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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hope That Shines When You Didn’t Know You Needed It

            I was walking through the grocery store, on my way to pick up a bowl of soup for a quick lunch when I got the call.  It was from my financial planner asking me what account we wanted the $65,000 deposited that was being transferred from an Ameritrade account.  I think I actually stopped walking at that point. 
You see, I wasn’t expecting any type of transfer from anyone’s Ameritrade account.  I definitely had no idea where $65,000 would be coming from.  I let them know that but I also did say, if someone was wanting to pass on a $65,000 Christmas gift, Pam and I were definitely willing to bear the sacrifice of such generosity!
            Sometimes the extraordinary shows up in the midst of the ordinary.  It is life as normal – mundane and routine – and then something happens that is totally unexpected.  We become part of a story we didn’t even know was happening.
            God does that sort of thing pretty regularly, it seems.  We are going along, minding our own business and God shows up in crisis or opportunity, wrecking our reality in the process, throwing us into new levels of faith we sometimes didn’t want.
            The Christmas story is this kind of story.  Everyone who is a part of the Christmas story of Jesus was thrown into crisis and opportunity.  Everyone was forced to see God in a new way, to make choices of following or rejecting.  The story of Christmas was life altering in this way. 
            Although the Christmas story caused great turmoil and disruption, it is still ultimately a story of hope.  It is a story of hope because Jesus brought light to the darkness.  He laid bare both the political reality of the day and the personal reality of the people who encountered him.  It required people to make a choice – follow or reject.
            In our times where Christmas is a safe story filled with traditions and sentimentality, it can be hard to capture the power of the first Christmas.  But it should always remind us that God still shows up unexpectedly in the midst of the normal, the routine, the mundane.  And when he does it is both a crisis and an opportunity.  And when he shows up it is an invitation to follow – you have a choice to be made.
            My prayer this Christmas is, in the midst of the joy, traditions, songs, shopping, giving and getting, God would unexpectedly show up with such power and such beauty you would be thrown into the chaos of crisis and opportunity.  My prayer is you would say yes to Jesus, yes to new faith and yes to deeper faith.  And when you do you would see the hope that shines brighter than the crisis.  I pray this Christmas you will see Jesus.

Peace and grace,


Friday, December 5, 2014

I Don’t Want To Be Here

            “This is not good.”  That is what I thought as we sat there.  It was dark.  It was getting colder by the minute – winter in Chicago is like that.  We were in a bad spot both literally and figuratively as we sat in our little Ford Escort in the left emergency lane on a sweeping left turn.  

We were on the Dan Ryan Expressway on the Southside of Chicago with a broken timing belt, in the days before cell phones.  Traffic continued to zip by as Pam and I sat there in our semi-formal attire, wondering how in the heck we were going to get some help.  This was not according to our plan and we didn’t want to be there.
            Not according to plan.  I don’t want to be here.”  Have you ever had those words go through your mind?  No matter how carefully we try to control our lives, not matter how carefully we plan we can find ourselves in times and places not of our choosing.  Darkness is an apt image for these times.  Getting colder is an apt feeling for the experience.  It is in these times where it is common for us to ask the question, “God, where are you?”
            For the people of God in the Old Testament, one of the most transformative experiences was the Babylonian exile where up to 70,000 men, women and children were moved from Jerusalem to Babylon because they were a conquered people.  Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to speak truth to these people who found themselves “not according to plan” and not where they wanted to be.  Like us when we find ourselves in similar unwanted circumstances, their focus was on getting back to normal by getting out of this situation.  There is a better place, a better people and a better situation.  Get us out of here!  Can you relate?
            It is into this difficult circumstance Jeremiah speaks God’s words: 
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)
            I can imagine those who first heard these words spoken to them were a bit confused.  If this was true, why wasn’t God doing something?  Why weren’t they being delivered?  Why weren’t they being returned to their homeland?  God, where are you?
            The thing the people of Jeremiah’s time had to learn is the same thing we have to learn:  Hope is not found in us getting out of our circumstances, hope is found when God shows up in our circumstances.  God told them and he tells us this powerful truth – Wherever you are, there I Am.  I am with you.

            One of the names of Jesus revealed in the Old Testament is Emmanuel.  The name means “God is with us.”  Jesus is our future and our hope and he is right were you are.  He is the light of hope we celebrate in Christmas.
            Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  This is what God told Jeremiah to remind his people right after he told them he had hadn’t forgotten them, he knew what was happening and there is a future and hope.
            As Pam and I sat in the dark and cold, helpless and without options, we still had one option and that was to pray.  So we did.  Shortly after that a passing tow truck made his way over to us and towed our car back to our community an hour away.
            In that dark, cold place where you find yourself without options, there is always one option available and that is to pray.  Wherever you are, God is.  He wants you to know that.

Peace and grace,