When God Does the Unexpected

Unexpected God

Christmas has always been my favorite season. After all, what’s not to like? But this Christmas season is a bit different, as my celebration is muted because of the loss of someone precious to me.

What about you? It may be difficult for you, or someone you love, to celebrate this year. Burdens of loss, financial pressures, health complications, or depression can build an impenetrable wall, brick by brick, separating you from the joy of the season. And yet, when you least expect it…

God has a way of showing up.

He did it for me last week.

Someone I didn’t know well took me aside at a holiday gathering. She shared how she had suffered from depression most of her life. When she attended my husband’s memorial service this summer, she heard the story of his battle with depression. She also learned how God had healed him—not of his cancer, but of the depression he struggled with for decades.

My pastor closed the memorial service by doing something unexpected. He sensed the Holy Spirit prompting him to pray for the healing of those there who might be suffering from depression.

In her words, “Who goes to a memorial service to be healed of depression?”

Indeed. Who does?

But that day, God showed up unexpectedly. And four months later she took me aside to share how she had not experienced a day of depression since the memorial service.

Two thousand years ago, God also showed up unexpectedly, this time in the life of a teenage girl. He showed up with news delivered by an angel—news that turned her life upside down, and then turned the world upside down. Or maybe a better description would be right side up! Still, the religious leaders of His day failed to see Him because they were convinced God would reveal Himself in a different way. They refused to consider the possibility that God might be moving in another direction.

God is still showing up unexpectedly. But if we’re laser-focused on what we’ve decided He should do, we’ll miss the work He wants to do in and through us.

Like my husband, you might be praying for healing in one area, only to learn God is at work in another area of your life.

Trust your heavenly Father to wrap you in His grace and surround you with His peace. Then trust Him to work sovereignly to fulfill His perfect purposes. You just might find He will give you what you need, when you need it.

Unexpectedly.


 
My Christmas Ornament Angel

Christmas ornament

Every day of the Christmas season is magical when you’re eight years old. Bright lights, colorful decorations, dazzling trees, gaily-wrapped gifts, and mouth-watering treats combine to create an enchanting time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

During my childhood, the second most important day for me in December—next to Christmas Day itself, of course—was the day the lights of Christmas migrated from the streets and the stores into our living room. The day we put up the Christmas tree.

First, dad assembled the tree branch by branch, longer boughs on the bottom, shorter limbs on top. Mom untangled the strings of multi-colored Christmas lights and wrapped them on the tree. Then it was time to bring the ornaments out of their boxes—twelve compartments to a box, with a blown-glass ornament resting in a tissue paper nest in each compartment.

As much as I wanted to, I did not help with this process. The branches were too unwieldy, the old-fashioned light bulbs too fragile, and the glass ornaments too delicate to be handled by eight-year-old fingers. Even so, I watched all of these preparations with a worshipful gaze. A decorated tree in our living room meant Christmas was only a few short weeks away.

But everything changed the day of my eighth Christmas. That Christmas, as our family celebrated the holiday at my aunt’s home, I opened a small box. Nestled in a bed of tissue paper was an angel.

She was the most beautiful Christmas angel I had ever seen. Less than four inches tall, she wore a fur-trimmed red gown and a tiny halo over her soft white hair. A Christmas gift from my godmother.

Aunt Ramona didn’t have children of her own back then, and my sister and I were the blessed recipients of her bountiful love. She opened the way to a multitude of firsts in our lives. The first time we went ice-skating, horseback riding, and camping. Even more important, the first time we attended Sunday School. It was my aunt who first taught me about Jesus.

Now Aunt Ramona had given me my first Christmas ornament, long before Hallmark became inextricably linked with the tradition of exchanging annual Christmas ornaments.

Christmas would never be the same.

Although I wasn’t allowed to handle the fragile blown-glass ornaments Mom so carefully unwrapped and hung on the tree each year, this angel was different. She was my very own, and I eagerly awaited her emergence from the storage box of Christmas decorations.

You would have thought she was made of silk and china instead of polyester and plastic.

When I held this little angel in my hands, my dreams soared. I felt like I could do anything, be anyone, and go anywhere: the sky was the limit. Stretching to my full height, I would carefully grasp the metal hook and position her on the tree in a place of honor, my reach extending a bit higher with each passing year.

It’s been more than fifty years since I first held that tiny red and white angel. She came with me when I married and stayed with us each time we moved. She even survived a relocation of a thousand miles from New York to Florida.

Where ever I am, this little angel never fails to release a flood of memories each time I lift her out of her packaging and lovingly position her in a prominent place on our Christmas tree.

I’m grateful for my Christmas angel. I’m also grateful for the related memories that grow more precious with each passing year. Memories of adventures with my own fairy godmother.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?


 
Do Your Traditions Affirm or Distract?

Have you ever practiced a tradition without knowing why or how it started? Does it matter?

One friend celebrates half-birthdays in her family. Another organizes an egg hunt every Easter for the children in her family. Still another friend serves pizza for dinner every Friday night.

