Much more better

Maybe this is bad to say, but one of my favorite fictional characters is Jack Sparrow — pardon me, Captain Jack Sparrow — from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He’s a really fascinating character and is unpredictable at best, so he’s fun to watch and listen to. Johnny Depp created the most wonderful dialect for the Jack Sparrow character. He’s infinitely quotable, to the point that even a stickler like me has no problem dropping superlatives in favor of using a grammtical error . . . just because it’s fun to say.

In the second movie, Jack Sparrow uses the phrase “much more better” to desribe the treasure he wants his scallywag crew to help him find. Of course, much more better is completely wrong. But coming from Jack Sparrow, it couldn’t be more appropriate. And if you think about it, what phrase could replace that? You can’t really say best. It doesn’t have the oomph. And much better falls short.

So . . . much more better it is.

And, again, this may be irreverant but every time I hear John 10:10, this is the superlative descriptor I think of.

John 10:10 in the New Living Translation goes like this:

10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Personally, I think it’s better communicated in the Message. But you have to start at verse 6 to understand the context of what Christ is talking about.
 6-10Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
See that? “Real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
More and better life.
I always read that “much more better life.” Because . . . well . . . it’s true.
We crazy little scurrying petty humans populating this giant revolving dust ball think we’re living. Even if we go from day to day doing nothing but working or cleaning our homes or going to school, we think that’s life.
We couldn’t be further from the truth.
Life — real life — is something Christ gives us. It’s something you get when you choose to allow Jesus into your life.
I don’t usually post on weekends. But this is Christmas Eve, and I just felt like I should. And, besides, I went outside this morning to take pictures of the sunrise. I froze my hiney off, but the shots were worth it.
But my favorite shot wasn’t of the sun. It’s of a dead sunflower.
Kansas is full of sunflowers. It’s our state flower. And they’re so fascinating when they’re alive because they turn their faces to follow the sun, and when the goes down in the evenings, they sleep. But when the sun comes up the next morning, they rise with it. But not in the winter time. In the winter, they’re dead.
But the thing about sunflowers is that they always come back. Wild sunflowers are actually weeds, so of course they never really die.
And that’s the thing about life with Christ — it never actually dies. It just sleeps for a while. And even in the dark, cold winters of our existence on Earth, when it seems like the sun is never going to rise, eventually it does. And then, we have light again.
Maybe that’s too deep for a Christmas Eve morning, but I think that in these dark times that we live in, it’s good to remember that the sun may set but that it’s going to rise again. And even if we can’t see it, it’s still there, just waiting for the moment to rise again. And even though flowers might turn brown and die in the winter time, that doesn’t mean they’re gone.
And once the sun is up and the day is started, life can get moving again. And not just life as usual, real life. Much more better.

Hope in spite of the holiday season

I don’t know about all of you, but I get tired of the “holiday season” stuff. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but there are so many traditions that either had no meaning to begin with or that have lost their meaning over time. And one of those is the constant repetition of every single verse out of Luke 2.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love Luke 2. I love the Christmas story. But as I’ve said in previous posts, I believe the Christmas story needs to be celebrated year round and not just during the last two weeks of December. And that’s all that Biblegateway seems to be putting up right now.

And it’s not that the Christmas story isn’t wonderful. It is. It’s the beginning of the greatest story ever told. But it’s not the only story. It’s part of an epic, and you can’t just talk about one part of an epic.

What about everything else people go through during the holidays? I know the angels appeared to the shepherds and sang to them. I know Mary wrapped Jesus in cloths and laid Him in a manger. I know all that.

But you know what else? I’m stressed out. My job is crazy. My responsibilties are piling up. My life is nuts. And I love that angels sang and Mary wrapped Jesus up and wise men came from far away, but what practical message do those verses have for me in the middle of these last two weeks of my stressful life? I want to see other verses that encourage me in my daily walk, not just the same verses you only talk about every year.

I’m sorry if people disagree. This is just the way I feel about it. Today’s verse of the day is out of Luke 2. Surprise. So I decided to find my own verse this morning, and I ended up in Romans 8. This is kind of long, but it’s the best thing I’ve read in a while:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

 26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believersin harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Did you catch verse 24? Go back and read it again. Better yet, I’ll just repeat it.

