiful plan that the Lord has for families. He has brought disunity, selfishness, and pride to play in such a way that totally takes the focus off of the Baby we're supposed to be celebrating. While we're complaining about people, annoying the stew out of those around us, and exuding selfishness, the enemy is smiling.

We will never be perfect this side of heaven, and our family Christmases may never be postcard worthy, but we can experience the benefits of the Messiah that God placed in a little family long ago. He chose a family to bring about our salvation, and he chooses families to continue the spread of his work in this world. But first we have to choose him.

We have to choose humility, just like Mary, who laid down her plans and dreams to embrace God's. Like Joseph, who laid aside his reputation and chose to trust and love instead. Like Jesus himself, who stepped out of heaven straight into a feeding trough to bring hope to this fallen world and our failing families.

The Lord has challenged me to clothe myself with humility this holiday season and become a servant to others, just as Jesus became a servant to me. He has reminded me that our Christmas is much more likely to be all it was meant to be when I model my behavior after a baby in a manger.

It's a lot easier to serve needy strangers by donating a little time and money during this season than it is to serve the people God put in our lives and in our families. We will still give and do to help the less fortunate, but I think the Lord also wants us to give and do to help those in our living rooms this season. In remembering that family is a blessing and a huge part of God's plan, try putting family members before yourself during the next few weeks and see what God does. Try loving them instead of looking for ways they've failed to love you. And let the Prince of Peace do the thing he came to do...bring peace on earth and good will to men.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Colossians 3:12-16a

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Here Comes the Coming

It's the first day of Advent. And?

I'm still learning what Advent means, really. That sounds silly, but it's always been this word that I've heard "good Christians" say and something they refer to like I'm supposed to know all about it. (You know, like in high school when the older boys would talk about...well, nevermind.) I just nod my holy nod and play along like of course. But I'm still figuring it out. I'm still searching for what it means in my life and in my family.

Please don't think I can't operate a dictionary. I can plug the word into the little search line at the top of the screen and come up with:

ad·vent/ˈæd vɛnt/ [ad-vent] noun

1. a coming into place, view, or being; arrival: the advent of the holiday season.

2. ( usually initial capital letter ) the coming of Christ into the world.

3. ( initial capital letter ) the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ into the world.

4. ( usually initial capital letter ) Second Coming.

And I think, in practical terms, most believers I know use it to refer to their celebration of Christmas as it centers around Christ rather than a jolly old man with a long white beard and Toys R Us.   Even with this basic understanding, I still feel like it's just coming together for me and my little family. It's so easy to allow Advent become all about the crafts or the planned times as a family or what I'll post about it on my little blog and what a great mom others will take me for. And when that happens, I might as well invite Santa over for milk and cookies, because I've still missed the point.   All the cute little crafts and reading of the Christmas Scriptures and church events just become those meaningless sacrifices that God continually fussed at the Israelites for.   And so He always brings it back to the same thing. Love me. And love the people I love.   This year, just now, I feel Him stretching my understanding of The Coming. In years past, we've focused so much on the miracle of Christ's coming as a baby in Bethlehem. And rightly so. But this year, I'm feeling him pull my focus even further, all the way down to Definition #4. The Second Coming.   Both of Christ's Comings should have a daily impact on my life. Because of His First Coming, I have life abundant and everlasting. I have forgiveness and reconciliation. And because of His impending Second Coming, I have hope and purpose.   I should be living like the new creation that I am and living like this world is not my home.   So while I attend family functions, have fun at Christmas parties, do crafts with my kids, read Scripture as a family, and try to figure out what Advent looks like for us, I want to remember His Coming as a baby and His Coming as a king, and let that overflow in my life as love for God and love for others.   That's something to celebrate.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Week of Dreams Coming True

Just checking in to let you know that both Sam and I survived the Great Muffin Standoff with no hard feelings. Of course, I won (in my opinion) and I must say that it wasn't the worst standoff I've ever been a part of. I don't know if that's due to the fact that I'm hard as nails now or Sam just doesn't quite have the same amount of stubborness as some other little two-year-olds who've lived in my house.

To be fair, Sam has been pretty lovable ever since we made peace and he picked up muffin. Luke might disagree as he shows you the Sam-inflicted scratches on his neck, but, hey, nobody's perfect. But that's the great thing about a two-year-old. As much as they may want to make you pull your hair out one minute, you find yourself smothering their sweet cheeks with kisses the next. It just can't be helped.

It's a good thing that Bama doesn't play again for a month. My heart needs time to recover from this stress. It helped to have a house full of distractions during the SEC game tonight, but the old ticker still skipped a few beats. The good news, besides the fact that the Tide pulled it out, is that I've gotten to wear my crimson and white striped scarf for two weeks in a row. I decided to choose fashion over comfort today as it felt more like September than December, but, you know, sometimes you just have to take the hard road in life. It's just what happens when you're as committed to fashion as I am.

Oh, wait. That's not me. Nevermind. Unless my new resolution to greatly increase my long-sleeved t-shirt collection counts as caring about fashion.

I am excited to announce that Jack is about to fulfill a life long dream. Or maybe it's just a year long dream, but still. He got a solo in the church Christmas performance. Granted, it's all of about two lines, but a solo it is. He's tried out before and never made it, so when he told us he'd tried out again, I just tried to give him a little encouragement along the lines of, "Well, you know they just can't pick everybody," and went on with my evening. I was a little surprised when he told me later that he'd gotten one. I think my reaction was something like, "Are you sure?"

Once it was confirmed, my stomach got a little knot in it. Chris thought it was silly that my stomach was hurting when it's Jack who has the solo, but I think that's completely to be expected. Don't you? Eek. Gotta be sure the video camera is actually charged this time. That always helps when trying to capture those never-to-be-repeated moments of precious childhood performances. Not that I'd ever forget. I'm just sayin'...

Maddie and I got an afternoon to ourselves this week, which is extremely rare. I was a rebel and checked her out of school...unexcused!...and we went to lunch and bought some school supplies she needed. Yes. We were quite the bad girls. Ironically, our lunch was almost free thanks to the fact that Maddie was awarded Respectful Rider on her bus. There's a fine line between rebel and respectful, I always say. Fortunately, her school rewards respectful behavior with a free sub sandwich, so a hot meatball it was. Nothing says "Thank you for your good behavior" like free food. I pretty much think food is always an appropriate reward.

I can't finish up without mentioning little Lukey as well. This was quite a momentous week for him as he got to do something he's been begging to do for weeks now. The boy got to eat dinner at Taco Bells. You might know it as Taco Bell, but adding more Bells in there just means it's even better. Those taco people should be paying their advertisers well, because they're doing a heck of a job. They reeled Luke right in with those commercials of yummy taco goodness. He chattered all the way there about how "Taco Bells is my favorite place to eat. It's so yummy. I've never been there!"

See, all these nights of making our kids eat at home have payed off. Now all we have to do is take them to eat questionably made tacos and they're thrilled. Who needs Disney World? Luke was totally oblivious to the slow service or the not-so-clean eating area. He loved it. Maddie and Jack were pretty thrilled, too, as they shared that orange cheese-product covered Nachos Belgrande. In the end, Chris had to risk it all by getting back into that slow line and getting another order of nachos. My favorite part was that I didn't once have to say, "Eat your food." They inhaled it. Of course, maybe I shouldn't actually refer to it as food.

Now that it's late enough to excuse myself from exercising, I'll wrap this up. Then I'll go beat myself up for not working out today. And then I'll go to sleep. Good night.