The Christmas season overflows with traditions. Every year we sing the same carols. We attend a candlelight service on Christmas eve. Perhaps you open presents Christmas morning. Or maybe your family opens presents the night before. Is Christmas eve dinner traditionally a fish dinner at your house? Maybe your family would be horrified if you didn’t make the traditional Christmas ham or your grandmother’s apple pie recipe.

But does it matter?

Traditions

1988

Yesterday, I repeated a tradition I’ve been practicing with friends for several decades. A family of 3 children spent the afternoon decorating home-baked gingerbread houses. The first time I did this, 30 years ago, was with a family of 4 children. Those kids are grown with children of their own. Last year, we started the tradition with a new family.

As I think about the place traditions have in my life, I wonder how many annual Christmas traditions begin with spontaneous joy, only to transform into obligatory chores with each passing year. Does the thought of putting up the tree—again—leave you with dread? Is there a mound of presents in your bedroom that still need wrapping?

Churches have split and new denominations formed because of disagreement over traditions. Families have divided because individuals hold so tightly to traditions that they’re willing to sacrifice relationships. Marriages have ended because spouses place a higher priority on the traditions of their birth family than on beginning fresh traditions in their new family.

As we celebrate the birth of the Son of God who came to save us from our sin, will you take a fresh look at how you celebrate Christmas? Why do you attend a candlelight service? Or exchange presents? Why put up a Christmas tree?

Explain the reasons behind our Christmas traditions to your children and grandchildren. Help them appreciate, not just the how, but the why. Examine your own traditions. Maybe it’s time to change things a bit. Eliminate one or two that have lost their meaning, and replace them with traditions that affirm the “reason for the season.”

This is the season of joy. Joy to the world for the Savior is born. Joy for the relief that our sins have been paid for in full and our relationship with the Father has been restored. And overflowing joy for those who don’t just celebrate the birth of Jesus, they know Him intimately as Savior and Lord.

2016

As for me, I’ll continue to bake gingerbread houses and have children we love decorate them. Why? For the joy on their faces—and on mine!—and their giggles as they create works of art. For the twinkle in their eyes and the icing stains on their fingers as they craft edible works of art. Most of all, for the joyful memories we’re creating—memories that may last another 30 years or longer. Joy they will long-associate with building houses—and lives—on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

What traditions do you treasure that affirm the meaning of Christmas?       


 
Praying for Peace When Others Pray for War

What’s the point of praying for peace when your adversary is dead-set (no pun intended) on war?

Peace

As the weeks of December move us toward Christmas, many Christians recognize Advent themes that traditionally include hope, peace, joy, and love. Last week, I wrote about hope.  Hope is easy to write about. After all, the bleaker things look, the more we need and pursue hope.

But peace? Peace can be difficult to pursue, especially if the other person in the broken relationship wants nothing to do with it…or us.

We see it in the news. Nation against nation. Tribe against tribe. Ethnic cleansings. Arab groups striving to eliminate Israel. Shiites killing Sunnis. Sunnis killing Sufis.

We see it in our personal relationships. Brother against brother. Sister against sister. Children against parents.

Peace is elusive. We hope for it. We pray for it. Isn’t that what the Bible tells us to do? Yet we need the other person—or group—to want it, too.

Or do we?

As far as it depends on you

There’s an interesting verse in the Bible that speaks of peace…but it doesn’t speak of the other person. In Romans 12:18, the apostle Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV).

“As far as it depends on you.” The state of my heart is not dependent on the other person. It is dependent on intimacy with the Prince of Peace. Only by His Spirit can I remove bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment toward the one who refuses peace.

So does that mean I become a doormat, begging that individual for a restored relationship? No, living at peace means I do not desire their harm. It means they know I want peace, even if they don’t. And it means I pray for it.

But what kind of peace am I praying for? Am I trying to keep the peace or make peace?

Peace

Peacekeeper or Peacemaker?

Peacekeepers avoid conflict at all costs. Their motto is, “Don’t rock the boat.” Peacemakers focus on reconciliation, and they recognize that healthy conflict may be necessary for reconciliation to occur.

Jesus was a peacemaker. He was more concerned with making peace than He was with keeping peace. His earthly life—and His death—centered on making peace between God and humans. Yet some of the things He said did not sound peaceable at all.

Jesus understood that real peace does not ignore conflict. True peace addresses the cause of the problem to remove it permanently. For us to have peace with God, Jesus dealt with the problem of our sin with finality and in the most violent way possible.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means we are to say what people need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Of course, we do so gently and lovingly. Avoiding conflict may be easier, but Yahweh Shalom (The Lord is Peace) doesn’t call us to take the easy way. He calls us to be peacemakers.

We celebrate Christmas because God sent His Son to make peace with us. He told us what we needed to hear, not what we wanted to hear. He didn’t ignore our problem of sin, He dealt with it once and for all. And before we can hope for peace with other people, we must first accept the peace God offers us.

Then, especially in this season of Advent, continue praying for peace with others. Be ready to make peace when God gives the opportunity. Until then, as far as it depends on you, live at peace.


 
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