The Problem with Christmas

The Problem with Christmas

For me, Christmas is a peaceful time. Sure, there is stress, like planning a children’s program and getting ready for the big Christmas service at church, but for the most part, I hit autopilot and am just happy to groove through December. I move into a reflection mindset and enjoy myself. But Sunday my Pastor said something during his message that really shook me. His exact words were, “Don’t leave Christ in the manager.”

My first reaction?

“Hmmmm.”

I’ve been chewing on that since Sunday, even thinking on it a bit deeper. See, sometimes we leave Christ in the manger but come back only to drag Him to the Cross. We see Him lying there as a baby, and then realize that we need Him as a Savior, not recognizing that even as a baby, He IS the Savior. As a baby, Christ is not all that alluring, but with a Cross strapped to His back, we recognize who He really is.

Don’t leave Christ in the manger.

Shepherds and Wisemen came to see Him. Herod tried to kill Him, yet it was my sin that ultimately did what Herod thought he was destined to do. yet, if I only choose to recognize Him as the man hanging on the cross, and not the baby lying in the manger then we do our own lives a great disservice. If we only choose to worship Him as He is dying for our sins and not recognize the extreme sacrifice He made in coming to earth to be BORN (think of that trauma by itself), then we are failing to see Him for who He is.

See, the problem with Christmas is that we tend to not only leave Christ in the manger, but we also tend to completely OVERLOOK the manger. We see the baby, but not the conquering hero. We see the helplessness wrapped in a human form, but not the Omniscient, Omnipotent One who came to save us all. And so we spend our lives searching for someone to save us, and then we see Jesus walking past us with a wooden cross strapped to his back, and suddenly we recognize what we have missed.

Don’t miss it! Don’t miss HIM! Because when we miss Him, the problem of Christmas becomes the essential problem throughout all of our lives.

See Him in the manger for who He really is. Then walk with Him and get to know Him throughout your life. Then go to the cross with Him, and die with Him, so that through that death and His resurrection, you may gain new life.

Tis the season to know Him more.

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The Safe Place: THE HUMAN FACTOR

The Safe Place: THE HUMAN FACTOR

Yesterday, on The Write Addiction blog site that I also contribute to, I wrote this blog, where I talked about the challenge of being sent and being sent. About how there is a real danger in being so comfortable that we forget why we are being sent. The more I thought about it, the more I wonder if I would really rather be comfortable. Jesus was never comfortable, but he found safety. The two are not mutually exclusive. Discomfort and safety can actually exist in tandem in a healthy way. The way that we reconcile this paradox is by factoring the human factor.

As soon as God created Eve for Adam, He set forth the need for human connection as essential to our lives. It is not good for man to be alone. We need people. While our ultimate reliance HAS to be on Christ, that vertical connection is ESSENTIAL, we also have to have horizontal connections with those God has placed in our lives. I think about Nehemiah. Having to rebuild the wall was a rather large ordeal. There was no comfort to be found because he had haters all around him trying to sabotage this process. Yet, he had strong men and women around him, like Ezra, who kept him encouraged throughout this process. They were his safe place. To a degree, I also believe that the disciples were Jesus’ safe place. The human factor is essential. The more I think about Jesus and his disciples, I think that as much as Jesus mentored these dudes, he also received something from the relationships as well. Sure, He was there to train them, but He also needed those friendships. he could not go it alone. Sure, He was one with the Father, but there are also times when we need tangible presence with us. The human factor.

Pastors need tangible connections. So many times they get consumed with the ministry. We see them smiling. We see them working. We see them busy. But how many times do we not see them struggling? How many times do we not recognize how lonely they are? Ministry is hard work. It is a life-force consuming grind! It’s not just the work, but also the biting criticisms and nagging issues that come from working with people that wear on them. When is the last time you’ve just asked to hang out with your Pastor and NOT talk about anything church-related? Ministers are people as well. They need stupid jokes and lots of food as much as anyone else. They need friends, the kind of friends who would run through a brick wall for them. The kind of friends who will accept their wrongs as well as applaud their rights. The kind of friends who will stand by them without condemnation, but in love. The kind of friends without ulterior motives. Humans. Fellow humans trying to make it in this world through mistakes and everything else. I’m convinced that so many Pastors and church leaders burn out because they have no one else aside from a spouse to just be themselves with. This is an area where I’m determined to improve.

