The Extravagant Gift

Wise advise this time of year would be to not give extravagantly.  Don’t break the bank or go deep into debt to show love that you should be showing all year.  That is wise advise in respect to giving of Christmas gifts.

There is another aspect to giving, extravagant giving that says otherwise.  We should be giving extravagantly continually, every day of the year.  Abraham did.  Moses did.  David and Isaiah and Elijah and Jeremiah did.  Peter and James and John and all the disciples did.  And Paul did.

They did and millions of others have as well through the centuries.  They gave themselves to Christ.  They surrendered their lives to Him.  And here’s the thing.  When they, when we surrender our lives to Him, we exchange a life of no value to gain a life of infinite worth.

There is One other who gave extravagantly.  Jesus Christ surrendered all.  He exchanged a life of infinite value for a life of no value ( or so it seemed).  The exchange, the sacrifice had already been made the night He was born.  He gave extravagantly.

So what should we give this Christmas?  Should we give extravagantly?  Give our all, our everything, our lives?   Not just on Christmas but all year, from this day forward, forever.

After all, what have we got to lose?

 

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Who Knew?

Matthew Chapter two tells about the Magi who came to visit the baby Jesus.  We call them wise men.  A popular song calls them kings and says there were three of them.  I don’t know if they were wise men or kings.  I don’t know how many there were.  I do know they were rich.  They brought expensive gifts.  I imagine they came with an entourage.  They probably made quite a splash in Jerusalem.

I wonder why the wise men/kings came.  They read the prophecies.  They studied the stars.  But did they think that this was The King?  Or did they think he was to be just a king?  Maybe they came to bow and worship, to give expensive gifts just in case.  Maybe they were just hedging their bets.

You wonder who knew.  Who understood just what this child would mean?  Elizabeth and Zechariah certainly had some idea.  Joseph had an inkling.  Mary most of all understood that this child was very special.  But who knew?  Who really knew that this child would be the One who would divide history?  Who knew that through this child, by this child everything would change?

That’s what happens when Jesus comes on the scene.  Everything changes.  We get confused about that.  We think it’s about the color of coffee cups, about saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, about laws and politicians.  When Jesus comes on the scene everything changes.  When Jesus comes on the scene I am changed.

And that is the task before us.  It’s not about who’s running the government (or who thinks they are running the government).  It is about Jesus and that by Him, through Him everything has changed.

 

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A Christmas Fast

I hardly post anything anymore.  When I started out I wanted to write stuff that was amusing, clever, entertaining while at the same time maybe reaching a few souls with the gospel.  That’s long gone I’m afraid.  Can’t see the humor.  I have managed to come up with stuff postworthy for December (leading up to Christmas) the last couple of years.  But this year…

I got inspired and wrote the following longhand at work the other day.  Let’s see if this means anything.

It’s been a challenging year.  Emergency room visits that turn out to be, well, false alarms.  Visits to the doctor.  Various intrusive examinations and tests.  Followup visits.  All of the exams and tests came up negative so that’s reassuring.  But all the same I have suffered an erosion in the past year, an erosion of peace.

I wonder if that’s what hinders us, not the big things but the little things that constantly wear away at us.  The constant drip drip drip of the little distractions that erode our peace and joy.

I know we can’t shut off many things that come at us, that distract us.  But there is one thing we can do.

What I’m getting at is a fast.  Not of food.  After all it’s Christmas.  There will be treats.  No, I’m suggesting a fast of news.  Imagine (if you could turn off the noise) getting to January and looking back and seeing all the things that were going to happen that didn’t, the things that did happen that we weathered just fine, the accusations and finger pointing that didn’t mean anything.  That would be cool, wouldn’t it?

I know.  I know.  Google doesn’t have a ‘no politics’ button.  We can’t completely shut off the noise.  But we can choose not to focus on it.  We can choose instead to focus on Jesus.

After all it is Christmas.

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This Is What You Are Looking For

I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the theater the other day.  I like watching those old movies that had such an impact, especially on the big screen.  They never have the same effect, though.  Maybe it’s because I know what’s coming.

Watching this one did remind me of one thing: the part music can play in story telling.  Close Encounters has that five note sequence: Re, Me, Do, Do, So.  John Williams is a master at creating simple note progressions that become a short of shorthand for the story itself.

Music can be more than enhancements to the story.  Music can be story in itself.

I recently read a biography of Beethoven.  I big book.  I had to read it in gulps.  There was a lot I just scanned, the stuff about specific keys and chords.  Completely over my head.  I did learn a lot about the man himself, though.  He was convinced at an early age that he had a gift.  I wonder if much of his anger and depression and isolation was because he was afraid that his gift would be wasted or would not find its place in the world.  All of us are born with a gift and few of us completely fulfil the promise of that gift.