24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

When we were saved we were given the hope that God is going to come back for us, that God is going to complete the work He started in us. The paranthetical expression is what stood out to me today.

It’s so true. That’s what Hope is. It’s looking forward to something we don’t have yet, waiting.

Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. All my life is waiting, but that’s what we’re supposed to do. That is hope. Waiting patiently and confidently.

Wow. How many of us need to hear that during this stressed out, emotional holiday season? How many people have forgotten what Hope really is? Yes, Christ is Hope. He came to give us Hope, but Hope isn’t exactly the positive thing that we always hear about during Christmas.

Hope is waiting for something we don’t have yet.

So on this frigid (in Kansas, at least) Christmas Eve Eve, don’t forget how to hope. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the things you think you ought to have. Because Hope means that you still have a ways to go.

And I don’t know if that’s encouraging or not. But it’s what I needed to hear this morning.

Good news!

How do people announce the birth of a child? Usually it’s letters or notes or someone standing up in church. I know someone who recited a poem to announce that his wife was pregnant . . . and it would have been great if he’d been any good at poetry, but he wasn’t. So it was just funny. But when Jesus was born, God had a unique way of letting everyone know about it.

Today’s passage comes from Luke 2 again, this time verses 8 through 11.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

Talk about a really exciting way to announce that a child has been born! Wow.

This is another well-known passage, and there are a lot of practical applications that can be drawn from it. Most notably I think is the fact that the angels came to shepherds, who were the dregs of Jewish society, to announce Jesus’ birth. I think that says something about God.

God wanted everyone to know about Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t some secret that He wanted kept. It wasn’t some club that only members could know about.

I mean even the angel said that He brought good news that would bring great joy to all people. Not just some people.

So if the birth of Jesus is something that should bring joy to all people, why does it seem like people are scared to talk about it? I know there’s the whole issue about being offensive and about sharing the holidays, but let’s be real here, folks. If we want to have a politically correct holiday, we need to get rid of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa too. It’s not just Christmas that should get the boot.

Religion has turned Christmas into a tradition that only “Christians” celebrate, and that’s wrong. That’s one of the reasons I really hate religion. Religion says it’s all right to be a club. Religion encourages cliques. And it doesn’t matter what your religion is. They’re all the same.

Jesus has never been exclusive. He came here for all people. And maybe announcing that offends people. I don’t mean to offend people, but that’s what Christmas is about. Celebrating the birth of Jesus. Celebrating the Hope that God brought into our world.

And that’s something that all people need to hear, whether it offends them or not. After all, it’s good news. So don’t be afraid to tell people why you celebrate. Do it nicely, of course. Thumping people on the head with a Bible has never been effective in helping people understand what Jesus did for them. But don’t shrink back either because you’re afraid.

Jesus birth is good news. And if people would listen, they would receive great joy from it, no matter who they are and where they come from.

I am like the manger

Have you ever noticed how Jesus changes things? Today’s passage is Luke 2:6-7.

 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

There are all sorts of practical applications to make of this, but the one that sticks out this morning is the manger again.

I mean, it was just a dirty, stinky, smelly manger. Probably rough. Maybe made of wood or stone. The stable was definitely filthy, and so was the manger I’m sure. But in a matter of moments, it went from something ugly and filthy to the bed of a King.

But that’s what Christ does with all of us. We start out common and broken, but when He comes into our lives, He transforms us into something else. His family.

He takes the broken pieces of our lives and weaves them together into an amazing tapestry. And the parts of us that are ugly become our most beautiful features. And when we used to be wretched and miserable, we can say now that we have hope and life and joy, even on the worst days and in the most difficult circumstances.

That’s transformation. That’s taking something that was and turning it into something else. That’s what happened to that dirty, smelly manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. And that’s what happened in my life when Christ became my friend.

It’s a really simple thought this morning, but it’s also kind of deep, I guess. Just to think that all of us are just like the manger Christ slept His first night in.

So this is brief because it’s simple. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but every time I look at a manger now, I can honestly say that I’m the same way it is. Where once it was just a piece of furniture in barn, now it’s famous. It’s on everyones’ yards and Christmas cards and mantlepieces and bookshelves.