I’m convinced that people burn out with life because we want to walk it alone when the original formula was for us to walk both with God and with other humans. Yes, Christ is enough. But we need other humans to find comfort and safety at times. We need people to be sent with. We need people to be relaxed with. We need people to love us through our stupidity. We need people that we can just be humans with.

And yes, people will fail us. But Jesus didn’t give up on His disciples in their failures. He loved them straight into their futures. We see how those turned out! We have that same power. We can’t run at the first sign of human failure. It is harder, more fulfilling work to forgive and allow God to continue His work in them, THROUGH YOUR FRIENDSHIP AND CONNECTION!!!

Yes, humans can be a safe place for us. We need those safe places. And instead of looking for people to be yours, be one for someone else. Watch what happens.

Be blessed!

The Great Reveal…Not Really!

The Great Reveal…Not Really!

I have diabetes. I have diabetes. I am a diabetic. I have diabetes.

Those words sound foreign coming from my fingers while I type this. They sound even funnier when I try to say them aloud.

I first noticed something was off about 2 weeks ago. I had begun to develop this incessant need…a thirst for water. I would drink 3 liters before lunch at school. I would rush off to the restroom more per day that I have ever in my life. But if I’m truthful, my body had been telling me for longer than 2 weeks. That back-to-school fatigue never went away. I never found my “work legs”, and would often be so tired that by the end of the day I was stuffing myself with candy or chips just to find some kind of energy to help me make it home, where I was then no good.

I have diabetes.

I knew something was wrong. Running searches in Google scared me. Diabetes this.

Diabetes that.

“Curses. This couldn’t be it!”

Every website telling me the same thing. I kept it to myself. I didn’t even tell my wife until I felt it overwhelming me. Then came that fateful day that I went to the clinic and told the PA what I was thinking. When she agreed with me, I expected things to shatter around me, but they didn’t. I had answers. But then, I also had a weight.

A few days later, I’m in the hospital. Now, here’s where God really worked. Following my official diagnosis, I had no direction as to what I needed to eat or not eat. Google did me wrong and left me angry after cutting out carbs for an entire day. The blood pressure medicine that I was prescribed caused an allergic reaction in me that lead me to the ER on Friday morning with a tingling lip the size of a swollen tingling lip (heh). It was bad.

From the ER to being admitted in the span of an hour. WOW!!!

While in the hospital, I received insulin shots.  Nurses kept coming in checking my glucose. Pricking my finger. It hurt!!  And I’m thinking,

“Is this my life now?”

What could have been a bad thing, well, God showed me the good in it. Diabetes Educators came in and told me that this could be managed. I could live with it. I wasn’t a charity case or someone to be pitied. I learned a little about my condition. I learned a few tips to get me going. And even though I spent the entire weekend in the hospital, a thought began to form.

I could be strong with this.

I’ve never felt that intrinsic motivation to exercise. Now, as much for my family as my own life, I have to live.

Eating right? It’s going to be a struggle. I abhor LOTS of healthy things. But I’m going to improve because there are too many things that I still want to do.

My life is becoming all about counting carbs and forcing myself to give myself insulin shots and pricking my fingers and all of this other stuff, but through it all, I know God’s got me.

I will be stronger in this than I’ve been at any other time in my life. Yeah, I’m afraid at times. I am actively fighting fear. Nervousness.

And I’ll be honest here. So many parts of getting adjusted to this have brought to mind some of the ugliest self-talk I’ve ever heard myself spew.

“If you’d have done right, your family wouldn’t have to suffer and pay your medical bills, you idiot.”

“Why make your family pay for your insulin? Just don’t take it and let them have insurance money instead.”

“You’re gonna screw up with that needle.”

To combat this, I want to go back to a moment that I had alone in my hospital room. I gave thanks to God that He forced me to catch this when I did. Laying in my bed, missing my wife and kids, I slowly began to roust myself by thanking God for arresting me when he did. I thanked Him that diabetes is not an end. I thanked Him that he saw this coming, and He has already seen a way through it. I thanked Him that He will see me through the bad times, the times that I’m overwhelmed (all of the time these days), and the times when everything works just right.