Beethoven lived in the time of the French revolution.  He was thrilled by the promise of freedom, of the end to inherited royalty, the end to privileged aristocracy.  But then the revolution turned deadly.  Hope then depression.  Out of that came Napoleon, and Beethoven was again hopeful.  A benevolent despot. Freedom, equal opportunity, an end to poverty and hunger.  But then Napoleon made himself emperor and began to establish a new aristocracy, a new royal lineage.  Napoleon was defeated and a return to the old order brought even greater oppression.  Beethoven was once again thrown into depression.

The biographer again and again makes the point that Beethoven’s music begins somberly, then goes through turmoil and warfare and discordance, then ends with joy.  Always ends with joy.  Beethoven’s life and music were a lifelong search for joy.

This is nowhere more evident than in his last symphony, the ninth, named Choral.  It begins with a whisper, uncertainty.  It almost sounds like an orchestra tuning up.   From there it moves to the suggestion of warfare, of marching armies, of drums and trumpets, of battles and bloodshed.  It continues that way, growing ever more discordant and unsettling until…

The fourth movement is where Beethoven was heading all along.  (It begins at the 52 minute mark.)  Not far into it we encounter an old friend: that simple two note sequence we heard at the beginning.  But it sounds more confident, more sure of itself.  From there it moves on but this time there is not the sense of armies and battles and bloodshed.  This time the music conveys the sense of anticipation, of hope maybe?  A sense of something wonderful that is coming.  Embedded in the music are little three or four note snippets that give promise of that simple tune we know is coming,

Then it just stops.  Well, it doesn’t really stop.  Even with headphones you have to turn up the volume to hear it.  You can almost feel it rather than hear it. In my hillbilly understanding I call them bass fiddles.  They are playing that familiar tune, the one we’ve been waiting for.  In both my YouTubes the conductors have been conducting with great zeal and showmanship.  Now they, both of them, are standing quietly, just watching and listening.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s tradition.  Maybe everybody does the ninth that way.  But it does lend drama.  It makes a statement.

We dance and shout and run the aisles and we think that is where joy comes from.  But I think it’s that small voice, that whisper in my ear that can barely be heard.  That whisper that says ‘I will heal’, ‘I will provide’, ‘I will protect’, and that one whisper that is more important than all the others.  “I’m right here.’

Now instruments of a higher register join in and the cadence steps up a bit.  The violins come in an octave higher.  Then the brass joins in and we are lifted still higher.  Now the phrases in their excitement are tumbling over each other, one beginning before the last one is done.  At one point the violins go staccato, Bum Bum Bum, in their ecstasy, in their joy.

And now we come to the choral part.  I don’t know how you feel about it but to me German is not a pretty language.  But even at that we have been carried up to a place where even the singing transmits the feeling of joy.  We have been transported by the music.

The YouTube has closed captioning and the words convey a foggy sense of wellbeing.  Beethoven’s religion seems to have been an odd combination of faith and philosophy.  His idea of a better life felt something like ‘the fellowship of man’.  Better days ahead.

In some parts of the world, especially Japan for some reason, performance of the Ninth is a kind of new year celebration thing.  It’s a way to begin the year with a new hope, a vague promise that the next year will be better.

But we don’t depend on vague promises or earthy philosophies.  Our joy is not dependent on present or future circumstances.  Our joy comes from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit, from God the Father.  

It’s likely that the world around us will continue to get worse.  People will continue to look for relief in sex and drugs. They will continue to wallow in fear and anger.  But we can live above all that, in spite of circumstances.  We can live in joy, the unspeakable joy of the Lord.

And then we can say to the world around us ‘Here.  This.  This is what you’re looking for.’

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Comes in the Morning

Yesterday I posted something about joy.  I get something like that in my head and I can’t move on till I do something about it.  Sometimes, maybe all the time, I think it’s more for me than for anybody else.  So I write.  It may never come out of drafts or it may simmer for a few days or I may post immediately, like ripping a bandage.  Yesterday it was ripping a bandage.

I woke up this morning thinking I left the impression that sin was okay as long as you had ‘joy’.  That was not my intention.

Sin without confession and repentance will steal your joy.  Sin without confession and repentance will weaken your faith.  Sin without confession and repentance will silence that inner voice of the Spirit.  Sin without confession and repentance will lead to hell instead of heaven.  That’s kind of in your face but there it is.

Before I had gotten past that thought I stumbled on another one.  There are people in the world who have suffered unthinkable tragedy, tragedy far greater than the small upsets I have endured.  Who am I to tell those people that they should be joyful?