I’m not famous, obviously. But I am a new person, thanks to Christ. And He has transformed my life into something He can use.

And if that isn’t a happy thought on the frigid first day of winter, I don’t know what is.

God’s plan disguised by inconvenience

Do you have struggles in your life? If you think you don’t, you’re lying to yourself. Everyone has struggles and difficulties. Granted, some people have bigger struggles than others. But no one can escape them. And depending on your perspective, you can easily let them control your life.

I know, personally, the struggles I have aren’t huge. There aren’t any major illnesses in my life. No major medical issues. No major financial issues. No major lifestyle issues. The struggles I face more than anything else are more like matters of inconvenience.

Good example? My basement flooded last night. And it wasn’t even a major flood. It was just enough water to make a mess, which I promptly cleaned up. And then I went and took a shower. And then it promptly flooded again. Again, not enough to do any major damage. Just enough to be inconvenient . . . . and to cause me to call my dad and plead for help.

I think oftentimes God will put obstacles (read that opportunities) in our path that have to be dealt with as we walk toward His goal for our lives. Some opportunities are more fun than others. But I guarantee we learn more from those than we do from the fun ones.

And even though these opportunities may feel like obstacles when we run into them, if we can keep our perspective straight, we can look at them like God sees them — stepping stones to better things.

Today’s passage comes out of the Christmas story, Luke 2:1, 4-5.

1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Talk about inconvenience.

It would have been difficult enough to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem on foot but Mary was pregnant . . . and not just pregnant, obviously pregnant. And maybe they had a donkey. Maybe not. People always portray them with a donkey, but Mary and Joseph weren’t rich people. So I wouldn’t be too surprised if they had to walk the whole way. And I’ve never been pregnant, but I know a lot of people who have been. And walking isn’t their favorite thing to do during that period in their life.

And why did they have to do this? Because the Roman emperor said so. It was a stinkin’ census. A governmental thing. Like taxes. It interfered with everyone’s daily lives and upset the whole order of normalcy.

I can only imagine the grumbling this census caused in people. Maybe even in Mary and Joseph. I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t blame Mary for grumbling about something like this.

But what would have happened if Christ hadn’t been born in Bethlehem?

He still would have been virgin born. He still would have been the Son of God. He still would have fulfilled many of the prophecies in the Old Testament. . . . just not all of them.

The Old Testament is very specific saying which Bethlehem Jesus would be born in (there are two). Prophets had been very specific for hundreds of years as to the location where Christ would be born. What would have happened if Joseph had decided it was too much trouble to obey the law? What would have happened if Mary had decided to stay home?

Granted, traveling to Bethlehem had to be a terrible inconvenience, but it was necessary to fulfill prophecy.

So what does this mean for all of us?

Well, many times, God is going to ask us to do things that inconvenience us and we’re not going to understand why. I mean, maybe Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was going to be born in Bethlehem because of all the prophecies and that’s why they didn’t have a problem going. But I guarantee, they didn’t know the far-reaching effects of having a child born there. Just like we don’t truly grasp the implications of our reactions to what God brings into our lives.

Being inconvenienced usually means that it’s something God wants you to do. Being inconveniences usually means that you’ve gotten too comfortable or too confident or too focused on something that doesn’t matter. Being inconvenienced usually means you’re only thinking about how your plans will be upset.

I can tell you the main reason I was so upset last night about my flooded basement wasn’t because of the mess, although that was troublesome. What upset me more than anything was that I had other plans for last night. And I couldn’t get them done because I had to clean up my basement. That inconvenienced me because I had wanted to do my own thing last night instead of having to take care of a wet, cold, dripping mass of towels. And I had to do it twice!

But I can also tell you that my basement floor is super clean now. So maybe it was God’s way of telling me that I needed to mop? =)

I don’t know. But what I do know is that many times God will ask things of us that seem like huge inconveniences. Things that will cause more struggles in our lives than they solve. But every time there’s a reason for it. And every time there’s something for us to learn. And every time, there’s something God is going to do with it.

So the best thing to do when inconveniences come from God is to just remember that He knows what He’s doing and try to enjoy the struggle, as strange as that sounds. Because you can look forward to the other side when it’s finished and you have gained something for your trouble. And you never know how God might use it. But you can be confident that He will.