See, while in the hospital, I came down with diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a serious condition. My body wasn’t right. And so I thanked God for saving my life.

Cause He SAVED my life.

So yes, I have diabetes. Type 2.

But I’m going to be just fine!

I have diabetes. I am a diabetic.

But I’m an overcomer through Him who has overcome all things.

So I’m going to be alright. Insulin shots and all. Speaking of which….about time for another.

 

 

 

 

The Prodigals, Pt 2

The Prodigals, Pt 2

This is the continued story of a family in turmoil. It is a re-telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in the book of Luke. You can read part 1, here. Please let me know what you think as you read it. 

The next morning, the Old Man opened his eyes and blinked as he looked out of the window again. Wiping his eyes, he scrambled from his bed and ran to the window, pressing his nose flat against it to get a better view. His excitement quickly turned to disappointment as instead of Abram, he found that it was only one of the staff sweeping the end of the driveway. Resting his head against the cold pane of glass, the Old Man took a few moments to compose himself, pressing a hand against his temples to rub the tension away. As he turned away to head downstairs for breakfast, he decided that maybe it would be best if he got away from the residence today and opted to drive around town in one of his vintage vehicles in the Stables. He chuckled to himself as he thought about the reasons for the name of his garage. When people would ask, he would flash a wry smile and simply say,

“Its called the stables because I have a lot of horses in there!”

People would usually laugh, though whether out of obligation he could never tell.

Walking out into the open air for the first time in 3 days had a cleansing effect on the Old Man. he took several deep breaths, and then strolled leisurely toward the Stable and surveyed his choices. His love of cars had been formed early in his life. It was how he and his father had originally bonded by restoring vehicles and selling them at a premium rate. They’d never had much money growing up, but this practice that they shared more than kept clothes on their backs and food on the table. Plus, the Old Man had loved the time that he spent with his father alone. Deciding on his pearl white ‘67 Chevy, he pulled the keys from the glove box and sat down, allowing the leather to support him in all of the right places. Placing the key in the ignition and revving the car had always been a holy moment for the Old Man, and even now, as the car hummed and purred like it always had, he couldn’t stop the smile from enveloping his face. Pressing down on the clutch and shifting the gear, the car roared out of the Stable and sped down the driveway.

Behind the wheel, everything was perfect. There was nothing to be sad about. Hitting the old country road that lead from the residence into town, he pressed a button and the top of the Chevy began to retract automatically. Once it was completely gone, the wind whipped over his head and took him back to the fun of childhood drives with his father. He felt great! As he passed the last quarter mile of the country road, he drove past a dive bar that had been known to house suspect characters. He couldn’t help but wonder if Abram was in there.

And it was that thought that made him turn around and pull into the gravel parking lot.

Walking through the door, the Old Man thought about the very first time he had pulled Abram out of this place. He was supposed to be at a high school function, but the sponsors had called him to let him know that Abram was missing. The Old Man had driven around for hours searching for him, before getting a call from an unknown number in which a strange voice told him that Abram was causing a ruckus and needed to be picked up. When he finally had arrived at the bar, he’d found Abram clearly inebriated, holding a broken bottle that was being pointed at a group of really violent looking men. That night, the Old Man had had to almost fight his way out to save his son. The strange thing was that he hadn’t minded. He would have fought himself bloody to get Abram out of that place alive. Over the years that followed, the Old Man had saved Abram from that place many times. No amounts of yelling and screaming had worked at all.

As the memory faded, the Old Man found himself staring inside of the most depressing bar he had ever seen. He looked at people who returned his look with empty eyes, and slurred speech. The jukebox didn’t work, so there was an eery silence pervading the atmosphere. That didn’t stop him from walking around and asking people if they had seen Abram, to no avail. Either no one had seen him, or they gave even no recognition that they had been addressed. It was disheartening all around, but it did give the Old Man the idea of chasing Abram down in all of his old haunts in town. He spent the rest of the day, into the night, checking every place that Abram had been known to frequent, and calling every person that might have known Abram’s whereabouts. His search, again, came up empty. As he sped home at almost midnight, not even the car could quell his disappointment. He didn’t cry, he thought that his tears were all gone by now, but his face showed the depth of his emotion. For the first time, he truly considered the fact that he might never see his son again.