What can I say?  I don’t feel qualified to give advice but here I am anyway.  Don’t give up.  Argue, accuse, rail against the injustice of it but don’t give up.  Don’t stop talking.  Don’t stop listening.  Be alert for those little spurts of joy, unreasonable joy, that seem to come from nowhere.  Hang on.  God will not let go if you don’t let go.

The night may be far longer and darker than you could ever imagine.  But someday the morning will come.  And joy comes in the morning.

 

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He Has Turned My Mourning…

You know the mess we’re in.  Our culture has strayed from the path God intended, the path God expects.  Things are bad and they are probably going to get worse.

So how did we get here?  One viewpoint says it’s our fault.  It is the fault of Christians.  It’s movies and TV and alcohol and drugs and divorce and having the wrong kind of sex with the wrong people at the wrong time.  We have become just like the world.  It’s our fault. That’s one viewpoint.

But I beg to differ.

I don’t think it’s our lack of holiness that has changed our culture.  It is our lack of joy.  Angry Christians harping on the sins of the world repels the ones we are trying to reach.  Joy, the joy of the Lord, attracts them.  Battling all those sins makes us want them all the more.  The joy of the Lord makes them irrelevant and a hindrance to the fullness of His joy.

Two thousand years ago Jesus brought us joy, the joy of salvation, the joy of righteousness, the joy of fellowship with Him.  And now every day the Holy Spirit comes to give us that same joy.

I may be sick.  The Holy Spirit may or may not come with healing.  But He always comes with joy.

I may be in trouble.  The Holy Spirit may of may not come with wisdom to rescue me from my trouble.  But He always comes with joy.

I may be broke with the sheriff at the front door and the wolf at the back door and bankruptcy beckoning.  The Holy Spirit may or may not come with a check for a million dollars.  But He always comes with joy.

Jesus is not a general come to watch His troops march, each one in perfect lockstep with his fellow Christians.  Jesus comes to watch us dance.

In heaven I will not be marching in revue.  I will be dancing.

 

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Lost

There has been far too little nonsense lately.  If ever we needed nonsense we need it now.

I can’t let go of LOST.  I am forever haunted by what might have been.  Or maybe it’s what I wanted it to be.  I should have know better.

Anyway here is something sort of LOST like that got stuck somewhere in a wrinkle of my brain.

The conference room was well appointed.  The table was real wood, polished to a high shine.  The chairs were those mesh backed things that could be adjusted any way you would want to adjust them.

There were four men seated at one end of the table.  They wore expensive suits.  They had stern looks on their faces.  One man stood near the other end of the table.  Rolled up sleeves.  Tie loosened.  He looked nervous.  He had a remote control in his hand.  A huge television screen dominated the wall at his end of the room.

The man at the head of the table spoke.  “What’s this about?  Rumors are flying.  Something about pulling the plug on our Survivor ripoff.”

Nervous guy said, “This came in an hour ago.”  He tapped a button on the remote and the screen came to life, filled with a man’s face.  He was too close to the camera.  His nose was distorted, overlarge.  It was clear that he was angry and nervous.  His voice was barely above a whisper.

“You said the island was uninhabited.  You said this was a controlled environment.  You were wrong.  There are other people here and they really, really don’t want us here.”  He took a quick look over his shoulder then back at the camera. “They seriously want us gone and they are willing, eager to take steps to…”  He paused, considering the right word.  “…eliminate us.  You have to come get us.  Right now.  Before it’s too late.”

Nervous guy hit pause.  One of the suits said, “How did this happen?  Whoever’s responsible is gonna be history.”

Another suit said, “We’ve gotta put a lid on this.  It gets out, we have a PR nightmare.”

Suit at the end of the table said, “Okay pull the plug.  Shut it down.  How soon can we get them out of there?”

Nervous guy said, “We can’t”

All the suits sat up straight.  Head suit said, “Why not?”

“We can’t find them.”

The suits looked at each other in consternation.  Except for the head suit.  His gaze never left nervous guy.  “You know the coordinates, don’t you?  Surely we know where we left them.”

“We do but we’ve looked there and they aren’t there.  We’ve been there.  There’s no island.  We’ve used planes, ships, radar, sonar, satellite, infrared.  We’ve tried everything we could think of.  They aren’t there.”

“You must have gotten the coordinates wrong.  We left them somewhere else.  Widen the search.”

Nervous guy gestured at the screen with his remote hand.  “See those coordinates on the lower left corner?  Those are  transmitted with the video.  That’s where they are.  We know exactly where they are.”

He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at the suits.

“They’re just not there.”

 

 

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