Donann knocked on the Old Man’s door, wanting to talk about what had happened the day before. He felt needy, and it annoyed him. It had never been his way. He didn’t feel right about the way his relationship was with the Old Man, and the more he had thought about it, he began to question the entirety of their relationship. He felt like an anchor in his life had been lifted, and he were floating out to sea.

When his knocks went unanswered, he slowly pushed the door in, trying to avoid creaking in case the Old Man had been sleeping. Finding the room empty, Donann’s rage flowed again, and he slammed the door before walking quickly back to his own room.

 

This was the end of day four.

The Prodigals Pt 1

The Prodigals Pt 1

Every now and then I get an inspiration for something that absolutely writes itself. This is one of those moments. I have always loved the parable of the Progidal Son that Jesus told, as recorded in the book of Luke, chapter 15. It has such powerful implications for us all. I had never paused to think about the other side of the story, though, until just recently, and began to drum inside of my head until I had to try and write down what I was imagining. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing this story for you all to read, should you choose. Before you read it, please understand that this is not a re-telling of the parable of Jesus. This is fiction based on that story. There is a big difference there. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. – JB

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He watched in silence, tears streaming down his face. He tried holding his sobs in, but occasionally he would become so despondent that his body would shake, and his wails would pierce the veil of quiet that seemed to now surround his entire household. His servants watched him with great sorrow and pity, yet eventually moved on to do their assigned jobs within the residence. Of course, he paid no attention to any of this. His eyes were firmly fixed on the figure driving away down the ornate driveway. He watched the car grow smaller and smaller until it completely ceased being visible to his eyes. Yet he stood there in the largest window in his house, and watched as if seeing a ghost. A single thought now roared loudly between his ears,

What if I didn’t do the right thing?”

Heavily he sat down on the floor. He heard that same question resounding like a clanging cymbal in his head, and now his heart. So deep was his troubling that he barely noticed the young man standing in his doorway. He also barely even felt the arms that surrounded him and pulled him into a tight embrace. He felt hugged and vaguely heard a voice muttering something that he could not quite comprehend. He decided that it didn’t matter. He closed his eyes and sobbed angrily, welcoming death, but not finding it. 

And so he cried and cried, until the deep, blissful nothingness of sleep overcame him.

This was the end of the first day.

The next morning the old man opened his eyes, then shielded them from the blaring sunlight still coming through his opened bedroom window. As his eyes adjusted, he found himself drawn to the driveway once again. He strained his eyes, as if to see something not found through ordinary sight, but saw nothing. Looking around the room, every picture reminded him of what was now missing. The cause of the great hole in his heart, and sorrow in his life. As he laid back down, he began to replay the scenario of the evening before to try and make some sense of all of it.

Abram, his youngest son, had come to him after a hard day of working around the acreage of land that must be kept up. He was visibly upset. Between the two of his boys, Abram was the most emotional, and the most inquisitive. Donann, the eldest son, had always been responsible and had taken to the hard work, understanding that the land was their birthright. That it had provided everything that they’d had now. But Abram could never reconcile why the servants were never allowed to work the land. He could never understand why all of the family had always worked the land. He felt that it was a fruitless exercise. So when he came to the Old Man making a case to receive his portion of the inheritance now so that he could pursue his future on his own terms, the Old Man had not truly been shocked, but the sting had come anyway. Donann tried to speak for his father, sternly reprimanding Abram for being “selfish and arrogant”, but the Old Man had shushed him, and sent Donann away.

Donann had walked away angrily shaking his head, and blaming the Old Man for the way that he had always coddled Abram. Those accusations now hung in the air over the Old Man and strangled his breathing. Shaking it off, he considered Donann’s point. It was true that he had been so careful with Abram. But Abram had been so sickly as a child, and complications with his delivery had resulted in his mother’s death. From the beginnings of his life, the Old Man had felt like the life of his wife had continued in Abram. He looked so much like her. Even thinking about her now made him raw with pain and loss. Taking a deep breath, he stood up and walked slowly over to the window again. The cleaned glass showed a light reflection of his haggard face, so he asked out loud,

Is this my fault? Am I the reason why my son is gone?”

He went over every moment in their shared lives where Donann might have drawn his assumption. In each instance, he could see his favoritism. Birthdays where he had spent more money on Abram, getting him the latest, most high-tech toys to play with, while Donann had gotten more practical gifts, like having land deeded over to him for future investments. The Old Man quizzically wondered how he could have been so blind. In trying to care for the son who had suffered early on, he had abandoned the son who was suffering so greatly now. The one who had stayed.

Girding himself, the Old Man took a shower and made himself presentable. Before leaving his room, he glanced out of that same window one last time.

He found Donann in the kitchen having breakfast. Noticing the plate to his right, the Old Man grabbed it and sat down beside his oldest son. At first, they ate without acknowledging one another. Then after awhile, Donann broke the silence.

“Dad”, he said quietly, “he really left, didn’t he?”

The Old Man didn’t answer. He merely pushed his food around his plate, seeing how many configurations of eggs, bacon, grits, and fruit he could make before having to repeat.

“Son”, the Old Man spoke, his voice cracking and gravelly, “I…I..”

He abruptly rose from the table and walked back to his room, leaving Donann at the table at a loss for words. His temper came quickly, and as he thought about this brother leaving his father after having taken his sizeable inheritance before he knew it, he had tossed his plate, with food still on it, against the wall. Next flew his glass, with orange juice still inside. In his rage, he flipped the table, tossing everything onto the floor in a random clatter. As he stood there, surrounded by glass, heaving, eyes wild, body tense, almost vibrating, the tears finally came. Tears for the brother he had lost, and the father as well, it seemed. He sat in his mess sobbing uncontrollably, waving off the staff who came to see what the noise had been about.

The Old Man heard Donann breaking down, but he knew that there was nothing that he could have said to console him. This was not the way that their relationship worked. It was one of silent agreement. Donann knew his role as the oldest, and he fulfilled it with every ounce of energy that he’d had. Abram was the son who needed continued affirmation. Abram…..the son who had left.

The son who was out doing who knows what, who knows where with who knows who. Maybe he was even dead…no…

The Old Man shook away those sentiments quickly and closed his door to avoid hearing Donann anymore. “Didn’t he know”, the Old Man wondered,”that he loved him no less?”

No”, came the voice in his head, “because you’ve never told him.”

The Old Man climbed back into bed, looked out of the window one last time, and allowed his grief to carry him into sleep.

This was the end of the second day.

 

All We Do is WIN!!

All We Do is WIN!!

Jacob as a sympathetic figure? Most of us aren’t likely to really believe that. However, if we look closer at his story, we find that he went through a season where it really felt like he was reaping what he had sown in deception. Where was the blessing? Good ole Dad had blessed him instead of his brother by some well-formed trickeration. In our minds, Jacob should have been good, right? Cause the blessing would immediately reveal itself and Jacob would be in the money. However, we find him working for his uncle, Laban, who is as much a “Jacob” as Jacob is. Some might say that he invented the “Jacob”. I mean, guys, how would you feel if your future father-in-law switched daughters with you on your wedding night? And then made you work off the debt doubly? What a season. Absolutely horrible.

But what we learn from the life of Jacob in this difficult season is that even in seasons where we feel lost and forgotten, seasons where we think that God has surely forgotten us, that His promises have fallen by the wayside, there are still opportunities for us to realize His faithfulness.

I imagine Jacob tilling the rocky soil at Laban’s singing Elevation Church’s song “Do it Again”, almost bemoaning his fate here. I’m sure that he was thinking about how his life had lead to this point. 2 wives, when he really only wanted one. Laban has him doing all kinds of work, and I’m sure that Laban was just waiting on Jacob to fail so that he could heap even more work on him, but Jacob was smart. And he believed God. And even during these difficult times, God proved faithful time and time again. In the midst of a hard season, Jacob grew from a boy into a man. I believe it was this time in his life that prepared him to meet Esau after leaving Laban. Jacob prospered. He prospered Laban, and God prospered Jacob. Jacob worked hard, and God honored his efforts.

What is the lesson for us?

It’s simple. Quit embracing the escape mentality. No matter what season you are in, quit running. if you keep trying to run from one season into a better season, you won’t be able to handle that comes your way in that season! We go through seasons for a purpose. We have to have the perspective to grow in the season. it is not enough to promise to grow after that season is already done because then we will have missed the entire point of what we found ourselves in. And that is a major problem. We have to steward the environment we find ourselves in. There is always a silver lining. There is always a test to be passed. A challenge to be overcome. And when we start embracing those challenges instead of allowing them to whip us into submission, then no matter what season we go through, we are equipped to thrive! And that is God’s intention. It’s not simply that we find success when the situation is amenable to success. It is that we find success and conquer because that is who we are at our core. It is who God created us to be!

Have the resolve that you will overcome any season not by running away from it. Stand up. Turn around. Face your challenges. Stare your bad season in the face and embrace what it is trying to teach you. Embrace what God wishes to do for you in that season. Commit to growing IN the season, and now when you come out of it.

I’m convinced that this is important stuff. I’m also convinced that it is for me as well as anyone who reads this.

The mark of a mature Christian is that he or she has the foresight and perspective to win, no matter the circumstances! No matter the season. No matter the obstacles. In Christ, all we do is WIN, because Christ WON!

And when we get this accurate view of ourselves, well….

watch what happens next.

Sermons I’d Love to Preach: Concealed Carry

Sermons I’d Love to Preach: Concealed Carry

I’m starting a new category on my blog called Sermons I’d Love to Preach. I figure that I’m always getting ideas for messages, but I never write them down. If I blog a bit about them, when I am asked to preach, I can always come back to my blog to see what I thought about the subject then. and what I think about the subject now. I call that being a good steward.

A good friend of mine and I were talking a few weeks ago about the trip to Vegas that he took with his wife. AS we talked, he told me that his favorite part of that entire experience was getting a chance to just talk with various guys about stuff that they don’t talk about often. it is no surprise that men are secretive. We struggle with sin and the shame that accompanies it more often than we would like to let on, which is why those things tend to hold us back as long as we allow them to. He talked about this whole idea of conceal and carry. Now, I’m no gun owner….yet (my daughter is about to be 13, so I have my application ready), so I don’t know the ins and outs of gun legislation. But just from the name, I know that when licensed, a gun owner can carry their weapon in a concealed manner. Some say it is for safety. Some think it makes them tough. Others just are fulfilling their Wyatt Earp fantasies from childhood. Whatever the reason, concealed carried weapons are legal, and within the right of every citizen.

Where the Kingdom of Heaven is concerned, concealing and carrying is almost like a self- imposed death sentence. The very things that we hold inside can keep us from truly living life on the terms provided by God. Sure, we have the right to carry our own burdens. but we can not make the excuse that we are protecting ourselves. In fact, what we are doing is neglecting to allow people that God has put in our lives to help us, to do their jobs. There is no shame in having sin in your life and telling someone. There is no shame is someone helping us to carry a burden that has been killing us for a long time. There is no shame in being weak and vulnerable before trusted friends. In this way, God heals us. When we are open about our faults and struggles, our needs and desperate pleas, God can use people to bless us in ways that can’t get to us when we choose to conceal and carry our own burdens.

In 1 Peter 5:7, Peter writes,

Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you…”

Casting here is in a present tense. That means that while we might admit out sin at salvation, we should never stop talking to God about those things that ail us. Of course, He knows, but he also knows that the things that ail us most, are the things that we sometimes don’t want to discuss. Yet, when we trust Him, and the people that He has placed around us, we are able to experience His love and faithfulness in a whole new way.  When we open ourselves up to the possibility that God really DOES love and care for us, our future and present become open to the fullness of God.

I’m not the best at open carry. I tend to conceal some things deeper than others. I concealed my porn addiction for years before opening up to a few trusted people about it. The shame that accompanies those hidden things is overwhelming and unnecessary. God accepts us. He already has chosen us. He already loves us. There is nothing more to be gained from God. He has given us all things to enjoy. We have to trust Him and open up. He cares and has placed people around us who care.

While concealing and carrying might be our legal right, it is not in our best interest. I dare you to find trusted people to be honest and open with. Who knows, you just might get set free!

One last thing. While self-defense might be a human right, a Christian knows that God is our true defense. We have to trust Him with our hearts and our hurts.

Be blessed!